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THE COACH,THE CAPTAIN AND HIS DEPUTIES by Aslam Khota

By Aslam Khota

South African cricket entered a new era when the board announced Gary Kirsten to lead the coaching staff and the appointments of A B De Villiers and Hashim Amla as captain and deputy of the ODI team.

Kirsten’s choice as the Proteas coach was positively received in the cricket fraternity and there is naturally great expectation. In fact some of the public already feel they have half their hand on the World Cup! But Gary’s a wise chap and he proved it by being the country’s most consistent batsman in over 101 Test matches and 185 Limited over Internationals. He will not to get swept away by the euphoria following a sensational period with the Indian team nor by his latest overwhelmingly popular appointment.

He is only too aware of the greater challenges that lie ahead. Taking on the Indian job was in itself a daunting task and that without any first-class coaching experience. Now he has established himself as the prized coach in world cricket by taking India to the top of the Test rankings and masterminded that sensational world cup triumph. The preparation was admirable. Kirsten covered every known area of weakness and fragility. He used every resource available to him by planning his teams challenge and turned India’s fortunes to make them a dominant force.

Kirsten has added Russell Domingo as his assistant and Alan Donald as the bowling coach. Long time friend and business partner and highly acclaimed mental and conditioning coach, Paddy Upton has been recommended by Kirsten to be part of his staff. Upton previously served as the fitness trainer for the Proteas in the 1990’s.

So is Kirsten the missing link? Probable not as he has curiously chosen to sign a two year contract. Firstly, he has to re-establish the South Africans as the number one Test team. So what about the preparation for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in four years time? Kirsten’s cards are close to his chest and my guess is he will consider extending the contract if he feels he is on the right track.

De Villiers, in the meantime had a lot of time to think about accepting the leadership of the ODI team. Not much has been mentioned about his wicket-keeping responsibilities, but Kirsten clearly has his ideas and the public will get to see it first-hand when the Australians arrive for two Tests and a series of ODI’s in October. What do we make of De Villiers’ choice? My hope is that like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the exuberant and dynamic De Villiers leads and inspires his team in the same manner as he plays the game. That has been Dhonis greatest asset. Added to that, his versatility and innovative tendencies has been a breath of fresh air in all three formats of the game.

Meanwhile Amla has sent some confusing signals after he was appointed as the deputy to De Villiers in the ODI and T20 setup. He was the heir apparent over the last two years at least. Smith has not relinquished his leadership of the Test team so that matter remains settled for now. However Amla stated that he preferred concentrating on his batting and ‘staying out of the limelight”. One shudders to think and god forbid, if De Villiers gets injured, Amla will have to captain the team! Playing at international level and achieving what he has so far as the leading ODI batsman and one of the best in Tests, keeps him in perpetual limelight! This clearly means that he has no desire to lead the Test team in the future and that De Villiers is instead being groomed as part of the succession plan. Time and circumstance could change that, though.

Graeme Smith has time on his hands to regain fitness of mind and body. He has the chin to absorb the criticism levelled at him recently for not accompanying his team on their return after the early the exit from world cup. As a result he is at his lowest point in the popularity stakes. Sadly and for the first time in his career, the big skipper has lost form and this has not made things easier. But Smith has the grit and tenacity to bounce back. Interestingly, he is perhaps more respected for his never-say-die approach, inspiring batting and leadership, outside of this country!

Back in the 1980’s, the Australians called on their former opening batsman and Captain Bobby Simpson to coach the national team. It was a first for cricket and Simpson injected a new dimension to their cricket and Australia went on to win their first of four World Cups. The rest of the world followed and today the responsibility is immense for these men. Kirsten will find it different working with his countrymen, but will garner enough respect, given his recent successes to set the tone for the ensuing years.

Vincent Barnes also applied for the position of head coach with the Proteas. After spending nine years among the coaches, first as a bowling then assistant coach with the likes of Eric Simons, Ray Jennings, Mickey Arthur and Corrie Van Zyl, one expected that through natural progression Barnes should have got the job. He was approached by Bangladesh to head their coaching staff, but declined, citing that he’s spent much time away from home with the national team and instead chose to coach the South African ‘A’ team and work with Van Zyl at the high performance centre. His many years of experience will be to the advantage of cricketers in the academies and the ‘A’ team, enabling to fast-track them into the gruelling demands of international cricket.

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