South Africa look beyond just the World Cup

Kagiso Rabada bowls at a net session Getty Images

If the last few months have told the cricket world anything about South Africa, it is that they like to plan.

The World Cup was six months away when they began their official preparation, and with 100 days to go, they are in the middle of a trip to the two countries where the competition will be played. By the time the World Cup kicks off, South Africa would have played more ODIs in the lead-up period than any of their opposition, which is likely to make them more prepared for the tournament than anyone else.

With that in mind, it will not go amiss how South Africa are approaching their upcoming T20 series in Australia. They are not playing their strongest squad, but that does not mean they are taking the games lightly. There is a strategy behind what South Africa are doing, and like so much else they do, it involves the future.

That is why a significant amount of the focus of the next week will be on the 19-year-old seamer Kagiso Rabada, who is almost certain to earn his first international cap. Seven months back, Rabada impressed selectors during the Under-19 World Cup in UAE, and the expectation on him is bordering on excessive.

Rabada's 6 for 25 in the semi-final against Australia took South Africa to a place their senior side has never been at a World Cup - within touching distance of the trophy. That they eventually won was celebrated countrywide, and held up as an example to the senior side of what they needed to do at the 2015 tournament.

It is unlikely Rabada will be part of that outfit because South Africa's pace pack contains plenty of options, but there is little doubt he will be heavily involved in their future. Rabada has been the only member of that triumphant Under-19 side to feature in franchise cricket so far, the only one to get a professional contract, and the only one included in the national team's activities. He made his debut for the Lions at the end of last season and is on their books. He also travelled with the South Africa A squad to Australia over the winter and was a non-playing member of the South African squad in Zimbabwe in September.

Understandably, Rabada has found the going fairly tough now that he has made the step up, especially as the formats get shorter. In the only unofficial Test he played against Australia A, he took three wickets at 31.66. In the five 50-over matches, his four scalps came at 58.25 and in Sunday's T20 warm-up, his four overs cost 46 runs for just one wicket. s

All those numbers are not as important as introducing him into the environment early to ensure he becomes comfortable in it. Rabada will still have to wait in line behind Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott, Marchant de Lange, Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Mthokozisi Shezi and perhaps Hardus Viljoen, but to know he is part of South Africa's plans may make being in a queue less frustrating than it has been for the likes of Reeza Hendricks and Rilee Rossouw.

Hendricks and Rossou are also part of the T20 squad, and Rossouw had recently even been included in South Africa's fifty-over outfit after a few seasons of success. Along with Dean Elgar, they are regulars on the top run-scorers lists and have been consistent in all formats. Last season, Rossouw finished eighth on the first-class charts and Hendricks 12th. Rossouw was sixth on the 50-over list, and Hendricks 17th. Hendricks was fourth on the T20 ladder, with Rossouw eighth.

Their progress has been blocked by the stability of South Africa's top-order, which was until recently provided by Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, and now, by Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis. Now that Rossouw and Hendricks have finally been given an opportunity, they will know they have to take it. Rossouw has already come close to squandering his ODI chances with four ducks in six innings, and will want to show better temperament, while Hendricks will hope for a more successful first outing.

The three T20I debutants will hardly have a gentle introduction because they will be surrounded by other players also hoping to make an impact after biding their time on the sidelines. David Wiese last played for South Africa a year ago, Farhaan Behardien was previously included during the World T20 in March and Marchant de Lange has only just made a return from injury. Robin Peterson has been given another chance after losing ground to other spinners and will want to make full use of it. Other recognisable names like Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell are only sporadic inclusions in a full-strength South African side, while David Miller is still searching for form.

Then there is JP Duminy. Since his emergence as the go-to all-rounder, he has become a key member of the leadership core and this time, Duminy has been asked to head it up. This will be his first experience as captain and gives him an additional responsibility to that of senior batsman and more than just a part-time bowler. But once again, all this just goes to show how far ahead South Africa are thinking.

Duminy was considered for the Test captaincy, especially before Hashim Amla made himself available for the post and although Duminy does not serve in an official capacity in any format, he may yet to be asked to. South Africa are moving on from the decade-long reign of Smith and into what is looking like more flexible and inclusive ways of assigning authority. Duminy is an essential component of that.

He already has the right ideas about thinking ahead and cited this T20 series not so much as a way to warm-up for the ODIs which will follow but as a sighter for something much further in the future. "This is an opportunity for players to stake a claim in this format. There is a T20 World Cup in 2016 and there's not a lot of international T20 cricket this year, so it's a great opportunity for guys to put up their hands so there's that long-term goal in mind," he said.

With South Africa, there always is.