South Africa v Sri Lanka, 4th ODI, Kimberly January 19, 2012

Selection decisions reveal long-term plans

A policy of rotation seems forward planning in the extreme for South Africa, but it is a step that is necessary for this team

Not so long ago, a South African side would have been incomplete without one of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla or Dale Steyn. But, when South Africa take the field against Sri Lanka in Kimberley and Johannesburg, they will be without the trio, breaking a mould that few thought they could ever escape.

On the face of it, it appears South Africa have gone into complacency mode with the series won and the opposition struggling. Widen the lens and they have laid the first brick for a construction that is set to be complete in three years time. It's forward planning in the extreme but for this team its necessary.

Although Gary Kirsten did not say it explicitly, one of his future priorities will be winning a World Cup. South Africa's inability to secure ICC silverware has become the stuff of legend and Kirsten wants to systematically eliminate the causes for their consistent failure at the final (or even quarter-final) hurdle.

For now, the issue being targeted is over-reliance. No longer will a steadying innings by Kallis or a treble strike from Steyn be the only path South Africa will travel on for victory. In the next two matches of this series, they won't be able to call on either and Kirsten hopes, as they showed in Bloemfontein, they will find a way to win without the so-called marquee players.

"We want to be able to win game with a greater squad of players rather than just 11. South African cricket has got more to offer than just 11 players that can win games for us," he said. "It's important that we develop and grow players and have a squad of 16 of 17 players that we can pick from at anytime. It allows us to rotate better. It allows us to rest players that we think need rest because we'll know that the guys are ready and have got the experience."

It is a yarn that has been spun so many times before, it is now worn out, but this time, things feel a little different. Yes, the same was said when Bob Woolmer took over with innovation at the top of the agenda, when Mickey Arthur talked about a brand of brave cricket and when South Africa took three spinners and a big-hitting No. 7 to the 2011 World Cup. Yes, every time something was a little different and the most important thing stayed exactly the same. And no, it is way too early to tell whether the difference has sunk in properly or if it will continue to sit at the top, superficially present but materially absent.

All that exists for now is the evidence since the new era started, when AB de Villiers led for the first time little over a week ago. He has not been challenged too much in his tenure so far but has impressed nonetheless. "He has been quite creative in the field," Kirsten said. "He has also given bowlers a lot responsibility. He brings freshness to that role which is good for the side."

de Villiers has also taken on a treble role of captaining, keeping and batting in the top six and Kirsten said it is not easy. "He does find it pretty tough, taking on the role of keeping and being a new captain is not easy, so that's a big credit to him. Graeme [Smith] has been a fantastic help to AB over this series from a captaincy perspective."

Smith stepped down as one-day captain after the ill-fated World Cup and is on the brink of losing his place in the team after a run of poor performances. Smith has not scored a century since the Champions Trophy in 2009 and has managed just one half-century in his last 17 matches. Convenor of selectors, Andrew Hudson, confirmed that the opening role will be "discussed," before the tour of New Zealand but Kirsten said Smith should be cut a little slack.

"He is going through a tough time and he has acknowledged that. There's a lot of pressure on him and he knows he needs to perform" Kirsten said. "We've got to support him as much as we can in the team. He deserves a little bit more than others because of the service he has given to this country as a leader. He has been the stand-up guy, the face of the team for many years and he needs support."

Another former captain who finds himself out of favour is Johan Botha, who is in the squad but has not played a match, and seems unlikely to. "We've given Robbie Peterson a crack in this series. Johan is aware of that, he understands that," Kirsten said. "There will be times in future when we will call on Johan to play an important role in this team. While it can be tough on guys, it does create opportunities for other players."

Opportunity is the buzz-word of the South African change room at the moment. It is the seed they are planting that they hope will germinate into a tree of future success. For now, it is still but a tiny leaf on a branch that has a long way to grow. Kirsten believes the growth starts now. "We know there are certain situations that we have to win and guys are taking the responsibility. I am excited seeing guys wanting to embrace those moments."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Daniel on January 20, 2012, 7:10 GMT

    @aahahaa > You clearly don't know too much about South African cricket. Why don't you stick to commenting on Sachin and and the rest of the "world beating" indain cricketers. I have to agree with Ariyan, i think that having a player like Levi at the top of the order would be great for the balance of the team. He is capable of winning a game on his own, and while he would not be relied on, could be more than usefull in playing a Gibbs like innings. I also like the look of your team, i think in the big games/series botha has to play.

  • Dummy4 on January 20, 2012, 6:09 GMT

    Good Luck SA! Unlike SLC's plan, yours' make sense, at least on paper.

  • Rob on January 20, 2012, 1:28 GMT

    Step forward Levi, Miller, Roussouw, Ingram and for tests, Elgar.

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2012, 21:14 GMT

    @aahahaa So far, Tsotsobe has been the most consistenty economic bowler for SA. Great bowlers like Glenn McGrath (at end) and Shaun Pollock clocked around or under 130Ks. You don't always need speed to be successful bowler. Albie Morkel can constantly bowl at 135Ks, and i remember Albie Morkel winning games in Aus with his batting. I honestly believed that he was going to fill the shoes of Lance Klusener for SA. Unfortunately, the injury hurt his form. But, he is a good investment. Du Plessis is doing the job of great Johnty rhodes. While his fielding isn't as great as JH, in my opinion he is a better batsman Only thing i like to see they replace Smith with INGRAM.

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2012, 20:46 GMT

    Bestbuddy@ Levi is third highest scorer with 146 strike rate in last one day cup. Without levi cape cobra never gain last odi cup&t20 title.Shewag,Gibbs,gilcrist and jaysuriya were also inconsistence.Oneday and t20 cricket is so boring without them. Levi,amla,kallis,plessis,villiers,duminy,albie,botha,steyn,morne,tsotsobe.

  • Daniel on January 19, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    @Ayn, Levi is very very inconsistent and has failed to kick on from his record breaking school years. Peterson has been far more prolific. @aahahaa, du plessis top scored with a run a ball 72 before being run out by de villiers - thats hardly doing nothing but field...why dont you watch the games next time. Tsotsobe is more economical than any of our other bowlers...the only one I worry about is robin peterson, who can go for runs some days

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    Why alviro petersen.... Obiously we should choose richard levi. Levi is more young and destructive batsmen than petersen.Bt petersen is perfect just for test.

  • Malik on January 19, 2012, 17:11 GMT

    for South Afriac

    Amla=>best bats man, Kallis=>best allrounder, Steyn=> best bowler

  • G on January 19, 2012, 16:46 GMT

    picking Smith, Pietersen R, A or Du Plessis who can stop a ball or pick up and throw it back and nothing else, or even Tsotsobe who at his best can touch 130Ks, add to it A Morkel, as part of your long term plan is daft. dont worry AB, with his "treble role" is bound to break down sooner than later. master stroke that is.

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