Peter Robinson

Much appreciated

2005-05-31 08:05

Winter arrived at the weekend, in Johannesburg at least, where the temperature dipped noticeably on Sunday night.

As far as cricket and cricketers are concerned, the timing was pretty good.

In a technical sense the season was over as soon as Graeme Smith's South Africans wrapped up the one-day series against the West Indies, but a few details still had to be settled.

Mickey Arthur was named as the new national coach and we should all wish him well. He's a thoroughly decent man, but this in itself is no guarantee of success.

Graham Ford and Eric Simons are also decent men, but both found themselves chopped off in mid-stride.

Arthur, though, has the winter to think about what he's going to do with the job and, no doubt, he'll tip a nod in the direction of Ray Jennings for bequeathing to him a side that's a good deal more settled than it was six months ago.

At the start of the summer we didn't have any fast bowlers, or so it seemed, but Makhaya Ntini has stepped forward to lead the attack, Andre Nel has recovered from injury and Dale Steyn and Monde Zondeki have suggested that more is to come from them.

If anything, Shaun Pollock is the bowler who gives most cause for concern. He was underdone in the Caribbean after coming back from an operation and his winter, no doubt, will be spent getting himself back into shape to face Australia at the end of the year.

He's not getting any younger, though, and he may have to redefine his role. His future may lie as a change bowler who makes significant contributions with the bat in the lower middle order.

No major overhaul is needed for the batting, although some tinkering might be considered. I'm not entirely convinced that the best place for Herschelle Gibbs is in the middle order, although it's hard to argue with the successes of AB de Villiers (in the Test team) and Boeta Dippenaar (in the one-day side) as Graeme Smith's partner.

After facing the new ball for several years Gibbs may have persuaded himself that he deserves a break down the order. Against Australia, though, his experience and skill may serve him better higher up again. We shall see.

What Arthur should be worrying about, though, is where to find a spinner. It speaks volumes for the paucity of spinners in this country that Johan Botha, a converted medium-pacer, should be promoted as a candidate to play against Australia almost purely on the basis that he can bowl the "doosra".

Botha's return in the SuperSport Series this past summer was four wickets at 68,5 each.

The South African way is not to trust spin bowlers, either at provincial or national level, so they're either ignored (Claude Henderson) or chucked in at the deep end (Robin Peterson, Justin Ontong) and then ignored.

Botha may have a future (or so, for that matter, might Thandi Tshabalala and Paul Harris), but the Australians are not the team to experiment again.

Still, Arthur has good foundations on which to build and he's got a little bit of time to work on his plans. We should wish him luck through this winter. He's certainly going to need it.

Send your comments to Peter Robinson or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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