'No. 1 in the world but still much to be done'
South Africa are on a high, having achieved the No. 1 ranking in Tests. They have an excellent record in the last five years, during which they've only lost one Test series. What are the factors that have contributed to their success, and what are the challenges facing the game in the country?
Excerpts below (the numbers in the brackets are the duration for each segment).
What have South Africa been doing right in the last five years? (1.46 - 3.59)
Peter Kirsten: Our domestic structure and our professional domestic franchise system is pretty strong. That's been a big contributory factor, with six professional franchises, and of course all the other affiliated provinces playing first-class provincial cricket. There is a good feeder system. Personally I'd like to see one or two more franchises added to that lot, just to bring in a few more very talented players.
Firdose Moonda: South African cricket is still only 20-odd years old and it has done amazingly well for a country that had to fight its way back into international cricket and has faced numerous obstacles along the way. It's done pretty well, but of course there's a lot still to be.
A coming together of excellent talents all at the same time. (4.00 - 8.33)
PK: One recalls the great era of the West Indies, and Australia under Steve Waugh. You do get that crop of players that come together and they dominate for four or five years.
In terms of captaincy, Graeme Smith, unbelievably, celebrates his 100th Test as captain. South Africa invested in him ten years ago as a young 22-year-old. While South Africa have had excellent coaches in Mickey Arthur and Gary Kirsten along the way, Smith has been the fulcrum of that Test team.
FM: One of the things that changed when South Africa started winning overseas in about 2006 is, they got some really good out-and-out quick bowlers, who each offered something different. Guys like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were persisted with even when they didn't do too well - Morkel particularly. They went on to become a really incisive and penetrative attack and now that they've got their third seamer, either Vernon Philander or Rory Kleinveldt, who offer something different. From a batting perspective, to have a two-in-one player like Jacques Kallis around, it's always going to add something special. The top six now is the best in the world at the moment.
PK: Good teams have fast bowlers who hunt in twosomes. It's Steyn and Morkel now; it was Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald in the past. Importantly, let's not forget about the all-round ability of Jacques Kallis. Travelling away, when we first came on the scene in 1991-92, we tended to struggle against spinners, especially in Asia, but they've certainly sorted that out over the last 10-15 years. The last five years, playing and winning away, the excellent work culture and discipline has been important.
How do the current South African cricketers compare to the great ones of the past, like Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Graeme Pollock? (8.34 - 9.39)
PK: Those guys were geniuses in my eyes. If you look at the statistics of the current crop, Smith, AB and Amla, they're right up there.
[They have had to do a] lot of travelling away, and of course there has been the advent of T20 and ODI cricket. In terms of their durability, I think that's something they have over the Pollocks and the Richardses. The fitness levels are a lot higher.
How significant a role have the coaches played? (9.40 - 12.54)
FM: The difference in terms of the coaches is that the South African team that operates at the moment has very established and settled players. Really, you don't need a coach to teach or even improve on the technical aspects of the game, unless something is going drastically wrong, like we saw the recent no-ball problem with Kleinveldt.
The important aspect of South African cricket has been man-management. The South African school structure is very disciplinarian, almost boarding-school like. It's a rigid, militaristic kind of management. Up to a point, that's how some of the coaches were but it's not the Gary Kirsten way. Kirsten is into freedom, empowerment, giving players responsibility. That's important because when somebody is responsible for their own actions, they tend to care about it a little bit more. Somebody like a Kallis doesn't have to train a day before the Test match because he's done it for 20 years and knows how he feels. And then we see in New Zealand they went to Lake Taupo, in England they went to the Olympics, so we actually see they are living a bit more life. South African cricketers didn't do that. It gives you a wider world view, and we see that best in Graeme Smith.
How long can Kallis go on? (12.55 - 14.20)
PK: He is a three-in-one player, in fact, given his catching in the slips. The allrounder spot, when Jacques does go - it's similar to Sachin Tendulkar… Gary Kirsten was able to extract a lot more life out of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and the likes. He's trying to do the same thing with Kallis, resting him more, not playing him in the ODIs.
I was playing Test cricket till age 39 and scoring hundreds. I reckon Kallis can go on for at least another three years, if he is well managed, which he is being. Don't be surprised if he's around for the next World Cup in Australia in 2015.
AB de Villiers and the wicketkeeping problem: is there a fear of him becoming a lesser batsman as a result? (14.21 - 19.10)
FM: Not only is this issue cricketing but also political. AB changed his mind, he didn't want to be the wicketkeeper at first. He did it in England during an emergency situation when Mark Boucher's career was tragically ended, but in Australia he ended up liking it, although his back, as we know, is chronically bad, and as a result, he can't keep in the ODIs. At the Test level, it gives South Africa an extra option. AB keeping at Test level from a cricketing point of view makes sense.
The political issue is that South Africa contracted Thami Tsolekile, the Lions wicketkeeper, who is a black African player, and without question the best gloveman in the country, though not the best wicketkeeper-batsman. South Africa haven't fielded a black African player in Tests in two years and black Africans make up 80% of our population and 40% of our cricket-playing population. They are a huge group and to under-represent them in this way is nothing short of a disgrace. It was made worse by the fact that Tsolekile was promised he would play against New Zealand by the selection panel, but was then told, "Well, actually, AB has changed his mind so you can't play." We'll see in February if he remains contracted and I suspect he won't - that will tell us that AB is the specialist wicketkeeper and Tsolekile's second coming may never happen.
On the horizon there are Daren Smits, Heino Kuhn and Quinton de Kock, so the [wicketkeeping] is not looking as barren as it did a year ago when Boucher retired. But it's certainly a thorny issue in South African cricket.
PK: AB gives Gary Kirsten and his selection committee an extra option in Tests, a No. 7 batting option. Should they require a bowler they'll use that No. 7 spot. Though I thought they missed a trick against New Zealand by not giving Tsolekile a go. AB de Villiers gives them that option. In ODIs it's a good thing that he is not going to keep wicket. I feel sorry for Tsolekile, though, I coached him at Western Province in 2004-05 and he can bat. He's got to get into the professional arena for his Lions franchise and score big runs.
How big a weakness is the lack of quality spinners? (19.11 - 22.36)
PK: Spinners don't come easy to South Africans. We obviously have this legacy of fast bowlers. But there are good spinners around. There's an offspinner called Dane Piedt who plays for the Cobras in Cape Town, there's Aaron Phangiso who's come in nicely in ODI and T20 cricket - that was great to see a young black African coming in. We've got the holders; they bowl a good line and length and get the batsmen out.
Is South Africa ever going to come to peace with the issue of quotas? (24.03 - 29.07)
FM: There is no quota in the South African team at the moment. There is no set number of players that must play, and to be honest that's become a problem. In the aftermath of the Tsolekile issue, there was talk that the CSA board would legislate the number of black African players that must play at all levels. In the recent data that CSA submitted to parliament, which they had to do because they are answerable to the sports minister, is that the number of black African clubs are at about 30%, the number of schools are also at 30% and the number of schools and clubs of colour together are about two-thirds of the cricket-playing population. But at the professional franchise level, 54% of contracted players are white, about 20% or even less are black African, and the rest are mixed race or Indian descent. There's a gap between school and club and professional and national cricket.
The economic situation in South Africa, has only been "equal" for 20 years, but 20 years cannot erase 300 years of wrong-doing, where an entire racial group was economically oppressed. A lot of young black Africans need to get jobs; they support large, extended families. Where you lose them is when they are not getting contracted - there are only an X number of contracts going around. That is why Peter said, if we have an extra franchise, we'll create 10-15 more contracts for black African cricketers.
The other thing is, when a black African has done well enough to play and national selectors don't play him, then we have to ask serious questions. I know Andrew Hudson had to answer the CSA board and was grilled by them about the Tsolekile issue. The selectors' contracts come up for review and I won't be surprised if there are changes there, because there is mass anger.
From a development point of view, in the Eastern Cape black Africans have been playing cricket for 100 years. That they prefer to play football just happens to be a stereotype, and unfortunately it happens to get perpetuated. It's a political issue but South African sport has never been without politics, really. Of course, having a No.1 team is important a source of great pride, but so should healing a lot of social wounds be.
Numbers Game Question
(29.22 - 32.52) Since the beginning of 2007, five batsmen have scored 2000-plus Test runs overseas (excluding matches in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) at 50-plus averages. Name them.