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Proteas paying the price for lack of vision

Void left by retirement of stalwarts too huge to fill

When South Africa last toured India, in 2015, it arrived having not lost a Test series abroad for nine years. The current outfit is some distance away from that sort of record.

South Africa had not suffered successive innings defeats in Tests in over 80 years, until the losses in Pune and Ranchi.

Since Jacques Kallis played his last Test in 2013, South Africa has seen Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, and A.B. de Villiers all retire from Test cricket.

Kallis, Smith, Amla and de Villiers have scored 40,601 Test runs among them. Steyn and Morkel accounted for 748 Test wickets between them. That is a big vacuum to fill. The unenviable task of helming this South African team during this period of transition falls to Faf du Plessis.

Inexperience

"It’s tough; I find this tour really tough," he said here on Tuesday. "We’ve had a very mature Test team for a while, all guys who’ve played upwards of 30-40 Test matches. Now you look in the dressing room and it’s five, six, seven, eight and 10 Test matches. So it does feel like a lot of responsibility lies on my shoulders to try and take the reins."

South Africa had been guilty of not planning for the future, du Plessis felt.

"If you look back three or four years, if someone had the vision of saying… in three or four years’ time, a lot of 34, 35, 36-year-olds could possibly retire. And possibly we are guilty of not planning for these guys going at the same time," he said.

South Africa has lost a number of cricketers to the English county game via the Kolpak system in recent years, including Simon Harmer, Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw, Marchant de Lange, Wayne Parnell and Stiaan van Zyl.

Harmer, an off-spinner, finished the 2019 County Championship as the leading wicket-taker, with 83 scalps, helping Essex to the title. Brexit could lead to the end of Kolpak cricketers in the county game, a situation that would benefit South African cricket, felt du Plessis.

"Brexit will be one thing that will stop the Kolpak players," he said. "That would benefit South African cricket tremendously. I don’t know if they’ll find a loophole. Because opportunities are there for players on the domestic circuit in England. We’re losing our experience in international cricket. But we are also losing our experience in domestic cricket.”

Hoping for the best

du Plessis added: “It’s sad for South African cricket not to have the option of its best players. Simon Harmer has had an unbelievable season. And it would be great for South Africa to be in a position where they could go, ‘He’s done well overseas. Let’s bring him on tour with us.’

“So maybe, post Brexit, guys will still go and play there, but you can still pick them for your country. That’s the situation we need to get to.”

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