World Cup exit not a sign of problems in SA cricket - U-19s coach
South Africa Under-19s coach Lawrence Mahatlane has played down fears of a malaise in the country's cricket system after his team, the defending champions, were booted out of the Under-19 World Cup in the first round. Their performance is the third disappointment for South Africa in the last week, after the senior side lost a Test series to England 2-1 and the A side were beaten by the tourists as well, raising concerns about the health of the game in the country.
"We've just had two bad batting days but as a country we are still in a strong position with a very good youth system," Mahatlane told ESPNcricinfo.
Batting woes have hit all South Africa's teams and have plagued the Under-19s side since last year, when they lost successive seven-match series against Bangladesh Under-19s. In 14 innings, South Africa only managed totals over 200 five times and were never able to score more than 250. Before the World Cup, they acquired the services of former India batsman S Sriram to guide the young batsmen and Mahatlane thought that made some difference.
"We used a lot of resources in the build-up. Sri was a very big part of it; he spent a week with us in Dubai and a couple of days here. Back home, we had camps and we really worked hard with different individuals to get the thinking right, to get guys to understand the game better," he said. "I think we have improved. Our ability to play spin has definitely improved where originally against Bangladesh we did struggle against the spinners. For me, the big issue for us on this tour is our thinking and execution rather than our ability."
South Africa lost the tournament opener to Bangladesh after they failed to chase down 241 and then suffered the shock of the competition when they could not defend 136 against neighbours Namibia Under-19s. That defeat stung even more because Namibia are coached by former Titans' player Pierre de Bruyn.
Mahatlane admitted the fall from grace hurt both him and his team. "They are very disappointed. They know they are better than that. They feel that they have let a lot of people down, they have let themselves down more importantly," he said. "I am very disappointed because I know how good this group of players is."
It is important to note that this is not the same group of players who lifted the trophy in 2014. In fact, Mahatlane's team does not have one player Ray Jennings' side had. In essence, after the UAE triumph, everything about South Africa's Under-19s set-up changed. What Mahatlane would have wanted to see as part of that change was more exposure, which he believes could have stood this side in better stead.
"I don't think we focus as hard as other countries [in Under-19s cricket]," he said. "Look at some of the stats that have come up on the screen, there are guys who have played 50 U-19 youth internationals. Our highest capped guy has played 14 games. Our school cricket is still our strength and base, and we back that system. Hopefully, we can expose these youngsters to more international cricket and more tours because that's where the learning happens."
Since the end of the 2014 World Cup, Dayyan Galiem has played 16 Youth ODIs, the most for a South African player. In the same period, eight Bangladesh players have played between 21 and 30 Youth ODIs while a couple of Sri Lankan players have also featured in more games than the South Africans. Overall, Quinton de Kock's 30 Youth ODI appearances are the highest for South Africa, while three Bangladesh players have played more than 50 games.