Previewing South Africa's Fixtures, Schedule and Goals for 2014
The coming year is a pretty quiet one for South Africa. Despite being the No. 1 ranked Test team in the world, they will play the fewest number of Tests out of anyone in the top seven.
The year will begin with a series against Australia, then the World T20, a tour to Zimbabwe, an ODI series away in Australia and a summer against the West Indies at home.
Of course, their main goal is to retain their No. 1 ranking and a convincing win over Australia will be a good place to start. They will need to up the ante and rack up the points to ensure they aren't knocked off their perch due to not playing enough Test cricket.
Here's a look at what 2014 holds for South Africa.
Australia, Three Tests, Two T20s
When: 12 February—14 March
What: Three tests, two T20s
South Africa's three-Test series against Australia has become the most eagerly anticipated series of the summer.
Following the Aussies' drubbing of England and South Africa's successful defence of their No. 1 ranking, the contest will no doubt be fierce.
The good news for South Africa is that not even a 3-0 sweep from Australia will see them toppled from the No. 1 ranking.
The bad news is that with so few Tests to play for the rest of the year, they need all the points they can get to remain at the top. With Australia's bowlers in perfect form and South Africa having to replace Jacques Kallis, there's much to look forward to before the cricket even begins.
South Africa have not beaten Australia in South Africa since readmission. With the man pictured above in the best form of his life, they have their work cut out for them in order to break that duck.
World T20 in Bangladesh
South Africa have been drawn with Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand and the winner of the play-offs between Zimbabwe, Ireland, UAE and the Netherlands.
Their first task for the tournament is to get past the group stages. Then they need not to choke and then comes trying to win some silverware.
South Africa's preliminary World T20 squad looks as follows: Faf du Plessis (captain), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Henry Davids, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Colin Ingram, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Justin Ontong, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Rusty Theron, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Dane Vilas, Hardus Viljoen, David Wiese.
All of those players are currently involved in the domestic T20, giving selectors plenty of time to fine comb who gets a ticket to Bangladesh and who has to stay home. The side is unlikely to differ too much from the one which recently played against Pakistan, though.
The T20 side has slowly been built to resemble a consistent unit, capable of performing and winning from tight positions. And since tight positions are exactly where choking comes from, perhaps they have a chance at least to make the semi-finals.
Tour to Zimbabwe
As it stands, South Africa have two Tests, three ODIs and one T20 scheduled away in Zimbabwe around July/August.
With cricket in Zimbabwe in limbo, though, the future of that tour is not yet certain and if the financial crisis of Zim cricket continues, it could very well be cancelled.
Such a move would mean South Africa have a barren winter month, but not all is lost. A few teams have a free window during that time period. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia are all free and not busy playing anyone.
Winter months in South Africa mean cricket in the country is not possible, but there is room to travel. It might mean sacrificing Test cricket in favour of the one-day game, not exactly ideal for a team trying to stay on top of the world.
Limited Overs Tour in Australia
Some time after the Champions League, which takes place in September, South Africa will head to Australia for five ODIs and three T20s.
The tour will most likely happen towards the end of November and stretch into early December. The one-day internationals are a way to begin preparation for the World Cup taking place in 2015 while the T20s are there to make up the broadcasting numbers.
In terms of preparing for the global showpiece that is the World Cup, this hit-and-giggle tour is one of the most crucial parts of South Africa's year, especially considering the barrenness of their Test schedule.
Host the West Indies
South Africa will end 2014 with three Tests, five ODIs and two T20s against the West Indies at home.
Barring a coup from the BCCI, the West Indies will play three Tests in South Africa and the New Year's Test at Newlands will return.
From a Test perspective, nothing but a clean sweep will do for South Africa while the one-dayers once again provide some practice ahead of the World Cup. By now, they should know exactly who their squad will be for the competition, barring perhaps one or two triallists.
As for the Test team, whoever has been picked to fill the Jacques Kallis-sized hole in their line-up will hopefully have settled in by then and will have some time to go through the motions instead of wading through the baptism by fire he was given against the Australians earlier in the year.