Kirsten fronts up to SA issues
While South Africa's one-day squad is in a state of transition, they are taking the series loss against New Zealand seriously. It has asked questions about the depth in the domestic set-up, the suitability of the current captain and the strategies in place. The one person who can provide answers is Gary Kirsten.
In a wide-ranging press conference, Kirsten fronted up to the media and addressed concerns about the severity of the defeat, the leadership conundrum, AB de Villiers' many roles particularly wicketkeeping, the lack of clear candidate to replace Jacques Kallis and how he plans on making sure South Africa win ICC silverware. Here is what the coach had to say.
Has it been a shock to lose the series?
It's not nice. I don't think we have played very well and we've acknowledged that. It's not pleasant but I think we've taken a lot out of it. Sometimes to fulfil a longer term vision you need to take a few steps back. We've done that but it will give us clarity on where we are going as a unit and what our combinations are going to look like. It's now our responsibility to take the learning out of it and go forward. It's never nice and we certainly don't feel proud of our performances; it's not nice to lose games like that, especially in situations where we were probably in winning positions in both games but we need to accept that and move on.
The one-day team is fairly unsettled at the moment with a particularly high turnover of batsmen, how are you looking to settle things quickly?
We certainly didn't want the turnover of batsmen. To lose Hashim Amla, de Villiers and JP Duminy in one series takes out your middle order. That was quite a blow. But in that lies opportunity to look at other players. Someone like Colin Ingram played outstandingly the other night and we might not even have been able to see that if we had our full complement of batsman. Importantly, we haven't tried to rotate too much. It's only around using Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in a rotating fashion because they are loaded up the most of our bowlers.
The team has also had a lot of change with de Villiers specifically. He hinted that he is not coping as well with the captaincy as one would have hoped and he is also overburdened with 'keeping. How do things stand at the moment?
In terms of our situation with AB, it's more exploratory. We haven't made any final decisions yet. We are going through a phase of exploring and understanding his keeping. We haven't closed the door on whether he will become our one-day keeper.
The decision not to keep in this one-day series was a very specific decision which wasn't his own. He is not making his own decisions. There is a process we go through in the team. Individuals don't just stand up and make their own calls. We felt that it might be a good idea for this series specifically that AB had an opportunity to focus on his captaincy. He is a young captain and there is a lot to do on the field. I had a concern right from the outset when I spoke to the selectors that doing the job of batting at No. 4, captaining and keeping was going to be really tough on him. He was happy to do it. He is always happy to do it. I just felt I would like to see him focus on his captaincy so it is really unfortunate what has unfolded where he is missing two games and is not able to gain more experience in his captaincy.
Will he return to captaining and 'keeping for the Pakistan series later in the summer?
We're not sure yet. We are thinking where we want to go long-term. If you look at the Test team: its foolproof in many ways although we have brought in a lot of new players. I don't want to make rushed decisions. We've still got a bit of time.
The one nice thing about AB not keeping is that it has given us the opportunity to explore another young talent in Quinton de Kock. He has done a good job behind the stumps and has shown real potential with the bat. There's been a lot of talk about him and it's nice that he has been given an opportunity at a higher level.
When I talk about taking one or two steps back, you bring in new talent and you are trying to broaden the base you do take that risk. We are playing international cricket and we certainly didn't take the opposition for granted but we also need to find series where we can explore our talent and there is going to be a risk attached to that. No-one likes losing but we need to balance it out because then the long term vision kicks in where I can say we've got depth because we have given guys some playing time.
The Pakistan series is also likely to feature some young players. Does that make it harder for de Villiers to captain because you are assessing a lot of players and he is also trying to grow as a leader?
AB is very good about it and very accepting of it. The AB conversation comes up a lot because it is around his keeping and his captaincy. We've tried to understand what AB can offer to us. The fact that he is comfortable as a Test keeper which we weren't sure about, adds massive depth to our Test side. I guess on the keeping-captaincy side of one-day cricket he understands that it is an exploratory phase and accepts that.
Is there a contradiction in de Villiers saying he finds it difficult to keep in fifty-overs when he could end up doing the job for much longer periods of time in Tests? And is there also not a risk of diminishing his talent as a Test batsmen by him 'keeping?
Yes, there is a risk attached to him keeping in Tests. AB will be the first one to tell you that. But there might be a risk in AB not having the greatest career any South African batsman can have behind Kallis and Hashim Amla but he is only interested in the team. He is more interested in us staying No. 1 in the world and having great years of Test match cricket.
He realises that while he might be sacrificing a little bit in terms in making himself standout as the greatest batsmen of our time, he believes he can add massive value by being a top keeper as well so that is credit to him. That's a selfless process. He said I would like to do both. We know that if he didn't keep he would be a great slip fielder or a great fielder in the outfield. By him fulfilling that role it helps us from a team perspective.
While last year was Test focused, this year is more about ODIs In the short-term, you have a Champions Trophy. How close are you to having an idea of your final squad?
I am pretty clear on what our XV will be in terms of resources for the Champions Trophy. The focus of attention mustn't only be that, it must be on the World Cup; that's the big one for us. One of the things we have to think about is life without Jacques Kallis even if he plays in that tournament. He has been two players in one for us and we've had that luxury for 18 years. We need to understand what we can do when Kallis isn't around.
We are contemplating all those things. It's a phase where we are going to mix and match it up a bit to see where we can plug those gaps. It's not full proof. This time allows for great opinion. People can look at it and question it and I accept that and I respect that. People get irritated because they say we are trying something when we should be winning games but this is a very important phase for us. I am also mindful of the fact that if we don't get it right then I take full responsibility for that and I am happy to.
Is that where Ryan McLaren comes into the mix?
Ryan's inclusion is about finding out who our best allrounder in the country is. He has played 15 ODIs spread over five years. It not as if this poor man has had the opportunity to get a run and play with freedom because he is always playing for his position. I'd like to give him some sort of a run to see what he can do. Just in this week he has learnt an exceptional amount about bowling in the middle overs of one-day cricket. He is a quality individual, a fantastic guy to have in the team, a solid citizen, he works hard at this game and I think it's only fair that we give him a bit of run.
Is Faf du Plessis a long term possibility as captain?
Faf has been playing international cricket for a year and a half. He has had incredible success and he showed great maturity in Australia. He is a key component for the team from a batting perspective.
When he captained South Africa A last year, we put him there purposely because we wanted to see what he could do as a leader. The report-backs were good and that he had a lot to offer as a leader. For me, it's important that we keep building our leadership and that we start finding guys that can build our teams. We gave him a run in the T20s and he did nicely. He has got great leadership potential.
In saying that, it's only fair that we give AB a run. We selected him 18 months ago and he has only captained in 16 one-day internationals. The reason we didn't want to keep with him was so we can grow his captaincy. In AB and Faf we have two individuals that I think are fantastic players for this country and have leadership capabilities. It's early days. We need to see how it unfolds.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent