Peter Roebuck on a chance for the Proteas to take a leap of faith

2011-04-16 00:00

WITH every passing week the strategy of asking Gary Kirsten and AB De Villiers to take charge of South African cricket becomes more attractive. Add Hashim Amla as vice captain and the combination becomes well nigh irresistible. Whether such a dreamland can be reached is debatable, but it’s not as stiff a task as, say, opening a hotel shampoo sachet or securing a mostly bloodless revolution.

South Africa need a fresh start. It does not mean the past was without merit or the incumbents boneheads. Its just means their time is up. Not long ago the CEO of a major Australian bank — one of those that contrived not to go broke in the recent crisis and even one that managed not to pay its executives a king’s ransom (and they can be expensive fellows) — said that he did not expect to hold his position much longer. By his reckoning a captain of industry has about five to seven good years in him and thereafter ought to seek fresh pastures.

Much the same principle applies to captains of sport, especially those given the sort of responsibilities bestowed upon a cricketing leader. Allan Border and Mark Taylor eventually reached the end of their tethers — even the best glue only holds the shoes together for so long

Among leaders only politicians fail to recognise that seven or eight years is enough, and the world suffers the consequences. Provided they can rig elections and repress opponents, they can last for decades. But then they can always make excuses. Usually it’s best to blame the Yanks. Wise countries limit the periods of power.

Graeme Smith was promoted in the aftermath of the Protea’s early, painful and needless elimination from the 2003 Cricket World Cup. It was a bold decision and by and large it fulfilled its purpose. South African cricket was drifting and new blood was needed. In hindsight my nomination of Herschelle Gibbs explored the hinterland between risky and reckless, but the idea was right.

At first Smith was headstrong. A young captain needs to believe in himself, but the 23-year-old lacked tact. However, he scored heavily and was able to absorb changes and adjust to pressures better than the old guard. Apparently Makhaya Ntini was poorly treated in his first few years. No such charges can be laid against the current leadership.

Smith deserves credit for presiding over a team that more closely reflects the nation at large. Not that the country, cricket community or captain is perfect, but it’s been possible for all sections of society to identify with the team. Nor has any strength been lost along the way. SA stands high amongst the cricketing nations and its players are in demand.

Smith’s weak point lay with his bulldozing of coaches and tendency to give ground to his senior players — for example letting the team rush home from Sri Lanka after a minor scare in Colombo.

His form has also been patchy, not so much due to the pressure on him as because he relies on eye as opposed to technique, and as the years pass by eyes lose their lustre. Nowadays he has enough on his plate trying to score a few runs. As with Rick Ponting, it’s possible that shedding the old skin might reveal a bright new coat.

Accordingly, the time is ripe for a leadership change. Smith has been in charge for eight years and cannot have anything more to offer. Already he has stepped aside from ODI and T20 duties. In that regard his timing was right because World Cups mark the end of that cycle. Several other leaders have stepped aside in the last few days, including captains of sides beaten in the final and semi-final.

CSA ought to recognise that a new leadership combination is required across the board and to that end ought to seek the services of Kirsten and De Villiers (AB, not the rugby chap). Obviously Kirsten ought to be consulted about any changes, but it’s important to confront issues at the outset as otherwise mud clings to the boots.

Smith has taken South African cricket as far as he can and it’s time to put a new man at the helm, a cricketer capable of holding his own in all formats, a fellow with fresh energy and ideas. De Villiers fits the bill. Like so many contemporaries he comes from Affies and has been raised to fight for his place in the world.

Kirsten is the right man to coach the side. Discreet and firm, he brings calm resolve to every task he undertakes. Off the field, South Africans had a big part to play at the recent Cricket World Cup. Kirsten, Eric Symonds and Paddy Upton guided the champions and Allan Donald worked superbly with the Kiwis. It’s time to bring them home and to appoint a younger captain backed up by worldly wise management.

Among leaders only politicians fail to recognise that seven or eight years is enough.

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