OPINION: Where did it all go wrong for the Cobras?
CAPE TOWN – After a successful 2018-19 season when the Cape Cobras took massive strides in re-establishing itself as a force in domestic cricket again, particularly due to the emergence of a crop of promising youngsters, there was much expected of Ashwell Prince’s side in 2019-20.
However, when the curtain was called on all cricket this week due to the COVID-19 virus that has engulfed our society the Cobras were rooted in last place on the 4-Day Franchise table, failing to win a single game in eight attempts.
There was not much joy in the One-Day Cup either with the Cobras occupying the basement in the white-ball competition too, having just completed a run of seven consecutive defeats.
So, where did it all go wrong for the Cobras?
1. National call-ups
Every franchise should celebrate the fact that its young players are awarded higher honours. Equally, Prince’s role in their development and subsequent progression to the Proteas needs to be lauded. However, any franchise is going to struggle when it loses the quality of Zubayr Hamza, Dane Piedt, Pieter Malan, George Linde, Dane Patterson – all to Test cricket – and Kyle Verreynne and Janneman Malan (ODI & T20) at various stages of the season. The Cobras just did not have quality in depth to cover all the call-ups.
This goes hand-in-hand with the call-ups to the national squad. Prince was simply never able to settle on an XI for any consecutive matches due to players moving between the Proteas and Cobras almost on a weekly basis. This severely impacted on selection and particularly developing solid roles and game-plans for the players that remained behind.
3. Mental challenges
Without wanting to lay everything at the door of the national call-ups, but there were so many areas in which it affected the Cobras this season. A further disruption was the mental space players returned to Newlands in, particularly if their spell at the top did not work out as desired. Captain Piedt, in particular, was selected for India on the back of a record-breaking season with the Cobras – only to return having suffered a mauling from the likes of Rohit Sharma. Equally, Hamza lost his place in the Test side during the England series and it took plenty of work with Prince for him to regain his confidence that ultimately the elegant right-hander show everyone that he is a quality white-ball cricketer too.
4. Too many home venues
The Cobras are the only franchise that has three “home” grounds with Boland Park in Paarl and the Recreation Ground in Oudtshoorn added to Newlands. This situation has seen the players lose the emotional connection with playing at Newlands, in particular, as every game now under the foot of Table Mountain is just another fixture to be completed.
It also has an impact on crowd attendances as the faithful are no longer able to build a connection with their team as matches are spread out between the three grounds. As a result, the Cobras did not win a single match at Newlands all season – a venue that once a fortress for the local team.
Prince has made plenty of noise throughout the season in regards to his views on how transformation is best implanted in domestic cricket. He even challenged the status quo by selecting one less Black African player than what is stipulated by Cricket SA when the situation dictated it.
The former Proteas batsman has valid points in many of his arguments, particularly in regards to the impact the current system has on equally previously disadvantaged coloured players’ development.
However, the Cobras’ track record of developing Black African players to the required standard still leaves a lot to be desired and it will remain a major test for Prince and the franchise moving forward.@ZaahierAdams