Ray Jennings chats to Sport24

Ray Jennings (Gallo Images)
Ray Jennings (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Proteas coach RAY JENNINGS talks about the importance of managing Kagiso Rabada’s workload, the state of domestic cricket and being shown the door by CSA.

Sport24 asked: What’s your assessment of the Proteas under the stewardship of Russell Domingo?

Ray Jennings: The Proteas are in a re-building phase and they still seem to be finding out the correct team combination. Domingo’s results aren’t as good as they were before, but the Proteas are a team in transition. In any high-powered international job, the system expects a return in terms of results. I believe you can’t judge Domingo in his sixth year as you did in his first year. Domingo finds himself in a country where fan and media expectation is high because the Proteas have been at the top of the tree in the past. You suddenly lose a few games and slip down the rankings and find yourself under pressure as a coach. There is no doubt that South Africa’s bowling unit is not as good as it once was and the national side is clearly being hurt by a genuine lack of quality all-rounders. In my book, all-rounders add the finishing touches to a well-balanced team. With the retirement of Jacques Kallis, Cricket South Africa failed to address the problem early enough. We didn’t try Albie Morkel a few years ago as an all-rounder and Ryan McLaren was tried and subsequently dumped. We have talented players coming through the system, but we must understand that they need time to grow as individuals. If you throw players by the wayside after a few performances, when they were getting better, and keep saying it’s a young side, you will go in circles and find that you are back to square one over a period of time. I don’t know if SA cricket is at a stage where we can identify the right player and push him. We have seen glimpses of all-rounders coming through, but where do they go?  Kagiso Rabada, for example, has shown signs that he can be an all-rounder, but have we done that?

Sport24 asked: What’s your take on Rabada’s rise and how do we optimally manage his workload?

Ray Jennings: Kagiso is very special human being and is an organised young man, with the mind of a 30-year-old. The way he thinks in comparison to his age underlines that he will be a real success. However, his workload going forward is a worry. Any fast bowler in the world at Rabada’s age – 21 – has found it difficult to stay as the leading man in the system. For instance, young Australian bowlers have come and gone. The only way to manage Rabada, who is a diamond that has burst onto the scene, is to get one or two bowlers around him that can actually support him. At present, I don’t see that happening because Dale Steyn has really been put on the side-lines and Morné Morkel most probably feels unsure of the role that he is playing in the system. In the last year, Rabada has been the key bowler all the time. That not only nails you physically.  It’s the mental fatigue which is also taxing, because he knows that he is accountable to move the game forward. When you keep leaning on one player, it’s only a matter of time before he picks up an injury and falls back in terms of form.

Sport24 asked: How would you assess the standard of domestic competition within South Africa?

Ray Jennings: The franchise system is not as strong as it should be. I don’t know if it will improve by adding two new franchises. However, what it will do is expose more players to system and afford them the opportunity to hone their craft. Aiden Markram was the leading runs-scorer at the 2014 under-19 Cricket World Cup and Corbin Bosch is a potential future all-rounder for South Africa, but only the former is playing franchise cricket. By introducing more franchises it potentially gives these players an opportunity, but if the system doesn’t allow for that then my point gets blown out of the water. You need to expose the pot of players to see if they are good enough to move forward. How do you get the franchise system stronger? I believe the people that are running it have to improve the intensity of the game and training. And, if you are getting paid by an employee and are not putting your life on the line, you should get fired. How many guys in the franchise system are being challenged? When I have selected or signed players, hard work comes first and talent second. A person with a good work ethic and an understanding of who he is will utilise his talent plus more. Do we have the coaches and is the franchise system at a level that it should be at? I don’t believe so. The work ethic, the fitness, understanding and leadership needs to be passed on for players to grow. When you get rejected in life you have two choices: give up or work harder. Growth only happens when you walk the tight-rope and fall off. We need more players who last for 10 years in the system.

Sport24 asked: Barely two months after you guided the South African under-19 team to World Cup success in 2014, you were replaced by Lawrence Mahatlane as head coach. Your thoughts now?

Ray Jennings: The people who made that decision did so for their specific reasons. Cricket administration goes through phases and the door might be closed now, but in two years’ time if a person with a certain type of intelligence says: “I want to open the door to that particular person”, the situation can change. It’s the same concept when one door closes for a player and another opens. The people who made the decision to dispense of my services might have thought they were closing the door on me. However, on the contrary, they actually opened it for me because if I trust my skills I can do anything I want. How many people really know who I am, what I’m about and how good I am? And, as a coach, should you be liked? If you are getting positive results, you must surely be doing something right. I can reveal that one or two international sides have spoken to me, but the academy I’m running at the moment is very different and rewarding, because I’m having a positive impact on a five-year-old that is interested in cricket. You don’t only have to be happy dealing with a Jacques Kallis all the time. If you have that brain and want that fame then you will have a problem coaching a five-year-old. The coaching you do changes according to who you are and what you want.

Sport24 asked: At the top echelon of the game, is it more about man-management than coaching?

Ray Jennings: I believe it’s both. In terms of man-management you need to set up a value system so that players are able to understand what they do. If they are happy with their roles within the team they are going to give you more care, energy and are not going to disrupt the flow of the side. And from a coaching point of view, you need to be organised because you could be in a situation  where you have to say to Kallis you are not playing as well as you should because your top hand isn’t working properly. Man-management and coaching are inter-linked. In terms of Steyn not going to the West Indies, did he understand that decision? He was supposedly going to rest and suddenly he’s going to play county cricket in England. In terms of management, what does that tell Steyn? Was he compatible with that decision? And if the happiness is not there, then the money in the IPL or the UK becomes an option. In a general sense, players also have to be open and honest and say: “At this stage of my life money is more important,” and administrators have to get players to buy into a value system. And, like in business, if they are not happy with it they will move on. Is Steyn moving forward in his life in South African cricket? If the answer is no, then have we lost him too early? And why could we lose AB de Villiers? It won’t be about the money, but a sense of unhappiness within an environment. Commitment and loyalty cannot be bought and players need to be managed correctly.


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