South Africa’s T20I side is without a number of first-choice players, some because of injury and some because of the IPL
It was just two months ago that Heinrich Klaasen, freshly recovered from a debilitating bout of Covid-19 at the time, was leading a second-string T20I side out in Pakistan. He is in the same position again.
Then, in February this year, South Africa were without then-captain Quinton de Kock, senior batsmen including Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen, and their entire frontline pace attack of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje, all of whom had returned home to prepare for a Test series against Australia that never took place. Klaasen oversaw a 2-1 loss.
Now, he will again stand in as skipper of a makeshift side in a T20I series against Pakistan. New captain Temba Bavuma is out with an injury, van der Dussen is doubtful for the same reason, de Kock, du Plessis and the quicks are all at the IPL, and even some of the players who were part of the team that played in Pakistan are unavailable. David Miller, their leading run-scorer from that series, is also at the IPL and Reeza Hendricks, who had the joint-highest total in the only match South Africa won in Pakistan, is on paternity leave. Dwaine Pretorius, one of the allrounders, is injured.
In February, Klaasen had insisted it wasn’t a second-string side that he had been put in charge of. Again, he has had to defend the status of the players he has to work with and although he has moved closer to admitting it is not the group he had hoped it to be, he did his best to give everyone as much of a boost as possible.
“We’ve been fine-tuning the brand we want to play. With all the new guys coming in, they still need to play that brand of cricket because that’s the direction we want to go”
“This is a great time for us to look at other players that are not necessarily in that first XI but could be in the back up XI. There’s a good opportunity for the youngsters,” he said. “Unfortunately, we do not have the big players here but we are a very strong team.”
Except that, with 24 hours to go before the toss in the first T20I, Klaasen admitted that he didn’t really know what his team might look like. “We’re waiting on a couple of fitness tests on a couple of niggles. We’ll probably have a chat in the next hour or so to give the guys enough time to prep for tomorrow. So, at this moment, I have no idea.”
Death-bowling specialist Sisanda Magala is one of the players who have to undergo a fitness test before being available for selection. This is Magala’s second inclusion in a national squad – he was part of the white-ball squads against England and Australia last year but was not capped. And coach Mark Boucher said earlier in the week that the team management wanted Magala to play but there were “no grey areas” around the requirements they have and until he met them, he could not be included.
So, on top of everything else South Africa have to do without, they are also without a player who has been hailed domestically as one of the best in controlling the end of an innings. Their squad includes a mix of players who seem certainties for the T20 World Cup, which takes place in six months’ time, and those who have barely entered the conversation. That makes it difficult to think of this series as something that could seriously be used in preparation for that tournament.
“We’ve got a set plan on how we want to play,” Klaasen stressed. “Over the last couple of months, we’ve been fine-tuning the brand we want to play. With all the new guys coming in, they still need to play that brand of cricket because that’s the direction we want to go. We are going to keep pushing that brand of cricket.”
Asked specifically about the “brand” that has been much spoken about since Bavuma took over the white-ball captaincy, Klaasen had a few pointers, but not many: “It’s a positive brand of cricket and a bit of streetwise cricket. The rest I can’t really expand on. This is the way the game is going forward and we need to keep up with the new style of play.”
South Africa last won a T20I series two years ago, against Sri Lanka at home, and have since played five, lost four and drawn one. They have issues of poor form and poor luck, and this time, also poor timing.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent