While we were recovering from our hangovers after yet another tremendous Test series triumph (albeit against a weak side), our ODI team somehow managed to lose a series (against previously mentioned weak side) and again disappoint in a way that Bafana Bafana would be proud of. We sweep everything aside with the red ball, but put our boys in pyjamas and make them play with a white ball and everything goes to crap.
Forget about the rankings and using the term ‘choke’ whenever marginally possible. There are some fundamental flaws to this team and have been for quite some time now. A part of me believes it has something to do around one player – Johan Botha.
Cast your mind back to January 2009. The Proteas were in Australia, spirits were high after just stuffing the hosts in the Test series and captain courageous, as a result, had had to withdraw from the ODI series due to injury. Smith at that stage was The Captain. No matter what the format, Smith was in control, even if a game of calypso broke out on the beach, Graeme would decide who would bowl and when. He was unable to play in the ODIs here though so somebody needed to step up against the fierce home side. Step forward Johan Botha.
The five match series against a full strength Aussie outfit started with a tremendous 3 wicket win for the Proteas. Albie Morkel klapped us to victory while Botha played the support role.
The Aussies fought back for a narrow 5 run win in the second ODI, but then Botha came into his own leading his team to a 3 and 8 wicket win in the next two matches securing the Test and ODI series wins down under. A feat that is achieved as often in cricket as logical thought is used in sports administration.
For good measure Botha’s lead Proteas side (filled with fresh faces given a chance to shine) klapped the Aussies again in Perth in the dead rubber, meaning the series was won 4-1 in the end. It was a great time in SA cricket and Botha’s leadership was a real high point, together with him taking 8 important wickets at a tidy rate, and also being around at the death with the bat recording 32 runs in the series without being dismissed. The Proteas played with a real sense of purpose here, and a sense of belief that could certainly have served the team well in World Cups gone by.
In the next series the Aussies did the travelling this time and again they took a beating. Smith was returned to the captaincy position here though, and the move was seen by many as a natural one. Now not for second am I going to say Smith should have stepped aside here. He was doing a good job and all that – but as our tournament records showed, we needed something special, something really purposeful, and it was starting to become clear in the months after that Smith was perhaps no longer that guy.
The Proteas were desperately pedestrian in the ICC Champions trophy despite it being hosted in SA. Sure we could beat most teams just about anywhere and at any time, but never when a trophy was on the line. Talk started to do the rounds that Smith may need to step down as the ODI skipper and focus on Test while some fresh blood took over. Botha was that fresh blood, but the next time he took the arm band was for two matches against Pakistan in 2010. The Proteas won the series but Botha was only leading the team because Smith was out injured.
Onto 2011 then, but sadly by this stage Botha was no longer seen as the next captain. Smith duly left the World Cup without the trophy meaning the golden boy AB de Villiers, fresh from shooting his first music video. was seen as the way forward. He injured himself while playing T20 though in the Champions League, so Hashim Amla came out of nowhere to lead the Proteas against the Aussies. He drew the T20 series and lost the ODI series, needless to say the role didn’t help his game.
Botha sensed he was now about as loved as a half eaten boerie roll in a Loftus toilet by this stage, so naturally he wanted to go make some cash. He went down under to play the T20, something his various talents and leadership abilities could thrive in. Cricket SA were said to be cool with this, but things soured horribly from here. Even though Botha was still the best limited overs slow bowler we had, the powers that be dicked him around a lot and eventually he was just an outsider looking in.
See the thing is, Botha should have been leading the Proteas ODI team not just on the back of a good run in Australia, not just because he has a mind for limited overs and not just because he justifies his position in the team as a player – but because if he is captain we don’t have to bugger up the game of a star batsman.
Kallis never wanted the captain’s armband, Hash was crap with it and never wants it again, and now AB – well I think we are all a little worried about AB in this role.
AB is a good boy, loves his mama. Loves Jesus and South Africa too… but he is designed to be a batsman that takes oppositions to pieces. That’s what we need him for, the Proteas ODI team lacks purpose and thrust, something that will continue to happen if you have a kingpin like AB having to worry about what he is doing because he is the captain.
Botha was always good for being the team glue. He was fiercely competitive, could hold his own with bat and ball and was unconventional in his ways. All essential attributes for limited overs cricket. All too often the Proteas ODI team gets shown up by team with a little more fight or street smarts than them. This latest loss to a group of touring Kiwis highlights this.
Sadly Botha is just too far removed from this team to settle this ship. AB will no doubt come back and do what he now feels he is destine to do. If that doesn’t work (or if he gets suspended again) Faf will no doubt step in, but they are not the answers. They are the playmakers, the match winners, the guys who young girls have impure thoughts about. We need a Botha character, but sadly I think our opportunity to have one has now gone.