'Players are not equipped for the next level'
Fanie de Villiers was nippy as a bowler. And he's still nippy, this time with his words. Hurt - aghast, even - at the way the South African national team is sliding down the ranking tables, in this exclusive interview he tells Nagraj Gollapudi that a proper system would stop the rot:
What was different when South Africa were a winning unit?
In the first place, then, you had knowledgable people at the core of South African cricket - the players, captain, coach and management, everyone, had come through the ranks. It is not the case any more. At the moment the important ball-players are not equipped to take the game really to the next level - so we are going to fall behind and that is exactly what is happening now.
So are you blaming the entire system?
No, basically let's stick with coaching. In the United Cricket Board, we have got the head coach, Professor Anton Ferreira, whose prime job is coaching in South Africa. His job is as important as the national coach; his job is as important as the professional coaches at the lower level. And if the team on top is not doing well, are you going to go to the coach or to where the problem arises? You have to go back down to the person who is in charge of professional coaching in South Africa, and this is Anton Ferreira. I believe firmly that is where the problem starts: whatever he has done in the last few years is not working. We have gone from No. 1 to No. 6 in the rankings.
So how do you deal with that?
The most important issue is that people who have been involved with the game at the highest level, people who have played the game at the highest level, especially former bowlers and bowling coaches, are not part of the system. And the moment you have got that [situation] there are going to be limitations when it comes to the ripple effect it will have on the national side. From school level to provincial level, from provincial level to the South Africa A level, and from there to the national level - that is the line of producing players, managing and getting them to be proactive when it comes to injuries, strength levels, physios, monitoring yourself, and making sure that you don't overtire yourself and can keep on performing at the highest level. That's not happening at the moment.
What do you think about Eric Simons, the national coach?
I am not happy with his job at all. He is a bowling coach, and for the last five years we have had a problem with bowling. So what does it say to you? How many times has he used the knowledge around him to support him and put a structure in place to help South African cricket develop another Donald or another Pollock? Whose advice, from the guys who played for the country earlier, has he used? None of the guys who have played has done that. The guy is trying to do everything himself, and he is actually hanging himself. And the saddest part is that I want him to be the coach of South African cricket. I don't want him to get fired, but he is hanging himself - just like everyone else in the UCB coaching system.
|Simons is trying to do everything himself, and he is actually hanging himself. And the saddest part is that I want him to be the coach of South African cricket|
Why is the UCB not being proactive?
Because, I honestly believe, they don't know that they are making a mistake. It's like a company that starts off in the IT world but doesn't want to learn and find out from the other IT companies who have been part of the system for long. They want to learn from the mistakes themselves and improve on that.
But South Africa, during your playing days, suffered a similar bad run when you lost ten one-dayers in a row. How did you plan to improve?
It was not a question of improving, or what did we do wrong. The slide started in Pakistan. It was our first taste of Pakistan wickets, which were completely different from the rest of the world. But we knew that was just a learning phase. After the tour we sat down together and worked on a strategy to combat similar situations in future. And players never panicked, because we always knew we were good enough, it was just a question of handling the situation in a proper manner.
Do you think the players are now in a panic?
I don't think so. That would be an excuse the captain would use. I believe the captain should really surround himself with knowledgable people that can advise him, monitor him, push him in the right direction and who can organise the players not to panic.
Has the need to attract more black players in the recent past had an effect on the white talent?
Not at all. In the last five-odd years I have seen at least nine fast bowlers coming through the ranks - half of them were white. More important an issue is that none of these bowlers stayed at the top level, they were all in and out of the team. So there is no way of taking these guys to the next level.
How about grass-roots cricket in South Africa: is it as strong as it used to be?
It is difficult to compare, but what I can say is that the people are using the excuse of saying no talent can be seen. Then you have to point the finger at the person in charge - whatever Ferreira is doing is not working. Then I need to know what Plan B is. I have no idea why players with expertise are not being allowed into the system. That reason needs to be found out. Ray Mali, the UCB president, and our CEO Gerald Majola have been talking about getting older players and more knowledgable people involved, and hopefully that will happen.
The current South African pace line-up isn't as fearsome as the old one, is it?
Let's put it this way: would you play Charl Willoughby or Andre Nel in your first team? You won't. There are only two players I would bet my job on, and they are Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. Now, where's the rest? How come the next rung never rises to the next level? How come it took Ntini seven to eight years to reach where he is now? In a proper system it would have taken him about a year or two. Pollock took just one year to become a force to reckon with. How was that possible? Because his dad was a fast bowler for South Africa for many years, he was a fast-bowling coach for the national team, and he was his coach for years. The guys who coached Ntini, how come they failed to take him to the next level in a similar period? Because of the lack of coaching knowledge.
How do you make the best use of a bowler like Pollock?
The ripple effect that bad coaching has caused South African cricket is huge. How come Pollock has lost so much pace over the last five years? Because he has a lot of bowling to do. Sometimes to get five wickets Pollock takes about 35 overs. But if he has got a proper core of bowlers, who share the workload, then after 17-18 overs each the opposition is bowled out. The best bowling sides in the world bowl teams out when three guys have reached 15-16 overs each. One new ball ... one pack of chips, end of the game. Now we use the second new ball sometimes. Why? Because a lot of guys are in the team that shouldn't be. Now by overbowling Pollock and Ntini, because the rest of the guys aren't taking the wickets, you are actually shortening their careers.
How would you repair the current support system?
The UCB needs to put its foot down, start a cricket committee of people that are eating, drinking cricket, and they will come up with a solution. In times like these where there are no bowlers coming through, it's unbelievable that we don't have a national cricket academy this year.
Finally, would you be keen on taking up the role of the national coach?
Anybody can have aspirations, but you know why you can't do that, because the fundamentals are wrong. You need to have a proper system in place from school to provincial level, to make sure you survive as a coach at international level. There needs to be a proper system around you to deal with last-minute problems like injuries. If that is in place then it is easy becoming a coach.