Proteas: Ottis begins climb from Big Hole
Cape Town - Some 32 one-day internationals ... that’s the tally new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has to arrange his ducks for the major goal of his appointment: to win an elusive World Cup for the country.
South Africa have found the major limited-overs tournament largely a curse in seven cracks at it since 1992, and the languid West Indian will automatically find a place in the folklore of his “adopted” nation if he can help deliver it for them in England in mid-2019.
Counter-balancing the fact that the Proteas are not scheduled to play any cricket on those reasonably unique shores between now and then is the reassuring fact that Gibson has intimate knowledge of English conditions through his generous prior involvement with the hosting country’s own team cause.
Certainly the start of his ODI voyage with SA could hardly come in a more differing landscape: the usually dry, sun-baked turf of Kimberley’s Diamond Oval on Sunday (10:00), and first of three ODIs against modest Bangladesh, already pulverised in a short Test series.
But you have to get the machine belching into action somehow, and the Proteas are scheduled - at least as things stand on the future tours programme - to tackle six different opponents (including one twice) in the 50-overs format before they enter CWC 2019 in the middle of that year.
Things can change, with intended series rosters slightly tinkered with in length terms or new sides suddenly introduced for a bilateral challenge, but this is pretty much the ODI-specific brew for Faf du Plessis and company ahead of the World Cup: Bangladesh (three matches, home), India (six matches, home), Zimbabwe (three matches, home), Australia (five matches, away), Pakistan (five matches, home), and then respective five-match home and away series against Sri Lanka at the tail end of the 2018/19 season.
That amounts to plenty of opportunity for Gibson to assess exactly who he believes fit the bill for an English-staged major jamboree.
There are some quality opponents in there, even if one or two series in more notably chilly, seaming climes might have been especially useful.
India, arriving here in the New Year, are the current top-ranked side in ODIs, the Australians on their own terrain (next summer, a limited-overs-only series) guarantee a feisty scrap, and when the Proteas entertain moody Pakistan, also in the 2018/19 campaign, they will be facing the slightly unexpected last ICC Champions Trophy winners.
Initially, pace-bowling expert Gibson will be hamstrung - in the Bangladesh series - by the absence of far more speedsters than he would like; on the crocked list are such heavyweights as Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and also still the 21-year-old hot prospect Lungi Ngidi.
But it will give him a chance to examine depth, and whether alternatives like Dane Paterson, Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo are proper, longer-term options in that department.
Another point of interest will be whether Temba Bavuma - an electric fielder, which is something the ODI squad could use more of these days - can double as an effective, explosive enough limited-overs batting customer for South Africa.
He has played one prior ODI for the Proteas, and duly thumped 113 against Ireland at Benoni last season, sharing opening duty with Quinton de Kock.
But where you would bat him under current circumstances is an intriguing issue - could he become a Jonty Rhodes sort of eager worker in the middle order, for example? - as veteran Hashim Amla is back to assume his own rightful mantle, presumably, at the front of the order.
Bangladesh do boast the scalp of the Proteas (2-1) the last time they played a bilateral series, but that was on the vastly different Subcontinent in 2015, and they have not yet beaten South Africa even once during a series here previously.
With due respect to the Tigers, the next few days - after
Kimberley, the circus moves to further international backwaters Paarl and East
London - should allow Gibson and company the liberty of “trying things” and
not being too bogged down by an overly formulaic script ...
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