Johannesburg – I have been somewhat surprised and disappointed at the fickleness of our cricket supporters after our semi-final exit from the Champions Trophy a few weeks ago. Memories can be so short.
We are the No 1 Test team in the world, having beaten both England and Australia away from home in 2012 and then clobbered both Pakistan and New Zealand at home during the 2012/13 season. The facts that relate to our loss against England in the semi-final are that our team were without four of our best world-class players – Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis (South Africa’s finest ever all-rounder), Morné Morkel, and probably South Africa’s best fast bowler of all time, Dale Steyn. I ask you if India were without MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, would they have won the final?
I also read we remain a team of chokers. Choking is when two teams approach the finish neck and neck, and one team falters through lack of big match temperament. We did not choke. We simply played badly.
What are our prospects for our team for the next two years, including the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015? The only event where all International Cricket Council (ICC) member countries are eligible to participate and the only ICC limited overs event which has meaning and value.
In my opinion, very good. Why?
South African cricket is always strong when we have quality fast bowlers in our arsenal. Today, there are five of them in the offing – Marchant de Lange, Vernon Philander, Steyn, Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. During the Champions Trophy, I also saw exciting newish batsmen in Colin Ingram and David Miller. I watch Twenty 20 Cricket only on odd occasions. There is too much slogging, but every now and then you see special batting skills displayed. Purely by chance I witnessed David Miller, aged 24, score a brilliant 101 off 38 balls in a recent Indian Premier League match, a knock which included eight fours and seven huge sixes. Miller has the potential and ability to become our kingmaker in One Day International (ODI) cricket.
And now Gary Kirsten leaves us. He has done our country proud as a player and coach. He has redefined the role of a coach, placing more importance on the management of players rather than on the technical side of the game.
Sceptics are already questioning his replacement, Russell Domingo. They argue that he never played international cricket. Well, let me tell these people – you don’t have to have been a top cricketer to become a top coach. John Buchanan played only seven matches for Queensland but became a key member of Steve Waugh’s great Australian team as their head coach.
On another front, go into the soccer record books and you tell me when Jose Mourinho played any soccer of note.
Russell had excellent coaching mentors in the late Bob Woolmer and Hylton Ackerman and now Gary Kirsten. He has good people skills, listens well to people, but has his own mind. He has the courage of his convictions and backs himself without any trace of arrogance. I like what he said when he was appointed: Judge me not on my colour but on me as a coach. He may very well surprise all of us.
Who should Russell’s running partner as captain be? I have never been a supporter of having two national cricket captains at the same time. It is like having two chief executives running a public company. It only becomes an option when a captain’s performance becomes negligible in one format of the game. Both Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh in Australia were axed as ODI captains while still retaining their Test captaincy.
While proudly acknowledging Graeme Smith’s outstanding captaincy record for South Africa, but showing concern for his recurring ankle injury which required recent surgery, is the time not approaching for AB de Villiers to assume the captaincy in all the three formats of the game? He is an outstanding performer in all these formats, is highly respected and I believe he will inspire our players and our nation with his personality and cricket skills.
Only one wicket-keeper/batsman has ever successfully captained his national team – it is asking too much – and that man is MS Dhoni, but he is a unique phenomenon.
Return to the covers, AB, or backward point where you are a brilliant fielder and where you belong. - The Star