South Africa's ODI drought 'not ideal'
When South Africa next play ODI cricket, the country could have a new president, another IPL season will be complete, and winter will be on its way out. Their next 50-over assignment, according to the FTP, is in July - seven months away. With the focus on Test and Twenty20 cricket, ahead of the 2014 World T20, there is a danger that the gains AB de Villiers' ODI side has made over the last six weeks will be lost, affecting their build-up to the 2015 World Cup.
The tournament in Australia and New Zealand is in 15 months and South Africa's long break from ODI cricket is "absolutely not ideal," former players Shaun Pollock, Herschelle Gibbs and Boeta Dippenaar told ESPNcricinfo. They agreed that South Africa need to play more one-dayers to build on their recent impressive performance, which could shape their World Cup strategy, and have asked the national board to look at ways to schedule more one-dayers at home.
If the present schedule were adhered to, Dippenaar said, none of the players would have enough games - and not enough, according to Pollock, against good enough opposition. The series in July is in Zimbabwe and it is far from guaranteed because Zimbabwe Cricket is suffering from financial problems, which forced it to postpone a visit by Sri Lanka this year. Should that series be put off, South Africa's next scheduled ODIs are only in November 2014, five matches in Australia. Following that tour, South Africa will host West Indies for five more ODIs before the World Cup.
Cricket South Africa had displayed its proactivity by organising a last-minute home series against Pakistan to fill the gap in the season caused by the shortening of India's visit. "The amount of ODI cricket needs to go up when you're preparing for a World Cup. Its like a marathon runner who increased the distance every week in training before tapering off just before the race," Dippenaar said. "The pace and bounce of our pitches are similar to Australian wickets so it would be a good place to practice. I'd invite a team like England or New Zealand - they are scrappers so it would be good to play them, or even Sri Lanka.
"If that doesn't work then I'd say they should play three exhibition matches in South Africa. A best versus the rest, or something like that. They absolutely have to play something else before the World Cup."
While Dippenaar was adamant about adding to the schedule, Gibbs said that as long as South Africa were playing "some form of cricket against someone," they would benefit. De Villiers wasn't too concerned either.
"If we didn't win a series I would be very worried but now that we have, I feel we will get back into it again," de Villiers said. "It is a long time but when you finish things on a good note, you can pick it up again. The guys are doing well together, they seem to enjoy each others successes so I feel we will pick things up straight again in July."
Whether South Africa do so will have a significant impact on their chances of ending a poor run in ICC tournaments. After they crashed out of the 2011 World Cup, one-day cricket took a back seat as South Africa strived to become the No. 1 Test side. A result of that neglect was a poor showing at the 2013 Champions Trophy and in Sri Lanka, two tours that exposed how much South Africa's batting hadregressed.
In the past six weeks, however, South Africa have smoothened out those wrinkles. They won two series out of three, one in the UAE against Pakistan and the other at home against India, the top-ranked ODI side. They had seven wins in 11 matches across the three series but the win-loss record did not highlight the numbers that mattered to de Villiers. South Africa's batsmen are showing more "care," he said, for partnerships.
In eight ODIs during the Champions Trophy and the tour of Sri Lanka, South Africa had only two century stands and eight half-century partnerships. In the next three series, they had five century stands and 13half-century partnerships. Their bowling was always impressive and now their batting has caught up. According to Pollock, South Africa have "probably settled on the 16 names they will take to the 2015 World Cup."
Whether they will be able to pick up where they left off is the question. "A break can be a dangerous thing when you are in good form," Dippenaar said, making a reference to the performance of the Test team after a seven-month break earlier this year. "The only reason they lost that first Test against Pakistan in Dubai is because they were rusty. It showed that when you're playing well, you need keep playing, so you can build on the things you do well to help you when you are struggling a bit."
Dippenaar stressed the concern was over younger players, like Quinton de Kock and David Miller, who are just starting to carve a niche for themselves and will now have that process interrupted. "Quinton needs to play as much as possible," he said.
Gibbs also said de Kock must be given opportunity to gain as much experience as possible. He believed the youngster will keep Graeme Smith out of World Cup contention. "I can't see Graeme forcing his way back now," Gibbs said. "So Quinton needs to play."
So does the person who may need to step in for Jacques Kallis, who should use the next seven months to make a firm decision about his ODI future, according to Pollock, Gibbs and Dippenaar. They seemed to be sayingthat Kallis may have to accept that the 2015 World Cup could be a bridge too far. "It will give Jacques the time to decide if he wants to continue," Pollock said.
Dippenaar was of the opinion that it may not be up to Kallis to make a decision. "There is the real question that he may not make it to the World Cup and then it's going to be tough on whoever has to replace him, because that person won't have enough games," Dippenaar said. Unless CSA step in and do something about the schedule.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent