TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IF the idea of SA’s triseries against West Indies and Australia seems old-fashioned, that’s because it is.
Six one-day tournaments involving three or four teams have been played in the past five years. In the five years following SA’s first triseries – in February 1993, when they hosted the Windies and Pakistan – 20 such events unfolded across the international cricketscape.
In an era strewn with bilateral rubbers of all flavours on top of World Cups, Champions Leagues and World T20s, all of them islands in the alphabet soup of domestic T20 extravaganzas flung from Barbados to Bangalore to Bangladesh and several other places inbetween, finding time in the schedule to put three international teams in one place long enough to play each other a few times each is a feat worthy of its own place in the record books.
But, starting on Friday at the soulless Providence stadium outside Georgetown in Guyana, where West Indies will take on SA, a triseries we shall have. Two days later the home side will be up against the Aussies at the same venue.
And so on and so forth until, on June 26, after each team have played six games, the top two sides on the log will clash in the final at the stately Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.
For the first time in the Caribbean all the matches in an ODI series will be day/night games. Of the 276 ODIs played there since the first one in 1977 only three have taken place under lights.
So, what does that tell us? Not a lot. The Windies won the first, against Zimbabwe in St Lucia in May 2006, by 10 wickets. The second, between West Indies and Sri Lanka also in St Lucia in April 2008, was washed out, and the third was won by 91 runs by the home side against Bangladesh in St Kitts in August 2014.
Which might make you wonder whether Friday’s game will be tied: of all the available options for results in day/night ODIs in the West Indies it’s the only box not yet ticked.
Not that SA are allowing themselves such flights of fancy. After last season’s unconvincing performance – won 14, lost 13 – they will be focused on plugging the hole in their own and their public’s confidence in their abilities.
Kagiso Rabada, just 21, looms as key to that happening. There is nothing quite like an infusion of fresh talent to remind the old guard why they play this damnably difficult game, and Rabada did exactly that last season.
What might the flying young man in his magnificent fast bowler’s machine of a body accomplish in a place where hurling the ball at bone-breaking pace was put on its pedestal in the modern game?
Not so fast, Russell Domingo said: “He is still learning his trade. I wouldn’t say he is our No. 1 strike bowler. We’ve still got some wonderful bowlers in the side – Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander.
“To maintain and sustain it over a long period of time is a challenge. Him being such a bright star and such a valuable commodity, the temptation is to play him every single game but we need to be careful with that. He can’t play every game because by the time he is 23 or 24 we won’t see the best of him.”
All good. Except that Steyn and Philander aren’t in this squad. Instead, SA will get their gas from Kyle Abbott, Chris Morris, Morkel, Wayne Parnell – and Rabada. That’s good company to keep but as we saw last season Rabada belongs right up there.
SA’s batting is less settled, what with Faf du Plessis in danger of missing their first two games because of the finger he fractured while playing in the Indian Premier League.
But perhaps there’s no reason to fret. Of the 27 finals SA have reached in ODI tournaments involving three or four teams they have won 16.
West Indies and SA have never met in a final, but Australia have been the Proteas’ opponents in seven finals – and the Aussies lead that scorecard 4-3.
An eighth decider between them looms in the Caribbean. Any chance of an old-fashioned humdinger?