Imran Tahir (Getty Images)
- Clarity may be imminent on the staging of the ICC T20 World Cup
- Several ageing Proteas stars could do with the event not being pushed back too far
- Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir are very close to ‘top-tenners’ for scalps in T20 internationals
The uncertainty over the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, scheduled for Australia from mid-October, will be weighing increasingly on the minds of some of the older South African players aspiring to play in it.
All of Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis are fighting the ravages of time to varying degrees in their quests – even if the availability of someone like De Villiers is not yet a fait accompli – to aid the Proteas in ending a major global tournament trophy drought.
The bogey stretches back as far as the maiden Champions Trophy in Dhaka in 1998, secured under the leadership of the late Hansie Cronje.
While clarity is expected very shortly (there was an ICC Board meeting on Thursday), several options appeared to be on the table, due to the destabilising effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
One is the tournament going ahead as scheduled from October 18, and another a rescheduling for the end of the southern hemisphere season instead (around March).
But considering that India were intended to host a rapid follow-up T20 World Cup in 2021, it is also considered possible that Australia will simply be pushed back to a 2022 hosting instead.
The sooner the better, however, arguably applies to the ageing quartet of Proteas stars.
That applies especially to Tahir, who would be a “grand old man” of the event even if it were staged tomorrow: he is already 41 and might turn 42 during the tournament if it were instead held some time during March.
The ace leg-spinner has lost little, if any, of his passion and effervescence for cricket, but the time must come fairly soon when top-flight activity simply becomes too much for someone
of his unusual age (though Australia’s Brad Hogg famously played his last T20 international at 43).
Multi-format pace legend Steyn, meanwhile, clicks over to 37 in June, an age that is challenging for exponents of his energy- and strength-demanding craft.
Intriguingly, both he and Tahir are within a whisker of an attractive statistical landmark in T20 internationals: entry into the top 10 for all-time wicket-takers.
Steyn lies 13th (with 64 scalps) and Tahir 14th (63) and that puts both right on the tails of two retired players in joint-tenth on the list: Sri Lankans Ajantha Mendis and Nuwan Kulasekara, each with 66 wickets.
The leader is another Sri Lankan, unorthodox speedster Lasith “Slinger” Malinga (107).
Swashbuckling batsman De Villiers, 36, has already sounded a warning that the longer the wait for the T20 World Cup, the less the likelihood that he will make a comeback to the SA cause.
If it was postponed to next year, he said recently, “a whole lot of things” could change for him, and he could not be sure “how the body will feel then”.
While his X-factor at the crease is quite beyond doubt, De Villiers would benefit from a towering T20 World Cup swansong showing in a Proteas shirt: he has strangely never quite lived up to statistical expectation in the format for his country.
Sporting coveted averages of above the 50-mark in both Tests and one-day internationals, his T20 figure (26.12 after 78 caps) does not do justice to his potential, despite his majesty at franchise level in the shortest form.
His former “Affies” schoolmate, Du Plessis, has been a reliable stalwart of the SA T20 cause for 47 matches (average 34.31) … but the former national skipper turns 36 in July so the sands of time are just beginning to trickle out for him as well.
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