The South African Cricket Board meet today to discuss, amongst other things, the performance of the team at the World Cup, the role of the captain, Graeme Smith, and that of the coach, Mickey Arthur.
The team left for the West Indies with high hopes of winning the World Cup, based on a successful two year spell in ODI’s that saw the team reach the number one rank spot in the ICC’s ODI rankings, a position that they held for only a few weeks before Australia reclaimed it. However, despite reaching the semi finals, where they lost to eventual winners Australia, the tournament was by in large a disappointing one, with inconsistent performances, one day reaching the highs of demolishing the West Indies and England, with as professional and ruthless a performance as the team had ever displayed, and the next losing to Bangladesh, New Zealand, and capitulating in the manner that they did against Australia in the semi final. The South Africans believe that on their day they are capable of beating the all conquering Australians and will be bitterly disappointed that this was never evident in their two meetings at the world cup, in particular the embarrassment of that semi final performance. Since arriving back the selectors have been adamant and defiant in their view that the 14 players who went to the Caribbean where the best 14 available and there are no issues with the selection of the team, but rather with the performances of those selected. It is worth noting however that if this is the case, if these were the best 14, and the problems lay in the performance, then why was Roger Telemachus not used at all and Loots Bosman only picked for one game? The game Bosman was picked for he was pencilled in to bat at 6 and didn’t get to the crease. Players such as Johan van der Waath, Albie Morkel, Hashim Amla, Morne van Wyk and Dale Styen would like to think that they could have made a difference if called upon.
The issue of the captain and the coach become even more important if it is viewed that the right players where picked. Arthur, although a very likable man, has not done to much to suggest that he is the man to take the team to the top of both the ODI and Test rankings. His record against Australia is poor. Much of the success of South Africa’s recent ODI run has been built on home performances. At the Champions Trophy they where poor in losing to New Zealand, outstanding in bowling out Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and then poor in losing the semi final to the West Indies. Their form away from home has not been great, and needs to improve if they are to truly be a threat to the Aussies. Their Test form has not been nearly as good as their ODI form, and this inparticular needs attention. As for Smith as captain, he is growing in that role. There have been rumblings that he has to much power within the set up and it is he who calls the shots and not Arthur. The truth is that Smith is a very capable captain on the field, and should be given time to grow into the captain that the players will walk through fire for. Off the field, if it is true that he has to much power then this must be curbed. This is the crucial part, his off field power must be curbed, while still allowing him to be the captain on the field.There are no alternatives who seem capable of leading the team if they were to ask Smith to step down. Kallis, as vice captain, would seem the logical choice, however he has yet to show the inspirational personality that is needed in a captain, and as the premier batsman and a bowler as well within the team, he should be left to concentrate on those aspects of his game. Boucher seems to have the strong personality and character needed, but as a keeper his duties and powers of concentration are at a premium already, and should not be stretched further. Pollock, i believe should have been allowed to go on longer as the captain, giving Smith time to develop as a batsman and as a leader. However, Smith was identified early and thus they should stick for him, although there are no alternatives, he is still the best man for the job.
As far as the coach is concerned, if it is true that he is submissive to Smith, then he must be replaced. The coach needs to be the absolute authority within the team, and this should not be jeopardised. Perhaps the way forward in modern day cricket would be to adapt a soccer style system, where a manager is appointed, an Alex Furgeson or Arsene Wenger type person, who overseas the team, is the authority voice of the team, but builds a staff of coaches around him. So the role of the coach would be as a manager, with a specialised bowling, batting and fielding coach appointed to work with him. The coach would have final say on issues of selection, strategy, team planing, and all other aspects of the game, while the captain would lead the team on the field. This system would allow for the curbing of the power off the field that it is being suggested Smith enjoys, while at the same time defining the role of the man in charge. Perhaps this is the way forward for a team that knows it is capable of more then it is showing.