Proteas

Proteas: Why foreign coach could be fruitful

2017-06-29 12:51
Geoffrey Toyana (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It is often argued, despite being untested, that the Springbok rugby team should always be coached by a South African because he best understands the “culture”.

One in the post-isolation era, Ian McIntosh, was nominally born in then-Rhodesia, although that barely counts as a departure from the stubborn status quo, considering his already iconic status with Natal (later the Sharks) in Durban when he assumed the green-and-gold task.

Whatever the merits or demerits of that theory, I have long felt that cricket, with its generally less obsessively parochial character in this country, could be used as a productive guinea pig in countering the view - especially in the wake of suggestions this week that incumbent Russell Domingo will not seek an extension after the current England tour.

Again in the democratic period, the Proteas have overwhelmingly been subjected to local principles and philosophies when it comes to the head coach thus far.

The exception is the late, India-born Bob Woolmer, of English parentage and later to represent Kent and England with some distinction, although even he had effectively become a “South African” in many respects when he took the SA reins in 1994, as his home and clear affection had long been in Cape Town.

He is perhaps also the coach (there have been nine in total since 1991) who came closest to winning that elusive World Cup; his charges were eliminated despite a tie in that harrowing 1999 semi-final against Australia at Edgbaston.

But the indisputably street-wise, well-travelled Woolmer is really as “international” as it gets in the list of Proteas coaches, given that the pattern in more recent years has been to appoint personalities straight out of the domestic franchise set-up.

It is primarily for that very reason that I believe the time is ripe if possible – appreciating it is a big “if” – for the national side to finally come under the influence of an outsider with a fresh take on things and new challenges for the established nucleus of the side, in particular.

If the speculation is to be believed, the names in the succession pot once again include a strong franchise-weighted flavour: two current occupiers of those berths in Geoffrey Toyana (Lions) and Malibongwe Maketa (Warriors), as well as prior stalwarts of the local game in Shukri Conrad (Lions, Cobras), Rob Walter (Titans) and Richard Pybus (Titans and Cobras).

Of that particular group, English-born Pybus has picked up a fairly appealing wealth of further experience globally through his tenures as Pakistan and Bangladesh coach, and more recently director of cricket with West Indies.

Let’s be clear: I would not rule out any of the above coaches prospering in charge of the Proteas. You cannot brazenly pre-judge these things.

But with the domestic game almost certainly alarmingly weaker than it was a few years ago, a situation potentially being reflected in the recent rocky fortunes of both SA and SA ‘A’ in England, the question I would ask is this: Is the local scene really the best breeding ground these days for someone capable of giving the Proteas a new character, a new direction, and by extension the required steeliness to finally win one of those ICC tournament trophies?

My gut feel is that there might be too much risk of “same old, same old” … and the Proteas consequently do little more than tread water for a few more years, rather than return to any especially notable highs.

I’d suggest that the all-important better, more established players in the national side -- already at risk of becoming mentally jaded at times because of the volume of broad cricket they play and the fatiguing travel involved – might respond most favourably to a strong personality from elsewhere who drags them from any comfort zones they may occupy and shakes up a few long-standing, all-South African norms and procedures.

If published rumours earlier this week are to be believed, the former West Indies, Zimbabwe and Ireland coach Phil Simmons (he also played against South Africa in that historic maiden tour of the Caribbean in 1992, and had later stints as batting all-rounder for Border and Easterns) is the most significant - and only, maybe? - applicant from what might be called in most orthodox terms “abroad”.

Of course the Proteas post comes laced with requirements unique to our complex landscape, and that is just one reason why coaches who have both cut their teeth and excelled a long way from here may be less likely to enthusiastically shove their CVs through the Cricket South Africa mailbox.

Nevertheless, I guess a big part of me yearns for CSA to somehow land their own nearest equivalent of a “Trevor Bayliss”, if you like – in the interests of extracting best possible results and lustre out of all our national cricketers and those bubbling under the various squads.

The 54-year-old Bayliss, in just over two years at the England helm now, has unobtrusively, calmly and diligently put his useful Aussie cultural stamp on that major-rival fold - including almost immediately regaining the Ashes 3-2 in the 2015 season.

He also coaxed his charges to only a second post-isolation Test series triumph in South Africa (2015/16).

Under his tenure, England seem to have assembled enviable degrees of depth and infused eye-catching levels of player confidence, across all three major formats - something in evidence anew this summer in the UK as the Proteas and their second-stringers labour rather unpleasantly on tour there.

The Proteas won’t get Bayliss, of course. (Or not at this juncture, anyway.)

But the national team deserve someone similarly gnarly, proven and possibly even revolutionary methods-wise in global cricket.

Don’t they?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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