Experience key as SA confirm McKenzie coaching role
Neil McKenzie has been confirmed as South Africa's batting coach for the upcoming T20 series against England and Australia followed by the World T20 with Russell Domingo, the head coach, pinpointing McKenzie's vast experience around the world and his ability to explain his ideas clearly to players as key reasons for his appointment.
ESPNcricinfo revealed Cricket South Africa's move for McKenzie earlier this month and the details have now been completed after his return from the Masters Champions League in the UAE. Currently, it is a short-term appointment to cover the run of T20 cricket on the horizon but the door has been left ajar to explore a longer-term arrangement for when South Africa return to international action later in the year.
"Neil has played a lot of cricket both locally and overseas. The main thing is the relationship he is able to develop with players. As a coach that's one of the most important ingredients: being able to work with people and get people to understand and listen to some ideas you have on a particular skill," Domingo said. "Some guys may have a lot of knowledge but often it's the way of putting it across that might not be the best way. That's the most important thing and I think he will be really good at that."
"Neil will work with us until the end of the T20 World Cup," he added. "Things will be assessed from there, it's the end of the cricket season, and we will look at things going forward."
McKenzie has been in the same changing room as many members of the current South Africa team, including AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, and until late last year he was an active member of the Lions franchise. His domestic career spanned two decades and he was one of the most popular players on the circuit, known for his commitment and his quirks. McKenzie is famed for superstitions that include taping his bat to the ceiling but it remains to be seen whether he brings any of those to his coaching philosophy.
McKenzie will be working with a South Africa batting unit where a number of players are jostling to earn a spot in the first XI. Quinton de Kock, who was left out of the previous T20 engagements against India where de Villiers opened alongside Amla, is primed to return after his prolific form in the one-day series against England. This will need a reshuffle at the top which would mean either Amla sitting out or de Villiers moving down, but not too far down.
"AB will bat near the top of the order at this event now that we've got a wealth of experience in the middle order," Domingo said. "For a couple of years, the experience wasn't what it is now so we felt we had to keep AB in that position. Now that we've got that - guys like JP, David Miller have played so many IPLs, it helps us with the experience of that middle order which allows AB to bat a little further up."
Both JP Duminy and David Miller have been under scrutiny, albeit for different reasons. While Domingo conceded Miller had probably been a little unlucky to sit out the whole one-day series against England, he gave wholehearted backing to Duminy - who has gone six ODI innings with a fifty - and said his omission for the deciding ODI was due to his workload rather than form.
"In JP's last few innings, like in Port Elizabeth, he had a good partnership with AB got a very average decision, missing leg stump. In Centurion, he didn't bat. And the next game he got 35 and played beautifully in Johannesburg and then he got to the spinner. He is not in bad form. He is actually playing really well," Domingo said.
"JP is a phenomenal cricketer and has been for a long period of time. If a player misses out once or twice, gets a bad decision, hits a few bad shots, people write him off. JP is a hell of a player and I am expecting big things from him at the World T20. As much as people try and keep criticism away from you and media speculation and constant scrutiny, it can weigh you down sometimes. JP has played every one-day game for the last six-seven months so it was a good time to have a bit of a break."
Miller, meanwhile, was overlooked for the final ODI in favour of Rilee Rossouw when Duminy was left out and will play for South Africa A against England in Paarl on Wednesday evening having been briefly released from the T20 squad alongside Farhaan Behardien and Aaron Phangiso.
"It's difficult to leave out Quinny, Hashim, Faf," Domingo said when explaining Miller's bench time. "It's really difficult to leave out AB. Then, Rilee has come back in. There's always going to be so somebody that's unlucky. My son feels he should be playing 13 A, he is playing 13 Bs." Perhaps McKenzie has some work to do with Domingo junior as well.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent