Johannesburg - In less than six months, the South African cricket team appears to have turned around a wretched year and a half in which they unluckily lost a World Cup semifinal; were directionless at the T20 World Cup and had their wheels fall off in the Tri-Series with Australia and the West Indies.
Since July, they have beaten New Zealand in an abbreviated Test series, handed Australia an unprecedented 5-0 annihilation in a home one-day international series and then went Down Under to rub Steve Smith’s men’s faces in it with a 2-1 Test series victory.
While injuries to AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel forced Cricket SA’s hand in many ways, it needs to be commended for the clear-headed decisions in a tricky situation. But SA Rugby’s expedient decision-making disastrously caught up with it, leading to the Springboks losing an unprecedented eight Tests in a year.
With that in mind, here are five things rugby can learn from cricket:
Know what you’re playing for
After taking a bath in the West Indies, the Proteas – who seemed to play for South Africa in between trips to the Indian Premier League, County Cricket, Caribbean T20 series, you name it – decided the season’s main course was playing for their country.
Looking at the Boks, playing for South Africa seems to have been relegated to an afterthought after they finished counting their stash of cash from Europe and Japan. The desire to play for the Boks has to be shown by sacrifices players are willing to make to do it.
Hard decisions are non-negotiable
When Dale Steyn was dropped, a kerfuffle was made about it, in spite of the fact that he was a shadow of the champion fast bowler the world knew. The euphemism was that he was being rested, but everyone, including Steyn, knew what the story was. The same had been done to JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis was on the verge of being dropped when De Villiers’ injury gave him a gap. These were senior players.
Duane Vermeulen, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana and Willem Alberts seem to have a birthright to stay in the team. Other decisions – such as picking Allister Coetzee’s support staff for him, his accepting it and a refusal to make a hard call about his position – are all responsible for the mess the Boks find themselves in.
Integrity in selection is non-negotiable
Wayne Parnell is back after injury robbed him of an opportunity to make good in Test cricket. Theunis de Bruyn has been rewarded for his form over the past couple of years.
Proteas selectors say selections are not random. You cannot say the same for the Boks, who picked a player such as Bongi Mbonambi, gave him two minutes in a game and dropped him for the next one, presumably for sitting on the bench the wrong way.
That was not the only random selection: one minute, Coetzee was channelling 2007 in players he picked and the next he was going the opposite direction with a completely inexperienced team.
Transformation is not going away
There are imbeciles who think the Boks lose because of transformation. Given that they have regularly played seven players in the matchday 23, the mind boggles at how they arrive at that idea. Especially considering that Mbonambi and Lionel Mapoe are still restricted to two-minute cameos or being played out of position.
While rugby quibbles about the supposedly mortal repercussions of choosing its team from a bigger pool, cricket won a Test series in Australia playing six players of colour in the starting line-up.
Captains are not just guys who toss a coin
Post isolation, South Africa has had a history of redoubtable Bok captains such as Francois Pienaar, Gary Teichmann, John Smit and Jean de Villiers. When your captain informs the public of his intention to retire in the middle of the season, as Adriaan Strauss did this year, it shows that being broad-shouldered is no longer a quality associated with Springbok captains.
Contrast that with Faf du Plessis, who has led from the front, cajoled from the back, played with a glint in his eye (not to mention a mint in his mouth) and has been crafty. There needs to be vision, daring and imagination in selecting the next Bok captain.
Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa