SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 28 OCTOBER, 2019
SA Need to Stem the Rot for World Cricket’s Sake
South Africa don’t need a radical overhaul, they need transformative strategy.
Brexit won’t matter if South Africa do not have structural plans in place. South Africa don’t need a radical overhaul, they need transformative strategy. They need to go back to their roots.
It did not need to take a World Cup debacle and a 3-0 trashing at the hands of India to know South Africa’s cricket has been in decline for some time. From the highs of 2011 when South Africa were within touching distance of Test supremacy to find themselves in the doldrums is a tragic sight.
Yet as South Africa fail to stem the tide, which is well within their framework, the question to be asked is: can world cricket afford to let South Africa fall off the map?
Not A Pretty Picture
India won their 11th Test series on the trot. En tour, they beat the tourists in the first match by a margin of 203 runs in Vishakapatnam. From thereon, it was one way traffic as India subjected the visitors to not one but two innings defeat back-to-back, South Africa’s first since 1936 and their first follow on since 2008. Virat Kohli and his mean had inflicted a fresh wound.
Talk about ignominy.
A bad situation turned worse when symptomatic of the times, struggling opener, Aiden Markram, returned home from a self-inflicted wrist fracture after taking his frustration out on an on an unspecified object following his dismissal in the second Test in Pune.
Faf du Plessis, a captain and batsman rarely given to speak in a weakened tone, was at a loss for words, the expression on his face saying enough about the tank being empty, his future uncertain and the state of South Africa’s cricket in doldrums.
He talked about India having inflicted “mental scars”, something a cricketer as proud as him would not admit as candidly.
Retention over Brexit
South Africa’s intensity upon returning from two decade old isolation post-apartheid to prove to be a force to reckon with right out of the gate did not only stem from hunger and deprivation to play on the international arena. It was born out of talent, passion, hard work, sacrifice and a deep seated committed to excel.
Putting all the eggs in ‘banking on the Brexit’ basket is not going to cut it.
South Africa’s crème-de-la-crème players such as Allan Donald were dissuaded by the likes of Dr. Ali Bacher from emigrating to cricket rich countries like England in the advent of South Africa’s reemergence in 1991. Seasoned cricketers such as Kepler Wessels are asked to return home from representing Australia in anticipation of leading the first South African teams.
This kind of foresight thinking is absent from the current Cricket South Africa administration. While they have tried to shake up the order of things post the debacle of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 where South Africa’s curtains came down after only one week of the tournament, their approach for a radical man management set up has overlooked certain basics without which the strongest cricket structure will crumble, on and off the field.
Touching upon the interim position which Corrie van Zyl, the interim director of cricket previously talked about, Faf reiterated the need for some sense of permanency of spots, “The most important thing right now is clarity. Someone needs to make decisions, the director of cricket first and then filter down so everyone else can make decisions.”
Drawing out a long term strategy from preventing players from signing the dotted line of a Kolpak deal while representing South Africa, having come through the grassroots, is going to require some serious strategizing on Cricket South Africa. Investment in players must be considered a short term incurrence for a long term dividend pay off.
When players earn three times their national contract money by resigning to play thereafter only in England’s county circuit is a huge factor when players choose financial security for family over country. Likewise, those that choose country and personal hardship must be remunerated. But that would go hand-in-hand with a strategy that assures these cricketers of a contract and pay.
The current lot that is South Africa’s is not short on talent. But it is lacking the kind of leadership that will ask of them that which they have shown capability for,
The Captain’s Under-Study
If Australia were flirting with danger by appointing two vice-captains and India had briefly benched their vice-captain in Ajinkya Rahane, South Africa was taking it dangerously close to the line.
Faf du Plessis, currently South Africa’s Test captain since the conclusion of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England, was not off the mark when he talked about South Africa attempting to do superhuman antics at previous World Cups editions.
Having been relieved of Twenty20 internationals duty on the tour of India in a perfect case of mixed message, he believed and assured the public of him captaining the team at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup next year while Cricket South Africa and the team ‘coach’, Enoch Nkwe, took another line following the appointment of Quinton de Kock, albeit specified for this tour.
It must come as something of an alarm that players like Jacques Kallis, powerhouse all-rounder, stayed away from the captaincy at all costs. Hashim Amla did not covet the position like AB de Villiers who did and grumbled and claimed to have lost interest in playing for South Africa after he was overlooked for the sublime opener, followed the same route as the prolific but erratic de Villiers in surrendering the crown all too quickly.
None since Graeme Smith, an unpopular choice in 2003 after replacing the injured Jonty Rhodes in the home edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup, have shown the lionhearted desire to pull the bull by the horns. The results are evident for themselves.
The closest South Africa have had to the discipline of Wessels and the bullishness of Smith has been Faf du Plessis. But it appears that while he needs time to think for himself how much of a burden he is willing to carry – he should be asked to stay on at least till the ICC event in Australia next year – and how much foresight and merit Cricket South Africa see in retaining Faf in a leadership role, particularly in light of the fact that South Africa have lost so many players including Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla to retirement without having a succession plan in place.
Discipline over Division
South Africa have missed a vital chord that links to their lifeline. Coming through the roots, none understand the dynamics of playing for South Africa and the challenges that go with it than the former players, particularly those that have come through the ranks to hold illustrious positions in light of their contributions not only to South African cricket but also, world cricket as a whole.
Peter Kirsten spoke out what has been on the minds of many: Cricket South Africa is ignoring coaching talent available to them right here at home.
Gary Kirsten interviewed for the job of England’s coach which eventually fell into the lap of former England cricketer, Chris Silverwood. Kirsten cited that distance was perhaps a factor since the prolific former batsman wanted to spend as much time as possible with his children.
Having previously coached the Indian team rather successfully following the dark days of India’s cricket unraveling under former Australian captain, Greg Chappell, Kirsten brought a breath of fresh air to the way India went about the business of climbing to the top.
Could CSA have employed the services of Gary Kirsten and thereby, solved both, Gary’s and South Africa’s problem? Absolutely. Why has this handshake not happened? Both parties would know well except that this has been a gripe with most former cricketers including former captain, Wessels, who was considered too much of a disciplinarian to meet South Africa’s evolving innovative team.
It could now be argued that what South Africa’s national team desperately requires is precisely a disciplined approach, even as Wessels has diverted his attention to boxing these days, in to build muscle memory of how to win so they are not punctured by their own past traumas.
The best in the business have adhered to the daily discipline including Sachin Tendulkar. One of the biggest factors in India’s success is Virat Kohli’s own commitment to discipline, fitness and practice. That South Africa were upstaged by India, outplayed in all three disciplines, is confounding from the perspective that South Africa’s core defenses were breached.
South Africa not only boasted of a versatile pace bowling attack but also, of having an extraordinary fielding set up post admission. Although they lacked a spinner, they more than made up in the grit of their batsmen such as Wessels, Peter and Gary Kirsten, Andrew Hudson.
Allan Donald has taken up coaching jobs as has Mark Boucher. Lance Klusener worked briefly with South Africa’s Twenty20 international team in India before it was surprisingly confirmed that Afghanistan had snapped up the talented former all-rounder for the head coach’s job. With such a stupendous talent available on support staff, South Africa have shown a haphazard policy when it came to coaches.
Ottis Gibson’s appointment as a coach was terminated after the primary brief was not met which was winning the elusive ICC Cricket World Cup. If anything, Gibson had on hand one of the weakest, most diffident and idea-deprived teams to manage. This was not surprising to many within South Africa’s cricket circles.
Faf noted this juxtaposition aptly when he made the point, “It’s obvious that we need to make more use of ex-players but it, also, comes with challenges. I suppose it always comes down to finance. I know for a fact that we have tried to get them involved but the financial thing is a hurdle. We need experience in the team right now and that comes from ex-players.”
CSA: Living under a Rock
The alarm bells went off even before the ICC Cricket World Cup could get underway. Even as South Africa experienced mixed results at home against Pakistan and Sri Lanka around this time last year and even lost the Test series to lowly Sri Lanka towards the end of the year, it was befuddling to encounter Cricket South Africa’s statements talking positively about the game and South Africa’s stand.
It was obvious that this was going to be South Africa’s toughest challenge yet at the World Cup and even this, Faf du Plessis found a new bottom when leading the team. His total exasperation and blank expression at the end of India’s tour was a dangerous sign that one of their fittest, fighting, willing captains was beginning to come to terms with the fact that not only was he not going to be the captain to change South Africa’s history but also, that as things stand, he would not be able to even lead a transitory team into the unpredictable future.
Thabang Moroe, the Cricket South Africa chief executive, recently asked fans for patience for a younger South African team to come up through the ranks. His optimism over South Africa’s future is starkly misplaced when the reality speaks an entirely different truth.
The problems lie deeper because there is not enough weight being pulled as far strengthening the domestic structure is concerned. Divisions were drawn over the dubious quota system which saw a huge exodus of cricketers which has since become an alarming trend to lose the likes of Duanne Olivier more recently.
The South African cricketers association is up in arms with the cricket board over non-payment of dues for players in South Africa’s domestic competitions. Cricket South Africa’s proposed contract revamp shows there will be at least a third of the culling of the current number of players under contract in an atmosphere of growing uncertainty.
Is Faf sensing the end of the road for him, without the support of Cricket South Africa. Should these words then be considered his final parting shot?
“It (the tour of India) shows our structures are not where they need to be. The gap between domestic cricket and international cricket. if you look back three or four years and if someone had the vision of saying, in three or four years’ time there will be a lot of inexperienced guys. A lot of 34,35, 36 year olds could possibly retire. So, what do you do to make sure you get yourself ready for when that time comes? And possibly we are guilty of not planner or when these guys going at the same time. And now you’ve got to replace not only one player but four or five of your best players. Perhaps we could’ve been a little bit smarter in our planning phase, and the phasing out of the great players (Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn).”
South Africa used to be smarter than this.