There have been hints that Faf du Plessis should be promoted to regular captain of the Proteas, even though AB de Villiers is slated to return soon after elbow surgery
Johannesburg - Gary Kirsten, the last coach to win an away Test series in Australia with South Africa, has weighed in on the tricky debate over what should happen with the Proteas captaincy once AB de Villiers has recovered from elbow surgery.
Faf du Plessis, De Villiers’ stand-in, has been a revelation in the role, dragging performance out of a team missing Dale Steyn and that has not been able to rely on the likes of Hashim Amla for runs.
And with the three-Test series won after two matches – and the recent 5-0 one-day international whitewash over the Aussies in South Africa under his belt – broad hints have been dropped that Du Plessis, minty breath and all, should be promoted to regular captain.
Convener of selectors Linda Zondi has moved quickly to reinstate De Villiers in the public’s mind as the team captain, but Kirsten isn’t so sure.
“The bottom line is that the convener’s the one who makes the decisions,” he explained. “But he needs to be comfortable that both offer similar value in the leadership space, which is that AB will come back and do the same job as Faf.”
The former Proteas opening batsman, who has had such illustrious figures as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Graeme Smith as his captains when he was coach, said he had been impressed with Du Plessis’ leadership.
“He’s shown real leadership ability and it’s been quite something to watch. He seems to be a captain players are comfortable with, and he’s cool under pressure.”
Kirsten, whose team was the second South African team in succession to win a series in Australia, meaning the Proteas have now completed the hat-trick, said he had been most impressed by the so-called junior and peripheral players on this tour.
“It was beautiful to see the junior players stand up when the senior players were not firing,” he said. “Even someone like [perennial squad member] Kyle Abbott, who came into the team and took nine wickets in a man of the match performance in Hobart.”
The former India coach said the performance of Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada was proof of two things: performance will dip during transition, and if players are backed, they will get the hang of it eventually.
“Every team goes through cycles, where it goes through ups and downs while revamping its personnel,” he said. “Sometimes the expectation is that teams will win consistently but that’s not possible in modern cricket, which is quite competitive.”
Current Proteas coach Russell Domingo, who was Kirsten’s assistant, came in for praise for his resilience under trying circumstances when the team’s recent failures – Test series defeats to India and England, and an abysmal performance at the T20 World Cup – had most calling for his sacking.
“I don’t think the peripheral [support] team changed dramatically...they’ve always been an outstanding set-up. Russell and his team have been there for the last three or four years, so we need to be careful about saying they’re bad coaches when things aren’t going well.
“Russell got recruited to his position because of his skills set after serving his time at franchise level. I think he’s a great coach, but the problem with coaching is that, when things go badly, the first fall guy is the coach, and when things are going well, he’s the last in line for the credit.”
The irony of South Africa’s dominant win over Australia in their own backyard is that it comes just months after Cricket SA (CSA) released transformation objectives that predictably didn’t meet with universal acceptance, something that has not escaped Kirsten’s attention.
“I think we’ve got to be aware of the language used in that space,” he said.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric language there, but people like [CSA general manager] Corrie van Zyl have put quality structures in place to produce good quality black players.
“But at the end of the day, the idea that you can’t produce a good team when trying to meet transformation objectives is a conversation that belongs in the past.”
The Proteas’ third and final Test against Australia, a day-night game in Adelaide, starts on Thursday.