The Proteas suffered greatly at the hands of the Indian cricket team over the last 2 months. Losing the test series 3-0. The result is less important than the way the result was played. The Proteas fell woefully short of even being competitive in the series and to be honest it was extremely tough to watch at time as from an observer’s point of view it seemed as if there was no plan and no way forward.
What was of particular concern was the fact that it was India’s pace attack that was doing the damage up front. India’s seamers followed a simple yet effective game plan; they hit the top of off stump as much as possible. This is something that is taught to all young bowlers while learning to play the game. Throughout the series it was India’s ability to do the basics well that ultimately won them the series convincingly.
So, where has it all gone wrong for the Proteas?
Personally, I believe this defeat is the culmination of years of regression in the test arena. During Otis Gibson’s reign as head coach of the national team there was an over reliance on producing pitches that would suit our bowling attack. Ensuring that there was enough in the pitch to use our bowling attack as our primary weapon, which worked on those lively pitches but as soon as our bowler’s needed to work a little bit harder to take wickets, suddenly the results were harder to come by. Bowlers got used to not bowling for long periods and likewise batsmen were content to bat for shorter periods as; one there was no need to bat for long and two it was extremely difficult to bat for a session. All of which has led to us now being in a situation where we need to go back to the basics of the game and emphasize those basics often in order to be successful going forward.
Something else to consider is that fact that after the dismal performance at the World Cup earlier this year is the possible hangover effect that was left on not only the team but the CSA structure. CSA is still yet to appoint permanent positions in its most important roles since the announcement of the restructure and I think we are seeing that in the selection of the team. How as a player are you meant to put in a performance if you know on the next tour you may not be there because you don’t fit into the next team manager’s vision for SA cricket? It’s extremely difficult for the interim coach Enoch Nkwe to gain any respect from the players when he might just be a placeholder for the next permanent manager. I think this is something CSA must take blame for! Sending a team to India with no structure underneath it was always going to be a recipe for disaster.
The only solution I see going forward is to appoint these important positions as soon as possible so that we have a clear plan to move forward. We need to have structures in place so that players feel comfortable and secure in the knowledge that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
It is also clear that we need to relearn the basics of the game from franchise level and perhaps lower than that as well. We need to prepare pitches that allow opportunities for both bat and ball to thrive. Either way, batting or bowling you should have to work hard for your runs and wickets. This will force batsmen to come up with better plans going forward and ensure that bowlers have back up plans for when plan A isn’t working, all of which can only be good for SA cricket.
Another source of frustration for me is the lack of ex-players in our cricket system. There are not enough cricket people in important positions making decisions. Surely these guys that have been around the block can add value in some way, shape or form? Most of them have jobs as pundits and it’s clear to me that they can add value by what they say on commentary during matches. It is also clear to me that most of them still have a deep passion for the game and for the Proteas. I believe having cricket people in charge can only benefit both our structure and in turn the Protea team as well and at the very least they have the knowledge and experience of having played test cricket and can share that with both the players and board members of CSA. Also contributions of this nature can lead to lasting change in the structure of our current system which is not good enough as it stands.
I do think this current rut we are in will end but I think that it won’t end as soon as we would like it to. It may take a few years before we re-establish ourselves as one of the top cricketing nations again. Us as fans of the Proteas need to be patient during this time and stay behind our boys through these dark days.