THE PROTEAS JIGSAW PUZZLE: PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

Why the Protea cricket team cant win any matchesTHE South African cricket team, known affectionately as the Proteas, whose latest demise in the recent tri-nations series involving hosts and resurgent West Indies as well as current world champions and bitter rivals Australia, pretty much summed up all you ever needed to know about this talented yet inconsistent cricket nation.  A team boasting world beaters and the best ranked players amongst all top nations, constantly flatters to deceive. Yes there has been a truck load and decades of introspection, inquests, research and analysis on exactly why this cricketing powerhouse always seems to fail when it matters the most and to put it bluntly, this question will remain for a while longer and we would like to throw our two cents worth of theories and advice into the hat as well.

Why The World’s Most Talented Cricket Team Can’t Win Any Silverware

Before we begin to decipher this skewed jigsaw puzzle and try to put it all together, here is the first piece – some extremely sobering statistics to mull over (look away now), to serve as a guide of where we have been and where we are going:

PIECE 1 – MIND-BOGGLING STATISTICS:

  • ICC World Cup finals reached: 0
  • ICC Champions Trophy finals reached: 1 (won)
  • ICC World Twenty20 finals reached: 0
  • ICC World Cup knockout matches won: 1 (2015)
  • Overall ICC tournament knock-out matches lost: 11 (1 tie – 1999)

The above numbers are frightening if you are a Proteas fan and the fact that the team has only ever reached 1 big ICC final (a low-key, inaugural three-round event in 1998), is troublesome. The only ever World Cup knockout win by the team came in last year’s event when it was simply their day against Sri Lanka in the Sydney quarter-final, 23 years after entering their first ever big event in 1992. Yes the team has been ranked number one many times and won many bi-lateral series but these are meaningless and quickly forgotten.  This goes for test matches as well where our nine year unbeaten away streak comes to mind. However, during this time we were never truly far ahead in terms of our number one ranking and have now suddenly slipped to a dreadful sixth!

PIECE 2 – THE PROVERBIAL MENTAL BLOCK and “C” Word:

Ever since the 1999 World Cup disaster, pundits and fans alike, have suggested that this team have a mental/psychological block or an extreme fear of losing (or winning, whichever way you want to look at it). Dare we mention it, the dreaded “C” word has kept popping up, event after event and yes the team does seem to choke more often than not, especially on perusal of the above statistics. This type of mental scarring as such, always seems to seep into the next generation of players with no elixir or panacea in sight! In the last over of a crunch ICC knock-out match, surely this pervades players’ thoughts and has them saying “Oh no, not again!” (Was this the case in last year’s semi vs NZ when Dale Steyn appeared to have choked?).

PIECE 3 – THE CONTENTIOUS/CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE OF TRANSFORMATION:

Oh boy, here we go again! As much as we get annoyed and upset spewing the same old vitriol and rhetoric about quotas and transformation in South African sport, it is a topic that, like an annoying mosquito, just won’t go away. This issue has in our opinion plagued the national team over the years and the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Yes we strongly believe that transformation has its merits and must be persevered with . . . but it must be rolled out in the correct manner (not top-down but the other way around, from grass-roots level up). This is how the Makhaya Ntini’s get produced and the inverse of not implementing it correctly results in players such as Thami Tsolekile failing. A few examples of this hurting the Proteas was when Percy Sonn intervened in selection just before a test against Australia in 2002 which resulted in an in-form Jacques Rudolph being left out for Justin Ontong. The team were handed a ten-wicket and 3-0 series loss. The 2007 World Cup saw the now legendary Dale Steyn and ODI specialist Albie Morkel being left out for Roger Telemachus and Loots Bosman to fulfil a pre-promised quota of seven non-white players. Bosman got one game and Telemachus had a great Caribbean vacation carrying the drinks. We all know how that tournament ended. The quota requirements at franchise level are dropping our standards and this automatically filters in to the national set-up – we are lacking depth. The hearsay regarding Vernon Philander being chosen ahead of an in-form Kyle Abbott in last year’s vital World Cup semi-final to meet certain targets, was indeed worrying – that could have been the difference in such a tight match, Philander was slaughtered. If these startling facts are not enough to make your hair stand on end, the one that really “gets our goat” is how Ray Jennings led the Proteas junior team (under-19s) to World Cup glory (putting the senior team to shame) and was unceremoniously fired. We were dumbfounded! New coach Lawrence Mahatlane has not covered himself in glory and our title defence resulted in an embarrassing loss to Namibia. We make decisions such as these and then wonder how we fail. The public still demands answers for this!

PIECE 4 – TEAM/SQUAD SELECTION AND FIRST XI BALANCE:

Team selection on match day or even a squad for a big event/tour has always let us down and yes this is linked to transformation but this is not the only cause. The lack of all-rounders ever since the days of Brian McMillan, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis, is a concern. Chris Morris does provide some answers but the lack of class from Wayne Parnell, David Wiese et al, certainly doesn’t help things. At the moment, we are uncertain of our first XI in all three formats. Leaving a guy like David Miller out of the recent tri-series (our only true power-hitting finisher, is pathetic) – even if he has been inconsistent, so too are other inferior players who were indeed selected!

PIECE 5 – COACHING STAFF:

How blessed were we to have had gurus such as Bob Woolmer and Gary Kirsten in years gone by. Russell Domingo, like Mickey Arthur, is a “trier”, an ardent student of the game with success at provincial level – but this is not enough! Under him the team have slipped in tests, still haven’t got over the line in the shorter formats and are more inconsistent than ever before. It gets worse, similar to the Springboks, this team lacks first-rate assistant coaches. Charl Langeveldt replaced the iconic, proven and legendary Allan Donald. Langeveldt was an average bowler with no coaching experience. Same story with Neil Mckenzie, the incumbent batting coach. What could they possibly teach superior players to themselves, such as Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers?  We don’t even have a fielding coach! Unknown selector Linda Zondi also needs to prove himself! We need a seamless transition of players from one generation to the next (succession plan) and the next generation looks decidedly poor!

PIECE 6 – POOR ADMINISTRATION:

The brains trust – Cricket South Africa (CSA,) should be complemented for some of their grass-roots structures and programs and are the only national team to contain all four races in the national team – kudos for that. However, there has been poor administration over the past decade and a tad too much interference. Haroon Lorgat has brought some much needed stability to the body (remember the dark, corrupt Gerald Majola days?) but more hard work needs to be done.

PIECE 7 – SCHEDULES:

The bottom line is that there is way too much cricket being played these days with events such as the IPL (now there is even talk of a mini IPL) to blame. Players are over-worked. The weak rand doesn’t help things either with the lure of the dollar too good to pass up. This needs to change somehow. Players need rest and recuperation time in order to reach optimum performance levels and consistency.

Conclusion – DECIPHERING THIS JIGSAW PUZZLE:

Judging from the above, it seems the Proteas need to find or buy completely new pieces in order for this puzzle to form a coherent, symmetrical picture. A lot of the above is “puzzling” to say the least! We are trying to force pieces to fit into places that they don’t and thus the overall picture becomes obscure. The future is not looking too bright and if something is not done soon to rectify the above aspects, then the puzzle will forever be broken and impossible to piece together. The statistics tabled out in piece one of our puzzle is not very convincing but the fact that we did win at least one major ICC title as well as Commonwealth gold in the same year, proves that we know how to succeed (oh how we miss Graeme Smith and naïve fans wanted him out). There are other aspects of the puzzle that also need mentioning in order for the perfect image coming together, such as governmental support, schools (private and public) nurturing talent through the various levels and much more. Another piece of this puzzle that is required is luck – we have had such poor luck in major events (rain is just one of them). If we can rectify and correct the above pieces or even tinker with them, then there could be some hope after-all. God bless the team – they need all the prayers (and appropriate/suitable/fitting puzzle pieces) they can get!

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