Many sports coaches dream of being in charge of their country’s national team.
In South African cricket, it may even be more special than in other countries, considering our divided past.
So, when Enoch Nkwe was asked to become the interim Proteas team director for the upcoming tour of India, it is not surprising that he would answer the call.
At just 36, he has made an excellent start to his coaching career, following a seven-year first-class stint as an all-rounder that was ended prematurely due to a wrist injury.
Having achieved success at the Gauteng Strikers, Nkwe went to The Netherlands and coach at club level before becoming the national team’s assistant coach.
Nkwe was an assistant at the South African Women’s team upon his return home, and was then appointed as the head coach of the Highveld Lions, where he replaced Geoffrey Toyana in May 2018.
What followed was the stuff of dreams – his Lions team won the four-day and T20 domestic titles, while the Jozi Stars clinched the inaugural Mzansi Super League on Nkwe’s watch – all in his first season in the job.
But does that mean he was the right choice to lead the Proteas on a three-Test and three T20 International tour of India? I’m not so sure…
Nkwe’s appointment is an historic one with regards to the transformation of cricket in Mzansi, as he is the first local black African to take charge of the national team.
It is an achievement that should be celebrated, as it shows how far cricket has come in providing equal opportunities to all sections of society.
But the overwhelming feeling I get is one of Nkwe being thrown to the wolves. Touring India is arguably the toughest assignment in the world of cricket. The conditions are tricky for visiting teams – that applies as much to the pitches as it does to the climate.
Cricket South Africa is pleased to announce the appointment of @EnochNkwe as the interim Team Director for the Standard Bank Proteas for the upcoming T20 and Test Series against India, starting on September 15. #ProteasTeamDirector pic.twitter.com/nD3h2elraE— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) August 9, 2019
On top of that, Virat Kohli’s team hardly lose at home. They went down 2-1 to England in the 2012/13 season, and haven’t lost a Test series in India since.
The South Africans are entering a new era in their history. Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn have retired from the longest format, while the Proteas were beaten at home by Sri Lanka in their most recent Test series, earlier this year.
Talk about being up against it…
Yet now Nkwe is expected to work miracles when the Indian Test series begins on 2 October. He does seem to have the Midas touch, though, and with a strong Gauteng influence in the Cricket South Africa hierarchy in chief executive Thabang Moroe – a former Gauteng Cricket Board president – he will be backed fully.
But there were a number of other, more experienced candidates who could’ve done a holding job for the Indian tour until Cricket SA had had a chance to do a thorough assessment of candidates for the permanent Proteas team director post.
In his first season as @LionsCricketSA coach, @EnochNkwe led the franchise to two trophies (CSA T20 Challenge and 4-Day Franchise Series). In addition, he led the @StarsJozi to the inaugural Mzansi Super League title. pic.twitter.com/llDf3egr9I— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) August 9, 2019
Any of SA A mentor Russell Domingo, Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince, Titans boss Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and CSA high performance manager Vincent Barnes – all highly experienced coaches or Proteas players who have been to India several times – would’ve been wiser options to do a hospital job for the next few months.
If Nkwe was considered the best man for the job, the England series in South Africa over the festive season would have been a better beginning.
But having him take the team to India is almost a case of setting him up to fail.
What happens if the unsettled South African team take a beating? Nkwe’s chances of landing the permanent position may then be severely dented…@ashfakmohamed