The Proteas nightmare start to their four match Test series against old foes England seems to be an ominous omen of things to come. If I do come across as a harbinger of bad tidings, it is with good reason. This was probably our weakest Test team that we have put out in a very long time. All I wish for is the best for the team and really want to be positive but there are some alarming issues that the team, management, selectors, players, pundits and even fans need to consider and take heed off.
1. Lack of legends
Roll back the clock to 2008. Graeme Smith and his young team were just about beginning to hit their peak. A team that went on to claim their first Test series win in England since 1965 and then went on to repeat the feat four years later in 2012. That squad of legends included the likes of Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn who are all missing currently. 2008 even had the legendary Makhaya Ntini. It is impossible to replace such leaders overnight and that type of star-power will logically be missed. Fans cannot expect the current younger group to achieve the same sort of feats right now. Hopefully some new legends will be born in this series.
2. A wealth of inexperience in the squad
The starting XI in the first Test was decidedly inexperienced. It even saw the likes of captain Francois du Plessis missing due to the birth of his first child, thus making the top six that much more vulnerable. Heino Kuhn made his debut, Theunis de Bruyn was playing in only his second match, Keshav Maharaj has barely played 10 Tests while Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock are still green when compared to seasoned campaigners such as Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel. Added to this are the youngsters on the bench such as Andile Phehlukwayo and Aiden Markram (both still to debut) and Duanne Olivier, who himself has only played one Test. This amount of inexperience is frightening; particularly for a huge marquee tour of England and this then results in a lack of leadership. The young talent is exciting as far as the future goes but currently we seem to be suffering because of it.
3. Mediocre assistant coaches
Sadly Charl Langeveldt and Neil McKenzie don’t seem cut out for international duty. Both were not too long ago mere players themselves and thus have no proper coaching experience in general, particularly on the international circuit. Langeveldt mentored one or two Cobras bowlers before being hired and that was about it. Are either even accredited with official high level coaching papers and licences? With the wealth of coaching experts available out there, why are we not employing the correct people for the job? If experience is not part of the criteria then how about Jacques Kallis who can handle both duties as the best all-rounder of all time? Both seem to avoid blame and hide behind head coach Russell Domingo. Why was there no direct responsibility from Langeveldt for those no balls on day one or from McKenzie for that incredible collapse on day 4? Similar issues were present in the disastrous Champions Trophy. To add to this, Domingo has unfortunately had to leave the team due to the passing of his mother, leaving a huge gap to fill back in England. Also, who is looking after our fielding (all those dropped catches)?
4. Questionable selection criteria
Sadly nobody likes to bring this up and some even defend it, but is the current official quota system hurting the team? As a fan of the guy it pains me to say it but JP Duminy is a great example of why this system is flawed. The current criteria for the team are 6 non-whites of which 2 must be ‘African’ (a target made that much more difficult to meet with Kagiso Rabada being banned). The great Barry Richards made an apt point last week when he questioned a guy like Amla or Vernon Philander being differentiated from a player like Rabada under the exact same quota system. Anyway, this quota system seems to be the only reason for Duminy keeping his place as his form (with bat and ball), average and performances have been nowhere near deserving of selection for years now. This is not to say that he is to blame for the loss but his selection game after game needs to be explained. Stephen Cook had three bad Tests and got dropped. How about some consistency here? With Rabada out, it means that Chris Morris or Olivier will replace him and Faf for Duminy seems the other logical replacement. But then will such an XI be politically incorrect even if it is the best possible XI? There are so many Kolpak players right there in England who would have made a difference (Abbott, Rossouw). This is the type of thing that urgently requires national dialogue.
There are other alarming issues such as ill-discipline, lack of fight shown, the form of Dean Elgar and Amla, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Our bowling unit did a decent job on the first morning as well as on the fourth day. Even without Rabada, the rest of our bowlers (Philander, Maharaj and Morkel) seem in good nick (just watch those no balls lads). Big Vern and Morkel were tutored by all-time great Allan Donald and we need an adequate bowling coach replacement soon. Other shining lights include Temba Bavuma who has proved us all wrong, as well as our best player De Kock.
As far as the second Test goes, Kuhn is not a long-term solution so why not blood Markram now? The exciting Olivier could do damage on a ground that Stuart Broad destroyed Australia in the last Ashes and adding Morris would give the team so much more depth and options. We will have our skipper back and surely Duminy’s Test career is over. I personally would love to see this line-up for the next Test: Elgar, Markram, Amla, Faf, Bavuma, De Kock, Morris, Philander, Maharaj, Morkel, Olivier. Good luck team! Prove the above four facts wrong!
Dhirshan Gobind is a respected freelance sports columnist. He is a writer for ‘The Post’, ‘Galaxy News’, ‘SAFA’ and writes regular opinion columns on Sport24.
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