‘Topspin’ – by Pat Symcox

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The Springboks are winning, Ernie Els is back in the mix and suddenly the disastrous performance of the Proteas is almost forgotten!

With the “baby Boks” showing that there is still huge talent coming through; rugby seems to be the shining light for us all as far as team sports are concerned. At the moment Bafana Bafana continue to stumble when we all hope they can beat some lowly side from the middle of Africa somewhere but it never seems to happen for whatever reason.

Cricket fans had an extremely disappointing end to what promised so much in the Champions Trophy. The obvious question we all keep asking is why they seem to get stage fright when opportunity presents itself. It has been going on for that long with so many different coaches and players involved that looking at that aspect is definitely a waste of time. It has to be something in the very fabric of our game here in South Africa. I guess that is stating the obvious but so often the obvious is not where administrators want to look because it actually involves them!

As a country we have continually produced some of the best players in the modern era. Just in the last while players like Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Graeme smith, Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers are ranked right up there with the best yet when they come together in the shorter version of the game it all falls apart.

My thinking is that until such time as we replicate the knock-out type system in our local cricket we will continue to produce players who are okay with winning one and then losing one yet still ending up in a final. There is no substitute for playing under pressure. You have to go through to gain experience and by that I mean a whole heap of times. Only then do you create a culture of feeling that every game is a Final. So often a five match series is won by losing a few and then regaining momentum with a few wins. A classic case in point was the Pakistan series. We won the series but essentially we played poorly at home and that came on the back of a loss to New Zealand at home. Remember it was only a three match series so there was no time to recover to win it!

Questions are now being asked about the leadership of AB de Villiers. I believe that it has to be asked based on his record thus far. His ability is certainly not in question but whether he can bat, keep wicket and control proceedings calmly whilst making man-sized decisions remains a sword hanging over him. Over the years many great players haven’t been good captains. In fact Sachin Tendulkar was axed as the Indian skipper for that reason. Hashim Amla was a disaster as he captained the Dolphins. It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Another obvious place to look for issues as to why we under-performed at the ICC Champions Trophy is whether we actually had the right personnel there for the job. Why was Philander not in the squad from the outset? How come Alviro Pieterson never got a game despite the conditions being ideal for fast bowlers? The whole world where asking these questions yet our selectors didn’t feel the same!

On the day of the loss to England we chose to open the bowling with a spinner and then to back it up with a part-time spinner in JP Duminy when everyone knows that Tsotsobe is only effective with the new ball. That’s the reason he doesn’t play Test cricket.

In essence what I am saying is that the entire process needs to be looked at. The problem is that a position in the system is a poisoned chalice and those that have been there no longer want a part of it unfortunately.

The resignation of Gary Kirsten should also be seen as that. He does know that the champion fast bowler Dale Steyn is ageing and the best all-rounder in the world no longer has a desire to play that much. The average age of the Test team is 31. That sends a powerful signal that changes will need to come. They are never nice!


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