TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
TEAMS trust their most experienced players most – those who have been there, done that and got the glory as well as the scars.
And for good reason. If you’ve done it once you can do it again. Or if you got it wrong the first time you should be better prepared the next time the same situation arises.
This is an important theory of sporting success, a dividing line between winners and losers.
But what if the tried and trusted look more like the tired and rusted out there? What if experienced players perform as if too much of that experience has been about failure?
SA wore that dark halo for much of 2015-16. That they won only 14 of their 29 games was worrying enough, but that they also lost 13 should raise the alarm.
This is a team who have lost less than a third of the 871 matches they have played across all formats since re-admission in 1991.
But we don’t need numbers to know SA were lacklustre and listless last season. On a bad day, you could smell their unhappiness laced with something like fear for a future that loomed bleak.
Consequently, SA went winless more often than they – and us – are accustomed to in this country of starkly black and white emotions.
South Africans do not grey. So, how do SA get their colour back? How do they remind themselves – and us – that they are a no longer the team of 2012, when they rose to the top of the test rankings, but a quality team still?
Sometimes all that can save the old guard from themselves is a jolt of the new, the returning and the under-used.
Happily, then, SA will take players in all three of those categories to the Caribbean next month for their one-day series against West Indies and Australia.
Top of that list in most senses, but particularly in terms of expectation, is Wayne Parnell. We know he can play at the highest level. We’ve known this for a long time. So, can the man play already?
“Now the hard work starts,” Parnell said this week. “Getting into the Proteas is easier than staying there.”
He should know. At 26, Parnell has played 85 matches for SA since his debut seven years ago. Quinton de Kock, three years his junior, has 94 caps after four years in green and gold.
Parnell has featured in 43 different series or tournaments – and in 17 of them he has not played more than one game.
South Africans are notoriously suspicious of talent as outrageous as Parnell’s. But it doesn’t help that he has been as inconsistent as his detractors have been suspicious. Parnell must clear that hurdle in the Caribbean in what could be his last chance to fulfill his potential.
Finishing third among the wicket-takers in last season’s franchise one-day competition offers hope that he has learnt the value of using his opportunities.
“Nothing can replicate game time,” he said. “Playing at a decent level is what’s needed. Doing that consistently gave me that confidence.”
Phangiso is in a different boat. Having spent the entire 2015 World Cup warming the bench – the only player in SA’s squad to do so – then been thrown off a flight for unruly drunkenness, then had his bowling action declared illegal, then legal, the left-arm spinner has had a rough time.
He has missed SA’s last six ODIs, including the series against England, and will want to make his return memorable for the right reasons in conditions that should suit him.
Uncapped Shamsi is a leg spinner who has sprung to international prominence thanks to his call-up to the Indian Premier League as an injury replacement.
“If or when the opportunity comes along I want to be able to do a good job, in line with what the expectations are of me and the game plan,” Shamsi said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo published this week. “The challenge is there, and hopefully I will be able to make things work.”
You can hear the hope in those words. They are the kind of thing players say before they been there, done that, and got the glory and the scars. That is the blessing of inexperience.