Pakistan reigned supreme over South Africa across all formats in the last couple of months.
Rewind back to the 1970s and 1980s, to greats like Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner.
This is a team that can be compared to the great Aussie team of 2003-07. In other words, it’s a team that won almost everywhere against almost anyone, such was the dominance of the West Indies cricket team.
But then something peculiar happened after the 1996 World Cup. Suddenly the mighty West Indies were no longer feared.
Was it be the resurgence of Steve Waugh’s Australia or a drastic fall in the money pumped into the West Indies Cricket Board? The reason has never been definitively determined.
That’s not to take credit away from the quality players the West Indies produced after that, notably the likes of Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy and Jason Holder. However, for some reason they simply just did not win on tours, especially in Tests, even at home.
Granted, they performed well in 2004 Champions Trophy, winning the thing, and in 2006 they lost to Australia in the final. They also won the ICC World T20 in 2012 and 2016 under Darren Sammy.
But strangely enough these flashes of success seem to be more anachronisms. That fear of the West Indies is now long gone to such an extent that they had to qualify for the 2019 World Cup and are no guarantee for the 2023 one either.
Now let’s rewind again, this time back to 2006. The South African cricket team was the only one that could go head to head with the mighty Aussies. This team had consisted of something like this Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini.
This team also almost won everywhere they played and dominated Test cricket alongside Ricky Ponting’s Australia, and of course the 434-match marker is now seen as a checkpoint for modern-day cricket.
One particular tour of India in South Africa in 2006 comes to mind, where Steve Smith and co obliterated Rahul Dravid’s India, save for the T20 game.
But today the fear of South Africa is greatly diminished. They finished seventh in the 2019 World Cup after having made semi-finals in 2015. This could be partially attributed to internal problems at Cricket South Africa with administration and funding, but it may also be down to a lack of worthy successors to Smith and co.
De Villier’s early retirement left Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock as the only feared Proteas. Granted, Kagiso Rabada is one of the best bowlers in the world, but sadly he seems to be more the exception to the rule. Morne Morkel and Chris Morris have found other deals.
Issues with funding are a grave threat to the viability of South Africa’s strong cricketing legacy. After all, we’ve seen it happen before.