Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, ex-SA cricketer and current Namibia coach PIERRE DE BRUYN talks about the Proteas’ World Cup failings, how CSA can fix the mess and his player of the tournament thus far.
Sport24 asked: Were the Proteas under-cooked heading into the CWC?
Pierre de Bruyn: Yes, the Proteas were under-prepared. They also had out-of-form players going into the World Cup and were unsure about selections in various aspects. As a case in point, Dwaine Pretorius was the number one all-rounder picked in the squad from day one and Chris Morris was out of favour. When Dale Steyn was ruled out, Morris was called up. It shows that the selectors didn’t know what they wanted because since the opening game, Morris has played every match for the Proteas. Across the board, it looks like the selectors were not sure about their combinations. The Proteas took injured players into the World Cup and others came back fatigued from the IPL. It begs the question: Did Cricket World Cup preparation come absolutely first? The difficult situation the Proteas find themselves in comes to down ill-preparation, the thought patterns as coaches and selectors and poor decisions that have been made. From my side, I have question marks in terms of how the players were prepared heading into the event. With Ottis Gibson, Claude Henderson and Dale Benkenstein having played in UK conditions, I would have thought the Proteas would have been better equipped to deal with the conditions… The Proteas are not one of the top four teams. It’s scary because we know they should be there, having played in World Cup semi-finals in the past. It shouldn’t be that the Proteas return home without having played in the play-offs, but it’s the reality.
Sport24 asked: How’ve you rated Faf du Plessis’ captaincy this campaign?
Pierre de Bruyn: Faf has proved an excellent leader for the Proteas over the last few years, but I think he got one thing wrong. Before the 2019 tournament got underway, he made the remark that life goes on if you lose a cricket game. He mentioned that if the Proteas don’t win the World Cup there is more to life. I had never heard that type of language from any captain of our sporting codes heading into a World Cup before. As a sporting nation, we don’t talk like that. I suppose the players caught onto their captain’s message very quickly and thought to themselves, “Oh well, if we lose it’s okay because life goes on.” I believe the players’ mindsets were not switched on in the right way for them to prove competitive as we have known South Africans to be on the cricket field. The Proteas have been blown away in all aspects and I ascribe it to the mantra of “life goes on if you lose,” which is not what the public wanted to hear. As such, there are question marks from my side in terms of mindset. There is plenty of finger pointing and people have the right to be angry and disappointed.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of SA’s fast bowling displays?
Pierre de Bruyn: Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are a world-class opening bowling combination and they boast enormous potential. However, they have been found out in playing conditions that should suit them. Rabada’s lengths have consistently been too short, which is why he’s averaging 50.83 with the ball. Meanwhile, Lungi looks under-prepared and like he is struggling with his conditioning. I have never seen so many slower balls bowled by Lungi in my life. He has got a good slower ball, but he’s overcooking it hugely. He possesses raw pace, but he’s not using that properly at the back-end of the innings. Meanwhile, the amount of cricket KG is playing is too much and his tank is getting emptier. KG is fully committed, but his zip is just not there. It’s difficult for any young player not to play all the time because it’s not nice sitting on the side-lines, but communication with players is crucial. As management you have to say: “You have got 10 years ahead of you. You are going to break records and you will bowl many overs in your career, but it’s really important that we don’t get it wrong now.” It’s not just fatigue from a physical point of view but from a mental one too.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of South Africa’s batting and fielding?
Pierre de Bruyn: From a batting point of view, the players are trapped in their shells and it looks like there is no plan from the batting unit. For instance, Faf was playing a very good knock against Pakistan and there were signs that it could be the first individual century of South Africa’s campaign. All of a sudden he advanced down the wicket and hit the ball straight up in the air. His dismissal underlined a lack of confidence and no real plan from a batting front. My question to batting coach Benkenstein would be: What are the plans in place? To offer an analogy, the Proteas are like a boxer in the corner of the ring. They are taking some shots and just trying to protect themselves. In terms of South Africa’s fielding, it has been seriously poor and should have been a non-negotiable. By and large, there has been no energy and the scary thing is that it seems like 40-year-old Imran Tahir is their best fielder. In general, the players look tired, stiff and have missed the stumps from between 15 to 20 metres. I can’t recall the Proteas getting a direct hit. David Miller has not been the same fielder we know he is, and I have been gobsmacked by the lack of energy and execution in the field.
Sport24 asked: How do the suits at Cricket South Africa sort the mess?
Pierre de Bruyn: The men in suits at CSA have to go back to the drawing board, which will need to be quite big and busy. There are a number of areas CSA needs to revisit. They have to reassess if their programmes are as effective as they were in the past and whether they are producing the quality that is going to win them the World Cup. Much work needs to be done within South Africa’s franchise system and coaches need to be held accountable. If the coaches are in denial, they are there for the wrong reasons. As a coach, I know that I’m accountable for the performance of the team. CSA now has a window to take this (World Cup debacle) on the chin and assess where they are because post-World Cup the Proteas are going to have an exodus of players – either through retirement or taking up Kolpak contracts. They need to ask have we got the necessary players to replace them, which will allow the team to prove competitive in international cricket? There is a helluva lot of homework for CSA and I just hope that the powers that be aren’t stuck in denial. It’s not just one poor World Cup and there is a reason South Africa have underachieved, especially with that team on the field. It’s a very experienced cricket team, but they have under-performed massively... I was fortunate enough to have played provincial cricket for 16 years. On a domestic front, I have seen a significant deterioration in the quality of our cricket over the last seven or eight years, along with the product, which I firmly believe needs to be addressed, discussed and revisited.
Sport24 asked: What coaching and captaincy changes could lie in wait?
Pierre de Bruyn: From a coaching point of view, I think Mark Boucher would be very good for where the Proteas are now and what needs to be done going forward. Bouch has worked as a coach in the system that has been established and he wouldn’t have to restart, but it would still be a challenge for someone like him. He is the right type of character to take on a project like this, but I’m not sure if would get his way with CSA. I foresee there being too many challenges in stamping his authority. Meanwhile, from a captaincy front, I wouldn’t hand the duties to Aiden Markram if Faf steps down. The former has not yet established himself as a white-ball player and needs to go work out his game. Ottis made him captain against India, but I think Aiden needs to focus on his own game. The fact of the matter is that Aiden is battling with his white-ball game at the moment and he is the type of guy who would sacrifice his own game, as a captain, for the team. He is world-class when scoring runs for South Africa, but he’s not the answer to replace Faf. For me, neither is Rassie van der Dussen. I don’t think he’s the right man as he doesn’t have a track record of being a captain. There is potentially a new national captain to be found within our franchise system to commence a fresh era.
Sport24 asked: What can the Proteas take from their remaining games?
Pierre de Bruyn: The first thing is pride. The Proteas have let themselves down and have played a brand of cricket that I have never seen before in my life. In a nutshell, they have played tentative cricket. They talk about Protea fire and should light the fire again and play for self-pride. They can walk away saying, “We had a bad tournament, but at least we finished strong.” The players still need to believe in that Protea fire and pride is what they can get out of the last two games against Sri Lanka and Australia. However, if you want my honesty, from a confidence point of view and where the players are mentally, it’s possible that the Proteas can come back with only a win against Afghanistan behind them. Unfortunately, when you find yourself in a dark hole, it’s very tough to emerge from it, especially knowing that Sri Lanka are still fighting for a spot in the semi-finals and Australia have momentum on their side. However, should South Africa knock over Sri Lanka, confidence would build ahead of facing Australia at Old Trafford, where anything can then happen.
Sport24 asked: How do you see the World Cup title race shaping up?
Pierre de Bruyn: From the start, even though people looked at me funny, I picked Australia to win the World Cup. It’s a unit that is very close and wants to redeem itself. As a nation, when Australia want to redeem themselves, they are very dangerous. However, the likes of India, New Zealand and England all boast the ability to win the World Cup, as they are great teams, and Bangladesh and Pakistan cannot be ruled out. On an individual front, the personnel who are performing are playing normal cricket and they have taught all of us a good lesson. There is nothing flashy about the likes of Kane Williamson and Shakib al Hasan, however, they are mentally very strong. Al Hasan is my player of the tournament so far. Meanwhile, David Warner has been in prolific form with the bat and is top runs-scorer and his teammate Mitchell Starc is leading wicket-taker and has been firing with the ball.