Graeme Smith puts Mark Boucher and Proteas in the spotlight for the next six months
Share this article:
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s men’s national team faces what Graeme Smith described as a “crucial period,” between June and the end of the year.
There is little doubt now that, Proteas coach Mark Boucher, is firmly under the hammer after a summer of poor results – even though there are plenty of mitigating circumstances. “My perspective is that this is a crucial period for the players and management,” said Smith, Cricket SA’s Director of Cricket.
South Africa heads to the Caribbean in June to play two Tests and five T20 Internationals against the West Indies. The Proteas T20 squad will immediately head to Ireland thereafter for T20 and ODI series’s there. Following that, there are tours to Sri Lanka and India (Covid-19 permitting), the T20 World Cup, and the year ends with a tour to South Africa by India.
Boucher has had to swim upstream for most of the period he’s been in charge of the Proteas. Nevermind the administrative bungles which certainly impacted on the players, but he also had to deal with the retirements of Vernon Philander and then Faf du Plessis, which had occurred shortly after Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla had exited the international scene as well.
Last summer South Africa won just one series – the Tests against Sri Lanka – and since taking over in December 2019, Boucher’s Proteas have failed to win any of the five T20 series they have played, a particularly concerning statistic, given there are two world cups in that format in the next two years.
While Boucher has borne the brunt of criticism directed at the national team, it hasn’t been easy. “We tapped into 32 players who’ve played this season, 45 were kitted out,” Smith said on Thursday. “We’ve had to spread the net far and wide for various reasons; losing players because of Covid, cancellation of four-day cricket in December, which meant workloads were an issue, we’ve travelled with different squads because of scheduling with Australia’s (postponed) tour and then the IPL.”
“It was a bit of an exploration period for the national team to try and identify players going forward, but I do see this next period, from a results perspective, as being crucial. In the build up to the T20 World Cup we want to get our best group of players together as often as we can and really push hard.”
Whether that ‘best group of players,’ will include AB de Villiers, Smith couldn’t say. De Villiers was in sensational form for the Royal Challengers Bangalore before the Indian Premier League was postponed.
He and Boucher have held discussions about his availability for the T20 World Cup later this year, but were only set to talk again towards the latter stages of the tournament, with De Villiers stating he wanted to use the competition to gauge his readiness for international play. ‘
“AB is retired, so whether he comes out of retirement is an on-going discussion,” said Smith.
However, the door does remain open for ‘free agents,’ - players not contracted by CSA - like Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir and Chris Morris. “Free agents are always available for selection. They play a number of T20 leagues around the world and are gaining more experience in the format than most. We’ve seen the success the West Indies has had in bringing back free agents before world events.”
However it isn’t simply a case of those players walking straight back into the national side. “I think that no one has a definitive right to play. There is an opportunity to get selected if the selectors feel you are ready and they want to give you an opportunity, and then it's about performance.”
“There is a different intensity and pressure that comes with international cricket, you can’t go into it half-arsed,” said Smith. “Once you’ve chatted to these guys you need to know that they are fully committed and prepared to do everything that is required at international level. That is the question mark with free agents, once you have those discussions, and they are prepared to take on everything that you require of them, then it's down to the selectors to decide if they fit into the model.”
The men’s Proteas will gather for a training camp later this month, before travelling to the Caribbean via Paris and the small casino resort island of St. Maarten. Smith said the venues for those matches should be finalised soon.