The coaches stand up

2015-04-23 00:00

IT was as refreshing as it was surprising when rugby coach Brendan Venter put up his hand last week and took the blame for the Sharks’ defensive failings; in vivid contrast, South Africa’s inept, fumbling cricket bosses have kept ducking and diving and refusing to accept any responsibility for the role they played in ending the Proteas’ World Cup campaign.

Venter was in charge of the Sharks’ pre-season preparation while head coach Gary Gold was still in Japan and last week, of his own volition, he conceded that he failed to lay the foundation for a structured defensive system.

Gold, who has also been prepared to take responsibility for his players’ failings this season, praised Venter’s honesty.

“Brendan is a very misunderstood individual. He’s a hell of a lot more humble than he might appear. It is very noble of him to want to take the shots, but we [the coaching staff] are all in this together and we must all take responsibility,” said Gold.

The Sharks certainly showed a dramatic improvement in their defence against the Bulls, but their accuracy, both in controlling possession and in kicking their goals, was poor.

While the Sharks coaches have been queueing up to accept their share of the blame, the fellows who run South African cricket have been tripping over each other as they run for cover.

It will be a month tomorrow since South Africa were agonisingly pipped by New Zealand (and their own officials) —  off the penultimate ball — in the semi-

final of the Cricket World Cup.

Almost immediately, stories emerged that captain AB de Villiers and his players had been hamstrung by CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat and company who pressured them into fielding an unfit and rusty Vernon Philander, rather than the flourishing Kyle Abbott, to meet the four-player racial quota demands.

World-renowned adventurer and motivational coach Mike Horn fanned the flames when (in a taped interview) he spoke of his role, mumbling on about politics and quotas, and his inability to lift the players ahead of the semi-final.

The South Africans had just beaten the powerful Sri Lankans in the quarter-

finals in one of the most emphatic performances of the World Cup and there could have been only one reason why their heads had dropped ahead of the semi-final — they had been forced to change a winning combination.

But CSA, instead of coming clean on what happened, played it by the book, the one on the Watergate scandal. First came the denials, then the untruths and finally the cover-up, as officials took refuge in anonymity. (Sadly, the final chapter, the one when Richard Nixon is forced to resign as U.S. president, will not be replicated in the South African context where cushy jobs are at stake and whitewashes are readily accepted).

Had the semi-final selection been above question, De Villiers, coach Russell Domingo, selection chief Andrew Hudson and the players would have immediately put the quota allegations to bed.

An excellent source close to the ­players, one who certainly knows the true story, would only say that “there is no smoke without fire”, but reaction from the playing staff has, at best, been muted and so the speculation has snowballed.

Finally, out of the blue and no doubt under pressure, Horn backtracked on his earlier interview while CSA suddenly held its own cosy investigation and late on Saturday evening produced a string of findings which cleared its staff of any involvement in selection.

But, even that report by its own “independent” director, suggests unnecessary pressure was suddenly brought to bear on selection for the semi-final — “Lorgat impressed upon them [Hudson and Domingo] the need to properly consider the best XI bearing in mind the transformation guidelines,” the report read.

The need for transformation is obvious but it is CSA’s inconsistency in applying the quota system which is muddying the waters.

Former Witness cricket writer Ken Borland, in an article published in the Citizen on Saturday morning, says that CSA disregarded the spirit of transformation at the World Cup and questions the timing of its late interference in selection. “Half of the games the Proteas played in the World Cup were with only three players of colour, so why, if three was fine for the quarter-final against Sri Lanka and the matches against West ­Indies, Ireland and Pakistan, did there need to be an intervention on the eve of the semi-final?”

And, he asks, why there was no pressure to field spinner Aaron Phangiso in at least one game, even if it was against minnows Ireland and/or the UAE.

“The basic truth, as it always has been, is that until Cricket South Africa has a board whose priority is the good of the game in this country, and not their own ambitions and fiefdoms, real transformation will not be achieved,” Borland concludes.

For years, and at numerous World Cup campaigns, the South African players have carried the dreaded chokers’ tag. This time it was their board, the suit-and-tie brigade, who choked on their own hypocrisy and dishonesty.

In hindsight, it was a waste to have motivator Horn in tow, teaching players how to maintain their focus while climbing every mountain and fording every stream. How much more valuable it would have been for South African cricket, the players and public, to have rather had a consultant coaching Lorgat, transformation boss Norman Arendse and their cohorts, the value of transparency and honesty.

Someone like Dr Brendan Venter.

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