Back in whites, South Africa aim to salvage home season

Hashim Amla pulls awkwardly AFP

Winning only a third of the matches across all formats against India suggests South Africa have a lot to mull over, and they don't have too much time to do it. A four-Test series against Australia starts in less than a week, so their focus has to shift quickly and completely away from the white-ball formats where they suffered their heaviest defeats.

In fact, South Africa won't think about limited-overs cricket for at least five months, when they tour Sri Lanka, by which time South Africa would like to be close to finalising a pool of World Cup candidates. That means the experimentation seen against India may have to taper off, and South Africa have to take stock of what they found.

Lungi Ngidi is the obvious gem, across all formats. He showed maturity in the Tests and improved his control markedly in the shorter formats. Only injury will prevent him from featuring frequently for South Africa in the future.

South Africa also handed out two other ODI caps, the first of which went to Khaya Zondo, who was controversially overlooked for the starting XI despite being in the squad when South Africa toured India at the end of 2015. Zondo's name has come up often in the time after featuring for South Africa A and has captaining that team and his franchise, the Dolphins. There seems to be an investment on him, as well as a return.

Zondo played three matches, scored one half-century and showed a fair amount of fight in a meek line-up. He definitely deserves more chances but may need to do something outstanding to make a claim for the World Cup. Something like what Heinrich Klaasen did.

Klaasen struck two match-winning knocks - one in the pink ODI and the other in the second T20 - to make such a name that he was included in the Test squad. His presence around the national set-up extends further than just his current form because he has emerged as the first real challenger to Quinton de Kock.

Though de Kock has been dropped before - early in his career and then for the Tests against India in 2015 when Dane Vilas played - since 2016 he has held a hegemonic grip over the wicket-keeper's role, which became particularly problematic when he lost form. A wrist injury saved de Kock from being dropped, forced the selectors to look elsewhere and allowed them to discover that there is someone else. De Kock will be under a healthy amount of pressure, which every player needs.

At the T20 level, both Junior Dala and Christiaan Jonker were impressive in their early showings. At Newlands, in the T20 series decider, they kept South Africa in the game. Gibson acknowledged that the defeat was likely to hit them hardest. "Losing is never easy to take but when you are missing so many seniors and new players come in and put their names forward, the losses can be hard to take," Gibson said. "The future seems like it is going to be bright."

The flip side is the disappointment of so many senior players underperforming. Imran Tahir, for so long a matchwinner for South Africa, was ineffective. Hashim Amla only made one contribution of significance in the ODIs. It took JP Duminy until he was named T20 captain to start performing. Neither David Miller nor Chris Morris lived up to their labels as x-factor players.

Duminy is thought to be on his last legs, especially after South Africa opted to blood a new, young captain in Aiden Markram in the ODIs. But, even if Duminy is dispensable for the World Cup, the trio of him, Miller and Morris are not.

While Miller was not specifically mentioned, Morris has already suffered a consequence for his lack of contributions, as he was dropped from the Test squad. Gibson seems particularly concerned about his consistency and hopes he can find form in the domestic circuit - three more rounds of first-class cricket - and in the IPL.

"He has got some work to do," Gibson said. "He has got some domestic cricket to go and get some consistency in his bowling, especially. He is a match-winner and he is short of that. We had a conversation, myself and him. He just needs to find what type of bowler he wants to become, put practice in that and work to become that person."

Instead, South Africa have opted for Wiaan Mulder, the man Gibson has had his eye on since arriving in South Africa, as an allrounder in the Test squad. But there may not be space for him in an XI that will include Vernon Philander, the person who delivered one of the most pleasing performances in the Tests.

Though the celebrations over the Test series victory ceased weeks ago, South Africa will still look back on it fondly, not least because of the way the quicks performed albeit in conditions heavily stacked in their favour. Philander's came against the backdrop of doubt in his ability and questions over the fitness of the senior seamers.

Philander's fitness concerns caused him to come under siege from his former captain, Graeme Smith. He spent the early part of the summer recovering from a lower back problem that kept him out of the deciding Test against England. He needed a big performance against India to reinforce his reputation. He was the joint top-leading wicket-taker and had the best average against India, a perfect precursor to the clash against Australia.

The only thing left for South Africa to consider is the pitches they ask for during the Tests. Only Newlands offered them something they did not complain about. SuperSport Park was slow and took turn. The Wanderers overcompensated and ended up with variable, even dangerous bounce, and three demerit points. Against an Australia pack that will welcome surfaces that assist them, South Africa's groundsmen cannot afford to make the same mistakes. They need to shut out the team noise, concentrate on preparing good pitches and perhaps good cricket will follow.