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    Proteas punished by CSA-picked schedule
Proteas punished by CSA-picked schedule
Sad Cricketer. Source: Midjourney

Proteas punished by CSA-picked schedule

The Proteas are robbed of the opportunity to build an identity in ways England has due to a lack of testing.

England's aggressive batting philosophy, 'Bazball', has dominated the discussion over the past fortnight. Joe Root's dismissal in the first innings of the third Test - an attempted reverse scoop caught at the second slip - was widely criticised.

Cricket Match. Source: Midjourney
Cricket Match. Midjourney

England were 224-2 and in complete control at the time. They collapsed to 319 and surrendered that control to India, who piled on the runs and set themselves 557 to win, a total England never came close to chasing.

The Telegraph's chief cricket writer, Sclyd Berry, called it: "The stupidest shot in England's Test cricket history". Given England's almost 150-year history in the format, the accuracy of that statement is questionable. However, it does highlight the depth of the impact the philosophy has had on the game and its observers.

England batted conservatively in the fourth Test in Ranchi, with only three batsmen scoring 100 or more in their two innings. Root, perhaps mindful of the optics and subsequent outcry that another soft dismissal would provoke, scored a 274-ball 122 in their five-wicket defeat, and England's aggressive batting philosophy, "Bazball", has dominated the discussion over the past fortnight. Joe Root's dismissal in the first innings of the third Test - an attempted reverse scoop caught at second slip - was widely criticised.

England were 224-2 and in complete control at the time. They collapsed to 319 and surrendered that control to India, who piled on the runs and set themselves 557 to win, a total England never came close to chasing.

The Telegraph's chief cricket writer, Sclyd Berry, called it: "The stupidest shot in England's Test cricket history". Given England's almost 150-year history in the format, the accuracy of that statement is questionable. It does, however, highlight the profound effect the philosophy has had on the game and its observers.

England batted conservatively in the fourth Test in Ranchi, with only three batsmen reaching 100 or more in their two innings. Root, perhaps mindful of the optics and subsequent outcry that another soft dismissal would provoke, scored a 274-ball 122 in their five-wicket defeat.

In the wake of the series defeat, Bazball's effectiveness and enduring value will be debated at length. It shouldn't be. Of the eight Test series that Bazball's architects - head coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes - have played, they've won four, drawn three, and lost just one. England has a batting philosophy that works more often than it doesn't. That philosophy shapes a tactical identity, which should be the case for any Test-playing nation.

But that won't be the case for the Proteas, thanks entirely to the CSA's decision to prioritise T20 over Test cricket. In August 2022, CSA CEO Pholetsi Moseki told Daily Maverick: "We have a clear strategy about what our needs are." The ICC has paired up the teams in the schedule, but the number of matches has been determined by the two countries involved.

South Africa next play Test cricket in August after losing a series to New Zealand in February. Between then and the end of the current Future Tours Programme cycle in March 2027, they will play 22 Tests spread over 11 series. Only two of those series are three Tests.

Over the same period, Australia plays 29 Tests. This includes two five-Test series against India and one five-Test series against England. England has played 37 Tests, including two five-Test series against India and one against Australia, while India has played 34 Tests, including two five-Test series against England and two five-Test series against Australia.

A tactical identity at the crease has defined the best Proteas Test sides in history. Those teams of the past two decades were Graeme Smith's collection of stars. They were defined by their ability to absorb pressure, break down the opposition's attack, and then apply it in ways that often led to their capitulation. Faf du Plessis' charges developed a similar identity.

The identities of these teams were built up over many years. Players were profiled and tested over long periods. Time and opportunity were constants in a way that is simply not the case in an FTP where the CSA has opted for a white-ball laden schedule.

With up to six months between series (SA next play the Windies in August), how do you build that identity? How to build that identity when the next tri-series is in September 2026? When you may never play a four or five-Test series again, how do you build it?

CSA will argue that they've taken the route that gives them the best chance of commercial success and financial sustainability. But it doesn't come without a significant cost to other areas of the game.

In South Africa and globally, the appeal of Test cricket as a viable career path for the country's elite young talent is waning. There are many factors contributing to this, not least the lure of lucrative T20 contracts. But talented South African kids can't aspire to play a format they rarely see live or televised, or play in a lesser form (two-day cricket is extinct in school and club cricket). And if the CSA has handed Test coach Shukri Conrad a schedule that doesn't encourage the building of a team identity, what legitimate mandate can they give him?

Talk of Root's implementation. Source: Midjourney
Talk of Root's implementation. Midjourney

The last fortnight has been dominated by talk of Root's implementation of a tactical philosophy and, to a lesser extent, India's tactical response to England. Indeed, in a few months there will be talk again of how Australia will counter England's aggressive approach in the Ashes. After that, India's new-found potency away from home will be the talk of the town when they tour Australia for a five-Test series.

All the while, the Proteas will be on the outside looking in, wondering how Test cricket, and more specifically something as mundane as developing a tactical identity in Test cricket, has become an afterthought for the CSA.

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