Cricket Australia’s decision to pull out of their tour to South Africa later this month because of Covid-19 fears might just be a blessing in disguise for coach Mark Boucher and his Proteas team.
I see Cricket South Africa (CSA) has now written to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to help them because of the financial impact of the tour not taking place.
Dare I say, though, that I believe some of the players probably gave a big sigh of relief for not having to return from Pakistan where they just lost a series 2-0 to be “locked up” in a bio-bubble for the Aussie visit again .
But I’ve spent enough time on the mental impact of these bubbles on players in previous columns, so instead I want to focus on fixing the issues they have on the field during their time off.
And the obvious one is that of the captain’s armband.
Quinton de Kock does not wear it well in the five-day game and I reckon the Pakistan tour closed the chapter on his time in charge of the team.
But have any of the players done enough to promote their chances of leading the team?
Let’s rewind a bit to who I think are the best options for the captaincy. Regular readers of this column will know that I once suggested Kagiso Rabada as a wildcard.
While I still believe he is worthy of being brought up in the discussion, it’s more likely to be one of Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar or Rassie van der Dussen.
Keshav Maharaj also spun a curveball by adding his name to the hat and didn’t do his reputation any harm by bagging 10 wickets in the series – the most by a South African.
Boucher wanted a player to stand up in this series and show their worth and I reckon we saw glimpses of that leadership from all of the above.
But here the selectors have to be smart.
We have seen now that there wasn’t a smooth transition when Faf du Plessis stepped down last year.
To fix the issue, CSA has two options: go for a temporary two-three year solution or appoint a leader with the next five to six years in mind and back him.
If they go for the first option, it will give director of cricket Graeme Smith and his men enough time to identify and mould a future long-term captain, with the stop-gap then being either one of Bavuma (30 years old), Van der Dussen (32) or Elgar (33).
Here I believe Bavuma has strengthened his case in Pakistan with some fighting knocks towards the end of the innings that saw him score 162 runs at an average of 54 in four innings.
When he then eventually lays down his bat, the next in line will take over.
If, however, they are thinking long-term now already, Rabada (25) and Markram (26) being two of their younger regulars in the team are the best options.
So with time on their side because of the canned Aussie tour and players having the luxury of downtime to truly assess their futures, CSA has to decide on the path they want to take and then sit down to interview these candidates.
Personally, I’d go for the long-term solution, with a really strong leadership core coming from Du Plessis, De Kock, Elgar, Bavuma, Van der Dussen, and Maharaj that can help guide either Rabada or Markram.
In that case, they have to decide between a batsman and a bowler.
I believe a batter is a better option. You need a fast bowler to be fierce and you don’t want captaincy to put out that fire.
That leaves Markram – the man who scored the most runs (227 at an average of 56.75) for the Proteas in Pakistan.
By now you are probably thinking die jong is so deurmekaar soos ‘n verkleurmannetjie in a Smartie box.
In the past, I have made a case for Rabada, played down Markram as captain because he lost his place in the team not too long ago and I have made cases for Elgar, Bavuma and Van der Dussen.
But given the current situation and the criteria listed as wanting a player to step up in this series, Markram has played himself right back into contention.
It gets tricky when Pieter Malan and others are threatening his position at the top of the batting order, but if CSA decides to back Markram, they will have to do so in every department.
If he’s not the man, then they’ll have to appoint one of the senior statesmen for the next two to three years and identify a youngster who will take over afterwards.
That youngster will then have to be given a clear squad role as vice captain, with fans, players and coaches all knowing who is next in line if the incumbent steps down.
Ek weet inelkgeval nie waarheen the term vice captain verdwyn het op team sheets nie.
Over to you Smith, chief selector Victor Mpitsang and Boucher.