Proteas: No rest for the wicket Play­ers travel abroad to hone skills for World Cup

Sunday Tribune - - NEWS&VIEWS - STU­ART HESS

THE In­dian Pre­mier League is maybe the loud­est (and not only be­cause of Danny Mor­ri­son’s ‘com­men­tary’) and most colour­ful show in town, but it isn’t the only one.

South Africa’s elite crick­eters, fresh off an ex­hil­a­rat­ing and his­toric Test se­ries tri­umph against Aus­tralia, are spend­ing their ‘breaks’ keep­ing the rhythm go­ing in var­i­ous com­pe­ti­tions, be­sides the IPL.

For the likes of AB de Vil­liers, Quin­ton de Kock, Chris Morris, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Im­ran Tahir and Faf du Plessis its the IPL that pro­vides con­tin­ued cricket – and a hefty boost to the bank bal­ance over the com­ing weeks – but oth­ers have headed for more se­date climes as they at­tempt to main­tain form and rhythm be­fore the Proteas next re­gather to pre­pare for a tour of Sri Lanka that starts in July.

At least four of the cur­rent Proteas squad will spend some time on the county cir­cuit; Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla will be at Hamp­shire (along­side the Kol­pak sign­ings Kyle Ab­bott and Rilee Ros­souw), Ai­den Markram is at Durham, while Dean El­gar was un­veiled last week as Sur­rey’s over­seas sign­ing for two months.

It is the pair at Hamp­shire who will prob­a­bly pro­vide the most in­trigu­ing view­ing. Amla hasn’t been at his best this past sea­son. Over the course of 10 Tests last sum­mer Amla av­er­aged 38.94, scor­ing two cen­turies, both of which came against Bangladesh. It’s a tes­ti­mony to his ex­pe­ri­ence and savvy, that de­spite the lack of out­put – cer­tainly in the man­ner of the Amla of the 2008 to 2013 pe­riod – his role in the side was not de­val­ued.

Du Plessis high­lighted how in the sec­ond Test at Cen­tu­rion against In­dia, and in the third on that “poor” pitch at the Wan­der­ers, Amla made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions, while Ot­tis Gib­son in­di­cated one of the turn­ing points of the Aus­tralia se­ries was Amla and El­gar’s nul­li­fy­ing of the re­verse swing threat from Mitchell Starc and Josh Ha­zle­wood in Port Elizabeth. Amla scored 56 off 148 balls in nearly three and half hours, at St Ge­orge’s Park. It was far from sexy, but it was mighty ef­fec­tive, and that ef­fect PROTEAS open­ing bats­man Ai­den Markram play­ing a de­fen­sive stroke dur­ing his in­nings against In­dia in a ODI game at New­lands ear­lier this year. He hopes to gain ex­pe­ri­ence turn­ing out for English county Durham this sea­son. was felt not just in the sec­ond Test, but the re­main­der of the se­ries too.

His re­flexes – per­haps even his judg­ment – are not what they once were, but with con­cerns at the end of the fourth Test against Aus­tralia that Amla may join Morne Morkel in pack­ing it in at in­ter­na­tional level, it is en­cour­ag­ing he is seek­ing to keep the com­pet­i­tive juices flow­ing be­fore the Sri Lanka tour.

Steyn is sim­i­larly mo­ti­vated, al­though un­like his good chum Amla, he’s has cho­sen to sign a shorter con­tract (two matches as op­posed to Amla’s three months) with the south coast county.

Those two matches in­clude a 50-over match and one four day game, where he iron­i­cally could come up against an­other close mate in Morkel, when Hamp­shire meet Sur­rey in July.

Game time is vi­tal for Steyn, who says he re­mains mo­ti­vated to play for South Africa and has set a goal of play­ing 100 Tests for the Proteas. He cur­rently stands on 86 Tests.

All of this is with Sri Lanka in mind. Steyn made the point, that, es­pe­cially now Morkel has ex­ited the in­ter­na­tional scene, the South African at­tack lacks ex­pe­ri­ence in sub-con­ti­nent con­di­tions. Ver­non Phi­lan­der isn’t quite as ef­fec­tive, from a wicket-tak­ing per­spec­tive, on those slower and flat­ter sur­faces, but does a valu­able hold­ing job.

Kag­iso Rabada (cur­rently re­cov­er­ing from a lower back stress frac­ture) has toured In­dia just once, while nei­ther Lungi Ngidi nor left-arm spin­ner Ke­shav Ma­haraj have toured Sri Lanka.

It’s a crit­i­cal trip for the Proteas; from a Test per­spec­tive they will want to re-es­tab­lish their trav­el­ling cre­den­tials hav­ing lost last year in Eng­land, while their last two Test se­ries’s in the sub-con­ti­nent ended in de­feat in In­dia and a rain af­fected draw in Bangladesh.

As far as the white ball por­tion of the trip is con­cerned (there are five One-day In­ter­na­tion­als and a sin­gle T20 match) it’s the last part of Gib­son and the se­lec­tors player ex­per­i­men­ta­tion which will be un­der the most scru­tiny.

Gib­son was forth­right in his assess­ment of the In­dia ODI se­ries. He said it was poor from a re­sults per­spec­tive, but ex­tremely help­ful in giv­ing him a close-up un­der­stand­ing of play­ers with po­ten­tial.

With the World Cup just over a year away, the 50-over for­mat will in­creas­ingly grow in im­por­tance with South Africa sched­uled to tour Aus­tralia in Novem­ber for lim­ited-overs matches only, while SA will host Sri Lanka and Pak­istan.

It’s thus cru­cial, that while many de­serve a men­tal break after the ex­er­tions in a drain­ing se­ries with Aus­tralia, they don’t en­tirely lose touch with the game ei­ther.

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