No trophy, no T20 league, many Kolpaks
It's a strange sort of year to sum up for South Africa because on paper it has been a success. South Africa are the top-ranked ODI team; AB de Villiers is the No. 2 batsman in the world and Imran Tahir the No. 2 bowler in the format; they lie second in the Test rankings; Dean Elgar finished as the third-highest run scorer in Tests for the year, with 1128 runs at 53.71 and five centuries, while Kagiso Rabada was the second-highest wicket-taker with 57 scalps at 20.28, including two ten-wicket match hauls; and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj was the next most successful South African bowler, and seventh overall (his 48 wickets are the most by a South African spinner in a calendar year).
But South Africa don't have that all much to show for those numbers. Though they won Tests against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe at home and New Zealand away (but admitted they would have lost the third Test and drawn the series if not for rain), they lost the marquee series of the year, in England, and their performance in the Champions Trophy did not justify their No. 1 status. As is so often the case, South Africa won ODI contests in the lead-up to the major tournament and its aftermath: they swept Sri Lanka 5-0 and beat New Zealand 3-2. They lost 3-1 to England before the Champions Trophy and beat Bangladesh 3-0 after. However, they seemed further away from an ICC title than ever.
The change in leadership - de Villiers handed the reins to Faf du Plessis in all formats - could be the missing link as South Africa go into 2019, but there is still much to be done before then. Sorting through the personnel is one of the most important tasks, and to that end, in 2017 a new coach was appointed. Ottis Gibson took over from Russell Domingo with the express aim of winning the World Cup, but only after Domingo spent several months not knowing how he might re-apply for his own job if he wanted to stay on.
Gibson will not be able to call on all the South African players available to Domingo till last year because early in 2017, Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw and five other recently capped internationals turned their backs on South Africa by signing on as Kolpaks in county cricket. They all cited financial stability and greater opportunities as their main reason, but their cases are small examples of growing player unhappiness in the country, a situation that reached its peak by the end of the year when the Global T20 League was postponed.
CSA sold the league as its own version of the IPL, and even had three IPL team owners on board, but after a lavish launch in London, nothing came of the hoopla. CSA's and, in particular, former CEO Haroon Lorgat's ambitions of selling broadcast rights outside of South Africa were overly optimistic, and as they searched India and the UAE for a small-screen partner, they isolated their domestic colleagues SuperSport, who eventually offered only a quarter of the amount CSA was after. There was no title sponsor to make up the balance. Lorgat and CSA parted ways over the issue and the board came to fully understand the unsustainability of a league that would lose the organisation half its cash reserves in the first year alone.
The tournament was postponed and players, who had signed lucrative deals, were furious. CSA's only choice was to play its own franchise domestic 20-over tournament in the window it had created and to force all national players to make themselves available, which led to talks of a player strike which did not take place, and a payout deal of 60% was agreed upon, taking CSA's total losses to less than half of they would have been if the event had gone ahead. Still, being R180 million (US$14 million) out of pocket is nothing to be proud of, even if money-making tours by India and Australia in early 2018 will boost the coffers.
Happily, the year ended on a better note after the sham that was the four-day, day-night Test against Zimbabwe, which ended in less than two days. South Africa go into 2018 with their big-name players, such as de Villiers, available, their premier fast bowlers, including Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, all fit, and a crop of promising youngsters.
This year's belongs to the South African women's team, who reached the World Cup semi-finals and came heartbreakingly close to reaching the final. Unlike the men's team, whose major tournament blips have become the stuff of bad jokes, the women's performance was actually a cause for celebration. Led by Dane van Niekerk, the only bowler in the world, male or female, to take four wickets without conceding a run in an ODI, the team was the perfect mix of youth (think Laura Wolvaardt) and experience (Marizanne Kapp), and were the picture of unity and team spirit at a time when South African cricket appeared broken, with the men lurching from defeat to defeat in England. The women's team prayed together, played together, and when it all ended, cried together, but on reflection they can smile together at a successful 2017.
On the field, South Africa's tour of England is one they will want to forget. Everything went wrong: They lost the opening ODIs, crashed out of the Champions Trophy in spectacularly inept fashion, had a truckload of problems with players being during the Tests (du Plessis was on paternity leave for the first, Kagiso Rabada suspended for the second, Vernon Philander took ill during the third, and both Philander and Chris Morris missed the fourth), and there was a lot of miscommunication around the national coach's future. After three long months on the road, South Africa returned home with nothing but bruised egos.
Off the field, CSA's inability to stage the much-hyped inaugural T20 Global League not only cost the organisation serious cash but a significant amount of credibility too. CSA did not have a broadcaster or title sponsor, parted ways with Lorgat over his handling of the tournament, and was forecasting losses of half its cash reserves in the first year alone. Now, it is uncertain whether the tournament, in its current form, will ever take place.
New kid on the block
Two hundreds and a 97 in his first three Tests have put Aiden Markram on the map, even if those runs were scored against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The 2014 Under-19 World Cup-winning captain is an aggressive batsman, a clean striker of the ball, and a thinking cricketer, who has been spoken about as a future captain for the national side, and he could not have enjoyed a stronger start to his international career. South Africa battled several months to find an opening partner for Dean Elgar in Tests. Markram has emerged as a long-term solution. His potential in shorter formats - he holds the List A record for the highest individual score in a South African domestic game (183 off 138 balls) - is exciting and he could well be part of South Africa's 2019 World Cup plans.
JP Duminy's Test career ended unofficially when he hammered a short ball from Mark Wood straight to midwicket at Lord's at the stroke of tea on the fourth day of the first Test of South Africa's tour. At that stage Duminy had gone eight innings without passing 40 and had started to look like someone who used to know how to bat but didn't anymore. He was dropped for the next Test and sent home from the tour. His Test career ended officially in September, when he confirmed he had had enough but would remain committed to trying to win a World Cup. While Duminy is a regular member of the 50-over team and has captained the T20 side, he has not scored an ODI half-century since October 2016 and the next men's global T20 tournament is only in 2020. With a charitable foundation taking significant parts of his time, the days of Duminy the cricketer may soon be over, a decade after they began, and his will be a story of unfulfilled promise.
What 2018 holds
Seven Tests, six ODIs and three T20Is await in the first 13 weeks of the year as South Africa host India and Australia in a bumper home season, but then the calendar thins out. The winter break runs from April to August, when South Africa travel to Sri Lanka for three Tests. They host Zimbabwe for three ODIs and a T20 shortly after that but the originally scheduled limited-overs series in Australia has been postponed because CSA aims to host a T20 tournament (whether it will be called the T20 Global League or not remains to be seen) in that time. Next summer, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are due.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent