Ottis’s Proteas: Stunners who turned too sickly

Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)
Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The merits or demerits of Cricket South Africa giving national men’s team coach Ottis Gibson the heave-ho after fewer than two years in charge are perhaps most fittingly discussed after the Proteas’ next, uncertain few months minus him.

Then, we should have a better idea of whether the CSA bosses had acted decisively or prematurely over the weekend by confirming his exit … as part of a much wider, pronounced cleanout of his support staff and others relevant to the SA team setup.

Generally, national cricket coaches having such a limited time at the tiller (he effectively served for some 22 months) before being axed might be considered unreasonable; perhaps just a little bit knee-jerk.

Ironically, too, the 50-year-old Barbadian was getting better rather than worse, in overall statistical terms, in the second year of his often rollercoaster tenure, one confusingly marked by both some magnificent achievements and occasional muppet-status ignominy, if you like.

When he effectively ended the first year - it had begun with home combat against Bangladesh from late September 2017 and finished with the tour of Sri Lanka in mid-2018 - his overall win percentage across the three formats had been 56.25.

But by the time of his side-lining, he had beefed it up, for what it may be considered worth, to 63.38: under his charge, the Proteas ended up playing 71 completed international matches in total, and winning 45 of them.

His Test win record (played 17, won 11, lost six) was 64.70 percent, ODI win record (played 39, won 23, lost 15, one no-result) was 58.97 percent, and Twenty20 international win record (played 15, won 11, lost four) 73.33 percent.

The weight or otherwise of those stats, of course, can be argued all day long, given how some formats and series carry notably greater gravitas than others in the sport, and that all coaches tend to benefit quite royally from, for example, home series against minnow countries where clean sweeps can be commonplace and only fatten up win percentages to a deceptive extent.

Gibson’s Proteas enjoyed a few of those, against the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

But against the traditionally more strength-versus-strength opponents to South Africa, he experienced a sometimes baffling range of variable outcomes.

The high point of the home summer before last, for example, was wonderful, successive Test series conquests of visiting India, increasingly steelier abroad these days, and then Australia.

Beating the Baggy Greens 3-1, even if that combat will sadly be remembered more for the visitors’ sandpaper scandal, was hugely deserved in the final analysis and flicked a significant monkey off South Africa’s backs - they had failed on seven prior occasions, post-isolation, to beat them in a series on our soil, and that despite the relative peculiarity of three series triumphs Down Under in the same period.

But then the wheels began to come off the Proteas’ Test locomotive, a situation painfully highlighted by successive 0-2 results (away, then home) against moderate Sri Lanka.

The second, in the domestic late summer of 2018/19, was an appalling jolt, marking the first time any outfit from the Subcontinent had prevailed on South African soil, and Gibson’s Proteas looked a disinterested, disorganised rabble - especially in regard to a long-time bugbear, their batting department.

But the result was softened just a little by the argument, however dubious some connoisseurs might have considered it, that the big focus was really the then-looming CWC 2019, and another Proteas’ chance to finally put their major-tournament bogey to bed.

Instead South Africa lurched to a seventh-placed finish in what was almost inarguably their worst of eight World Cups, winning only three of their nine matches and being officially goners weeks before the tournament ended - two of their victories at the end of the roster (Sri Lanka, Australia) came with the horse already having decisively bolted.

In fairness to Cricket South Africa, the brief to Gibson when he assumed control of the Proteas had been enormously clear: we want you to end the CWC hoodoo.

That quite the opposite instead transpired in the UK will have been the last straw in the eyes of those - though the CSA board were apparently divided over his ongoing suitability - who wanted him out.

The rank World Cup flop, relatively hot on the heels of the Sri Lanka Test howlers at Kingsmead and St George’s Park … it was probably the cocktail that “killed” Gibson.

Still, a little ammunition for those who favoured his retention (in a climate where obvious replacement candidates don’t scream compellingly from rooftops and money is a crippling concern) was that his charges had won all of their last four T20 series against, respectively, Zimbabwe, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

That is the format in which South Africa will tackle their next of those infernal multi-nation jamborees - the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia from October 2020.

But it will be for the care of “AN Other” or “SO Else”, to borrow slightly old-fashioned team-sheet parlance in newspapers when the occupant of a berth is uncertain, as the head mastermind …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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