South Africa Cricket Team, T20I Cricket
South Africa Cricket Team (Image Credit: Twitter)

Many of the headlines leading up to South Africa’s Test series in the West Indies would have made for tough reading for Proteas fans. Indeed, the plight of the West Indian cricket team has always been seen as a cautionary tale in South Africa with fans all too aware that maladministration off the pitch could see the glory days disappear for good. So when this series in the Caribbean was billed as a battle between two ‘erstwhile cricketing powerhouses’, many Proteas fans shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Although there wouldn’t have been much ire directed in the way of the reporting newspapers given that the Proteas had dropped to an unbelievable seventh in the ICC Test rankings. Instead, just a resentful nod of acceptance at the reality facing South African cricket.

Indeed, the general feeling was that South Africa’s current predicament in the Test arena and why it had dropped off so dramatically was down to the IPL and its players prioritizing the annual event over the longer format. The hunger to roll up one’s sleeves and grind out Test results had been replaced by an appetite to perform in the shortest format with the biggest financial rewards. As the betting guide says, the IPL is one of the world’s most anticipated sports tournaments which attracts vast audiences in stadiums and on television. Carrying on, they allude to the fact that the cricket action is fast and furious, with viewers able to place bets on their favorite players and teams. In essence, making it everything a cricket fan wants and the most lucrative product in world cricket. The long and short of it is that the serious money in the game is made in the IPL and, subsequently, teams like the West Indies and South Africa have seen their players lose that desire to play cricket’s oldest formats.

A nation reclaims its identity

It’s all of a sudden quite easy to see why the series in the Caribbean had adopted the narrative that it did, given that both countries were suffering from the same problem. However, after just two hours of the first session of the first Test, it had become clear that the Proteas had taken great umbrage at being classed as being in the same sinking boat as the West Indies with the islanders skittled out for a mere 97. The historically hostile South African fast bowling was back and the Windies didn’t have an answer. The status quo was officially restored by lunch on the third day as the Proteas won the match by an innings and 63 runs.

A week later and the Proteas completed a whitewash of the West Indies by beating the hosts by 158 runs to claim a triumphant 2-0 win in the series. That usual Proteas verve that had been missing for so long was back as an unplayable Keshav Maharaj became the first South African to take a Test hat-trick, as we reported here at The left-arm spinner weaved his magic on a sweltering day in St Lucia and produced the heroics that could ignite the Proteas in the Test arena once more. Indeed, the sight of the jubilant South Africa fielders trying to catch Maharaj after his hat-trick would have brought a lump to the throat of many long-suffering fans in the rainbow nation. That was the pride that the public had been so desperate to see again had returned.

This was the first time South Africa had won away from home since March 2017 and the feeling across the board is that this is the start of a new dawn for the country. So, with this in mind, what has been the catalyst for such drastic change?

Clearing the air under the African stars

Before the Proteas made the journey across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, they did what all South Africans do to enhance team-building by heading to the wild African bush for a few days away in an effort to strengthen camaraderie. It was during one of these nights that, around a fire, the team had an open and robust conversation about what had gone wrong over the past few years. New captain Dean Elgar led the meeting and, after a few hours, everyone who sat under the African sky that night had been reminded of the privilege, responsibility, and honor that comes with representing the country on the southernmost tip of the continent.

Proteas coach Mark Boucher made sure that the entire squad knew that the time of underperforming and letting a nation down was over. Fast forward to a few weeks later and the results in the Caribbean certainly speak for themselves. The message has been received and the discipline that has been so sorely lacking is back.

Of course, there may have been good reason to classify the Proteas as an erstwhile force in the cricketing world before a ball was bowled in the Caribbean, but there is no reason to do it anymore. The South Africans are back.