What did the Zim tour achieve?
I am struggling to see value in the recently completed T20 tournament in Zimbabwe as far as the Proteas are concerned. The biggest beneficiary of the tournament was the Zimbabwe team who won the event. The Zimbabwe players get very little international cricket compared to the established nations so this was a good opportunity for them to play as a team and also to showcase their individual talents.
Winning the event was a good achievement considering that they beat South Africa so convincingly in the final. It is a pity for them that this was an unofficial tournament, so the results, as well as the players' performances, won't be recorded in the official statistics of international cricket.
But back to the Proteas and the wisdom of embarking on this tour in the first place.
I can understand a need to play T20 cricket because the World T20 is taking place in September. What I can't understand is going to a tournament like this as preparation for a world event and then not taking half the players who will make up the T20 team at that event.
The likes of De Villiers, Kallis, Morne Morkel, Botha and Dale Steyn will all be in the best eleven when it comes to the World T20. It was deemed that they needed rest after the IPL. This is fair enough but it would have been a lot better to send a South Africa A side or an emerging team to this tournament.
The focus of the Proteas at the moment is on one thing and one thing only, and that is the upcoming England tour. So it should be. The England tour is a battle for the No 1 position on the world stage in the test arena. Instead of taking some of the players who are going to England, to Zimbabwe, it would have been more sensible to go to England earlier for more and better preparation for the upcoming series there.
The players who needed a rest could have remained behind for a week or so while the players who were fresh enough went to the UK to prepare. This would have made a lot more sense.
Hopefully the coaching staff achieved what they set out to do in Zimbabwe in terms of evaluating some of the players. The fact is that it appears as if the selectors are uncertain as to what their best eleven is in the shortest format of the game. The problem is that the recent week in Zimbabwe may well have complicated this problem even further.
The team's performance was well below average. The basics in all three disciplines left a lot to be desired. In mitigation, some of the players haven't been playing any cricket, coming out of the South African winter. One expected them to struggle at the start of the event, but the players who have been playing recently didn't actually set the world alight either. In all, it was unsatisfactory from a Proteas point of view in every respect.
Although the team that went to Zimbabwe wasn't anywhere near full strength, one would expect a group comprising current and aspiring South African players to beat Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. This is taking nothing away from a Zimbabwean team that is getting better all the time. When one looks at the depth of South African cricket and the players at the disposal of the selectors and the coaching team, a sub-par performance like the one over the last week is concerning.
When pushing for a place in the national team one expects a passion and a hunger for success. A young team like the one selected should be looking to rise to the challenge both collectively and individually in a tournament of this nature. Sadly we saw little of that and few players came away with an enhanced reputation or indeed with their reputations intact.
I am all for CSA helping our neighbour as often as they can, as Zimbabwe tries to establish themselves in the international arena again. This time, however, it could have been done in a different way. An A side consisting of players not required for England would have done the trick. The rest should have been in the UK already. I hope this time the decision-makers haven't dropped the ball. Time will tell.