The Proteas and Mark Boucher are at a crossroads as the T20 World Cup looms
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JOHANNESBURG - PLAYERS and coaches like to refer to the “process”. Get the “process” right and the outcome will take care of itself.
It can make judging an athlete or team a challenge. “Oh she hit her serve well in the match, but the other player’s return was just too good today,” might be a refrain from a tennis player. The process of serving went well, the outcome didn’t go in her favour. So how then to determine if she was successful?
Process provides that shade of grey, almost something to mask the defeat, soften it if you will.
The Proteas have endured all manner of problems dating back nearly three years and the build-up to the 2019 World Cup. That tournament was an unmitigated disaster as far as South Africa was concerned.
The rebuild that was supposed to occur in the aftermath became enmeshed in the administrative mayhem that ensued at Cricket SA (CSA). The men’s national team remains the primary income generator for SA cricket so the strategies and processes involved in fixing it needed to be clear and concise. They weren’t.
Mark Boucher was appointed in a chaotic few weeks in December 2019, just days before a high-profile series with England was due to start.
There are understandable questions about the length of the contract he was offered – four years – to coach the national side and then appointments made around the team, particularly a couple of consultants.
The team lost that home Test series to the English – having capped five debutants over the four Tests – lost a T20 series and drew the one-day international (ODI) series. Another T20 series loss followed against Australia and then a 3-0 ODI series win, eased some of the angst that was building up. Then Covid-19 hit.
The development of the national team took a significant hit. Series were postponed and in one case with Australia cancelled at the last minute. England came, played a bit of cricket, even more golf, and bailed on a ODI series.
Quinton de Kock was made captain across all formats, a bad decision, given his public utterances around bubble life and new captains were appointed for the different formats in March. Black Lives Matter put the culture of the team under the spotlight, the lack of any clarity around how the team would recognise what was happening in the world around them, while being cognisant of SA’s own troubled history, created a mess.
From that, the Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN) hearings threw a spotlight on cricket and highlighted what a facade CSA and its previous guise as the United Cricket Board of SA had created around unity in the sport. Boucher was firmly in the spotlight when outed by former teammate Paul Adams regarding his role in the singing of an undignified team song. Boucher’s written submission to the SJN included an apology, but he still has to appear at the hearings.
And then Boucher’s assistant, Enoch Nkwe, the person who had previously occupied the position as Proteas coach – albeit in an acting capacity – quit, days before the team was due to tour Sri Lanka, citing concerns he had over the team culture and environment.
The results on the field have been extremely inconsistent. Of the 48 matches Boucher has presided over as coach, the Proteas have won 22 and lost 25. That period has included a number of batting collapses – an issue that existed prior to Boucher being appointed, but which has yet to be resolved – the change in captaincy, a plethora of new players being capped for the first time, fielding which has been poor and bowling that has veered between ill-disciplined and world class.
It is hard to get a handle on the Proteas. The bio-bubble environment has clearly created challenges, while a few players have had their own battles with Covid-19 – whether having contracted the virus or had family members either die from or struggle with it. That is mentally and emotionally draining.
But all athletes and teams have had to learn to adapt. The Indian team in the last year has provided an example of achieving success in very difficult circumstances, while away from home for lengthy periods.
Boucher may be on a four-year contract, but it feels as if the Proteas have arrived at a crossroads under his leadership. The T20 World Cup, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman from the end of October, provides CSA with the opportunity to assess the Proteas team and its progress under Boucher. SA is in a tough group that features England – who have been planning carefully for the tournament since winning the 50-over World Cup in 2019 – the defending champions the West Indies – who SA did beat in their backyard earlier this year – Australia and very likely Sri Lanka, who should qualify from the first round of matches.
Only the top two teams from the group stages will qualify for the semi-finals. If SA don’t do that, is the Boucher project – given all the offfield issues and the damage it’s done to the sport – worth continuing?