TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE Clash of the Clouds would be as good a marketing hook as any for the test series between SA and New Zealand starting at Kingsmead on Friday.
That the New Zealanders hail from what the Maori call Aotearoa – “the land of the long white cloud” – is borne out by their current form: they have won half of their last 10 tests and lost four.
Comparatively, SA are under a dark cloud having won only one of their last 10 games in the format, and a dead rubber at that, while losing five.
Also, the Kiwis have found a way forward following the retirement of key players. SA, however, are still in those doldrums.
And, unlike SA, New Zealand do not have to balance their team on different, sometimes divergent scales: cricket and transformation.
It’s been almost three weeks since Cricket SA confirmed the open secret that race quotas – “targets”, they prefer to call them – would apply at national level.
But SA coach Russell Domingo told reporters in Durban on Sunday that “there’s been nothing officially documented to me” on the issue.
“We will continue to do what we’ve always done and that’s pick our best 11 players,” Domingo said.
Which, of course, did not mean that ensuring the national team looks more like the nation and less like a side from Europe, as it has done for much of the 25 year since readmission despite the long history of black cricket in SA, was not a priority.
“If someone says to me (Kagiso) Rabada’s playing because he’s black they can jump into the Indian Ocean – he’s a world class player,” Domingo said.
“If someone said (Hashim) Amla or (JP) Duminy is picked because of the colour of their skin, or Dane Piedt, they’re smoking something.
“They’ve proven themselves in domestic and international cricket.”
That they have. But they are also part of a team who, since January, will have tumbled from No. 1 to No. 7 in the rankings when the ladder is updated on Wednesday.
“It’s by no means the same team that got that No. 1 ranking,” Domingo said, and he was right.
Of the team that took SA to the top by beating England at Lord’s in August 2012, only Amla, Duminy, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn are in the squad to take on New Zealand.
“This is a new team and this team has to try and set their own legacy and their own benchmark, and almost set their own trend,” Domingo said.
“It’s an exciting time for this team. We know we’ve slipped down the rankings big time because we lost two big series badly, against India and England (last season).
“But it’s a great opportunity for these guys to do something special, to do something that maybe not a lot of people are expecting them to do.”
To help that happen, Domingo said, the services of Mark Boucher had been enlisted for three days this week.
“We know he’s got the reputation of having that fighting spirit and epitomising what the Proteas have always stood for in terms of being tough and being a never-give-in type of character,” Domingo said.
“He’s played 147 tests and has a lot of experience, and just having him around us for three days could be great for some of the younger guys.
“He enjoys working with the lower order because he likes to toughen guys up.
“He’s a legendary ex-player and to not use that type of expertise would be foolish.”
A career-ending eye injury prevented Boucher from being part of the team that snatched the mace from England at Lord’s. But he was central to the journey that took them to that destination.
Now, he has the chance to be what SA need most: a silver lining.