The victorious Proteas will arrive home on Tuesday after conquering Australia, but that doesn’t mean everybody involved in South African cricket can just sit back and relax.
The “pipeline” needs to keep pumping, to paraphrase an often-used slogan in cricketing circles, and the man who has now been tasked to produce more Proteas, Shukri Conrad, says the organisation has to make sure that “we try and stay ahead of the pack” while the good times roll.
Conrad was appointed as a “longer-term” SA A coach on Monday, having served as the head of the national academy since April 2014. Whereas the SA A side had a different coach for almost every tour or series in the past, Conrad takes charge immediately and will guide the SA A team for next year’s two major events, the tour to England from May, and the triangular series against India A and Australia A.
Conrad says that part of the reason for accepting the post is that “one still has ambitions of coaching higher up”, but the fact that he has worked with up-and-coming young cricketers at the national academy will make him familiar with the players who should feature for the SA A side soon.
The Proteas played some sensational cricket to beat Australia 2-1 and win a third consecutive Test series Down Under. But Conrad told Independent Media on Monday that the hard work to produce more national players needs to continue to ensure the Proteas remain a world-class team.
“The critical thing is that you are not working in isolation. You are obviously working towards a view of what the requirements and needs of the Proteas are – those immediately, and down the line,” said the 49-year-old Capetonian, who has coached the Lions and Cobras previously.
“Obviously there will be a lot of discussion between myself, the national selectors, Russell (Domingo), with regards to how they see it and who they see.
“It’s all part of that key word, the pipeline. I would take a lot of my cue from what their needs are, and make sure that we try and stay ahead of the pack. Things are going exceptionally well now, but we’ve got to make sure now that it continues to do so for a long period, and not (have a situation) after a couple of years’ time, we feel we need to start all over.”
One of the critical areas of the Proteas set-up is the fast-bowling resources, especially since Dale Steyn broke down in Australia after struggling with injuries against India and England last summer. The 33-year-old Steyn has had an operation in shoulder and will be sidelined for at least six months, and it is hoped that he could return for the England tour in May.
But Vernon Philander has also had some injury issues, and at 31, won’t be around for the next decade, and Morné Morkel is in a similar boat and is a year old than Philander.
So Kagiso Rabada (21) and Kyle Abbott (29) are the only quickies who will definitely be around going forward. But Conrad is confident that there is reserve strength amongst the franchises.
“There are guys who are performing well at domestic level, and I’m talking about the Marchant de Langes, the Duanne Oliviers. The fast-bowling stocks would be one area of it. The all-rounders, the opening batters, batters generally. The Black African component of it as well,” Conrad said.
“It’s not just a group of guys who get lobbed together now, and play a few games and go on a tour. There’s a plan for them, there’s an identified list of SA A players, and things are falling nicely into place.
“And these things don’t just happen by accident. The fact that we are doing as well as we are doing now doesn’t just happen. There have been a lot of things happening behind the scenes and a lot of people need to take credit for that.”
Cricket has been one of the few SA sporting codes who have been consciously aggressive with their transformation policy, with their stated team targets of 54 percent players of colour across the formats for the Proteas, of which 18 percent must be Black African. Franchise teams also have to field six players of colour, of which three must be Black African.
And the Proteas have shown that embracing transformation and being successful doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts.
But with Rabada and Temba Bavuma the only established Black African players at international level, Conrad is aware that many more need to be brought through the programme that’s headed up by CSA high-performance manager Vincent Barnes, a former Proteas bowling coach who has played a huge role in Rabada’s progress.
Apart from Dolphins all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo, who has made his ODI debut, one fast bowler to watch could be the Titans’ Lungi Ngidi, a tall 20-year-old former SA Under-19 player who can bowl at speeds of around 145km/h.
“Ja, most definitely (look out for Ngidi). And the good thing is that they are in really good hands at franchise level. That’s the important bit,” Conrad said. “Lungi Ngidi is an exciting one, and there’s Lwandiswa Zuma from Free State, who’s originally from Durban. I think if he can get over all his injuries, he’d be one to look forward to.
“So maybe the stocks aren’t as bare as some people might suggest. It will take a lot of hard work and time, and while the Proteas are doing well, you buy yourself a bit of time because there are no knee-jerk selections or guys being thrown in at the deep end and that sort of thing. Hopefully the guys can develop at a pace that they are supposed to develop at.”