Peter Robinson

A public relations disaster

2005-04-26 12:27

It seems fair to say that Ray Jennings and Omar Henry won't be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

People in sport like to give the impression that they're all part of one big happy family while they're busily stabbing each other in the back and it's rare to find someone venting his spleen quite so publicly.

Henry stuck the boot into Jennings in a big way last week. What had Jennings achieved as coach, sneered Henry. He's lost to India and England and so what if South Africa beat the West Indies. If you can't beat the Windies, then you really have problems," he said.

For most of the Test match the United Cricket Board declined, or neglected, to pass comment on Henry's view.

Finally, on the last day in Barbados, UCB president Ray Mali stirred himself to life. Henry's remarks were "unacceptable", harrumphed Mali. They'd embarrassed him terribly in the president's box in Bridgetown.

Whichever way you look at it, this little sideshow has been a public relations disaster for South African cricket, souring another impressive performance from Graeme Smith's team.

That a selector should publicly slag off a coach is unthinkable. That he should denigrate opponents who are hosting his own team is even worse.

By criticising Jennings, in effect Henry was scoffing at the efforts of a team he helped select. When he was demoted as convener of selectors last year, Henry was taken out of the immediate loop.

Give Jennings some credit

His influence on the panel was greatly reduced. His position comes up for review in a few months' time, and it seems most unlikely that he will be invited back again.

South African cricket should pre-empt this. He should be asked to resign from the panel with immediate effect, and if he declines, he should be sacked.

Whatever you think of Jennings (and there is a considerable school of thought which believes that he will not be asked to continue as coach after this tour), you have to give the man some credit.

The victory in Bridgetown was clinical and conclusive. The West Indies were buried in the third Test by a team, remember, that had completely lost its way in Sri Lanka less than a year ago.

Even in this series the South Africans have improved from match to match after struggling in the first Test.

I don't want to take anything away from the players, but that improvement could not have come about if the team were completely at odds with their coach.

How far South Africa have come can be judged by the fact that there was muted criticism of the pace of their batting in the third Test. This just a day before they finished off the match, winning by an innings inside four days.

For the first time in a year the South Africans look happy and purposeful on the field. Smith seems more assured of his captaincy and it looks as if everyone knows what they're supposed to do.

There's a confidence about the team that was absent only a few months ago. Jennings may or may not be a good coach, and his methods may not be universally popular.

Then again, not everyone who's played for Manchester United for the past decade and a half has liked Sir Alex Ferguson. And he's done pretty well for United, hasn't he?

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