CAPE TOWN. — When the Proteas lock horns with India at Newlands tomorrow it will be the start of an 18-month period that has the potential to be career-defining for a number of senior cricket players in the current set-up.
The road to the 2019 Cricket World Cup under new coach Ottis Gibson has begun, but before then there is a lot of Test cricket to be played with home series against India and Australia followed by a tour to Sri Lanka over August and September.
The Proteas then visit Australia towards the end of next year for a limted overs series before welcoming Pakistan for a full series over the festive season. Another home and away series against Sri Lanka follows before the World Cup gets underway in England in May.
The upcoming series against India and the Aussies are the highlight from a Test match perspective, but the World Cup at this stage emerges as a bright star on the horizon that can turn very good Proteas careers into great Proteas careers. In both formats, though, there is a lot left to achieve for what is an ageing group.
Will it is impossible to say for sure, the chances are good that the 2019 World Cup will serve as an international swansong for the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.
Then there is Dale Steyn, who may or may not make that tournament, and Vernon Philander, who may or may not be selected for that tournament. For all of those players, the next 18 months could be career-defining.
De Villiers (33) has spoken and written about his desperation to win the World Cup and while he will not lift the trophy as captain, he can play a major role in the overall success of the national side in winning their first ever tournament.
De Villiers must also ensure that he finishes strong in Test cricket now that he is back in that set-up. Currently averaging 50.47 from 107 Tests, De Villiers can solidify his status as one of the greats of the game if he improves or maintains those standards.
Amla, too, must have a strong finish to his Test career. Despite a solid year in 2017, he has seen his Test average dip below 50 – it is 49.61 – and he will have a chance this summer to set that right.
Amla also forms one of the world’s most feared opening partnerships in ODI cricket with Quinton de Kock, and at 34 this will almost certainly be his last chance to win the trophy that has always escaped South Africa.
Morkel and Tahir, meanwhile, will certainly be done beyond 2019. For Du Plessis, the next year and a half is massive. Given the Test captaincy relatively late in his career, he has been impressive in the role so far, winning 10 of his 16 matches in charge.
If those numbers can improve with series wins over the valued scalps of India and Australia in the coming months, his reputation as one of South Africa’s finest leaders will soar.
Then, next year, Du Plessis will have the opportunity to do what none of Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith or De Villiers managed to do by leading the Proteas to World Cup glory. — Sport24.