Cape Town - South African cricket fans might be down in the dumps after Test and T20 series defeats against England, but David Gower insists it’s not all doom and gloom for the Proteas.
Successive home Test series defeats to Sri Lanka and England, coupled with the 3-0 humiliation in India in October last year and a limp showing at the 2019 Cricket World Cup, has supporter morale at an all-time low, with the immediate outlook seemingly not too bright.
But Gower, who captained England to Ashes glory in 1985, and who scored more than 26 000 First-Class runs (with 53 centuries) in an 18-year career, believes there is some reason for optimism, despite the inherent problems facing Cricket South Africa (CSA).
“First of all, if you lose so many great players in the space of two or three years - the likes of Kallis, Amla, Steyn, etc - it’s very hard to replace them, even if you have a fully functioning system. And I’m not sure it is fully functioning in South Africa,” the 62-year-old says.
“(ECB Director of Cricket) Andrew Strauss is always talking about the ‘one or two percenters’ who make the difference, but if you lose five or 10 percent, then you have a lot of ground to make up at international level.
“However, looking at some of the guys who came into the South African side (during the England series), a lot of them looked decent players. I thought Pieter Malan looked the part. I know he’s been around for 10 years; it’s not as though he’s a 19-year-old coming in and wondering what’s going on.
“But I thought he looked the part, very composed, as did (Rassie) van der Dussen, until the spinners came on. It’s a pity he didn’t get his century at the Wanderers; it would have been a nice way to finish off the series and a real confidence-builder.”
Gower adds: “Looking as an outsider with a little bit of an understanding of how things work in that part of the world, keeping the talent coming through is difficult, especially when you’re losing some pretty good players to Kolpak and county cricket.
“And if you haven’t got your best talent available to you, that’s effectively tying one hand behind your back, which makes it just that bit tougher. But I really don’t think South Africa are a million miles away.”
Gower will be in South Africa in early March as a member of the Lord’s Taverners Celebrity Cricket XI. The UK-based disability sports charity will play two cricket matches in Cape Town against its sister organisation Lord’s Taverners South Africa to help raise awareness of the work of the charity locally, which includes Table Cricket, an adapted version of the game which gives those with physical and learning disabilities the chance to play the sport.
“The thing about Table Cricket is there are people like us who are able-bodied and able to play cricket out on big fields, and if you have an ounce of talent and ability, you can make a life out of it, as I’ve done, which is fantastic,” says Gower, who has been part of the Taverners for close to 40 years.
“But then you get these children who are not so able in many different ways. What the Lord’s Taverners have done in the UK is roll out these types of projects across the country for a long time now. And it’s amazing to see these kids really just enjoying themselves. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it gives them a sense of the team spirit that we have grown so accustomed to.”
Some other famous sport stars who will make the trip include former England captain Mike Gatting, ex-Three Lions fast bowling duo Andy Caddick and Gladstone Small, Worcestershire Women’s cricketer Chloe Hill, and former England rugby internationals Rob Andrew and George Chuter.