If Malibongwe Maketa was the unexpected choice as the Proteas assistant coach, he might just turn out to be the correct one. With plenty of attention for the past couple of years on rising coach Geoff Toyana at the Highveld Lions, Maketa has slid into the national setup almost unnoticed.
But that is pretty much Maketa’s style. Coaching the unfashionable Warriors for the past two seasons, the 37-year-old from East London has quietly gone about transforming a team that boasts no “superstars” into a highly competitive outfit, especially in limited-overs cricket with the unheralded Eastern Cape franchise progressing to both the Momentum One-Day Cup and CSA T20 Challenge finals last season.
He has done it through sheer toil, a deep knowledge of the game, and with the understanding that the collective will always trounce the individual.
It hasn’t always been easy, especially with the Warriors lacking the financial muscle of their franchise counterparts due to the lack of a major sponsor. This does not only impact on the ability to attract top-level playing talent to St George’s Park and Buffalo Park, but also on the resources available to the Warriors coaching staff.
There were two ways Maketa could have approached this situation though. Either whinge and drag his lip around Port Elizabeth or roll up his sleeves and simply make the most of being awarded a franchise job at the age of just 35.
Those who know the former Dale College fast bowling prodigy well always knew it was going to be the latter though.
“I must admit, having spent time at the a ‘big’ franchise like the Titans and Northerns, where everything to a coach is always available, before coming home to the Eastern Cape was a bit frustrating,” Maketa said.
“But once you make peace with what you have, you start using it as a motivating factor. The lack of resources, the no sponsor, no internationals all of these things bring you and your players closer together.
“To see how young players have grown and matured over the past couple of seasons is simply amazing. We enjoyed nothing more than giving the bigger teams a klap!”
So, how will Maketa adjust to his new role in the Proteas set-up where he will share a dressing-room, and also more importantly, have to guide some of the biggest names in world cricket such as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, captain Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock?
“I think each coaching role comes with its own unique challenges. But I don’t think it will be a problem, considering like I said having come from the Titans and Northerns where many of the national team players hail from, our paths have crossed before,” he explained.
“I also think what I have seen from the outside it that the national team environment is an inclusive one and one that fosters growth. I am confident that I will be able to learn from such world-class players that the team has and I am equally confident that I will able to impart some of my knowledge of the game and assist in making head coach Ottis Gibson’s tenure the most successful the national team has experienced.”
It would be naïve to dismiss the fact that Maketa is the first black African to serve on the Proteas coaching staff. Considering Cricket South Africa’s well-publicised transformation policies, all roads point towards the beginnings of a succession plan.
Previously it had worked with Russell Domingo after the former Proteas coach served a two-year “apprenticeship” under Gary Kirsten as the assistant coach. Domingo went on to enjoy a successful four-year period with the national team, which may not have included an ICC championship trophy, but he did lead the Proteas to their maiden victory in a knockout game at the 2015 World Cup.
Maketa says he did not actually apply for the head coach post after Domingo’s contract expired in August, even after coaching the South Africa “A” side in the winter, and continues to stress that Gibson is the main man right now.
“Coaching South Africa ‘A’ was a big change for me last winter. It was really great to see how all the players are of an international standard which changes your role as a coach to more analytical and game-plan approach rather than technical.
“Of course one day I would like to coach the Proteas. But there’s no rush. I have had a few chats with Ottis. He is a very simple guy with simple strategies. I just want to grow as a coach along with Ottis in this opportunity.”
T20 Challenge today
St George's Park, PE
Noon: Titans v Knights;
4pm: Warriors v Dolphins