And that’s exactly the spirit they’d want to carry in this reconstructive phase as new dawn beckons fresh beginnings after enduring a challenging year on the field.
It’s been a year where the Proteas whitewashed the touring Sri Lankans in the ODIs but found themselves on the backseat in the Tests.
Barring their captain and Rassie van der Dussen’s individual exploits that gave fans back home something to cheer about, the team largely endured a listless campaign in the 2019 World Cup.
Big retirements coupled with a talented but inexperienced team’s difficulty in rising to the challenge of competing with sides like India, in India, weren’t the only letdowns for a truly loved team.
Persistent administrative discrepancies in the way their cricket is governed did threaten to completely derail South African cricket which is precisely when a big respite- while some would say breakthrough- was achieved right when it seemed nothing could go wrong any further.
As the year draws to a close it’s this massive development underlined by major leadership appointments in Cricket South Africa- beginning from Kallis’ as the batting consultant, with Boucher and Graeme Smith in important positions- that heightens the expectations to await that great Protean revival in the coming days.
But before that what were the best moments for South Africa in 2019?
Barring the World Cup campaign, South Africans enjoyed fine ODI form
While much of South Africa’s new team, in the absence of the experienced players, in this post-AB de Villiers period is largely work in progress, it didn’t stop them from garnering impressive wins in the ODIs this year.
If you were to discount a less than impressive world cup campaign, an instance where the otherwise fiery and extremely talented bunch seemed a strangely ordinary lot, South Africa actually outperformed the likes of Sri Lanka and Pakistan quite comprehensively.
In all, South Africa, led by Faf du Plessis in (even) the ODIs, played 10 games, 5 each against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But they won 8 games, losing only 2 to visitors Pakistan while they whitewashed the unassuming Sri Lankans in drubbing the sub-continental team with a 5-nil whitewash.
In the two games that they lost, both of which to Pakistan, Hashim Amla scored a magnificent 108 and remained unbeaten while van Der Dussen impressed with a 93 on his debut at Port Elizabeth in the opening ODI contest.
Amla would again strike runs, 59 of them in the fourth ODI that the team lost to Pakistan after coming back strongly in the second and third games. But he wasn’t alone as Faf chipped in with a 57 albeit in a losing cause against a Usman Shinwari-special.
In the ODIs against Sri Lanka, South Africa powered by Tahir and Ngidi- both of whom were in fine knick cornered the visitors supported well by the likes of de Kock and Faf, the captain firing one of his finest ODI centuries- the 112 off 114 at the Wanderers.
So the Proteas’ strong ODI form formed one of the best moments for South Africa in 2019.
You can replace ordinary players with promising ones but what is one to do when not one but multiple legends walk into the sunset?
Despite the power and obvious promise that South Africa almost always offer to world cricket, you wouldn’t mind cutting the team a slack for its disappointing performances in 2019, a year where 3 of their big players called it quits, including Hashim Amla- 17,000 plus international runs- Imran Tahir- 173 ODI wickets- and JP Duminy- 7000 plus international runs and 111 wickets.
As it is, Steyn’s withdrawal from the 2019 World Cup did deal with the team a damning blow!
But even as Amla walked into the sunset after having looked ordinary on so many occasions, including the world cup, it wasn’t before he fired 417 runs at a very healthy average of 46 from 12 ODIs this year.
While the team’s command and the responsibility for a fresh, reinvigorated beginning now lies in the hands of captain Faf du Plessis and the small but valuable core of experienced campaigners in Dean Elgar, Chris Morris, and de Kock, 2020 will offer both promise and expectations to see commanding performances to bring back South Africa to the path of a position from where they could dominate teams instead of being dominated.
A year where Markram disappointed but de Kock impressed
It was South Africa’s final World Cup contest, a big one for it was the last opportunity to make amends for an awful campaign and also because they were up against Australia.
Immediately into the early start of the Proteas inning, Markram powered an elegant and crafty cover drive off Starc. It was a ball pitched right around the middle and off without any room to offer a scoring shot.
But Markram swiftly came forward and got into a leaning position to offer arguably one of the most unsung strokes toward the cover region. It was perhaps the most gloriously struck 34 runs you saw in England that series.
While Markram was a proven disappointment in his maiden World Cup campaign, some of the stellar strokes he fired reflected the promise his batting holds to make him a batting great of the future.
For someone who’s already fired 4 tons from 19 Tests, Markram will be keen to make amends for a jaded 2019 ODI run and one of the inspirations he’d be keen to emulate would be his batting partner, someone who stroked his way to 308 World Cup runs including 3 fifties at a strike rate of 87.
But Quinton de Kock’s finest moments in 2019 came in the longest form of the game, also the most physically testing and mentally draining one.
And that’s exactly what made the left-hander’s presence to a side that desperately needs him an irreplaceable one. When the going was tough for South Africa, de Kock kept on going, firing 584 Test runs from just 7 games. Of these many runs, he made 251 alone against Pakistan in the Tests.
But for someone of Dean Elgar’s experience, it was rather strange to see the left-hander, someone with whom one usually associates doggedness, to compile only a meager tally of 329 runs from 14 innings. This, however, included his 160, in India.
No bowler stood out for South Africa as such
No South African bowler seemed unplayable or intimidating enough in 2019 even as the outgoing Tahir played his part in the Pakistan ODI series and Rabada posed some challenges at the opposition in the ODIs, but only on occasions. In all, Kagiso Rabada, who took 50 wickets this year, took 26 in Tests but minus a single fifer and seemed more in control of his line and in better rhythm in the 50-over contests, where despite picking 24 scalps only he bowled at a respectable economy of under 5. Howeover, the fast-bowling tearaway could only do as much as a 3-for this year.
However, the biggest disconsolation, where the Test side is concerned was to see to gifted right-arm quick Duanne Olivier giving up his international Protean duties in front of a 3-year Kolpak deal. Even the experienced duo of Maharaj and Philander struggled this year in Tests, taking no more than 10 (158 overs) and 11 wickets (135 Overs), respectively.
Rassie van der Dussen was the find of the year for the Proteas
He debuted in 2019 and still emerged as perhaps the most impactful batsman in the entire playing eleven for South Africa, someone in whom Faf du Plessis would vest a lot of faith to carry the team’s batting hopes ahead and someone whom the fan would expect to write the next chapters of South African cricket in rich colors of passion and persistence.
Van der Dussen burst on the international scene with a dogged 93 against Pakistan, going on to score 241 runs from just 3 limited-overs contests. He went on to carve runs in the exact tournament where the ablest, frontline batsmen struggled, scoring 311, more than even de Kock from just 6 innings, including 3 half-centuries.
As a dependable and watchful lower-order batsman who can both rotate the strike during lean periods and play the aggressor when needed, South Africa, at a time of serious international lows have found just the right man suited to guide the team to a point of imminent stability. To round up the year, the 30-year-old crafty marksman compiled 664 runs at a fantastic 73, including 7 half-centuries, from just 14 innings. Impressively he carried his bat on 5 separate occasions giving an indication of the stickiness he possesses as a batsman to stay on the crease. The rise of van Der Dussen was one of the best moments for South Africa in 2019.
Faf led from the front
There’s a sense of style and flair to everything that Faf du Plessis does, whether he watches the proceedings in silence from the slip cauldron wearing the trademark shades or wields that bat flexing those pompous albeit chiseled biceps. But Faf’s not style alone; he’s substance, lots of which he went on to demonstrate in 2019 through the consistent offerings of his bat.
The right-hander, who stroked his way to 387 World Cup runs, at an average of 64, the most compiled by a South African in the 2019 cricketing fiesta plundered a hundred when it seemed no Proteas batsman would do so against a team like Australia and took South Africa to a memorable win against Sri Lanka as he fired an unbeaten 95. Moreover, he held on to his own amid the ruins that surrounded his team in the longest format, where South Africa clearly struggled for form, seeming banal and uninventive, as he struck 448 runs from just 6 Tests, averaging nearly 45.
Even when his team was in its lowest ebb in India, Faf somehow found a way to stick around carving two fifties under immense pressure. Moreover, what should keep South Africa in good stead and provide youngsters some inspiration was the 35-year-old’s year-ending ODI tally: 814 runs in the calendar year, the most by any Protea batsman amid a time of difficulty.
Faf’s steering of his side despite trying times was one of the best moments for South Africa in 2019.