June 14, 2002

Ford on Simons

If former South African coach Graham Ford wishes his successor Eric Simons anything, it is mostly that his bowlers stay fit. "It helps if you've got a settled attack," reflected Ford this week. "It helps quite a lot."

Ford, who is weighing up his future options as he negotiates a settlement with the United Cricket Board, is as well-placed as any to understand the pressures and demands that will now placed on the shoulders on the 40-year-old Simons as South Africa head into a summer that includes the 2003 World Cup.

"I've spoken to Eric about coaching quite a few times," said Ford this week. "We have similar views on a number of things. I think he's a quality coach and I wish him everything of the best. But it will be important to him to stick to his principles and the methods that got him the job in the first place.

"He's going to experience a lot of pressure from the outside, from ex-players, the media, the public and administrators as he steps up into the spotlight and the simple truth is that you can't please all these different people.

"In a sense it's a bit like the things you tell young players when they make the step up: you've got where you are now by doing things a certain way so don't try and make yourself a different player. Stick to what you know and what works for you," said Ford.

In one respect, Simons may a significant advantage over Ford. "The way I understand it from what I've read, Eric's role has been much more clearly defined. He'll play a significant role in planning strategy and he'll be working with knowledgeable people. If he can get the right strategy and the selectors give him the players to implement this strategy, South Africa will have an excellent chance of winning the World Cup."

Also in Simons' favour, suggests Ford, will be the relationships he already has with the Western Province members of the national team.

"I know I was criticised at times for being `too friendly' with the Natal players. I think it was unjustified. If you come out of a provincial set-up you have those relationships and you use them to build relationships with the other guys in the team. I can assure you, and it will be the same for Eric, that when you're in the job, the last thing you think about is petty provincialism. You just want the team to win."

Ford believes that notwithstanding the results against Australia during the past summer, South Africa have to be counted among the favourites to win the World Cup."

"Look at our record at home. You have to go back to when Australia were last here, back in 1997, for a defeat at home. And over the past few years, we haven't just been beating other countries, we've been hammering them.

"Apart from ourselves and Australia, I've always admired the way Sri Lanka play one-day cricket, but a lot will depend on how well the adjust to our conditions. Pakistan have the firepower to use the new bouncer rule in our conditions, but they're always an enigma. They often seem divided among themselves and you don't know how their problems at home, with tours being cancelled, will affect them. Maybe they'll be a little short of cricket, maybe the problems will pull them together.

"New Zealand are very much a team and their success is always a team effort. They have a game plan and they stick to it, but I'm not sure they have the individual players capable of taking games away from teams like South Africa. India have fantastic batsmen and if they progress in the World Cup they'll be fantastic to watch because it will mean their batters are firing, but I don't know if they have the attack to win the World Cup in South African conditions.

"In a different way I don't know that England could go all the way. They're an improving team, but I don't know about winning the World Cup."

South Africa's prospects, though, could depend on how well the attack functions.

"I think that's where we fell short last season. If you look at how settled the Australian attack was compared to how many guys we used, there was quite a big difference. We had injury problems, of course. Someone like Mfuneko Ngam was not available while when we got to Australia guys like Allan Donald and Nantie Hayward had been troubled by injury and they, along with someone like Steve Elworthy, weren't quite sure what roles they were expected to fill.

"We batted well enough a lot of times, but our bowling often couldn't contain the Australians. If we can get the bowling settled and firing, there's no reason why we shouldn't win the World Cup."