Proteas season review
In modern cricket seasons have become less clearly defined with many players playing virtually non-stop as they opt to play in T20 or foreign leagues during their downtime.
Having said that the South African summer season both domestically and internationally ended in March and while the Proteas will have a busy winter traveling to England for the Champions Trophy and a full bilateral clash with the hosts now is a good time to look back on the 2016/17 season.
The Proteas began their Test season against New Zealand in Durban sitting in 7th place on the ICC rankings and reeling from the news that AB de Villiers would be out for an extended period of time.
There was widespread pessimism surrounding the team and with a trip to Australia looming South Africa needed something special to happen and it did.
Faf du Plessis took the reins as skipper and brought his own brand of aggressive leadership with him.
He would earn the role of permanent skipper in a Test campaign that saw the Proteas win every series they contested beating New Zealand twice by the same 1-0 margin, claiming an incredible third consecutive series win in Australia and whitewashing Sri Lanka at home.
South Africa would end the season in second place on the rankings scoring a $500,000 purse in the process.
In ODI cricket South Africa re-established their dominance returning to the number one ranking after dual whitewashes of Sri Lanka and Australia and a hard fought 3-2 win away against the Black Caps.
Increasingly there is a distinction between the ODI group and the Test unit, whether some of the new ODI stars like Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius bleed through to the Test team remains to be seen.
The loss of talented players to English county cricket is not something new to South Africa with the weak rand and just six franchises there would always be the potential that some chaps would seek to ply their trade in England.
The Kolpak signing of somebody like Simon Harmer and even Stiaan van Zyl surprised nobody but the loss of Proteas regulars Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott shook South African cricket.
The news broke during the second Test against Sri Lanka and an emotional Abbott hung around Newlands for hours after the game had concluded reflecting on the difficult decision he had made.
What the Kolpak issue did highlight though was the depth of talent in South African cricket as players slotted into the squads to replace the lost personnel with minimum fuss.
That trip to Oz
The series between Australia and South Africa down under proved to be massive for both teams as defeat in the opening two games prompted a selection revolution for the Aussies which unearthed the talents of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb.
A fired up South African team took down and Australian team in their backyard for the third successive time.
The mintgate saga caused tensions to flare between the Proteas and the Australian media adding spice to an already intense series.
Du Plessis responded to the claims of match-fixing and subsequent sour incidents by scoring an incredible century in Adelaide but it wasn’t enough to prevent Australia claiming a consolation victory.
Waiting in the wings
While a group of young players got a chance to shine in the home T20I series against Sri Lanka which the visitors won 2-1 there are still other young players who have emerged as candidates for national honours.
Lungi Ngidi is one of the exciting talents that emerged from that lost series but sadly injury saw him miss out on the series in New Zealand.
Aiden Markram has impressed throughout the first class and List A season’s finishing strong as he racked up 161 in the One Day Cup final as The Titans won their second trophy of the season. The young man has been touted as the Proteas next Test opener and if he doesn’t get a call up to go to England with the Proteas he will almost certainly make the trip with South Africa A who also visit the UK this winter.
The Lions have a few promising youngsters in their ranks not least Wiaan Mulder who has been touted as ‘the next Jacques Kallis’ by some and the exceptional batting talents of Rassie van der Dussen.
Another Lion Reeza Hendricks has had a few cracks at playing for the Proteas but he has shown greater maturity this season and is a strong candidate to open the batting in T20Is at least if not in the longer formats.
Duanne Olivier made his Test debut after an impressive season in first class cricket but lost his place in the XI when Morne Morkel returned in New Zealand.
Players like Jon-Jon Smuts and Khaya Zondo are their franchise captains and have impressed this season but both will need to show consistency going forward with their spin-bowling and of course their batting.
While unlikely to earn call ups due to their age players like Henry Davids of the Titans and Andrew Birch of the Warriors have become stalwarts for their franchises and have had great seasons in 2016/17.
Moving on from those waiting in the wings to those who have stepped up to the big stage with aplomb.
Durban’s own Keshav Maharaj has been a revelation this season, he leapt to the top of the spin pecking order after a couple of brilliant displays in the Sunfoil series and would claim 26 wickets in seven Tests including two five-fors in New Zealand.
Maharaj’s fellow Dolphin Phehlukwayo has made a big impact on the ODI team proving to be a wily fast medium bowler and a deadly finisher in the mould of Lance Klusener.
Phehlukwayo has grabbed 15 wickets in 14 ODIs and currently averages 125 with the bat having been dismissed only once in six innings.
Joining the man from Port Shepstone as an ODI match winner with both bat and ball is fellow allrounder Pretorius who shared a great rearguard partnership with Phehlukwayo as the Proteas fell just short of the Black Caps total in the second ODI.
Pretorius hit a maiden ODI fifty on that occasion and has shown himself to be miserly with ball in hand to boot.
From prospects to senior stalwarts and from senior man to skipper we look at those who stepped up their game this season to great effect.
Faf du Plessis stepped into the massive shoes of AB de Villiers and soon stamped his authority as a different kind of Test skipper. Captain Faftastic has won the hearts of Proteas fans and performed with bat in hand to establish himself as the man to lead South Africa in the longest format.
Quinton de Kock became the highest ranked South African Test batsman recently despite batting down at seven and has pulled the Proteas out of the fire more than once this season, he has an incredible ODI track record and has quickly established himself as a key member of the squad with his dynamic keeping and willow wielding skills.
Kagiso Rabada has stepped up to such an extent that their have been concerns over his workload, he is close to being the Proteas leading bowler across all formats and his form and fitness will be central to South Africa’s hopes of success in the future.
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