Get ready to hear this a lot over the next 17 months, especially if you follow the South African team: Vision 2019. You’re probably already aware of it, but the expression is going to go into overdrive when South Africa play one-day cricket.
It refers to their plan to win the 2019 World Cup and yes, they have already started planning for it. In fact, the planning started in the middle of last year when South Africa began talks with Ottis Gibson to take over as head coach. As someone who had overseen a team triumph at an ICC tournament before, Gibson was thought to be able to bring a fresh, winning approach to the side and so far, he has.
South Africa have won three Test series, including a one-off, four-day, day-night match against Zimbabwe, under Gibson. They’ve also won an ODI and T20I series, against Bangladesh, with Gibson in charge but with inherited assistants. This India series is the start of his road to the World Cup, a road others have found littered with speed bumps, and one that has ended in car-crashes. Gibson intends to complete the journey and this is how:
“Our mindset has changed. We have always been a team to focus on the now and when we are getting to a big tournament, that becomes your focus as well. This is the first time, we have taken a small step away from the now and a bigger step into the future,” Faf du Plessis explained.
Phase 1 involves experimentation and South Africa plan to use this ODI series and the next one against Sri Lanka in July to trial players, new and old, both in their familiar position and out of them, in order to distill the pool into the best candidates for the World Cup.
For the first three matches of this India series, Khaya Zondo and Lungi Ngidi have been included and Aiden Markram, who has one cap to his name, is also involved. Later in the series, the likes of Farhaan Behardien could come back. The aim of all this is to ensure everyone who could potentially go to the World Cup gets game time, tackles tense situations and are able to show what they can do.
“This is the first time that any conversation we have had as a selection panel or coach and captain is to see how we can look at more players.”, du Plessis said. “I have never been involved in a vision like that. The now is very important and we play series to win but there is a big focus on how we can get a lot of guys opportunity because a year and a half or two years from now, you want to make sure there’s a group of players that have had time in the middle and time in pressure situations so you don’t just hope your XI is fit all the time.”
A natural follow-up is to wonder whether South Africa are willing to sacrifice results for the sake of this “vision,” and the answer is a reluctant yes. “You have to. It is hard. I’ve always been of the belief that you play every game as hard as you can. You do everything you can to try and win a game of cricket. But I do feel we are a little bit more focused on two years time,” du Plessis said. “If you say that, you have to give yourself a little bit more allowance because by doing that – you are not always playing your best team. We will give some opportunities for young guys to come through in this series.”
All that means is South Africa won’t be too hard on themselves if they lose, or even if they start to drop down the one-day rankings, and by the sounds of things, they definitely won’t be too hard on themselves if the first game goes badly. Du Plessis admitted fatigue has crept in after the hard-fought Test series, which eight of the 14 ODI squad members were part of. “We are still feeling the after effects of the Test series, mentally and physically. It was quite a tough one. Yesterday after practice, the boys were pretty tired.”
They will have to get over the lethargy quickly because the ODIs are tightly packed. All six will be played in the space of 16 days, with only two days’ break in-between matches. The week after the ODIs will see three T20Is played in seven days and South Africa are expected to rest several senior players then because, four days after the final T20, they go straight into a four-Test series against Australia.
Very few summers are this busy for South Africa, which also makes their idea of introducing and rotating new players valid. The only questions may be over which new players are being looked at. South Africa’s one-day cup reaches its conclusion on Friday and there are several players who have performed well that are not in this ODI squad. Behardien, who sits fourth on the run-charts, is one. Heinrich Klaasen, the Titans’ wicketkeeper who may start to challenge an out-of-form Quinton de Kock, and who sits third on the run-scores’ list, is another. Dane Paterson, the fourth-highest wicket-taker, is a third.
Ultimately, South Africa are looking for match-winners to fulfill Vision 2019, which, as you will hear over the coming months, is all about winning the biggest prize of all.