Tough road ahead for SA cricket’s new coach

2011-06-15 00:00

THERE is much expected of new South African coach Gary Kirsten. Although he’s told Protea supporters not to expect miracles, most of them are already anticipating silverware to fill the Proteas’ empty trophy cabinet.

With Allan Donald and Russell Domingo already in position as bowling coach and assistant coach respectively, it seems as if Kirsten could be looking to another former South African team-mate, Jonty Rhodes, to fill the fielding-coaching role. As far as mental conditioning goes, Paddy Upton has become an important Kirsten sidekick. Kirsten recognises the value Upton adds, and may well make place for him on the support staff.

Kirsten’s position as head coach is a powerful one. There is no doubt that Cricket South Africa would have had to put a significant amount of money on the table to secure his signature. More importantly, they would also have had to give some important assurances that Kirsten will have free rein when it comes to decision making. After his successful tenure with India I doubt whether Kirsten would have agreed to anything less than complete carte blanche. Without it he will not be able to do his job properly.

Kirsten’s coaching career has flourished in the last four years, but it did not get off to the best start.

Just after he had retired from international cricket, Kirsten made himself available to the Cobras franchise as a consultant. In their wisdom, the Newlands powers-that-be, decided that his services were not required — a fact I still find hard to believe. Instead Kirsten travelled to the Eastern Cape as a consultant to the Warriors franchise under Domingo. Their joint efforts built a successful Warriors squad and now they have the chance to do the same with the Proteas, except this time Kirsten is in charge.

What is frustrating is the fact that Kirsten had to leave South Africa to be recognised and appreciated. The same can be said of Donald, who worked with England and New Zealand before he finally cracked the nod to work at home.

While the management team has a new look, little has changed as far as the South African squad is concerned. In stark contrast, Australia has made wholesale contract changes, including the controversial axing of Simon Katich.

Smith is still in charge of the test squad, a position that has a significant impact on team dynamics. He is a powerful presence in the team and has had things his way for some time.

The appointment of AB de Villiers as ODI and Twenty/20 captain is a good one if he is allowed to be his own man.

Kirsten will be working with many players who bear the scars from folding under pressure once too often, and will have his work cut out to change some ingrained attitudes.

When Kirsten took over the Indian side he had a great captain in the form of M. S. Dhoni to work with. He also had a long list of legendary Indian cricketers to call on. Most of these cricketers are also leaders themselves with Team India’s best interests at heart.

South African cricket has a completely different dynamic. With selectors bound by certain selection criteria, players have become more concerned about securing their places and less focused on the success of their team.

Changing this mindset and building Team South Africa will be Kirsten’s biggest challenge.

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