There is a very specific reason that I write Cricket South Africa’s T20 Challenge was a tournament held in haste as the fixtures were confirmed only on 5th February and the event got underway in a jiffy on 19th February for a compact 10 days.
This after Cricket South Africa was informed at the eleventh hour that the touring Australians won’t show up owing to COVID, terming it an unacceptable risk.
In truth, now the world has woken up to why Cricket Australia decided otherwise and we should leave it at that.
To fill the void left by Australia, the Protea management decided to play the domestic T20 Challenge
Amid the dark clouds of no international series there was a silver lining as most of the national players were available for this domestic tournament making it as enthralling as any international offering.
Durban opened its shores and the scenic Kingsmead was chosen as the venue for all the games amid a bio-secure environment.
Five surfaces were used albeit all being typical Durban wickets, low and slow which made the contest between bat and ball even more exciting.
Dolphins, the home team were the pre-tournament favourites as they understood these coastal conditions better than others.
Unfortunately for them they lost the final to a Highveld team, the Lions led by the Protean dynamite Temba Bavuma who beat the Durban side in a low scoring final that just concluded last weekend.
This was a second successive hurrah for the Johannesburg team in this tournament, after beating the Warriors in a thrilling contest the last time around in 2019.
Temba Bavuma’s century matched with one from Jon-Jon Smuts were the highlights on that occasion.
So, getting our attention back to the CSA T20 challenge 2021, let’s identify the new talents who lit up this event with immense charisma and merit a national call:
This Lions paceman was the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 13 scalps and his expert death bowling skills matched with lower order destructive batting exploits make him a good pick in the Protea T20 side.
A 20-year-old hard hitting bat from the Warriors’ set-up got his chance in the latter part of the tournament. Amassing 102 runs from four matches at a strike rate of 127, his exploits against the Lions, scoring 37 in the eliminator was crucial to give some impetus to the Port Elizabeth based team who were faltering at 95 for 4 to finally post 140. Warriors eventually lost the game although if it wasn’t for Stubbs their total could easily have been much less.
Raynard van Tonder
This top order batter from the Knights outfit has been a consistent scorer in the 4-day series and now with his 129 runs from three games at a strike rate of 127 with a best of 81 in this tournament makes him a force to reckon with even in the shorter format. In my opinion he definitely merits a test selection and has been on the fringes, possibly to replace the mighty and recently retired Francois du Plessis.
One of the key performers in this year’s CSA T20 challenge without a speck of doubt. This Warriors’ all-rounder is a fine hard-hitting left-handed opener and a very handy off-spin bowler. He scored his maiden fifty in the tournament against the Lions in the eliminator and was also lethal in controlling the top order players in opposition teams with his wily bowling. A perfect all round fit for the Protea T20 team in subcontinent conditions.
A true hero for the Knights in the game against the Cobras where he single-handedly got the team from Bloemfontein over the line with his batting exploits lower down the order. Chasing 167, the Knights were all but out of the game faltering at 152 for 7 before Migael got them home with a boundary of the last ball in a breath-taking finish. His medium pace bowling was also impressive in the tournament though he was unlucky to not be among the wickets. Having said this, he surely should be in line after the trio of Rabada, Nortje and Ngidi to make his international debut at some point and was also a part of the Protea test team in the recent series against Sri Lanka.
Apart from these Young Turks, some of the Proteas on display in the CSA T20 challenge were also mightily impressive, the likes of Reeza Hendricks, the highest run scorer in the tournament at 257 followed by the reliable duo of Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen who scored 216 and 167 respectively.
Even in the bowling department, Dolphins captain and Protea test spinner, Keshav Maharaj bowled at economy rate of less than four and had eight wickets to his name. Lungi Ngidi was the pick of the bowlers when it came to the national seamers taking ten scalps followed by KG Rabada at nine who was also instrumental for the Lions winning the final with his three-wicket halt.
After watching this gripping ten-day tournament amid seeing a lot of players in action (national and local), I certainly believe the Proteas have depth in their reserves with both bat and ball and it would harbour well to see them become a global force to reckon with again in times to come.
Well, as a die-hard fan, one certainly hopes so.
Dear Pakistan, do take note as you’re next!