Kirsten to Come Home?

27/01/2010

While I’ve touted Kepler Wessels as my preferred choice to take over from Mickey Arthur as the new Protea’s coach, there are a nmber of contenders who will be talked about in the coming weeks.

Interim coach Corrie van Zyl must be the front runner, being the current high performance head, a former assistant coach for the Protea’s, when Graham Ford was in charge, and having extensive stints with the Free State Eagles, as well as a solid first class career. Should the Protea’s have a successive tour in India it would do little to harm van Zyls claim. His bowling skills will also come in handy with a young and potentially lethal attack that will need patience and more patience on Indian wickets.

Van Zyl has added Kepler Wessels to his team, as a batting coach, as well as a selector. Wessels will have first hand knowledge of what would be needed to take the team forward during this brief role as bating coach and selector. Although the appointment should be made before the end of the tour it would be a seemless transition should Wessels be named new coach.

Other’s who will be mentioned are Vince Barnes, Duncan Fletcher and Richard Pybus. Barnes has served as the deputy and bowling coach for almost a decade, under Eric Simmons, Ray Jennings and Arthur. The fact that he was not appointed interim coach suggests that he probably won’t get the job. Fletcher enjoyed a successful spell as England coach, winning series in South Africa as well as the Ashes. He also served as a batting consultant at times under Arthur. As a former Western Province coach he formed a mentor role with Jacques Kallis. Pybus has had success with in South African domestic cricket with the Titans, but would seem an outside bet at best.

One name that is quietly being spoken about is that of former Protea’s opening batsman and current India head coach Gary Kirsten. Kirsten certainly would be a popular choice with the supporters, who have fond memories form his playing days, as well as being impressed with the job he has done with India. Under Kirsten India have risen to the top of the Test rankings are are challenging near the top of the ODI rankings too. Most impressively has been their form away from home, something that many past Indian teams have lacked. The Indian cricket job is perhaps the most high profile and stressful in the game, and by not only copping, but excelling, Kirsten has shown he has what it takes to handle another potential difficult job, that of South Africa. The political goings on behind the scenes that come with the Protea’s job mean it is one only for the strongest characters, like Wessels, Kirsten would suit the job. Interestingly Kirstens contract expires in March, and if he isn’t tied down by India soon, he could be making his way home to South Africa – something that would suit his family. Should Kirsten get the Protea’s job it would mean he started and ended his Indian career against the Protea’s.

It’s clear that strength of character and will are needed for the Protea’s job, and with the team setting goals of being the best team in the world, and winning an ICC event, Kepler Wessels or Gary Kirsten must be the front runners to lead the team. The best man for the job must be appointed.

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Structural Changes Forced Arthurs Hand

27/01/2010

During a press conference in East London this morning, attended by CSA head Gerald Majola, Mickey Arthur, Graeme Smith and Corrie van Zyl, it was confirmed that Arthur had tendered his resignation from the Protea’s and that CSA had reluctantly accepted. It was also confirmed that the entire selection panel had been fired, that Corrie van Zyl would take the team to India as an interim coach, and that a meeting would be held on the 19th of February to appoint a new selection panel and discuss the appointment of a new head coach.

Without going into any real details both Arthur and Majola confirmed that the reason for Arthurs resignation was a difference in the vision to take the team forward after a disappointing 2009. Structural changes are to be put into place next month, changes that Arthur did not agree with and lead to his resignation, days before the team is to tour India. What those structural changes are was not talked about. What was said was that Mickey runs a pretty tight ship and felt that the changes that were to be implemented would interfere with his way of running things. He said that their were different opinions on how to take the team forward, a vision to regain the number one spots in Test and ODI cricket and to win an ICC event, and that he felt he could not work within the new structural changes and that he was now not the man to lead the team, the best decision for both himself and the team would be for a fresh change in leadership.

Majola did mention that the players views were taken into consideration about the changes. While we wont know exactly what these changes entail until after the February 19 meeting, it does sound like there were to be changes in the way the team is to be coached. Perhaps they were looking at bringing in specialized bowling, batting and fielding coaches and the like and Arthur felt that he would be marginalized and that his territory would be encroached upon.  Until everything comes out after the meeting all we have is speculation. However I do feel that bringing in an Alan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Kepler Wessels and the like is the way forward for the team and hope these are the structural changes being made.

The whole selection process is also to be over hauled with a new panel being named after the meeting. The interim panel will consist of Corrie van Zyl, Kepler Wessels and be headed by Majola. I have touted Wessels as my choice to take over from Arthur and perhaps by bringing him in at this stage Majola may be thinking the same. Last night on the cricket show, Inside Edge, Wessels was asked if he would be interested in the job. He said he had not thought about it but that anyone would seriously have to consider if being asked. That was a diplomatic way of saying yes.

Another point driven home during the press conference was that there was no break down in the Smith Arthur relationship and that Smith had no bearing on Arthurs decision to step down. Both were at pains to stress this.

So while South African cricket is in a state of shock and upheaval the game must carry on. The team leaves for India on Saturday with the first test on the 6th. Distractions will be put aside by professionals but all will be eagerly awaiting the results of the February 19th meeting, and a fresh start to a new era of Protea’s cricket.


Wessels the Man to Replace Arthur

26/01/2010

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.

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Strange Non-Selection

20/01/2010

South Africa named their squads for the tour to India next month, a tour consisting of two Test matchs and three ODI’s. Both squads show changes to the squads for each format that did duty in the recently completed England series.

Returning to the Test squad is spinner Johan Botha, who last played a Test against Bangladesh in 2008, and fast bowler  Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who has been part of squads in the last year, but is yet to play a Test. There is no place in the 15 man squad for Makhaya Ntini.  The ODI squad sees a return for Herchelle Gibbs and Loots Bosman, both opening batsman, with Hashim Amla, Ryan McLaren and Charl Langeveld missing out.

The dropping of Hashim Amla from the ODI squad is a strange one. Amla has been pigeon holed as a Test batsman but his performances in ODI’s, when given the chance, have been very impressive. Since making his ODI debut in March 2008 Amla has played 22 matches. In those 22 matches he has averaged 47.11 at a strike rate of 82.65. He has scored one hundred and six fifty’s with a top score of 140. He also scored 97 and an unbeaten 80 odd against Australia last year. In the past year he has played as an opening batsman in ODI’s and has an average of 67 at a strike rate of over 80. It’s a record that would have him up with the best in the game. Yet he has been dropped? It’s hard to see why.

Loots Bosman was in terrific form in the two T20 games against England, scoring a 50 and 94, the highest score by a South African, and featuring in a world record partnership with Smith. The option of an explosive opening batsman is one the selectors were looking for, and Bosman will be given a chance on Indian wickets with the World Cup in mind. So his selection is a good one, and can be backed up with a solid foundation. Gibbs selection ahead of Amla is the real issue. Gibbs has been out of touch internationally for a while now, and lost his place in the team after the Champions Trophy failure versus England. In truth his form over the last few years has been very patchy, with rare innings of sublime genius reminding all of the old Gibbs, punctuating many failures. Waiting for the good innings amongst the failures was proving frustrating. At 35 it’s a case of age catching up to the talented stroke player rather than a lack of ability. It happens to everyone, as Ntini is finding out, but he is being given yet another chance. His form in domestic limited over cricket has been brilliant, and it is based on this that he makes a return. As welcome as a free scoring Gibbs is it does leave a bitter taste that Amla is forced out of the squad while being the most consistent ODI batsman over the last year.

It’s not solely the inclusion of Gibbs that has pushed Amla out. South Africa’s prodigious talent JP Duminy is going through his first bad patch of his young international career but the selectors are keen to stick with him, knowing that it will payoff in the long run. So a batsman had to make way and unfortunately that seems to be Amla.

While it is good that South Africa are in a position to be able to choose between players of the caliber of Gibbs, Bosman, Duminy and Amla, acknowledging impressive dept, something seems out of place when perceptions seems to take precedent over raw facts and stats. Amla deserves a long run in the ODI team, and deserves the faith and backing of the selectors.

I’m sure Amla has no bitterness or ill feeling about his dropping, but you wouldn’t blame him if he did.

Test squad Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

ODI squad Graeme Smith (capt), Loots Bosman, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Roelof van der Merwe.

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Protea’s Start Climb

19/01/2010

Johan Botha returns to the Test squad

After going missing for about a year, the real Protea’s finally showed up, putting in the type of performance that was expected, but seen only once, in 2009. For the Protea’s, the series leveling Test win against England at the Wanderers is the beginning of the climb back to the the top.

While Smith and his players, and certainly the South African public, didn’t think they’d have to wait this long for the team to show the form that stormed them to the top of the ICC Test rankings in 2008, with away series wins in England and Australia, all will be looking for them to grasp this opportunity to fulfill the the potential the team clearly has, but has not been able to take to the next level.

All that begins with a two Test series away to the current number one team, India. A daunting task, but one that must be undertaken if the side harbors any real desire and hopes of being the best. Everything came together nicely in the crushing win against England in Johannesburg and although it enabled the team to square a series they had thought they would have no trouble winning, they must put the right context into the triumph. Yes they had rightly figured that they should beat England at home, and yes they are the stronger side on paper, but many took this England side for granted. They had beaten Australia and have shown a spirit and courage that England sides have lacked for a long time.

In truth South Africa were searching for a win. This series could have been, and perhaps should have been, won by a comfortable 3-1 margin, with the 1st and 3rd Tests requiring England to hang on 9 down in the final overs. Had South Africa managed to get Onions out in the first Test perhaps they would have gone on to win 4-0. That is maybe wishful thinking, but does actual bare some truth. One win in six in 2009 was a poor return for the Proteas. The side had forgotten how to win in some respects and regaining that feeling is what was being strived for. Now that it has been realised they have the oppurtinity to put the horrible year that passes between beating the Aussies and this England series to bed and do what they had threatened to do – play ruthless, percentage cricket. And above all else win.

Ntini may have gone but in Steyn and Morkel they have the most destructive new ball attack in world cricket. With Morkel finally beginning to realize the potential that so many have seen in him, with added responsibility and a clearer role within the team, this could prove to be the year he creates a destructive path to the Protea’s strike plans. Parnell and McLaren both made debuts in the final Test against England and gave good support to their main strike bowlers, but both will have to do more to stake a claim for the 3rd seamers position in the time. Harris and the recalled Botha will surely take the place of either Parnell or McLaren in India, but it is good to know that options and depth are in place for the attack.

As far as the batting is concerned,  Alviro Petersen will be waiting for his chance, and given the way he took it in the one day series, will surely not let anyone down. Prince and Duminy are both playing for their positions, but with Duminy’s spin option as well as his obvious talent, perhaps the selectors will allow him the time needed to regain his form. The pressure is on Prince to give the opening birth one final crack, and no doubt he will have the first test to lay claim to it. If he fails again Petersen will make his debut in the second Test.

Although India is perhaps the toughest place the tour right now, and with the Indian team ranked first, the Protea’s must know that they need a strong showing to lay down a marker straight away, and to show the world that they are capable of the type of dominance once typified but the Aussies. If that’s the case, then India is the ideal place to start.

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Options for Protea’s but a Win is a Must

12/01/2010

The Protea’s go into the final Test in a couple of days knowing one thing – they have to win to get a draw out of the series, something that should have been the least of their goals at the beginning of the tour. To lose both the ODI and Test Series would make this tour more than a failure for a team that has aspirations to be the worlds best team.

Lets not take for granted that this England team, with spirit rather than than tactically well lead, is a good team. A misfiring KP is only a match winning innings away at all times, Collingwood is lion in the middle order, Bell and Prior are inconsistent match winners with the bat, Cooke, Strauss and Trott are all solid, and Broad, Anderson and Onions dependable, and Swan the joker in the pack. This England side is the strongest they’ve put together in almost twenty years, and it’s missing Flintoff.

Yet this South African squad, a team that beat Australia in Australia, something that hasn’t happened in a generation, they beat England in England, and the team were seen as the best and most promising since readmission. Yet this season has been far from positive. The team, who rose to number one with that win in Australia, were looking to dominate as Australia had done for years, yet they went on to lose the return series win Australia, then didn’t play a Test series until this one, where they find themselves 1-0 down with one to play. A run that has seen them lose the number one spot, held by India now, and not look like a team challenging for the position.

The way sport goes, and in particular the intricacies of Test cricket, the Protea’s have seen themselves out play England in 2 of the 3 Tests, with England needing to hang on with 9 down in the 1st and 3rd Tests, yet find themselves 1-0 down with no chance at a Series win.

The Protea’s attack has seen changes in each of the 3 Tests thus far and once again will be changed for the final Test. De Wet will not play, having picked up a back injury in his 5th over of the first innings in the last Test, will not play. What’s worrying for the fast bowler, who made his debut in the 1st Test, is that he did retire a few years ago with a back problem. If this is the same problem then sadly his Test career could be two Tests long. Wayne Parnell, who has played limited over cricket for the Protea’s over the last year, is in line to make his Test debut. This would give the attack a left arm option and could be just the variety that the attack needs. With Steyn and Morkel, who’s bowling this series has been the best of his career, the added responsibilty of being a new ball bowler, replacing Ntini, has agreed with Morne and his partnership with Steyn shows much promise. With Parnell as first change and Kallis, Harris and Duminy, the attack looks positive. Parnell offers more with the bat and will lengthen the bottom order.

Another option that could be taken is to leave out Harris and go with an all pace attack by giving Ryan McLaren a Test debut. This option would give support to Steyn, Morkel, Parnell and Kallis, on a pitch that is expected to be green, and would mean South Africa bat all the way down. It would also mean that Duminy, who out bowled Harris on the final afternoon of the last Test, would be given more overs to bowl, something that he can expect in India next month.

A final note on selection. The calling up, before being withdrawn a day later, of Imran Tahir, shows the direction the selectors are looking at. Harris has been effective in his Test career, to the surprise of many opponents, and was ranked 9th on the bowling list at the start of the series. Tahir’s call up points to the selectors adding options to the squad by including an attackig spin bowling option. Lets hope the paperwork can be sorted before the India series next month.

The Joburg weather has been wet this last while and lets hope that doesn’t spoil South Africa’s chance at a series leveling win. Whatever happens it’s going to be hard work. Although they’ve come close twice this series the Protea’s haven’t been able to take 20 wickets in a Test this series. They may have options a plenty in the squad but options don’t take wickets. The Protea’s can begin their climb back to the top here on Thursday, and can put a poor year behind them, by taking 20 wickets this week. It’ll be hard work, but well worth it.

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A Bright Note for Protea’s, Disciplined Collingwood, and that Man Pietersen

07/01/2010

With the 3rd Test into the last session and England 239-5 the draw seems the most likely outcome, but South Africa will still fight for those last 5 wickets. Whatever the outcome of this Test there are a few things to take from this match.

Firstly, with Ntini being left out a new era of South African bowling attack needed to start. Ntini has been the man for the last decade, firstly with Pollock, and then with Steyn, but all things in sport come to an end, and although it may not be the end for Ntini, he still believes he can come back, there needs to be options going forward. Step forward Morne Morkel. Morkels potential has been there for all to see, but there’s only so long people can talk about potential before you have to start delivering. His Test career thus far has been fairly inconsistent, with moments of brilliance punctuated with wayward spells. In the last Test in Durban, with Ntini clearly off the boil, Morkel stepped up to lead the attack and bowled some brilliant spells. That form continued this week when he was given the new ball after Ntini was left out. The added responsibility and faith and belief have given Morkel more zip and more importantly – consistency.  He’s had a no ball problem that has added to his inconsistency but in the Durban Test and again in this one he has not sent down a single no ball. That says a lot. This may be the beginning of a new attacking strike duo of Steyn and Morkel. One that leaves the Protea attack with a promising, healthy, future.

Paul Collingwood must be the most underrated batsman in England. For a time he was considered a ODI specialised and had to battle to get into the Test team. It is strange that someone considered a limited over batsman is so dour and defensive in Test cricket. But an batting line up needs balance and can’t be made up of just dashing stroke players. Collingwood knows his job and does it so well. How many times have England needed to hang on for a draw and relied on Collingwood to battle it out for them? There’s few in this England line up who can be relied upon to bat out a day and do the job without having a dash at a loose delivery and getting out, as Cooke did yesterday. Collingwood has shortened his back lift and set out his stall to defend all day and looks like he may be doing it yet again for England. With the likes of Bell and Prior you always feel like they’ll give you a chance at some stage. Collingwood has been faultless. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves but those who do the ugly work seldom do. South Africa don’t make that mistake and value his wicket as high as that of the star players, Pieterson and Strause.

Speaking of KP, something seems off with England’s best player. He’s been very quiet all series. The hatred South Africans feel for KP has diluted since he was last here. KP has matured, he was a brash, young, upstart when his career began and shot his mouth off to much. That doesn’t happen anymore and he is, one feels, a better person than many think. The abuse he gets at the grounds here is more in jest and sport, and he is respected much more here in South Africa. However he has hardly been seen in this series. He’s been posted out on the boundary by Strauss, hardly seems to say anything, and is rarely in much conversation with the England camp during play. He seems to almost be drifting through, as if there is a problem with the other players in the team. That has come through in his batting where he has hardly been the dominating swash buckling batsman South Africans are used to. There is definitely something off with KP here in South Africa. Which is sad for cricket – love him or hate him cricket needs KP.

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