DURBAN – The next few weeks will be telling in the search for the next South African cricket coach.
Truth be told, the portfolio of Proteas coach still holds significant stock in the cricket world, and there are some intriguing names in the melting pot for the post.
Incumbent Russell Domingo is believed to be at the end of his four-year tenure, having taken the team to semi-finals at the 2015 World Cup, as well as the same stage in the T20 World Cup.
On the Test front, the Proteas have lost their number one ranking, but that is down to a number of factors.
The sudden, if not totally unexpected loss of the services of Dale Steyn, as well as the complicated case of AB de Villiers, and the emergence of an ambitious Indian side, has seen South Africa slip back into the pack.
A proud, decade-long travelling record came to halt on Indian dust bowls in 2015, and though they accounted for Australia and New Zealand away in the summer, they have failed to beat England in their series at home and on the road.
There are weaknesses in the Test side, and those will have to be addressed going forward.
So serious is the appointment of the next coach, one-day skipper De Villiers himself has declared his own international future can only be properly decided upon once he knows who will guide the South African team up to the 2019 World Cup.
So, there are implications with whatever name that Cricket South Africa (CSA) pull out of the hat in the next few weeks.
The smart money, for a long time, was on Lions’ coach Geoff Toyana to take over.
After all, much of the fresher blood within the Proteas’ squad has gone through his station at some point. Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris have all played under him, and there are several others in the limited-overs squads.
Batting coach Neil McKenzie is also a Toyana man, so there would have been plenty of familiar faces if he walked into the change-room.
A few seasons ago, Toyana had the on-field results to settle the matter swiftly, but the Lions have had their challenges in recent years, and not just on the field.
Toyana was interviewed for the Proteas job, by a selection panel that included former coach Gary Kirsten, but that process as a whole convinced the brains trust to cast the net wider still.
It is understood that the man on the radar is former West Indian head coach, and current England bowling coach Ottis Gibson.
English media expect an announcement as soon as the fourth and final Test at Old Trafford is completed, and they have already started speculating on who might replace the popular West Indian, ahead of the Ashes tour of Australia at the end of the year.
Gibson, a Border, Griquas and Gauteng pace bowler back in his playing days, has been credited with getting the best out of England’s bowling stocks, while his effort to inspire the brilliant but brittle West Indians to a world title was also noteworthy.
Though his expertise in international cricket of late has been confined to the English bowling department, his tactical nous, his understanding of the South African cricket landscape and his playing pedigree, make him an intriguing choice.
Naturally, the English and Wales Cricket Board have been quick to try and contain the pending storm, insisting that Gibson remains under contract.
“We have had no approaches to any of our staff and will not listen to any approaches until the end of the current series,” a statement response said on Friday.
Cricket South Africa declined to comment, though an announcement on the whole matter is imminent.
And so, though the fourth match of a tumultuous Test series was much anticipated, its conclusion may now be even more pertinent, because a significant change of the cricket landscape may come with it.
Gibson, like any other former cricketer worth his salt, has ambitions to operate at the highest level, and it is expected that he would be very interested in the offer, if it were to come.
Coaching the South African team, for all its politics, player power and peculiarities, remains one of the most high-profile jobs in world cricket.
Despite a horrific tour of the UK, there is still much potential within the current crop, and Gibson has had plenty of opportunity to see them operate at close quarters.
Working towards a goal with the likes of Rabada, De Kock and skipper Faf du Plessis may well appeal to him, and there is also the eternal challenge of trying to be the man in charge of the first South African team to win a World Cup.
The next mission is now less than two years away, so time is of the essence. Hard choices need to be made.