Proteas' World Cup preparation will go up a gear in Dambulla
Among the many reasons why South Africa will want to play to their potential at the 2019 World Cup‚ add the fact that the tournament is likely to mark the end of several careers.
AB de Villiers and Morné Morkel have already retired and Faf du Plessis has more than hinted that the competition will be his swansong.
Now this from Dale Steyn‚ as quoted by the Press Trust of India at an event in Mumbai: “I will be trying to get to that World Cup‚ but after the World Cup I don’t see myself playing white-ball cricket for South Africa.”
The pressure is on for teams at every World Cup‚ but almost every time South Africa have gone to the tournament they have arrived as one of the favourites only to leave early having imploded when it mattered most.
An exception was 2015‚ when they went down to New Zealand in their semifinal by four wickets with one ball remaining in one of the most thrilling one-day internationals yet played.
De Villiers and Morkel played in that match‚ and Steyn himself bowled the delivery that Grant Elliott smashed over his head for six to put the Kiwis into the final.
De Villiers‚ Morkel and Rilee Rossouw — who has gone Kolpak — are the only members of that XI who are no longer in the mix.
But it’s not hard to imagine Hashim Amla‚ JP Duminy and Imran Tahir joining Du Plessis and Steyn in the departure lounge after next year’s tournament in England‚ which ends at Lord’s on July 15.
South Africa’s road there started months ago but it will go up a gear or three in Dambulla on Sunday when they play the first of five one-day internationals against Sri Lanka.
The conditions will be a long way from what the South Africans will have to come to terms with in England but it is what it is and they will have to make the best of it.
And‚ coming after the 2-0 drubbing they took in the Test series‚ Faf du Plessis’s team could do with the glimmer of positivity that would come with victory.
The good news is that South Africa have played an ODI in Dambulla before; two‚ actually‚ in August 2004.
The less than good news is that they lost both of them — by four wickets and seven wickets.
More good news is that the Lankans have since suffered their own slew of retirements of lynchpin players.
The bad news is that slow left-armer Rangana Herath‚ who took 3/28 in the first of those 2004 games and didn’t play in the second‚ is still at it.
Now for the really bad news: the home side won that series five-zip.
South Africa did only a touch better in their next ODI rubber on the Asian island nine years later‚ winning one game out of five.
But they redeemed themselves in 2014 when they claimed the series 2-1‚ their first success in the format in Sri Lanka.
Not that it made a difference in World Cup terms. Eight months after that happy day Elliott hit Steyn where the sun don’t shine and another dream died for South Africans.
And here we are‚ more than three years on from the Eden Park eina and it sill hurts.
Winning in Sri Lanka won’t change that. But it will reassure South Africa’s supporters that‚ just maybe‚ next year will be different.