February 25, 2015

Letter to de Villiers

South Africa's captain needs to single out his players for attention and get them firing individually and as a team

AB de Villiers needs to sit his troops down pronto © Getty Images

Dear AB,

You might have picked up that pre-tournament my head predicted you boys to win this baby, while my heart, naturally, is dressed in black.

Don't be sad, AB. So far you've dropped a few backers, looked pretty ordinary at times, but I'm holding fast. And if I had a quiet moment with you, then this is what I would offer, for what it's worth.

Firstly, and most important of all, any success of the highest order is down to bold, courageous leadership. You guys should know; you had one of the best of all time - Nelson Mandela. So my first little tip is to acknowledge that bold leadership is your domain. This is your time to march them out, take them home. The skipper in black has already assumed that role and is mounting an assault, just as Edmund Hillary did. On your side, if I were you, AB, I'd reach out and feel the presence of Madiba.

Next, your key role is to find each person's button and press it firmly. Look them in the eye and implore that they reveal their individual expression to fit perfectly within the team endeavour. Press the button: it's green (with a yellow stripe).

Let me start with the critical aspect of leadership - tactics. Your bowling attack needs tweaking, so open your mind to a few ideas and see if AD agrees.

One of the roles you have to get right is the fourth seamer. Wayne Parnell is your man. Trouble is, he is a rogue and can go walkabout, but he's likeable and eager, and if his button is correctly pushed, he will be a massive positive for the rocky road ahead. So open with him, giving him a chance to swing the ball, to feel important. Remove his fear, free him to be the best he can be. Rest Vernon for ten days, freshen him up for the last four games of the Cup. But empower Wayne to be the man he can be, steer him down the path of fulfilment. He can bat at eight with purpose. His button is your main priority.

Get Dale to relax, get rid of the stunned mullet look, get him looser. His wrist-snap is missing, the venom of old lacking. His body looks tight, with the will spilling over, over-stretched, so give him a list of different roles for a few games: open one day, bowl from middle to death on another. Get him challenged on different fronts to keep him fresh, not thinking too much, just lots of doing and being the class act he is.

Same with Morne. Change when and where he bowls from one game to another. These guys are experienced, they need to enjoy the game for a period, get the right juices flowing. Let them have turns opening with Wayne, trying a combo or two to scene-set by attacking with vigour.

Oh, I love Imran. What a big heart. If only you had 11 of him. He has been through so much and still keeps fighting on. He's your go-to guy, your banker, so be grateful he is in fluent form.

JP has to drop this flat rubbish he's bowling. Get him back to flighting the ball sweetly, dipping to create bounce, as he can. Tell him to take wickets, to attack, to be flamboyant. Inspire him.

Hey, and when it feels right, bowl an over yourself. Get that smile back on your face. Roll the dice: six balls, one wicket. No one will dare to get out to your slow straight dobblies. Nothing to lose for an over, and if you play Rilee at seven for a game as you rest Vernon, then you become the sixth bowler.

You have the attack, now you need to manipulate it better.

Hashim is your right-hand man, a beautifully strong, resilient player, so don't be afraid to ask him to carry more of the load. Tell him to take his time, anchor and secure the innings. He must bat through in his well-grooved tempo, not in this frenetic mood he seems to be in at present.

When it feels right, bowl an over yourself. Get that smile back on your face. Roll the dice: six balls, one wicket. No one will dare to get out to your slow straight dobblies

Tell young Quinton to clear the mind a little, not premeditate so much, as it roots the feet to the spot. Tell him to breathe deep and let the feet find fluency, then the hitting and timing will return. He's a critical cog in the wheel. Breathe and believe.

I'm worried about Faf, your long-time sparring partner. He's got the weight of the world on his shoulders, plus a small chip that needs removing. You are the one that needs to pull it out, as I sense it's there because you have left him so far behind over this decade. Encourage him to drop the burden he appears to be carrying, let him know that he can have some of your runs this tournament. That you can bat side by side, brothers in arms. You need him to be free.

Have a shave, AB, you look ragged and rattled. Smarten up. A touch of polish is required. Since that 31-ball ton, you have got a bit sloppy. You need to be all things in all situations. You need to lead like never before. Take a leap of faith. Feel Mandela in your bones.

It's you and you only who can push the buttons of your comrades. Black buttons are being pushed over the ditch, and you need to match it.

Four matches left in the round robin, so try a few subtle changes and freshen up the senior men and empower some key young talents. Chill, mate. Whistle a tune as you start pressing buttons.

It's all good. Plenty of time to pick up the pace. But I wouldn't waste another moment, eh.

A big fan

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2015, 13:05 GMT

    Dear Martin. Thank you very much for this article - I am sure the Proteas did read and follow your advise. Thanks - maybe this time its my Proteas turn...

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2015, 23:54 GMT

    Dear Martin,


    Thanks, AB

  • Rajan on March 1, 2015, 23:52 GMT

    Great article from Martin Crowe. SA were my favourite team till I found them too defensive to deserve the respect of the Aussies and the Black Caps, who are prepared, even eager to risk all in a surging drive towards ultimate victory. This SA team specialized, for all its individual and collective skills, even genius, in avoiding losses. That dill get them nowhere in thus World Cup. They should be daring, as MC advises, forget the fear of defeat in a combined confidence in risking all they have to win. Their loss to India should have woken them up, as their win over the Windies would seem to indicate.

  • Srinivasan on March 1, 2015, 18:26 GMT

    Well said Sir. Also tangential to the topic under discussion, I wanted to share the fact that I became a big big fan of yours when I was an eight year old kid and I watched the '92 WC and your courageous captaincy. I cried the day Pakistan defeated the Black Caps when Inzamam played arguably the innings of his life. I still believe that the '92 side was the best NZ side to have played a WC(better than the current side). Thank You for those great memories, and the innovative captaincy. Nobody has left that impression since then. I still replay the videos of the '92 WC (games that featured NZ) out of pure nostalgia.

  • ChittoorRamanathan on March 1, 2015, 17:45 GMT

    An Analysis of very high quality coming from the just crowned Hall of Fame cricketer. AB listens to these invaluable comments and reworks on his game plan. Choker tag needs to end this time. What a batsman the captain himself is, playing unimaginable shots in the cauldron. A team, virtually with no chinks in the armour, cannot remain without a WC title for long, but only for destiny. The drought should end right here. Otherwise this great team will peter out to mediocrity.

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2015, 7:58 GMT

    Very well said, Mr Crowe!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2015, 19:07 GMT

    Wonderful inspiration from the legend. Thank you from all of SA and the Proteas!!!

  • Ian on February 28, 2015, 17:17 GMT

    Very insightful comments!

    I am impressed.

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2015, 5:32 GMT

    What an inspiration from a kiwi than God for your letter. I'm sure AB read it and got the job done against the windows.

  • j on February 28, 2015, 5:08 GMT

    Took it heart against the WIndies, didnt he?

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