“HARD old men” remain important to South Africa’s immediate future in one-day internationals, but the “exciting opportunity” represented by the next generation of star players is their best chance of winning the 2015 World Cup.
That is the informed view of a bowler who took the new ball for SA Schools and counts the wickets of Lee Irvine, Mike Procter and Henry Fotheringham among the 16 he took in his five first-class matches. He is also among South Africa’s greatest rugby captains, having led the Boks to 13 wins in his 15 games in charge.
“If you want to win next week’s merry-go-round of one-day or Twenty20 games, you’ve got to stick with the experienced players,” said Morne du Plessis, who played those five first-class games for SA Universities and Western Province between 1971 and 1974. “But if you want to win the World Cup in a couple of years’ time the exciting opportunity is to work with talented youngsters.”
However, he did caution that “there is a chance of killing their spirit if they lose too much”.
To avoid that happening, careful management was needed to ensure that the stalwarts currently in the South Africa squad had securely handed the baton to those who follow them.
“In rugby, you need the solidity provided by players like Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and John Smit; then you can bring in guys like Frans Steyn,” Du Plessis said.
“You have to have the hard old men. They’re good for dressing-room morale and discipline, and it’s part of the rites of passage in sport. That sounds old-fashioned but it’s still relevant.”
Du Plessis’s comments form part of the debate about what South Africa should do in the wake of their disappointing one-day performances in Sri Lanka, especially with the World Cup less than two years away. AB de Villiers’s team lost the series 1-4, a dismal scoreline they deserved. Under Faf du Plessis, they bounced back well to win the T20 series 2-1.
But the alarm bells will continue to ring over South Africa’s form in the 50-over game, where — in Sri Lanka as well as in last season’s home series against Pakistan and New Zealand — their batting lacked application, their bowling was too often undisciplined, and they were off their game in the field.
South Africa are scheduled to play 25 one-dayers before the World Cup, which should be occasion enough to fix what is currently broken. A key question remains, however, whether or not to persist with proven but ageing, and increasingly injury prone, players such as Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith. They will be 38 and 34 respectively by the time the tournament starts.