Following the Proteas' successful test series at home to a mediocre Sri Lanka side, Mark Boucher’s men took to Pakistan where they hit a stern reality check in an overwhelmingly disappointing effort. There is still a lengthy (and bumpy) road ahead for Cricket South Africa – both on and off the field of play.
CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith is desperately seeking to write a prosperous chapter for SA's governing cricket council, following the calamitous and abhorrent period that was Thabang Moroe‘s tenure as chief executive from 2016-19.
Smith, 40, was appointed interim director of cricket, days after Moroe was suspended for misconduct in December 2019. The Proteas' most successful and lauded test captain assumed the position on a permanent basis in April last year and he recently conceded that the Proteas women's team is presently better off than its male counterpart.
As per the Fundudzi forensic report which analyzed the wrongdoings during Moroe's ill-fated reign as CSA CEO, the ex-chief was found culpable of corruption, nepotism, maladministration amongst other allegations. Chris Nenzani resigned as president of Cricket SA in August 2020, shortly before Moroe was fired by the organization, who are yet to appoint permanent successors for the axed pair.
An interim board has been in place since October last year, featuring former CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat.
Similarly to inside the boardroom, it has also been a turbulent period on the pitch for South African cricket. On the international front, the Proteas' first bit of long-lasting action after the COVID-induced lockdown was an inbound red-ball tour of Sri Lanka and Mickey Arthur – ex-Proteas head coach from 2005-10. Arthur took over the reigns in Sri Lanka in late 2019 following a 3-year stint as Pakistan head coach.
In the first of two tests, old-timer and ex-skipper Faf du Plessis stole the show at Centurion, with a commendable knock of 199 – inspiring the Proteas to a rampant victory by an innings and 45 runs. SA wrapped up the series in Johannesburg, winning by 10 wickets. Opening batsman Dean Elgar top scored at the Wanderers with 127.
More recently the Proteas cavalry engaged on an outbound tour to Pakistan, their first visit of the south Asian nation since 2007. The hosts won both of two test matches, convincingly, before the teams swapped red ball for white in a three-match T20 series.
Pakistan once more came out on top, 2-1; the Proteas won the 2nd T20 in Lahore, however it proved nothing more than a mere consolation for Boucher and assistant coach Enoch Nkwe.
Pakistan are expected on South African shores for a one-day tour composed of three ODIs and four T20s, expected to commence early April in the highveld, i.e. Centurion & Johannesburg.
Smith has also hinted at an undisclosed number of battles with India in the near future, confirming that he has been in discussions with Sourav Ganguly, president of BCCI.
It is also unconfirmed which nation would play host in the prospective series'.
Smith was irked by Cricket Australia as well as the England Cricket Board, both of whom effectively pulled out of their tours to SA, citing COVID-19 as their primary concerns.
England abandoned their one-day tour in the Western Cape late last year, following a positive test in their team hotel. Australia, meanwhile, withdrew prematurely from their forthcoming trip amidst the easing of lockdown restrictions by the South African government at the start of February.
In between international affairs there has also been plenty of domestic action to gaze upon. Most recently was the Betway T20 Challenge, staged in a bio-secure environment at Kingsmead in Durban. This year’s tournament was the first domestic T20 competition on South African soil since the Mzansi Super League at the back end of 2019.
The Lions were the defending T20 Challenge champions having won the previous rendition in May 2019.
The Dolphins qualified for this year’s Final by finishing in 1st place in the round-robin. With one match remaining for each franchise, the Lions were all but guaranteed to feature in the playoff, with their only defeat coming at the hands of a fierce Dolphins outfit.
The Warriors claimed the other playoff spot as they edged the Titans by a single point; the Joburg-based Lions advanced to the Final as they defeated the Warriors by 7 wickets, with captain Temba Bavuma scoring an unbeaten 48*.
In the Final on Sunday the home side won the toss and batted first, a decision which came back to haunt them as they lost three wickets inside the opening five overs, and went on to set a below par target of 108.
Despite being 61/1 the Lions made matters difficult for themselves by losing a further five wickets for 20 runs before they closed out the tournament with a 4-wicket victory, successfully defending their T20 Challenge crown.
The top three run scorers in the competition were all Lions' batsmen, with the trio of Bavuma, Reeza Hendricks & Rassie van der Dussen scoring an accumulative 640 runs throughout the tournament.
Lions pace bowler Sisanda Magala took 13 wickets, three more than any other bowler.
The domestic franchises had previously switched from 50-over to the 20-over format after the Momentum One Day Cup took place at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom, also in a secure bio-bubble. The defending champions were the Knights who were grouped together with the Dolphins & Titans in Pool A; Pool B consisted of the Cape Cobras, Lions and Warriors.
Not for the last time, the Dolphins & Lions met in the Final as they both topped their respective pools. Due to inclement weather conditions the Final took place over two days, however the heavens remained open and the damp grounds subsequently meant the two teams shared the MODC title.
The Durban-based Dolphins have now won or shared the MODC title three times since 2018, despite not actually winning the Final outright.
The top scorers in the competition were Janneman Malan (Cape Cobras) and Dominic Hendricks (Lions) who notched 232 apiece, narrowly ahead of the 2020 top scorer Grant Roelofsen who ended this year's tournament with 192 runs.
Magala once again topped the wickets charts with 8, tied with Imran Manack of the Cape Cobras.
The CSA 4-day franchise series commenced in November last year and is set to resume from 7 March.
Pool A contains the Cape Cobras, Titans & Warriors, with the Dolphins, Knights & Lions making up Pool B.
Proteas captain Quinton de Kock was medically advised to engage on a mental health sabbatical following the tour of Pakistan. de Kock, 28, has ostensibly not been his usual self at the crease as of late and is expected back in time to lead his troops when they welcome Pakistan next month.
de Kock is currently placed 24th in the ICC test batsmen rankings, with Aiden Markram (15) and Dean Elgar (19) the only South Africans sitting above the skipper.
The rankings are topped by New Zealand's Kane Williamson, followed by Aussie duo Steve Smith & Marnus Labuschagne; Joe Root and Virat Kohli round off the top 5.
In the bowlers' charts, Australian Pat Cummins leads the way with Kagiso Rabada (8) the highest placed South African and the only Protea in the top 25.
New Zealand are at the summit of the ICC Test Championship, narrowly ahead of India.
Australia & England are further behind while South Africa are tied 6th with Sri Lanka, just behind Pakistan.