The shock resignation of Protea’s coach Mickey Arthur could not have come at a worse time. In 4 days time South Africa leave for a tour against the number one Test team, according to the ICC rankings, India. Word coming out of CSA circles is that not only has Arthur resigned, but the entire selection panel, consisting of Mike Procter, Craig Matthews, Mustapha Khan, and Arthur are to be fired. There are also conflicting reports as to whether Vince Barnes, Arthurs right hand man, has also been fired or not. Former player, assistant coach and recently appointed head of CSA’s high performance center, Corrie van Zyl, has been placed in temporary charge of the side for the India tour. While the timing of this mess is not the best, it has perhaps come as no surprise to those who follow the side closely.
After South Africa’s stunning win over Australia in 2008/2009 Arthur was signaled out for the England job. While he stayed with the Protea’s it was interesting to note that he didn’t actually come out and state his loyalty to South Africa, but intead noted that he was flattered to be considered for the England job. Hardly what South African fans were looking to hear. The year that followed that, 2009, was earmarked as potentially being South Africa’s best, following the season before’s historic wins in England and in Australia. It turned out to be one of the Protea’s worst.
They lost the return Test series against the Aussies, and although they did win the ODI series, the rest of the year was a failure. The T20 World Cup in England looked promising as the Protea’s stormed through to the semi’s and looked by far the strongest, best balanced, and most consistent team. But the story from their was a now familiar one to all Protea fans. The team were knocked out of the semi’s by eventual winners Pakistan. Again one loss was all it took, but again it was in the most important game. Next came the Champions Trophy, which South Africa were hosting, and given their ODI form over the last year, they were rightly considered favourites. Yet again, as was the case when they hosted the World Cup in 2003, the Protea’s failed to advance past the Group Phase. Losing to Sri Lanka and England, and between those defeats beating New Zealand. The Protea’s didn’t play again until England arrived for a long, testing tour. They went on to lose the ODI series and managed to win the final Test to earn a draw in the Test series, one which they were expected to win comfortably, but lost heavily in Durban, and fell a wicket short in both Pretoria and Cape Town. 2 Test wins from 7, with 3 loses can only be described as a failure again.
When things were going well for South Africa, such as in Australia, the Smith Arthur relationship seemed to a strong one. However when things turned sour on the pitch they did so as well off it. The reports coming out of the camp, before tomorrows press conference with Aurthur, are that he quit because of the deterioration of his relationship with Smith. Without knowing the full story, from both sides, we can only speculate as to why this happened. People are saying that Smith has to strong a control and influence on the team, but a closer look at comments he made during the England series may suggest it wasn’t as strong as his detractors would make us believe. He complained about not having the right team when South Africa suffered that heavy defeat in Durban. If his control as as all powerful as some say then surely he would have had the players he wanted? It seems that maybe Arthur was the one picking the wrong team, as the results have shown, much to his captains objections.
The horrible year that the Protea’s suffered last season, following on from their best, was highlighted by teams selection of players that were out of form, out of position and past it. The persistence in trying to make Prince an opening batsman is one that isn’t working. Before a finger injury in Australia Prince was a mainstay of the middle order. He lost his place to JP Duminy’s obvious talent and heroics on that tour. It seems the selectors, Arthur or Smith, are trying to force a way to include Prince in the team, at the detrement to both the player and the team. Prince is a class middle order batsman, and a reluctant, make shift and best, opening batsman. It will be extremely interesting to see who opens with Smith int he first Test against India on the 6th of February. That should give us a clue as to who’s call it was to persist with Prince in that role. In the meantime form opening batsman such as Alviro Petersen, sit and wait for a chance.
JP Duminy could do no wrong in his maiden series against Australia. However international cricket is a tough league to be a part of, and your short comings are soon found out. Whether Duminy has been found out or not, maybe it’s just a blip in form, is a mute point. As is the debates about his talent. Duminy is a batsman of immense talent and ability and the decision to stick with him as he endures a torrid period in his young Test career is one that must be put into context. South Africa recognized the world class talents of Jaques Kallis and stuck with him as he went through a slow start to his career. Likewise they saw the potential in AB de Villiers and he was given time during a slew of bad form in his early career. Both are now up there with the best in the game, with Kallis being among the best ever. If this is what they see in Duminy then they are right to stick with him, so long as they are addressing any problems he is having with his game. While many see this as accommodating someone at the expense of another, Prince, it should be seen for what it is – an investment in the future of the team.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ntini. There is no point in rehashing the accomplishments of his career. Everyone knows that the likable fast bowler has done exceptional work for his team and his sport both on and off the field. Ntini will go down as a legend in the game and rightful so. But Arthurs inability to recognize the end of his career was harmful to all. Ntini hasn’t been the bowler who spearheaded the Protea’s attack for almost a decade for over a season now. Yet they stuck with him and this was part of why they had such a poor 2009. At times they seemed to be playing with 10 men. Arthur and or Smith were quick to discard Pollock before the end of his time. They saw a need to invest in Steyn and Morkel and in time could be proven correct. But the double standards with regards to Ntini are baffling. Pollock could still perform a role as a containing bowler, batsman and influence. Ntini has offered very little to the team over the last year. The time to blood someone new was in 2009 and a trick was lost there.
The right man, or men, for the job need to be appointed soon if the potential of this team is to be reached. The man for the job is Kepler Wessels. Wessels is an astute thinker, strategist, has coaching experience and as a former captain and player for the Protea’s knows what is encompassed in the political area’s of South African sport. Wessels is also a strong, disciplined person who will not let standards drop or players influence become to strong. He also knows what direction the team needs to go to overcome the short comings that are apparent in big events and are creeping into the Test arena. Wessels is the best man for the job. He would also welcome the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and other ex players into the fold as assistant coaches, bowling coaches and the like.
With the right appointment the resignation of Athur coule be just what this team needs. But only with the right appointment.
pics from cricinfo.com