Proteas bat away old habits

South Africa’s stunning defeat to Zimbabwe on Wednesday was as cold as the midwinter temperatures – and the Proteas’ performance so far has been as weak as the rays of sun that provide light but little warmth at this time of year. None of this will, or should, worry the management, supporters or players.

The bowling and fielding against Bangladesh on Tuesday were tatty. Five catches were dropped and there was a miserable succession of wides, no-balls and long-hops in the final eight overs, in which Bangladesh scored more than 100 runs. Fortunately, led by captain Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 88 from 53 balls, there were enough runs in the bank for the Proteas to win comfortably.

Against Zimbabwe, however, the bowling was again poor and the batting faltered under the pressure of scoring at least nine runs to the over once Amla and the impressive Richard Levi had been dismissed.

It would be a mistake simply to look at the Proteas’ shortcomings without paying due credit to the performance of the hosts. Amla, of course, did not make that mistake. “They were very impressive – they outplayed us and deserved to win. Zim have always played their cricket with passion and that showed again. We lacked a bit of intensity, but we’ll get there,” he said.

There was never a lack of purpose about this tournament for the South Africans. The management team spoke to every player in the squad about their hopes and expectations in both the short and medium term in one of many strategic changes to the way tours are conducted under Gary Kirsten’s stewardship.

Pecking order
If the old-style pecking order among players continues to exist, it will be fuelled by respect, not fear or intimidation. New players are not “tolerated” by seniors; they are encouraged to contribute in every respect, from training routines to discussion groups. Senior players, too, are made aware that a significant part of their responsibility lies in talking to new players and sharing their experience.

Jacques Kallis, who is being rested from this tournament with Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel and regular skipper AB de Villiers, tells many a tale of his first few years in the national team as a teenager when the traditional “don’t speak unless you’re spoken to” mantra existed.

“I was a boy in a roomful of men. They had seen a lot more of the world than me. They had to pay their dues as youngsters and they expected me to do the same. It seemed perfectly normal to me,” Kallis said.

The only problem with the “old-school” system of respect was that it didn’t just preclude youngsters from contributing; it discouraged them from asking.
“They [the older players] had to learn their lessons for themselves and they expected the next generation to do the same,” Kallis said. “I didn’t question that. I just kept my head down and got on with it.”

Kirsten went through exactly the same process a little earlier than Kallis, except that he did question it – although mostly privately. Now that he has the opportunity to change things publicly, he is grasping it with both hands.


Old habits die hard
How many young parents have vowed not to raise their children as they themselves were raised? And how many find themselves at 40 declaring: “I’m sounding just like my mother/father!”
The same applies in a professional sense to many sports coaches and chief executives. There are good reasons for the birth of clichés such as “old habits die hard”.    

One reason why old habits die hard is the “told you so” criticism that is directed at the pioneers of new habits when they fail. Old-schoolers, for instance, may have a field day with Kirsten’s new methods now that they have lost an unofficial T20 match against Zimbabwe. But the coach will not change his views and will live or die by them. He does, after all, have something no other South African has: a World Cup winner’s medal.

“I resented team warm-up sessions on the morning of a match. After a couple of years I knew exactly how I needed to prepare before a game  and what worked for me, but I had to go through 45 minutes of prescribed routines before I could even start that process. It was silly,” Kirsten said.

“We used to leave the hotel two hours before the start of play and there was so much down time, hanging around. For the majority of people, that’s negative time. As Sachin [Tendulkar] used to say, if you’re trying to prepare for a game on the morning it starts, it’s too late. Your preparation has to be done in the days and weeks before the game. All you are doing on the day of the game is relaxing your body and ­tuning your mind into what lies ahead.”

Game time
There is nothing like “game time” to get players physically and mentally ready for a season and, accordingly, Kirsten tried, below the radar, to organise five practise matches against Zimbabwe. He had no idea that his plan would be “hijacked” and turned into a televised triangular tournament with Bangladesh.

“Maybe I was naive, but this was never my intention. Having said that, it’s no bad thing. It increases the match intensity and makes a defeat like Wednesday’s hurt even more. It also increases the learning experience.”

Fellow coach Paddy Upton has used the pre-tour camp and the considerable “down time” in Zimbabwe to expand on the ethos of “human being first, cricketer second” – and the results are plain to see. These are real people who are keen, not just prepared, to meet, greet and integrate with those around them. The belief is that real people with perspective and balance are more likely to succeed than those for whom winning and losing is everything.

Winning and losing is certainly not everything for Kirsten and Upton in Zimbabwe, but it is for the players. And it is a fairly safe bet that they will focus on exactly that in the final on Sunday.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp works from Cape Town. Talk and write about cricket,golf and most sports. Executive Coach. Cook for the family when at home. Neil Manthorp has over 27405 followers on Twitter.
Advertising

High Court strikes down ‘paternalistic’ lockdown regulations

The order of unconstitutionality has been suspended for two weeks

L’Oréal workers demand a shutdown of local plant, citing Covid-19...

The French cosmetics company’s Midrand plant has recorded 16 Covid-19 cases in two weeks

Protective equipment for schools in KwaZulu-Natal goes ‘missing’

Without protective equipment, schools in uMlazi, Pinetown and Zululand won’t meet the already delayed deadline for reopening
Advertising

Press Releases

Empowering his people to unleash their potential

'Being registered as an AGA(SA) means you are capable of engineering an idea and turning it into money,' says Raymond Mayekisa

What is an AGA(SA) and AT(SA) and why do they matter?

If your company has these qualified professionals it will help improve efficiencies and accelerate progress by assisting your organisation to perform better

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday