The South African squad have overcome being thrown to the wolves after they came back from 2-0 down in their ODI series against England to win 3-2, so now, they are diving with the sharks.
The T20 squad are camping in Hermanus, the whale-watching town about 100 kilometres from Cape Town, in preparation for their five home T20Is and the upcoming T20 World Cup. Just as they kicked off their campaign to become the No.1 Test team in 2012 with an expedition to the Swiss Alps, they have thought of another out-of-the-box experience for team bonding. Shark cage diving may sound more dangerous but it is probably less treacherous than mountain climbing. It may also be more fun.
Ultimately, that is what the shortest format is about. It is an adrenaline rush and an acceptance that things are not really as serious as they seem. That is the attitude South Africa will take into next month’s tournament: relaxed, because they consider themselves ready.
“We can’t do any worse than other sides that have been there in the past,” Russell Domingo, South Africa’s coach, said at the squad announcement last week. “We’ve been to two World Cups since I’ve been involved and both times we got to the semi-finals. We’ve won a knockout game, we’ve played really good cricket in those knockout games.”
Since Domingo took over in June 2013, he has been South Africa’s most successful major tournament coach, if only because he is the only one to win a knockout match in a 50-over World Cup. South Africa beat Sri Lanka in the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals and played in the match of the tournament in the semi-final against New Zealand, which they lost off the penultimate ball. They also reached the semi-final of the 2014 World T20 where they failed to defend 172 against India.
Both times, Domingo accepted there was nothing more they could have done to change the outcome. “Sometimes you’ve got to take your hat off and say well played to the opposition. Both semi-finals we’ve lost have been a case of that. There’s by no means been any choking on our part, we’ve just been outplayed by a team that has played better,” he said.
But in the 2015 50-over edition, many felt there was something that could have been done, in selection terms. From a South African point of view, the semi-final against New Zealand is almost remembered as much for the decisions taken off the field, than for the extraordinary drama which unfolded on it, where a last minute change to the XI saw Vernon Philander picked ahead of Kyle Abbott in order to field a side that also had the transformation guidelines in mind.
The revelations of the interference in selection only came in the weeks after the tournament, after CSA had also increased domestic quotas. Since then, there have been several public questions about the selection of players of colour in the national side and whether they merit their place or if they are keeping deserving white players out of the side.
In the aftermath of South Africa’s series-clinching victory at Newlands on Sunday, prominent journalist Dan Retief tweeted: “SA carried to victory by two White Afrikaners…politicians and media commentators take note….for what it is worth.” CSA were angered by the comment, they issued a statement in which CEO Haroon Lorgat condemned it as “insensitive and extremely disappointing.” Retief later apologised for any offence caused.
While the issue of transformation is not going to go away quietly, Domingo provided assurances that, “we just want to pick our best players,” and the 2015 World Cup controversy has faded from memory.
“You’ve just got to try and make the right decisions at the right times. We know what we need to do to pick a team and we pick our best players.”
At this tournament, that may mean both allrounders, David Wiese and Chris Morris, will find a spot in the XI with T20 captain Faf du Plessis giving his support to the pair. “There’s place for both Wiese and Morris. I am a fan of having a long and strong batting line-up,” du Plessis said when the squad was announced. “It comes from my time playing at Chennai [Super Kings]. Make your batting line-up as strong as possible and have four bowlers who can do a job.”
South Africa have searched for an allrounder since Jacques Kallis retired and now that they have finally found not one, but two, they want to use them both. “Allrounders are massively important. South Africa had an abundance of allrounders in the past and it’s something we are trying to come to grips with at the moment,” Domingo said.
“Batting depth and players who can provide you with more than one skill are of importance. You are going to have the odd specialist, Malinga, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir who are outstandingly good at their skills but if the guys aren’t quite as good as those guys, they have got to provide you with something else.”
That may be why the likes of Rilee Rossouw and Aaron Phangiso could find the closest they come to a bite of the action is in the cage with the sharks. (ESPNcricinfo)
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent