In what could become the norm in coming years, 60% of South Africa’s cricket matches in 2021 were T20 internationals, but the Proteas did show an encouraging run of form in the format, culminating in an unfortunate early departure from the World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
South Africa played 23 T20s in 2021 and won 15 of them, making them one of the most successful teams globally over the last year in the short format.
Considering that they began the year by losing home and away T20 series against Pakistan 2-1 and 3-1, it meant they won 13 of their last 16 matches – an impressive achievement.
The turnaround happened when the Proteas went to the West Indies and beat the defending T20 World Cup champions in that series. Then, with a more settled squad and confidence growing, Ireland could not handle them and were swept aside 3-0, and nor could Sri Lanka, who were also whitewashed on their home turf.
South Africa went into the T20 World Cup in form and they were unlucky to not qualify for the semifinals having lost just one game in the group stage. That was to Australia in their opening match when a below-par batting performance on an unhelpful pitch for strokeplay left the valiant Proteas attack with just a little too much to do.
Despite South Africa then upsetting the previously unbeaten England team, Australia’s nett run-rate was just a little better and the eventual champions snuck through.
Wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi was the main man behind South Africa’s T20 success and he took 36 wickets in 22 matches in 2021 at an average of just 13.36 and an economy rate of 5.72 – amazing figures that saw him ranked as the No 1 T20 bowler in the world for much of the year.
Aiden Markram was a revelation in the shortest format and was the leading run-scorer for the Proteas in T20s in 2021 with 570 at 43.84 and a strike-rate of 148.82.
Second to Markram was Quinton de Kock (524 at 43.66, SR 131.32), a man who hogged the headlines for much of the year.
In the Test format, De Kock was named Man of the Series, with brilliant innings of 141 not out and 96, as South Africa won both matches in the West Indiesr. He also made an ODI century in Ireland.
But it was a day on which he did not take the field which created the most stir, after De Kock withdraw from the team following a late decision by the Cricket SA board that all players must take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter on the morning of their crucial T20 World Cup game against the West Indies.
The worldwide BLM campaign was an issue that the Proteas had discussed at length without coming to a united way of showing support, but the board made a sudden and unilateral decision without consultation. De Kock opted not to play rather than make the prescribed gesture.
Fortunately all parties then talked it out and, going forward, the national team all agreed to take the knee.
Other players to make strong statements on the field this year were fast bowler Anrich Nortje, who was potent in the Test matches and one of the best bowlers at the T20 World Cup; Markram, who shone across formats and with encouraging gains in his back-up off-spin; Rassie van der Dussen, who finally made his maiden Proteas century with his unbeaten 123 in an ODI versus Pakistan; Maharaj, who also led impressively in white-ball cricket when captain Temba Bavuma was injured; and David Miller, who played some match-winning innings in limited-overs cricket.