CRICKET WORLD CUP
Beheading time looms for Proteas
The demand for sacrifice is inevitable, but will it lead to improvement for SA cricket?
Now that the Proteas’ World Cup is effectively over, the nation’s cricket authorities will engage in that time-honoured pastime of "throwing under the bus".
The first candidates will be Ottis Gibson, the national coach, and Dale Benkenstein, his No 2.
Neither has covered themselves in glory during the past month. Gibson doesn’t live in SA and flits in and out of the country. You wonder how much domestic cricket he actually watches. Benkenstein’s sin is arguably greater. When England batsmen Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy were pulverising the dangerous Indian spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal at Edgbaston on Sunday, one couldn’t help but think back to how these two had mesmerised the Proteas.
It is Benkenstein’s job as batting coach to put in place strategies for dealing with the threat of wrist-spin, but a plan in the Proteas’ game against India was conspicuously lacking. Roy and Bairstow targeted the short Edgbaston boundary; they used their feet and swept and reverse swept. They played intelligent, brave cricket.
It put the India spinners under pressure. Yadav and Chahal leaked a combined 180 runs for one wicket in their 20 overs.
Eoin Morgan, the England skipper, said later it was here that England won the vital game.
India don’t only have tricky spinners, their administrators can be slippery too. Many have asked why India played their first game six days into the World Cup. The short answer is that the longer they waited, the more time it gave their players to recover from a gruelling Indian Premier League (IPL) that ended only on May 12.
When India played SA on June 5, it was the Proteas’ third game of the tournament but India’s first.
With injuries and fatigue, both physical and emotional, playing such a central part in the Proteas’ campaign, the Cricket SA (CSA) administrators needed to agree to a schedule that disadvantaged the team as little as possible.
But because Chris Nenzani (CSA president) and Thabang Moroe (CSA CEO) are greenhorns when it comes to the nasty cut-and-thrust of international cricket politics, they didn’t do this.
The Proteas’ World Cup failure, therefore, hasn’t only been a failure of coaching and player temperament. It has also been a systemic institutional failure in which the administrators have let the local game down by failing to protect the players.
This is why we should be suspicious of the reflex to toss people under the bus — because it only tells a partial story, and is a gesture attuned to the necessity for theatre at times such as these.
The administrators, useless as they are, need to be seen to be doing something. The most expedient thing to do now is to chop off Gibson and Benkenstein’s heads. If they are feeling energetic, the suits will huff and puff about a bosberaad or a lekgotla. Maybe even a task team.
But given that the people who appoint the task team are part of the very problem they seek to remedy, we should greet all such initiatives with the contempt they deserve.
That aside, already we are beginning to see the unedifying spectacle of a post-Gibson jockeying for position. Mark Boucher, who had a very successful first season with the Titans but a rum second one, is being touted as the new national coach in some quarters, as is the Cobras’ Ashwell Prince.
Some have even looked to Paddy Upton, who seconded Gary Kirsten for India’s 2011 World Cup victory. While Upton has an intimate knowledge of the Indian cricket landscape (the Proteas go to India in October) his most recent experience as IPL coach was disappointing. In May, his Rajasthan Royals finished the tournament seventh out of eight.
What the Proteas really need, coach-wise, is an old hand — a Trevor Bayliss, a Duncan Fletcher or a Richard Pybus (who took the West Indies to a rare Test victory over England in the Caribbean earlier this year).
Such coaches, though, may look askance at the meddlesome administrators, the over-politicisation of selection and the hopelessness surrounding the local game, and walk away. This means CSA will have to choose a second-tier coach and dress it up as a coup. That’s if it can find the money to pay him decently, which in itself is doubtful.