Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
SA coach: mystery deepens
Cape Town – The “race” for the South African cricket team coaching job, post-World Cup, may well be won by the candidate who doesn’t want it the least ... as opposed to wants it the most.
Does that statement make any semblance of sense?
If not, it would be entirely fitting because the waters remain pretty muddied generally on this vexing issue.
I have raised the “doesn’t want it” aspect because if countrywide media speculation of late is reasonably accurate, the front-runners are Gary Kirsten, Duncan Fletcher and Stephen Fleming.
And the peculiar thing is that all of the trio have also been reported or rumoured, admittedly at differing stages, fairly adamantly not to want the responsibility of 12-months-a-year type of employment at present.
Kirsten will be coming off his three successful years as India’s head coach, and several of the players whose confidence he impressively won have publicly lamented (but simultaneously understood) his specific wish, it seems, to spend more time with his Cape Town-based family after a desperately busy period in cricket’s biggest hotbed.
Fletcher has been out of the international loop since his England tenure and apparently content with a low-stress life in the Overberg region – as one might well be – and occasional commitments as a short-term consultant/guru to clubs, countries and even some individual players.
You will sometimes see his name amongst the Stableford results at Hermanus Golf Club; why would he suddenly want the proverbial “hole in his head” of having to deal with the media pressures he particularly loathes if he returned to the very helm of a nation’s fortunes?
His candidacy – or otherwise -- is especially shrouded in uncertainty, although Kirsten has at least had informal talks with Cricket South Africa CEO Gerald Majola (if a national Sunday newspaper is on the button), and a late infusion, former New Zealand captain Fleming, has been listed as a key reason that CSA pushed out the deadline for applications to this Thursday.
Nominally, perhaps, the names of Proteas bowling coach Vincent Barnes and Cape Cobras mastermind Richard Pybus have also been associated with the job, although the former may well be handicapped by having been a “number two” in the national set-up for so long (sort of the Pat Rice to the Arsene Wenger, if you like) and the latter has had a chequered start results-wise to his career at Newlands.
And if Fleming has indeed stormed into the melting pot from left field, then he too has been sending out weird signals about his relish – er, not! – for a seriously high-profile burden.
Not much more than a year ago, in squashing speculation he was after the Black Caps’ coaching role, he told Cricinfo with some conviction: “It’s not my interest to coach internationally. I am very happy with the business side of things I’m looking to set up, and with my family life.
“I do not have the time and I do not have the desire. Also my coaching ability is unproven.” (Although Fleming has been successful in the Indian Premier League with Chennai Super Kings.)
More recently he has almost as vehemently pooh-poohed rumours that he might nip into the Kirsten void for India.
So Fleming must have had a fairly dramatic change of heart in the interim if he has indeed willingly scrambled a CV under the CSA offices’ door.
Something that would potentially add to the tangle is 37-year-old Fleming’s often fractious rivalry down the years with Proteas counterpart Graeme Smith who, remember, is due to retain his Test captaincy even as he relinquishes the ODI leadership after the World Cup.
Still, that tetchiness is viewed by some critics as the product, deep down, of mutual respect.
It is seemingly not just media speculation that is suggesting the coach will eventually come from a triumvirate of Kirsten, Fletcher or Fleming.
Late last week Herschelle Gibbs, a long-time member of the national set-up until recently and presumably hardly lacking an ear to developments, told Cape Talk Eyewitness News: “I think the front-runners in my personal opinion would be Gary Kirsten ... I think Stephen Fleming would probably be a good bet too.
“I’m not sure if Duncan Fletcher has sent in his application. I’m still going to push for Gary ... he’s a good friend of mine anyway.”
The dedicated CSA panel who finally make the choice may be faced by a tricky little dilemma: do we give it to someone who is breaking the door down with his unbridled enthusiasm and ambition, or rather place our faith in one of the three public/press “favourites” who may, bizarrely, require a disconcerting amount of arm-twisting to sign on the dotted line?
This plot only thickens ...