Proteas without leadership

2011-04-02 00:00

“LEADERSHIP,” said a former Springbok rugby player when we discussed the Proteas collapse a couple of days after the disaster of Dhaka. “That’s the problem — leadership,” the rugby player added.

He didn’t elaborate, but I wasn’t sure he had hit the nail on the head because I thought — from a distance — that Graeme Smith had led the side well at the World Cup, making smart bowling changes and rallying his men in the field when there was a crisis, as there was during the Sehwag-Tendulkar opening partnership in the India match.

Then the South African team came home — without the captain.

Now it transpires that Graeme Smith decided to visit a girlfriend in Ireland.

It was a bad decision and bad leadership all round. He had already decided to give up the captaincy of the one-day team and his last act as skipper should have been to be with his men to face the music back home. After all, he himself said the players needed to “take it on the chin”.

“When the team gets onto the plane and goes home, it’s going to be daggers and stones thrown,” he said at the post-match press conference.

If that was true, the last act of the defeated general should have been to stay with his men until the end.

It would, of course, have been largely symbolic. No daggers and stones were thrown — other than verbal ones — and there is not much he could have said at the next day’s press conference that hadn’t been said before. But he should have been there. Then, it would have been perfectly understandable if he hopped on a flight to Ireland the same evening to get away from it all.

The team management must share the blame. They should have told the captain in no uncertain terms that his term of duty was not yet up. Instead they allowed him to take the soft option.

I have long believed that weak sports teams are a product of weak administration. With Cricket South Africa in disarray over the Nyoka-Majola spat — and the pathetic internal inquiry into the IPL bonus scandal — the players had seemingly managed to stay above the infighting.

What happened in the aftermath of Dhaka indicates to me that the problems in South African cricket run much deeper than a choke in the closing overs of a game.

My rugby friend was surely right. Strong leadership is needed.

The next coach, whoever he may be, will be stepping into a minefield. Not least of his problems will be to decide who should be the captain — and not just of the one-day team. There is no obvious answer.

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