| OPINION | Confused Proteas: It’s never been this bad, has it?

Cape Town – We can be patient and we can acknowledge a period of renewal, but what we can’t do is ignore the fact that the Proteas are in their worst shape since readmission back in 1991. 

That is not overly dramatic. It is not unfair. It is not a sweeping statement made in the absence of context. That, as harsh as it sounds, is the truth. 

South Africa are being embarrassed in the third Test against India in Ranchi. 

They will lose this match by an innings and plenty on Tuesday and they will be whitewashed 3-0 in the series. 

It will be South Africa’s fifth Test defeat in a row; a streak of losses that they have matched only once in their history when they went down in back-to-back home and away series defeats against that mighty Australian team of 2005/06. 

It has been a steady state of decline that started in February when the Proteas were stunned by Sri Lanka on home soil, losing 2-0 in a Test series that they were expected to win at a canter. 

The disastrous Cricket World Cup followed, where the Proteas finished 7th and had barely arrived at the tournament before they were (realistically) knocked out of it. 

Along the way, there has been confusion and panic. 

Coach Ottis Gibson lost his job after the World Cup and Cricket South Africa (CSA) CEO Thabang Moroe quickly emerged as a leader who, despite his lack of experience, would not shy away from making key cricketing decisions.

Under the new CSA structure, Moroe can now make calls without board approval, and it has not started off well for him. 

Enoch Nkwe is the interim team director, Corrie van Zyl is the acting director of cricket, there is a temporary backroom coaching staff and, most importantly, the Proteas currently have no idea what their best XI is in any format. 

Will Nkwe still be in charge when England arrive this summer? Will Van Zyl? Will Faf du Plessis still be Test captain? Is he still the man who will lead the side into the T20 World Cup in Australia next year? 

At a time when this side is in desperate need of clarity, confusion reigns.

It is not to say that there is no way out of the hole, but it is difficult to see the light when it feels like there is no clear plan. 

The returns in India would be more bearable if we were seeing young, promising players being backed at this level for the first time as part of a bigger picture.

As much as the leadership group will try and suggest otherwise, though, the Proteas in India are not overly green.

A bowling attack including Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj boasts plenty of experience in the format while the top order of Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Du Plessis and Temba Bavuma also has no such excuses.

The losses of Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla do not change that. 

There can also be no gripes when it comes to the nature of the wickets.

On Monday, it was the Indian quick bowlers and not the spinners who did the damage, and that is indicative of just how much this top order has struggled.

As good as Bavuma has been in some difficult scenarios for South Africa over the years, he doesn’t look a player capable of scoring big, game-changing hundreds at the moment.

Theunis de Bruyn has also battled, while there has not been enough consistency from senior players Elgar, Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock.

Markram, for all of his promise, continues to under-deliver.

Things get even more worrying when you start thinking about who the next players in line are.

Whether it be a Kyle Verreynne, Rassie van der Dussen, Khaya Zondo or one of the Malans from Western Province, the Proteas will be banking on inexperience for some time to come on the Test stage.

And that would be perfectly fine if the plan was to bring new players into a system with a clear philosophy and mapped out, long-term vision for the future in place.

But, until South Africa settle on a full-time coaching staff, no such plans can exist.

It has reached crisis point, and if Moroe thought he had the luxury of playing a ‘wait and see’ game when it comes to Nkwe and Van Zyl, he is now surely all out of time.

The Proteas need a leader and a concrete plan.

If Van Zyl and Nkwe are the men best equipped to provide that, then they need to be given the gigs full-time and allowed to start implementing their ideas immediately.

Because the longer the Proteas stumble around in limbo, uncertain of exactly where they are going, the harder it will be to get back to something resembling a cricketing country that was once respected as one of the best in the world.

England are coming, and unless the Proteas are given a rocket of an awakening from somewhere, it could be a memorable tour for all of the wrong reasons if you’re South African.

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter …

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