'Gary’s not the silver bullet'
Cape Town - In the first of a two-part Q 'n A by Rob Houwing
with ANDREW HUDSON
in Durban recently, the Proteas’ national selection chief discusses, in particular, Gary Kirsten’s integration back into the system as coach. Does your history as opening batting partners for South Africa aid your relations with Gary Kirsten?
I think there’s a friendship and mutual respect, of course much of it based on times in the middle working things out for the benefit of (the SA cause). So the partnership continues, in several senses. I guess for me the main thing is understanding where each of us comes from. I certainly don’t want to come in and assert authority; my style is inclusive, always considering other people’s input. I think he’s the same, in terms of his people skills. There’s a determinedness about him, but within the context of an inclusive method. That’s where we’ll work well together, doing things for the best for cricket, and egos not getting in the way. Gary also likes to be beneath the public radar a lot. With India, MS (Dhoni) did pretty much all the press conferences and Gary wasn’t bothered. At the end of the day it’s about the guys who cross the ropes, after all. He was there to facilitate and help. I identify with that.How valuable has a rare, proper off-season been for our top players?
It has been important. An off-season is always welcome. We’ve also had the opportunity to blend Gary gradually into the fold with his new coaching team. A break after the World Cup was a good thing. New beginnings, new broom ... a lot has been deliberated on during this off-season. I’ve no doubt the guys will be up and ready by the time Australia arrive.They say the best conditioning opportunity comes out of competition. Have the players been sticking to their programmes?
The guys are professional. There will some ‘game’ rustiness at present, I’m sure, but the days of completely packing your cricket togs away for the winter are past. They maintain and look after themselves. But it’s August now and contacts will increasingly be made with various players. Last Wednesday we sat around a table in Johannesburg -- Gary, Russell (Domingo), Allan (Donald), Corrie (van Zyl), Shafiek (Abrahams), Doc Moosajee -- and spoke about the season, and the two- to three-year period ahead of us. We wanted to bring the newer guys onto the same page. One of the nicest, and rare things was that the departing coach was able to sit in that environment and explain to the new coach what has been done and achieved in the past. Before, the coach has tended to leave under a cloud, or for whatever other reasons. It was great that there was a big transferral of knowledge from (Van Zyl).Would you say the Test squad is particularly settled?
We didn’t have to speak at length about our Test cricket because it is in pretty good shape, (although) obviously Gary may look to tweak that slightly as he sees fit. Good basis, good players to take us back to No 1, we think. In one-day terms obviously there was big diagnosis about the World Cup, and leaning on Gary’s experience in that field, and (his ability to) get guys to relax under that pressure. As for T20, we’ve got just eight games ahead of the next ICC World Twenty20, so almost from game one we need to be playing our side for that tournament! There’s got to be some haste there. We went through 30 players, our top 30, and we spoke at good length on each ... on strengths, and areas which could be improved upon. We wanted to give Corrie and Vinnie (Barnes) in High Performance good things to work with.
What about the camp plans?
We want to get that broad group of 30, across the formats, together at the end of the month. Contracted players, but also others who we want to expose to Gary’s methodology. It’s just an initial group, and at Arabella (near Hermanus) in the Western Cape. Some ex-players have been invited to the golf day that’s part of it, and we’ve already had at least 45 responses. It’s also part of this inclusive approach. Whatever we think of ex-players and their views, they’ve got some wisdom to contribute, for sure. There might be some fitness aspects as well but probably no (bat on ball) just yet.
The Proteas can be slow starters to home Test series ... it must be vital to hit the ground running in the fairly short visit by Australia?
Yes, we’re lucky in that the format (for Australia’s tour) suits us quite a bit. You don’t wish to downplay the limited-overs stuff, of course, but the sequence of T20, then ODI, then Test activity makes a fair bit of sense. There’s sufficient time, I think, especially with some players involved in the Champions League also. Gary has a very balanced approach to (the task ahead) ... he’s not the silver bullet; the guy who can ensure everything is smooth sailing. Test cricket is hard: we’ve got to do the work and put in the time and the rewards will come. The positive is that there’s lots of energy around Gary’s appointment, and it’s been very well received from the players and all quarters.
*In part two tomorrow, Hudson talks about England’s rise to No 1 in the Test world, some personnel issues affecting the Proteas squad, and the criteria used for picking SA ‘A’ sides.