Greater glory beckons
Opportunity knocks for Proteas
Proteas aim at Champions Trophy victory
Opportunity knocks for this Proteas team. Though they won six out of eight series across the three formats in the 2016-2017 season, and though they are now ranked No 1 in ODIs and No 2 in tests, one cannot help but feel they have more to give. Indeed, the upcoming Champions Trophy tournament as well as the test series in England will give Russell Domingo’s charges the chance to establish themselves as one of the greatest SA teams of the professional era.
Viewed in isolation, the 2016-2017 season was a resounding success. The Proteas ODI side bounced back from the disappointment of losing the Tri-Nations series in the West Indies to record consecutive series wins against Australia (5-0), Sri Lanka (5-0), and New Zealand (3-2). The test side beat New Zealand home and away, Australia away, and Sri Lanka at home. During that period, the Proteas won seven tests and lost only one.
The ODI side has come a long way since a disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign where they suffered losses to India and Pakistan during the league phase, as well as a defeat to New Zealand in the semifinal. The test team looks more settled than it did in a 2015/2016 season that will be remembered for those heavy series losses to India and England.
Though the Proteas have restored some pride to the badge, they should know there is plenty of work to be done over the next few months. In the wake of the 1-0 series victory in New Zealand, captain Faf du Plessis admitted that the test side wasn’t at its best over the three matches. Off-spinner Keshav Maharaj emerged as the top wicket-taker in the series with a haul of 15, and Morné Morkel made an impressive return after nearly a year on the sidelines. On the downside, the Proteas’ top order battled for consistency and the form of batsmen such as Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, and JP Duminy remains a concern.
As the 3-2 scoreline suggests, the Proteas’ performances in the ODI series in New Zealand were far from perfect. The inexperience of several bowlers was exposed, and the death bowling in general was poor.
What SA can take from that series, however, is the form of their batsmen and indeed the ability of the collective to perform under pressure. ODI skipper AB de Villiers said as much after the side’s victory in the fifth and decisive match in Auckland. "I truly believe we are ready [for the Champions Trophy]," De Villiers said.
The Proteas teams of 2008 and 2012 will be remembered for the big series wins they achieved at home and abroad. The class of 2017 could surpass those teams if they add a Champions Trophy title as well as a series victory in England to their tally.