DURBAN - The 10th annual International Forum on Elite Sport, hosted at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, drew a compelling cast list of industry leaders.
Fittingly, former Proteas cricketer and renowned coach Gary Kirsten opened the batting in the proceedings, taking delegates into the Indian dressing-room back in 2011, when he took them to an emotional ICC Cricket World Cup victory on home soil.
Kirsten spoke of accountability, context, and understanding the cricketing landscape that he was put in, as a man who hadn’t coached before.
“I think I had a bit of naivety when it came to the politics of international cricket, and the issues that exist. I quite enjoyed that,” he told Independent Media.
“It was a lot different to when I coached the Proteas, for example. I was not divorced from the bigger issues (in SA cricket).
“I was aware of them. I think the important thing is to contextualise those issues, and work out a system that is brought into by everyone,” he said of the challenge of the modern coach.
In the South African context, Kirsten was referring to the next Proteas coach, who is generally accepted to be current England bowling coach Ottis Gibson.
“If Ottis gets the job, then he will have to have to understand the dynamics of SA cricket in order to be a success,” Kirsten warned.
Having been in the unique position to coach his own country and a leading rival, Kirsten is well aware of the dangers that would face Gibson - if he gets the top job.
“I guess the one danger for a foreign coach is to try to bring an outside approach, a ‘best thinking’ philosophy to the job. For me, I realised that I couldn’t come with my South African way, and expect to be a success.
“I needed to understand how to get the best out of the Indian team, the Indian way. So you can’t come with a South African way, or the All Black way, or the Manchester United way. You need to understand the environment you are operating in,” he emphasised.
Those are the dynamics that will be on the table for whoever takes over the South African dressing-room from Russell Domingo.
Already, there has been some encouraging news, with AB de Villiers committing himself to all three formats again.
As it stands, the Proteas are at a junction not too dissimilar to where India was when Kirsten took over in 2008.
There are genuine, if aging, stars, as well as a wave of budding talent. But, the team is not producing the results that they ought to, given the sum of their considerable parts.
“I do think the Proteas have enough time between now and the World Cup. Two years is a long time, and there is a lot of experience there.
“A new coach will need a bit of success (early), of course,” he explained.
Kirsten, a keen observer of stand-out leaders in a range of sporting codes, found that challenging the Indian ‘galacticos’ to be more accountable to each other and the billion-strong army they represent paid dividends.
“I think it is so important to remember that you are representing something bigger. I mean, just look at the Boks this year. I am excited about what I see. It looks like the players now understand what they stand for, and there is a healthy look about it, a greater vibe,” he pointed out.
There are plenty of parallels between the Proteas and the Boks, and they have both been looking to turn a corner.
The Boks appear to be on the road to redemption, and it is now up to the Proteas to follow suit.