South Africa © Getty Images
South Africa incurred their fourth World Cup semi-final loss when they lost to New Zealand by four wickets © Getty Images

The year 2015 has been an exciting and eventful year, especially for the sport of cricket. The year witnessed several exciting tournaments, which includes the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and turned out to be a dish prepared with sweet as well as sour moments. The South African cricket team finished on top of the Test rankings at the end of the year, although their run throughout the course of the year was one that saw them pull off thrilling victories as well as suffer heart-breaking defeats. The year may not have been the most memorable for the Proteas in recent times, but will be a learning experience for them nevertheless.

Two names come to mind when one thinks of South Africa’s run in 2015  — that of AB de Villiers and Kagiso Rabada. The former produced his most destructive year with the bat across formats in his 11-year career so far, while the latter has made a terrific breakthrough into the side, and has shown tremendous promise as a leading pacer for the years to come. Among the other major talking points were Dale Steyn crossing the 400-wicket milestone during the tour of Bangladesh, Hashim Amla becoming the fastest batsman to reach 6,000 ODI runs as well as South Africa recording their first limited-overs series victory in India this year.

AB de Villiers plays a shot during his remarkable innings of 149 off 44 balls © Getty Images
AB de Villiers plays a shot during his remarkable innings of 149 off 44 balls © Getty Images

Steamrolling the Calypso boys

The year began on a rather one-sided note for the South Africans as they ran over the struggling West Indian side to whitewash them 5-0 in the ODI series, and hand them a 2-0 defeat in the three-match Test series for the Vivian Richards Trophy. Although the West Indians did manage to sweep the T20I series 2-0, they generally were no match to the Proteas who out-performed them in both the five-day as well as the 50-over format.

The series will be well-remembered for ODI skipper de Villiers’ record-breaking innings of 149 off 44 deliveries, in which he broke the world record for the fastest fifty (16 deliveries) as well as the fastest century (31 deliveries) in ODIs. While Amla’s and Rilee Rossouw’s centuries may have set the platform for the team to finish on a massive total, it was AB’s blazing ton that truly knocked the West Indians out of the game even before a ball was bowled in the second innings.

A dejected Dale Steyn (above) lies on the pitch after Grant Elliott hits the winning six for New Zealand to defeat South Africa by four wickets © Getty Images
A dejected Dale Steyn (above) lies on the pitch after Grant Elliott hits the winning six for New Zealand to defeat South Africa by four wickets © Getty Images

The World Cup jinx continues

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 returned to the trans-Tasman for the first time since 1992. That was the first time South Africa played in a World Cup and it was their first major tournament since their re-admission into the sport. For a team that had failed to progress past the semi-final stage in cricket’s biggest multi-nation tournament, the South Africans were understandably anxious to break the jinx that had held them back for more than two decades.

To sum South Africa’s performances in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 up in a nutshell, they did not look convincing for most part despite recording their first-ever victory in a knock-out match. Putting the warm-up results aside, South Africa recorded a lukewarm win against Zimbabwe (where they were reduced to 83 for 4 at one stage during their innings) to start a campaign off, and managed to thrash West Indies by 257 runs in yet another lop-sided game barely a month after the home series.

These victories, along with the ones against Ireland and UAE, did not heal the disappointments of losing to India and Pakistan for the first time in the tournament’s history. While they were completely outplayed by the Indians, de Villiers was the lone fighting figure in their 29-run loss to Pakistan.

Credit has to be given where it is due, and the South Africans deserve a pat on their backs for their onslaught against Sri Lanka in the quarter-final to thrash them by nine wickets. To say that they held on to their nerves would be an understatement, and the win gave their fans a new sense of hope of their team breaking the semi-final barrier for the first-ever time.

Unfortunately for them, the Proteas were against a rampaging New Zealand side inspirationally led by Brendon McCullum. While both sides gave everything they could at the Eden Park in Auckland, it was ultimately a brilliant cameo by the South African-born New Zealand all-rounder Grant Elliott that ultimately resulted in New Zealand’s first-ever entry into the final, leaving South Africans in tears on the field.

Hashim Amla looks forlorn as South Africa collapse to a seven-wicket defeat to Bangladesh in the 2nd ODI at Dhaka © Getty Images
Hashim Amla looks forlorn as South Africa collapse to a seven-wicket defeat to Bangladesh in the 2nd ODI at Dhaka © AFP

KO-ed by Bangladesh

South Africa resumed international cricket following the semi-final loss, and they were up against the Bangladeshis for two T20Is, three ODIs and two Tests. It would have sounded easy on paper ahead of the series, except this Bangladeshi side was on a roll throughout the year — reaching the quarter-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and recorded bilateral ODI series wins against Pakistan and India. South Africa swept the T20I series 2-0, and thrashed Bangladesh in the first of the three ODIs — the match in which Kagiso Rabada made a memorable debut by taking six for 16, including a hat-trick, the best figures on ODI debut.

Bangladesh however, were unstoppable in the next two games as South Africa were restricted to 162 and 168 for nine in the next two games, before Soumya Sarkar’s brilliant form with the bat helped the hosts chase the targets down easily for the ‘Tigers’ to record their third successive ODI series win against a top-tier team in the year.

While the tour may have been a disappointment in an overall sense for the Proteas, there were a few positives for them to take from the series, most notably Steyn’s 400th wicket and Rabada’s memorable debut.

AB de Villiers celebrates after completing his half-century in the third and final ODI against New Zealand © Getty Images
AB de Villiers celebrates after completing his half-century in the third and final ODI against New Zealand © Getty Images

Avenging the semi-final loss

The South Africans were back home for a brief while, during which they were up against New Zealand for two T20Is and three ODIs. The two sides settled for a stalemate in the T20Is with a 1-1 tied series. South Africa however, somewhat managed to give it back to the Black Caps for the semi-final heartbreak with a 2-1 series win, with the hosts getting the better of New Zealand in all departments to produce 62-run win.

To take some sheen off their victories however, the Kiwis were without the services of some key names such as Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor (who had suffered a groin injury), Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Corey Anderson. Despite those factors, it was a much-needed win for the South Africans, especially after a below-par tour of Bangladesh.

Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar run between the wickets on Day 2 of the 1st Test at Mohali © AFP
Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar run between the wickets on Day 2 of the 1st Test at Mohali © AFP

Tour of India: Champions one moment, minnows the other

The marathon 72-day tour of India was perhaps their most important assignment in the year after the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Arriving in the South Asian cricket-worshipping nation for the ‘Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela’ series that would feature three T20Is, five ODIs and four Tests, the team had the uphill task of outperforming the Indian cricket team at the latter’s backyard. While the Proteas succeeded in recording their first-ever limited-overs as well as ODI series victory in the India, they went on to lose the Test series spectacularly by a 0-3 margin.

The T20I series saw South Africa own India in all departments, dismissing them for a lowly 92 in the second game much to the anger of the local Cuttack crowd, finishing with a 2-0 series win with the third game at Kolkata abandoned due to a wet outfield. The one-day series was a see-saw affair between the two sides for the first four games before the Afrikaner trio of de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock knocked the wind out of the Indians at the Wankhede Stadium in  Mumbai in the final one-dayer to record a a walloping 214-run win! South Africa had just won their first ODI series in style and had dominated the Indians statistically as well, with the visitors accounting for top-three run-getters and wicket-takers in the series!

The euphoria from the massive victory was short-lived, as the Virat Kohli-led India spun a web of destruction around them. The Tests saw the addition of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja wreak havoc on the South African batting order, with no-one barring de Villiers able to tackle the duo, who shared a mind-blowing tally of 54 wickets between them.

The most iconic phase of the Test series was the stone-walling effort by skipper Amla (25 off 244 balls) and de Villiers (43 off 297 balls) in an effort to secure a draw for the tourists in the final Test in Delhi. Though they were bowled out for a mere 143 to collapse to a 337-run defeat, it was a remarkable display especially for the the ODI skipper who tore the opposition bowling apart in the limited-overs fixtures.

Alastair Cook (left) and Hashim Amla captains of England and South Africa respectively with the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy © Getty Images
Alastair Cook (left) and Hashim Amla captains of England and South Africa respectively with the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy © Getty Images

Inauspicious start against ‘New England’

After a mixed tour of India, it was time for them to return home, where they currently face England in the four-match Test series for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy. England were backed to outperform the hosts in this series, which would dethrone the Proteas from the top-spot in the ICC Test rankings. England are very much on course towards achieving that target at the moment, following their 241-run win in the first Test at the Kingsmead in Durban, which has become something of a fortress for them. While the game saw Dean Elgar shine at the top of the order, it was their shoddy batting performance that let them down once again.

The likes of Amla and and du Plessis continued their woeful Test run, despite the fact that the England pace attack was without spearhead James Anderson. Hopefully, the defeat would have set off the alarm bells for the hosts, and that they will bounce in the remainder of the tournament. Their No. 1 Test ranking, which occurred during the side’s brilliant rise under the leadership of Graeme Smith, is at stake after all!

Top five talking points:

1. AB de Villiers breaks the record for the fastest fifty and century in ODIs.

2. South Africa win their first ICC World Cup knockout match.

3. Kagiso Rabada records the best figures on ODI debut.

4. Hashim Amla becomes the fastest batsman to 6,000 ODI runs.

5. South Africa win their first ODI and limited-overs series in India.

Statistics:

Top run-getters:

Tests: AB de Villiers (492)

ODIs: AB de Villiers (1,193)

T20Is: Faf du Plessis (272)

 

Top wicket-takers:

Tests: Simon Harmer (20)

ODIs: Imran Tahir (37)

T20Is: David Wiese (14)

Form guide:

Note: W: Won; L: Lost; D: Drawn; T:Tied; NR: No Result;

In reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent match result.

Tests: L,L,L,D,L,D,D,W

ODIs: W,L,W,L,W,W,L,W,L,L,W,L,W,W,L,W,W,L,W,W,L,W,W,W

T20Is: NR,W,W,L,W,W,W,W,L,L

While the bygone year may have had its share of victories and disappointments, let us hope the Proteas shine brightly upcoming year, and all the assignments that they face in the months to come. Let us hope the South Africans have a happy new year indeed.

(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, travelling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)