Johannesburg - The guys currently hogging the spotlight – and not necessarily for the right reasons – in South African sport are a Frenchman named Stéphane Adam, Dale Benkenstein and John Mitchell.
If you’re wondering who Adam is, the Orlando Pirates website described the former Lille, Metz and Hearts journeyman striker as their “specialist coach for finishing” about a fortnight ago.
In a country in which players who go under the loose description of striker sometimes score four goals in a whole season because they couldn’t locate the back of the net with a GPS, Adam’s addition to the Pirates coaching staff suggested serious forward thinking by head coach Milutin Sredojevic.
A sign of how grave the situation had become was when former Banyana Banyana striker Portia Modise – the country’s only striker to score more than 100 international goals – said she was better than Pirates striker Thamsanqa Gabuza, who “traps the ball with his shin”. Nobody could argue because she had a point.
Gabuza’s one of those players who celebrates every goal like it’s his last because, at the rate at which he scores, it could well be.
So the decision to actively teach their strikers the art of goal-scoring – much like René Meulensteen turned Cristiano Ronaldo from a winger hoping to score 20 goals a season to a glutinous bastard raiding opposition defences for 40-plus goals a season – was inspired.
Yet three games into the season, Pirates, who have only scored two goals for an early season record of won one, drawn one and lost one, have come in for a fair bit of stick about whether their French finishing coach’s teachings have been lost in translation.
It’s the classical South African way of expecting miracles and wasting little time on such trivialities as context.
Expecting Pirates to have solved in a pre-season an issue that has bedevilled South Africa as a whole for decades is a bit like our countrymen who act as if apartheid left no lasting damage in this country.
Proteas batting coach Benkenstein has also found this out the hard way after an abject performance by his charges in the recently concluded tour of Sri Lanka.
Still not in the job for a year, the stats reflecting his failure as a batting coach have already been trotted out – apparently, the Proteas’ batting average has dropped by 10 runs in the 11 one-day international games in which Benkenstein has been in charge.
“Benky” hasn’t helped matters by admitting what even my four-year-old could see, which is that the Proteas were clueless against spin, adding that he’d prescribed aggression as a solution.
Time could still prove that Benkenstein – essentially on loan to the Proteas from Hilton College, his actual employer – is out of his depth, but so many mitigating factors have been overlooked in the calls for his sacking post haste.
The Proteas were as clueless against spin a few years back in India, when he was not in charge.
The dip in the team’s batting average has coincided with head coach Ottis Gibson’s ultra-aggressive approach of having just six, as opposed to the insurance of seven, batsmen in his test sides, AB de Villiers’ retirement, Hashim Amla’s worst run of form and a slew of new batsmen who are trying to find their way in international cricket.
I could mention the bowling-friendly pitches prepared for the India series earlier this year, but mitigating circumstances are equal to excuses when it comes to an impatient lot like us. Soon-to-be England defence coach John Mitchell, recently the would-be saviour of the Bulls, is another one who will be smarting over how impatient we can be.
Having embarked on a mission to turn the most one-dimensional team in rugby into a dynamic attacking outfit less than a year ago, Mitchell came in for criticism for not winning Super Rugby the first time out despite the fact that everyone could see an improvement in the rugby and in the players who don’t belong in that competition.
With that criticism in the background and not having money to improve the squad, it makes sense that he took the Eddie Jones option while the Bulls are reportedly considering such inspired options to succeed him as Jimmy Stonehouse and Victor Matfield, et al.
As we were, then.
Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa