Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson are kindred souls who are plotting the best way forward for the team. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky BackpagePix
Faf du Plessis is the right man to lead South Africa, just as Ottis Gibson is the ideal coach for the job at hand.

What happened in the recent series against Sri Lanka was a shock to the system, but it was hardly grounds for some of the drastic action that some cricketing quarters are calling for.

Just as one swallow does not a summer make, one series defeat does not an alliance break. This is hardly the time for panic and spilling milk. South Africa simply have to drink their cuppa contemplative Ceylon tea, then endeavour to be more thorough in their preparations.

It was quite galling to hear the Proteas admit that they hardly knew the Sri Lankan team. In this modern era of footage and informants, it was quite a thing to admit to.

It is unlike South Africa to not find a way to get the necessary dirt on their foes, however innocuous they might have seemed on paper.

Thus, they were swiftly reminded by the visiting Lankans that sport still writes its own narratives, and that underdogs can still have their day in the sun.

No one saw it coming, especially after the manner in which South Africa disposed of Pakistan just the other day.

Sri Lanka were supposed to be a procession; a chance for batsmen to fill their boots, and bowlers to enhance reputations.

And then, thrillingly, the visitors chose to ignore that storyline. For the neutral observer, especially one conscious of all that Sri Lanka are going through, the fortnight was surreal.

As Du Plessis himself pointed out, thrilling cricket is good for the game. Naturally, he and his team might have enjoyed the thrills a lot more if the result ended in their favour.

The biggest obstacle standing in South Africa’s way  and which may have contributed in some way to the shambles against Sri Lanka - is the upcoming World Cup.

It is an obsession of South African sport, and one of the prime reasons that Gibson was hired for the job. He has already shown that he can win international trophies with a team dynamic as complicated as the West Indies.

The thinking, then, was that he would be the man to harness a wealth of South African talents into one green machine that takes that elusive, final step.

Gibson is a straight shooter.

There is no fluff, or pretence or excuse. He admitted that his side were not good enough, just as readily as he had praised them when they have done well over the course of his 18-month tenure.

He and Du Plessis are tied at the hip, kindred souls in plotting the best way forward for their team.

Both men have been around the block.

In the current climate it is instructive to remember that Du Plessis turned down a Kolpak offer when he was still a young man, with the cricketing world as his oyster.

He had watched his best pal AB de Villiers make the leap into international stardom almost immediately after school, while Du Plessis had to take the long road.

A distinguished career in Lancashire club cricket, then the county’s second side. And then the country itself started asking about the kid from Pretoria called Francois.

No one would have blamed him back then if he went through the qualifying process, and seen what English cricket could offer.

Indeed, there would be few eyebrows raised if a youngster of similar stock did so now. Patriotism has a different price these days.

Du Plessis waited, until his chance came around. It wasn’t too long until he proved that his was the leadership style his country needed.

Similarly, Gibson has taken a long road to get to this point. When he chose the Proteas in 2017, he could just as easily have stayed in the England bowling coach gig  picked up easier money, and rode the wave of Barmy optimism right through to July 2019.

But, he too had loftier ambitions. He too wanted to carve out his own niche, and look to make history with a land close to his heart.

To listen or watch the pair in cahoots is telling. They read off the same page, and share the same obsession for the finer details.

That is why the Sri Lankan reversal was so surprising. It was unlike them.

That being said, it was a timely reminder for both that nothing can ever be taken for granted.

Gibson opined that Sri Lanka were a team with nothing to lose, and they played accordingly.

On the flip side of that coin, the Proteas were a team with much to lose, and they lost significant ground on the best Test side in the world.

For now, that is a story for another day.

An October day, even.

On the agenda now is their last bilateral series before they pick their World Cup squad. There are a few, lingering creases to iron out and, perhaps, some unemotional decisions to make.

Du Plessis and Gibson both know that only a quality squad, that covers all options, will deliver the holy grail for South African cricket.

They have had their ‘Japan’ moment, as some have dubbed the shock loss to Sri Lanka.

But, it wasn’t in a World Cup. It wasn’t a do-or-die affair. It was a wake-up call, and one that they have no doubt heeded.

Now, eyes wide open, Du Plessis and Gibson head into the final straight of preparations for the biggest challenge of their lives.


Independent on Saturday

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