A bit of motivation

2009-01-07 00:00

THE performance of the Proteas has been exceptional and, as a result, South African cricket is looking healthy and great. Unfortunately, club cricket and amateur cricket in this country is not where it should be and, apart from a few franchises, the standard of cricket remains pretty low at domestic level.

It wasn’t long ago that cricket writers were suggesting that South Africa would be competing against the likes of Zimbabwe and Kenya if the domestic infrastructure in this country was not improved. Given the fact that not much has changed at domestic level, the success of the Proteas is even more remarkable. Other countries certainly don’t have the same challenges we do, nor do they have to deal with selection complexities and quota systems.

So how do we do it? How have we become such a force in world cricket? Cricket South Africa must be doing something right, or are we a nation blessed with naturally gifted cricketers?

These are tough questions to answer, but I feel the role of Graeme Smith in South Africa’s dominance cannot be underplayed. He and his support team have endured many headaches and have succeeded in producing a world-class unit, representing the demographics of our society, who are focused and committed to seeing South Africa reach the top of the world Test ratings.

Like his presence at the crease, Smith’s role in the team is monumental. His individual performance and his leadership are vital to the team’s success. There is a valid concern that the side relies too heavily on him, but I feel this is changing. His charges are coming of age and seem to be more mature on and off the field.

Smith and the coaching staff need to be praised for the way they have brought J. P. Duminy through the ranks. Duminy was included in the squad but was out of the side for a number of years and that has been the making of him. When he made his Test debut he looked nothing less than a player who belonged there. Michael Hussey was treated in a similar manner for Australia and also looked completely at home when he finally donned the baggy green.

The other advantage the current South African side has is their age. A. B. de Villiers and J. P. Duminy are just 24, Hashim Amla is 25 and they are being led by a captain who is only 27. Add to that Morne Morkel, who is 24, and Dale Steyn, who is 25, and you have a youthful core, who, provided they stay fit, could dominate world cricket for some time to come.

The impact of Smith’s injury to his elbow and hand will be seen when the ODIs get under way. Smith leads from the front and seems to absorb the pressure of others around him. Without him in the team, players seem to tighten up and not handle the pressure moments as well as when he is there.

It will be crucial for the medical team to ensure that Smith is fit for the return leg of the series in South Africa at the end of February. It’s been great winning the series in Australia, but imagine how sweet a victory on home soil will be — not only for the Proteas’ loyal fans at home but also to give domestic cricket in South Africa the boost that it so badly needs.

I hope the success of the Proteas will penetrate all levels of cricket in this country and give everyone involved in the sport the motivation needed to ensure that cricket in South Africa is healthy all the way up.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, Western Province and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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