Nkwe has a tough task resurrecting crest-fallen Proteas

Enoch Nkwe. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix
Enoch Nkwe. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix

The decision by Cricket SA (CSA) to appoint Highveld Lions coach Enoch Nkwe as interim Proteas team director to lead the team in next month’s tour of India has polarised opinion.

Having coached the Lions and the Jozi Stars (in the Mzansi Super League T20 competition) to a combined three titles in his debut season as a franchise head coach last year – success that earned him the CSA coach of the year award – Nkwe had, at the very least, earned himself a spot as one of the candidates to temporarily coach the national team.

By that logic, recent Proteas assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa, former Proteas wicketkeeper and Titans coach Mark Boucher, former Proteas batsman and Cobras coach Ashwell Prince, and former Lions and new Northerns coach Geoff Toyana would also have been in the running for the job.

But the decision to go with Nkwe, which was announced on Friday, was met with as much resistance (if not more) as it has approval via social and traditional media, much in the same vein appointments for prominent coaching jobs tend to go these days.

At the core of the argument put forth by the grumbling classes appears to be the 36-year-old’s age, which makes him the youngest international coach plying his trade, as well as the former Lions all-rounder supposedly not having played at a level high enough to warrant him holding the top coaching job in the country.

But City Press understands that Nkwe’s advantage, apart from having been excellent wherever he has coached, was his level-headedness, the fact that he has worked within CSA’s structures (with the South African Under-19s and the South African women’s teams) and has coached a lot of the current players in the Proteas side at one stage or another.

Boucher’s claims to the position seemed to be a no-brainer among fellow former international cricketers and the so-called traditional cricket supporters on social media. But, much like former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’ recent application for the Southern Kings head coach position, his qualifications – or supposed lack thereof – became a focal point.

Also, the former wicketkeeper has a history with the man doing the appointing – acting director of cricket Corrie van Zyl, the head coach who dropped him ahead of the 2011 World Cup. This is a slight Boucher clearly hasn’t forgotten and he even wrote about it in his book.

The champions of transformation have asked the valid question of why Maketa now finds himself out in the cold, when, two years ago, the understanding was that whom-ever served as outgoing Proteas coach Ottis Gibson’s assistant would be first in line to succeed him when he left. But it sounds like the experience wasn’t exactly an empowering one for the former Warriors coach, to the point where talk at CSA is that they are worried they may have set him back a couple of years as a head coach by making him Gibson’s assistant.

Prince, who coached a Cobras team that was very much in his confrontational image but fell short at the final hurdles last season, may have affected his chances of getting the job by being too outspoken on social media.

Toyana, who was in the same boat as Nkwe because of winning almost a handful of titles in two seasons with the Lions, probably had his chances to be considered hurt by his being moved sideways to a high-performance coaching job at the Lions he recently left for his current hands-on post at Northerns.

Be that as it may, Nkwe – who swiftly turned the Lions’ fortunes around after succeeding Toyana – has a tough job on his hands as he takes the Proteas back to India for three T20s, three tests and three one-day internationals four years after they lost a four-test series 3-0.

Nkwe will also have to do that with a squad not only demoralised by the worst yet World Cup campaign by a South African team, but also a team missing the services of fast bowler Dale Steyn and batsman Hashim Amla, who both retired this week.

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