The Proteas therapy couch - session 18.WRITTEN BY THE EDITOR ON JUNE 12, 2017. POSTED IN SPORTS
You should never text an ex when you are drunk. Similarly you should never write about the Proteas failing at an ICC event until the day after.
This is what life has taught me. So after having a decent period to mull over everything, I feel I’m in a position to share some thoughts with you on the matter of SA’s tragic cricket team. A team so talented, but also so utterly useless when it comes to performing under pressure in ICC tournaments.
As in previous soul searching efforts after these knockouts that have happened over the years, there is no one single answer to what is wrong here. Some may say they just don’t have BMT, or that they just aren’t good enough. This is a little too simplistic though. So I thought instead of giving an ‘answer’, we should have like an ‘open couch’ therapy session where we discuss a variety of things to get to a position of better understanding what’s going on.
I also feel that by throwing a lot out there, I may just uncover something worth thinking about of a constructive nature.
- AB de Villiers’ captaincy
AB was destined for greatness, and it is fair to say he has reached the heights expected of him as a global icon in the game. He then wanted to be a great Proteas captain. But this sadly hasn't been the case.
He thinks differently however. After having failed to secure a trophy in charge of this team, he believes he can still make it happen and wants to stay on to do just that in 2019. Kepler Wessels, in a rare moment of remarkable frank conversation in the SuperSport studios recently, said he isn't the man for the job, and I tend to agree with him.
AB's tactics are often questionable on the field, and I don't think he quite has the inspiring effect that others would. I feel this has a lot to do with his star player nature. Star players often believe they can do it all, but that doesn't translate into making others think they can do it too.
This Proteas team is a different side when led by Faf Du Plessis. It has a better balance, and it seems people seem to know their roles better under his style of leadership. Wessels went on to add that AB coming in and out of this squad (for personal reasons) can only be disruptive to the cause. Again, tough to argue on this, especially in light of this latest calamity.
- What is being done in between ICC tournaments
The Proteas are great outside of these ICC tournaments, but is what make them great in these 'less important' periods diminishing their abilities when they really need to perform?
Are enough players being given a chance to perform, are enough players being tried to create selection depth, are certain game plans being tested so the team and players get equipped to deal with a variety of situations?
I think this topic is less of an issue. The Proteas have tried a fair few players, chances have been given after failure and continuity has been tried where possible. Hindsight always suggests they could have done better in selections, but this squad at the Champions Trophy was mostly backed from top to bottom.
Losing Abbott and Rossouw was a big blow, as Cricket South Africa said thay they had invested in both of those players to be vital performers at the Champions Trophy. But that was out of the team's hands so let's move on.
- What are the Proteas doing differently in each new tournament
Think of how the ODI game has evolved over the years. Look at the scores being posted, look at the variations the seamers have to use, look at how the spinners aren’t so bothered by lateral turn like they used to be. The game is evolving, but the Proteas approach seems stuck.
Are they trying new things, or is it just a case of ‘if the players all perform on the day then they should hopefully win’? That’s what it seemed like in the match against India. Their spinners were always going to be tough to score against on the worn Oval pitch in that must-win match, but knowing this the Proteas openers seemed to show next to no intent in trying to score off the new ball.
Safety first is plan A, B and C, and when that fails, then we see the panic and the meltdowns.
Always reactive, never proactive. It appears to be the same story over and over again. The Proteas wilt under pressure, but how about trying to exert some on the opposition rather than always trying to deal with it from them?
Then with the ball, knowing full well they needed 10 wickets for an improbable win, there was also mostly just a conservative approach. Tahir brought in late, Duminy not even used. India just stood there and knocked the runs off as the Proteas went about their task like it was any other game.
T20 is making cricket more of a risk/reward game than ever, and to not be a part of this mentality in the very least is a huge worry.
- Is this team as good as they think they are
This may be a little tough to stomach for some. Ranked the number 1 team in the ICC ODI ranking with the best 2 ranked bowlers and the 1st, 4th and 10th best ranked batsmen, you would be forgiven to think that this question is really not worth asking.
Time and time again though they lose and bow out of tournaments early. If you don't win you are not very good. Results don't have comments sections as they say in the classics, so rankings aside, what they do when it matters most is a clear indication of their abilities.
The problem with being better than you think you are, is that you always believe that what you are doing is good enough. Which leads us back to the previous point about what is this team doing differently after each tournament failure?
- Honesty is the best policy
There never seems to be any decent answers from within the Proteas camp after these heartbreaking loses. Something that AB de Villiers again eluded to after the India defeat.
Well, in the absence of ‘good answers’, how about just being completely honest. There needs to be honesty whenever possible. Patching over cracks and failing to address shortcomings only means they return when the pressure does.
Getting back to AB de Villiers denying that this team lacked composure against India, that isn’t honest. And if he did honestly believe that then he either doesn’t know the definition of composure or he is just delusional. Either way, this goes back to him probably not being the man to lead this team any longer.
I'm tired of discussing the chokers tag, but would it be such a big thing to stop trying to run away from it, and rather just stand and face it. Imagine AB de Villiers said this to the press yesterday:
"Ya, it was a big choke. We didn't get the runs up front, we then lost our composure against the spinners and then choked it up when all we had to do was just continue to apply ourselves and believe in fighting for a decent score. It's shit that this has happened again, but after seeing how pitiful this performance was, and how beneath our abilities it was, we are just going to have to find a way of getting more aggressive, find ways to apply pressure rather than suffer under it. It's not easy to admit this, but it's the truth and what we need to understand going forward."
Use the 'chokers' tag as a motivation. Bring it up in conversation first, stay on the front foot when it comes to everything you do. It isn't a sure fix to a situation, but at least it is a different way for going about your business. The fans will appreciate it, because right now they aren't buying the cliches.
Honesty in selection is also a good thing. Perhaps the hardest thing out there, but I feel there needs to be greater honesty around the players and their performance. What is being said to them after these losses? We aren't looking for roasts, but weaknesses need to be identified.
- ‘Quota Players’ ruining the team
Congrats if you are still with me. Therapy sadly is never a short run thing.
The only thing worse than watching the Proteas capitulating in a must win-match is going onto social media and seeing the age old narrative of ‘quota players are ruining this team’.
One thread I saw had this guy arguing how Kagiso Rabada was a quota player and that he doesn’t deserve to be there. Normally I ignore this sort of stupidity, but I was genuinely flabbergasted by the thought that there are still people out there that believe fielding 11 white South Africans is the only way this team can win.
But let’s not give these cretins any more attention. The players ‘choking’ the big situations are almost always the white guys if you want to get technical on this, so no matter how strong your prejudice or basic bigotry is, this is a non event.
Everyone loves a fall guy in sport, and when it comes to this team, Wayne Parnell, JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien fall into this 'fall guy' category. Though many will argue that they are only in this team because they are so-called ‘players of colour’, teams also invest in experience of which these guys have a fair amount.
To be brutally honest, there would be very few, if any international sides that would take these guys into their lineups, but they have still earned their way into the squad. Don't shoot the messenger here, look at the stats. Even if Behardien is not international standard, if the guy keeps dominating domestically, it's tough not to select him for the international team, especially with him having experience.
It's lazy and it is a little embarrassing to keep going back to this old chestnut. Of course there are selection guidelines that will see Parnell get the nod ahead of Pretorius say, but you are splitting hairs to think this is why this team is failing.
Personally I would like to see some fresh faces getting tried, especially fresh specialist batsmen at no.6. Perhaps this latest failure will make this happen.
- Is SA’s domestic cricket strong enough
Another tough question, and one that can be answered with a no. To carry on from the previous point, there are some strict team quotas in the domestic side of the game, and this has lead to many talented white players going overseas and being lost to the system. Not ideal sure, but if you are still living in a perfect world and thinking that things will ever be 100% merit in South Africa, then you need to get real.
It is all employment equity at the end of the day. Government has taken the steps to balance the books with representation, and that is what is happening. You can either bitch and moan about it, or you can support local cricket and the talent that is coming through. I didn't hear too many people bitching about Lungi Ngidi bursting onto the Proteas scene against Sri Lanka. The talent is coming through, and though there may be a tough transition period, things are improving in more ways than we think.
I don't want people to be excluded by race, two wrongs don't make a right and all that, but we need to be realistic about this.
Just like in rugby, I would prefer to apply the focus on coaching quality. How is the talent been developed and guided. This is of greater importance and will always be.
- The Arsenal dilemma
The Proteas and Arsenal have quite a lot in common. Both good teams that can blow anyone away on their day, but ultimately never when it matters. So much is expected of them, but the reality is that they just aren’t champions. The problem with the Proteas is that instead of just having one ‘Arsene Wenger’, they perhaps have many.
This probably sounds a little harsh, but for all the experience in this Proteas ODI squad, they have nothing to show for it by way of trophies. So, if they haven’t produced the goods over a long period of time (like Arsenal) with their leaders, should they be persisted with?
Just like Arsenal can’t get rid of Arsene Wenger because he’s ‘a legend’, the Proteas can’t exactly drop their established (trophyless) stars. Maybe they shouldn’t either, but it’s something to consider.
- Learn from England
This sounds odd I know, but looking at where they were when they were laughed out of the 2015 Cricket World Cup and where they are now, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
I'm not saying the Proteas should recruit players from other countries, but just buy into a new way of doing things. Eoin Morgan and his team physically want to push the agenda constantly when out in the middle. It can backfire as shown recently at Lords against South Africa. But they did have the series won 2-0 already at that stage.
You will see players fall foul of the strategy too (Roy), but others will rise to it. Just look at players like Stokes and Buttler and how they have kicked on as players. Tremendous talents, but there is no doubt that this current English team strategy has taken these players to the next level. And with success comes confidence, and with confidene comes your best on the field.
The conversation naturally doesn't end there, and we may still need many more therapy sessions like this going forward. But if the Proteas just try be bolder, try what they haven't tried before, and get a little more honest about what's going on in these tournaments, success is still within reach.
It really has to be!
Tags: proteas, proteas choke, proteas champions trophy, proteas record, ab de villiers