Complex dynamics for Proteas to deal with

2009-03-24 00:00

SOUTH Africa will take much comfort from their consolation victory over Australia at Newlands on Sunday. Their innings victory was remarkable, not only because of the many record-breaking performances it contained, but also because it was achieved by a team seemingly at odds with one another.

The selection fiasco that preceded the final Test must have given the Proteas’ performance coach, Jeremy Snape, a few sleepless nights. Snape, who has been very successful in motivating the Proteas and promoting a team culture, certainly appeared to have his work cut out for him preparing for the final Test match.

Ashwell Prince’s supreme performance with the bat at Newlands was impressive. The fact that he did so well in the position of opening batsman — a position he initially refused — confirms that he is without doubt a player blessed with enormous talent and ability. But it’s Prince’s personality that appears to be posing some complex challenges within the team.

It has emerged that Prince made it clear to the selectors that should he be captain, it would be his prerogative to decide the batting order and that he would insist on batting himself at his preferred position of number five. The selectors then removed the captaincy from him and selected him as an opening partner for Imraan Khan. This appears to be a decision not made to allow Prince to concentrate on his batting, but rather a decision made by the selectors because they had no other choice.

These selections did little to ease tensions in the team that had been simmering in the week leading up to the final Test match.

The SuperSport Series match between the Titans and the Warriors at Centurion was apparently the scene of much on-field tension between Prince, Paul Harris and AB De Villiers. Players were of the opinion that these tensions resulted from the fact that Prince was feeling hard done by.

Prince can be introverted and introspective. But it’s these traits that appear to help him focus and to perform at his best. Individual performance is a hugely motivating factor for him, but it certainly has an effect on the players around him.

These interesting team dynamics pose a real challenge for the Proteas. Playing high-intensity cricket all year round is hard enough without trying to do it in a team that is not pulling together.

Duncan Fletcher stressed the importance of team players in his comments about Neil McKenzie’s role in South Africa’s victory over Australia in the one-day series. Fletcher praised McKenzie as a team man and said his contribution to the Proteas’ success cannot be underestimated.

As the Proteas prepare for the one-day series they will be aware of the enormous pressure on each one of them to perform. Putting individual agendas aside and playing for the team does not always come naturally, but it will be vital to ensure South Africa build on their tremendous performance at Newlands.

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

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