Earlier this week Cricket South Africa (CSA) made a couple of announcements that went under the radar. With Mark Boucher breaking ties with CSA after the T20 World Cup as the Proteas head coach, it brought in two new coaches for the men’s side. Shukri Conard for the Test side and Rob Walter in charge of the white-ball squads, similar to what England have in place. In fact, South Africa were the pioneers in world cricket when it comes to split coaching as more than a decade ago they had Gary Kirsten in charge of the Test and ODI team with Russell Domingo coaching the T20 team.
Although the profile of South Africa the job would have attracted plenty of interest, CSA once again went with their home grown coaches, ones who are familiar with the set up. Mickey Arthur and Domingo were unheard names too when they started, but there is something else too.
For different reasons, CSA hasn’t been able to attract the best candidates as even when Graeme Smith was in charge of the board not many showed interest to work with the national side. Although he eventually brought Boucher, there was plenty of controversy too. And even this time, Lance Klusener, who had applied to be the white-ball coach, pulled out at the last moment.
It is not as if former South African cricketers are not willing to work in the set up. One look at the ongoing SA20 will tell you how the big names of South African cricket are involved with the franchises and that include Boucher, Klusener, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Graham Ford, JP Duminy, Albie Morkel, Eric Simmons are some of the reputed names part of the six teams coaching set up. With South Africa not being the powerhouse it once used to be in world cricket, the SA20 also allows these players to work with the cream of the country’s talent at a time when they badly need it.
“It is fantastic to be able to get quality people in. It is one of the things we wanted to do with SA20 is to grow our cricketing skills, develop players who are ready for international cricket..it might take a year or two, but we will start putting whole of cricketers on the global stage, “ former Proteas captain Graeme Smith, who is the SA20 League Commissioner, said in an interaction with select media outlets on Friday. Dewald Brevis, who already showed in the Indian Premier League what he is capable of, is already touted as the one to watch out.
“I was just looking at Johannesburg Super Kings’ Stephen Fleming and their support staff, medical team, and the knowledge these (above mentioned) names will impart to the players, it will only benefit the player. We want South Africa cricket to grow from strength to strength and I don’t think the world cricket can afford a South African cricket that is not strong and they haven’t been performing at a level that would make them proud of. We are hoping all this stuff we are associated with be it the players, quality coaches and support staff benefit the team in the long run,” Smith added.
Having already rolled out a couple of T20 leagues that didn’t quite take off, SA20 is huge not just from a commercial perspective but also from the game side. Over the past decade South Africa lost out on a lot of talent, who switched to England or New Zealand and Kolpak deal out of the picture, SA20 also allows fans to connect with the game again. Due to off-field controversies and an under-performing team meant, interest for cricket was dwindling, but this summer each of the SA20 games have witnessed good crowd turnout. This was one of the reasons why CSA even abandoned a three-match ODI series in Australia and preferred to play ICC Qualifiers to make it to the upcoming 50-over World Cup in India.
“It has been a massive success so far and there is still a long way to go to finish the tournament strong. And cricket has been outstanding with teams getting better, the teams have started to gel and with players starting to relax, the competitive side is coming out. We have seen some good performance from local South African players. To get this type of energy in the stands from the fans around the country and capture their imagination at a time of what has been a negative period in the game for South Africa is incredible,” Smith said.