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Vincent Barnes, South Africa's bowling coach, still hopes to take charge of the side some day. Till then he's concentrating on motivating the bowlers, teaching them the importance of attitude, and planning for the future
Interview by Firdose Moonda
May 12, 2011
Vincent Barnes has been the architect of South Africa's bowling success for near on a decade. He has been the team's assistant and bowling coach for eight years and has survived four head coaches: Eric Simons, Ray Jennings, Mickey Arthur and Corrie van Zyl. He was involved in historic series wins over England and Australia, two World Cups, and many successful seasons at home. As South African cricket looks set to enter a new era yet again, Barnes talks about his journey, from playing in the non-white leagues to the recent World Cup disappointment and his own coaching ambitions.
What made you want to become a coach, and how did you go about it?
I played under the Western Province Cricket Board, which was for players of colour during the apartheid era. We would play home and away against three other provinces: Natal, Transvaal and Eastern Province. When unity happened, I played some one-day cricket for Western Province (WP) and was part of the side that lost the Benson & Hedges final to Kepler Wessels' Eastern Province. I knew I wouldn't play cricket for South Africa, given the time frame, so I wanted to get into coaching to help players of colour achieve what I couldn't. I played a bit of cricket in England, and while I was there I did a few coaching courses at the National Cricket Association. When I came to South Africa I did my Level 4 coaching course.
I was coaching part-time for the WP Cricket Association in 1995. One day my mom called to say Duncan Fletcher was looking for me. I wondered what he wanted from me because I wasn't playing anymore. When I called him back he told me there was a position for a WP assistant coach coming up and asked if I would like to apply. I got the job and I worked as Duncan's assistant until the 1999-2000 season, when I took over as the WP coach.
After two seasons as WP coach, I applied for and got the position of head of the national academy and South Africa A coach. I was only there for a year when I was appointed as the bowling coach of the national side, and I've been there ever since.
Was there ever a time when you thought you would be head coach of the national team?
I thought I had a good chance of getting it in 2005. That was when Mickey Arthur was appointed. During the England series just before, we looked after the South Africa A team together. I was the head coach and Mickey was my assistant. He was also coaching the Warriors.
Mickey was appointed ahead of me and I didn't understand why. I was devastated. It was the lowest blow for me as far as being a cricket coach was concerned. I felt at the time that I was ready to coach the national team.
Don't get me wrong, Mickey is a good friend and he was on the phone to me daily throughout that period. I wanted to walk away but Mickey thought it was important to have me in the set-up. He asked me to reconsider so I thought I would give it a go and stay. There were guys like Makhaya Ntini and Ashwell Prince around, and I felt it was my job to nurse them through their careers.
You have had a special relationship with Makhaya through the years. How did that develop?
It really grew after Makhaya had to change from being from a new-ball bowler to a holding bowler. We were playing in Pakistan in 2007, and Graeme Smith felt quite strongly that in order for us to go forward we needed to expose strike bowlers like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. For years Makhaya had bowled with Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener, and he was the strike bowler. But he understood that we had a young attack and he had to be a father figure. At the time, his strike rate and his economy rate were both high and his pace had started to drop so we worked on bringing his economy rate down. After that I saw him bowl some of the best spells of his career, like the one against Australia at Newlands in 2009, where he got little reward but bowled very well.
|"I felt this side was the best group of people I have ever worked with in a South African squad, both in personality and talent. [the World Cup] was one of the best tours I have ever been on. I really thought this was the squad that would lift the trophy"|
How difficult was it to drop Makhaya?
It's always difficult to drop a player, let alone an iconic player like Makhaya. His 100th Test in Centurion was very emotional for him. He didn't bowl particularly well but it might have been the emotion. In the next match, in Durban, also he didn't bowl well but he wasn't the only one. We were 0-1 down and we needed to win the next Test, so we had to make some decisions. The problem was that when you decide to drop a player, the player must think the decision was handled well. I don't think that was the case here. Anyway, he was dropped and we went to West Indies without him. I don't think it was the right time to let him go, and I know that if any of the fast bowlers had broken down on that tour, I would have wanted to call him back. Everyone wants to leave on their own terms and maybe Makhaya didn't get to do that.
That episode emerged as one of the reasons behind Mickey Arthur's resignation in January 2010. How did that all play out?
I had no idea it was coming. I knew winning the one-day series against England would be important, but we lost that. There were some board members who disagreed with Mickey and he ruffled a few feathers, but I was still flabbergasted when Mickey told me he had resigned. To be honest I thought I was gone too. I eventually called him and asked him what happens to the rest of us and he said we would be fine.
Did you think that was your opportunity to be appointed coach?
I felt I could have been the interim coach, and when Corrie was officially announced I was a little disappointed. There were transformation issues at the time. I didn't have the same issues but I can't absolve myself from those decisions that were made at the time. We all had a job to do with the World Cup coming up, so I didn't dwell on it.
How did you feel about the squad before the World Cup?
I felt this side was the best group of people I had ever worked with in a South African squad, both in personality and talent. It was one of the best tours I have ever been on. I really thought this was the squad that would lift the trophy.
Talk us through the group stage.
Everything was fine until the England game. I knew it would be a difficult pitch when on the day before the match we went to the ground and the groundsman didn't want us on the square. Our next opponents were the world's best side [India], so there was no dwelling on the England match or what people were saying. We knew we had to step up.
When we won the India game, I was overjoyed. I felt something special was here. The boys were calm and relaxed and took control. It was incredible the way JP Duminy, Johan Botha and Faf du Plessis took control, and the way Robin Peterson finished the game.
What happened in the quarter-final against New Zealand?
The pressure just got to us. It was the kind of match where we needed a 120-run partnership to win, chasing 222, and with Graeme and Jacques Kallis at the crease, I thought we would. We knew that New Zealand would find other ways to upset our game plan, whether it's mentally or verbally, that's just how they play, and we knew we had to counter that.
After Graeme and Jacques got out and we had two new guys at the crease, we could see it was difficult to score, even though it had looked easy for the two guys who were in. Suddenly New Zealand had six guys in the ring and we had to take a few risks. Maybe we should have done that because the gaps were blocked. JP played an average shot and then AB was run out. I thought AB had the situation under control - he was aware of how we needed to play. I watched how he hesitated as he backed up when Faf du Plessis hit the ball to the best fielder there [Martin Guptill], and that's why he ended up run-out. I still thought Faf and the tail would take us through, but when Robin Peterson got out, I knew it was over.
How did management react to the loss?
Obviously with disappointment, but it was part of our job to help the team recover as quickly as possible. We knew that the next few weeks would be tough as we had to deal with the disappointment and the media and public comments that come with losing in a major tournament. We, as management, had to stay strong and get the team through the difficult period. They had to know that the world had not ended and that there was so much to play for in the future.
The reality is, it's not often that you find a young team winning. In this type of tournament, you need experience.
I really felt for Corrie. It must have been so hard for him, as it was for all of us. To come out of that with nothing is so unfair on him. He put so much in.
After the initial disappointment, you must have looked back at the bowling performance with pride?
We were the only bowling side to have the opposition out in every game except the quarter-final, where we lost. All round, the bowlers did well, but it felt a bit like being the Man of the Match and losing. I wouldn't have minded if they bowled the biggest heap of crap and we won the tournament.
You mentioned experience. That was one of the things Herschelle Gibbs mentioned in in his book as a reason for South Africa's failing in World Cups. How right was he?
Herschelle is a very good friend, although it was very tough dealing with some of the trouble he got himself into. The night before the 438 game was an example. He was in no condition to play and I was very upset with him, but then he went and scored 175 and all I could think is that maybe he just prepares for games totally differently.
I like to think that I have a relationship with him where I can sit him down and say, "This is not right." He's got a fantastic cricket brain but he's got to realise that not everybody has the same type of natural talent he has. I always wanted consistency from him. He said it himself, that big players win you tournaments, and I thought of that during the Australia-India game at the World Cup, where Yuvraj took India home in a tight finish. Herschelle understood these things.
The timing of his book was not great but that's him. Team dynamics shouldn't be discussed in public but I don't have a problem if he wants to tell the truth about his private life. I've got a lot of time for him. He has one of the kindest, warmest hearts. If we are playing golf and he sees the golf course staff bowling, he will be the first one to go the fence and bat for them.
|"All round, the bowlers did well in the World Cup, but it felt a bit like being the Man of the Match and losing. I wouldn't have minded if they bowled the biggest heap of crap and we won the tournament"|
The World Cup also brought about the surprise form of Robin Peterson. What did you think of that?
I was not surprised that Robbie has done as well as he has. He was in the U-19 side when I was a coach and I've known him since he was 17. Unfortunately with the all-pace attack, he missed out early in his career and then he lost out to the likes of Nicky Boje and Paul Harris later on.
I always knew he was extremely talented and intelligent. But he is also very dedicated and forceful. After 2007, his career was basically in the doldrums. Roelof van der Merwe was emerging and Harris had the Test place sewn up. He went to play some county cricket and that's when he matured. He realised he had do everything for himself. He had to knuckle down because playing cricket was his livelihood. I think it's important that players do that. It's good for the character; and he has come back very strongly.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe is another bowler who has blossomed under you. How have you helped him develop?
There are three keys ingredients he has as a bowler - his height, so he gets good bounce, his swing and his pace. He was always very accurate and could hammer the same area all the time, but he wasn't using his swing and pace. I had to ask him, "Do you want to play international cricket?" When he said he did, I told him he had to sharpen his attitude, and he did. He started taking more pride in his work and became more miserly. Now he is upset when he goes for runs. He has upped his pace, he swings the ball both ways, and I think he will be really effective in Test cricket. I see my role as a bowling coach to develop the bowler so he understands his own body and his own bowling, and Lopsy is getting there.
Someone who understands their body better than most is Dale Steyn, and he has credited you with his success. Is he your best bowler?
He has become an unbelievable bowler and is so talented. He has seen the tough times and his mindset is good. I always say that fast bowling is about attitude, and Dale has that. He learnt a lot during the England series in 2009-10 and matured as a bowler. He was bowling in the first five overs, in the middle and at the death and was struggling. Wickets were scarce and England didn't take too many risks against him. He came to me and said that it was hard and I said, "But aren't you learning so much about yourself?" And he was.
The bowling attack, with the inclusion of Imran Tahir, looks like one of the most aggressive out there. Do South Africa still need a holding bowler, like you said Makhaya had to be, especially in Test cricket?
Yes, it will depend on the situation in a game. The good thing is that now any one of the bowlers can do the donkey work in Test cricket. The important thing is that we have so many bowlers who have natural aggression and we don't ever want to lose that, because you can't get that back. You can't coach people to have that; it's a mindset and instinctive.
How do you see the national team going forward?
The squad is entering an exciting era. I went to watch the A side in Paarl recently and I saw some very talented cricketers, and those weren't even all the fringe players, because some of them are playing in the IPL. The World Cup was a sign of things to come in some ways. It was so good to see how vocal Jacques Kallis was and how much input he had. He was really enjoying himself. The same goes for AB and Hashim Amla.
One of Graeme's biggest things was to allow players to grow. He didn't want players to be cloned or to want everyone to bat like Jacques Kallis or bowl like Dale Steyn. It's wonderful to see senior players like Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn lead and contribute
Where to from here for you?
I want to be involved in international cricket because that stimulates me. My ultimate goal is to coach the Proteas. I've always been a tough, hard sportsman, and I believe that you have to pray for the difficult times because it defines your character. It's fantastic to bowl in good conditions and bowl five overs and get 3 for 24 but that's not when you should want to bowl. You should want to bowl when the opposition is 150 for 1. You should want to bowl when the opposition needs six runs off the last over. That's the kind of squad we have built.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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