Former South Africa players call for overhaul
South Africa were woefully short of runs and ideas at the ICC World Twenty20, but they aren't lacking for compatriots offering harsh criticism, explanations for what went wrong, and remedies for the future.
The Proteas crashed out of the tournament after losing three of their five matches. That continues a trend of South Africa entering ICC tournaments among the favourites, only to fail to live up to their billing. South Africa's only success in ICC events was achieved at the Wills International Cup, also known as the ICC Knockout, in Dhaka in 1998. They have since faltered in two World Cup semi-finals and a quarter-final, three Champions Trophy (or ICC Knockout) semi-finals, and one World Twenty20 semi-final. In five other ICC tournaments, including all three they have played on home soil, South Africa have been eliminated before the sudden-death stages.
All of which has earned them a reputation as chokers. But that's not what happened in the Caribbean, according to Craig Matthews, who was on the selection panel that was sacked wholesale in January. "I don't think we choked this time," Matthews said. "We never played well enough to choke. South Africa should be able to pick half a team against Afghanistan and still win, and we didn't beat them that comfortably. We were horrendous against India and ordinary against New Zealand, and comprehensively beaten by Pakistan."
Matthews laid some of the blame for South Africa's poor showing at the door of the IPL. "The IPL doesn't help other teams. The only South African who benefitted from playing in the IPL was Jacques Kallis. The rest of them all sat on the sidelines."
South Africa's batting mindset was also part of the problem, Matthews said. "We were very tactically unaware. The Powerplay overs are absolutely vital, and we never made proper use of them."
South African batting legend Graeme Pollock was scathing in his criticism of the current crop. "The two run-chases, against England and Pakistan, were two of the most amateurish I've ever seen," he said. "We were slow in getting off the mark, and consequently later in the innings we needed too many runs to stay in the game."
Pollock was alarmed at how far below their abilities South Africa had performed. "The days of carrying young players must be over; there is huge experience in that side now, and there are too many good players in the team for them to play this poorly."
The proof of the pudding that South Africa made of their challenge to win their first ICC silverware in 12 years, Pollock said, was in the preparation. "[Graeme] Smith was coming back from injury, and a lot of the guys who were playing in the IPL didn't get many games." He urged soul searching and change at the highest levels: "They're going to have to take a good, long, hard look at the system after this."
Former selector Hugh Page also took a swipe at South Africa's batsmen. "There seemed to be no urgency in the batting," Page said. "You can't not score a boundary in nine overs, as they did against Pakistan, and expect to win."
Page said South Africa's batting tactics negated the edge they had in terms of talent, skill and experience. "We seem to have a conservative approach to Twenty20 cricket. I'd rather see us having a go, even if we end up losing. I hear a lot of talk from our guys about playing risk-free cricket. If you're not going to take a few risks in a Twenty20 match, you're going to lose."
Other teams could teach South Africa important lessons about succeeding in the shortest format of the game. "In every other side, there's a young player - sometimes two - who will go after the bowling early in the innings," Page said. "South Africa put Loots Bosman up there in the first two matches, but he seemed to be batting to instructions. He wasn't himself.
"I'd like to more young players to be given an opportunity," Page added, "players like [Dolphins batsman] David Miller. He might not have the experience, but in a place like Australia he'd probably be given a go."
For HD Ackerman, who played four Tests for South Africa, one of two things could have gone wrong: "Either we were woefully unprepared or we just didn't know what we were doing." He strengthened his argument for the latter, given that South Africa "changed their combinations with both bat and ball to the extent that it didn't look as though every player knew what his specific role was".
Ackerman was critical of the batting, saying South Africa should have decided on a line-up before the World Twenty20 started. "If you win the tournament, you play a maximum of eight matches. So why did they take four opening batsmen? They should have settled on the opening pair before leaving, and taken one extra in case that didn't work. "If the personnel are going to remain the same, Smith and Kallis should continue opening and de Villiers should come in at three."
The bowling didn't escape Ackerman's notice, particularly the omission of the in-form Rusty Theron. "Theron has done all he needs to do to get a game. He has won matches at provincial level, not just by getting people out but by defending runs in the final overs. Perhaps they didn't use him because he has only ever played provincial cricket, but he deserved a chance."
Ackerman said South Africa should build a specialist Twenty20 squad, in the same way that teams like England and Australia have done. "We need to find a squad of about 14 guys, some of them straight out of provincial sides - such as David Miller from the Dolphins - and play them in every 20-over game until the next World Cup. Even if they lose games to Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the West Indies, that's the only way to build a side. We need players who can play without fear, like David Warner and Suresh Raina, and at the moment we don't seem to have that."
Two such bravehearts who missed out on the selection for the World Twenty20 squad because of injury, Justin Kemp and Wayne Parnell, thought some of their team-mates were lacking in match practice, particularly because of limited opportunities during the IPL. "The main batters hardly got any game time," said Parnell.
"AB de Villiers only played at the beginning stages for the Delhi Daredevils and JP Duminy only played towards the end for Mumbai, while a lot of the rest didn't play at all," Kemp said. "Then take someone like Albie Morkel, who was a regular for the Chennai Super Kings. When he needed to perform with the bat, he did."
Both Parnell and Kemp singled out batting as the problem area, but Parnell said South Africa didn't bowl as well they could have. However, he stopped short of saying he could have made a significant difference: "From a personal perspective, I was very disappointed that I wasn't given opportunity to repeat the way I performed at last year's World Twenty20."
Former South Africa batsman Boeta Dippenaar said the problems were largely mental. "They are one of the hardest working and practising teams," Dippenaar said. "I have not seen a team train as hard as they do, but other teams spend a fair amount of time preparing in other ways. "Cricket is only 30% physical and 70% mental. South Africans train 120% physically but they neglect the psychological side of things."
South Africa roped in Henning Gericke, a respected sports psychologist, before the World Twenty20, but Dippenaar thought too much was expected of him in too short a time. He added that psychological training needed to be implemented from franchise level, so by the time players reached the international stage, they already had the right attitude. For that to happen, he thinks a mindset shift needs to occur in South African cricket.
"Traditionally, South African coaches are quite rigid and are reluctant to appoint someone to take care of the mental side," Dippenaar said. "Usually, psychologists are only appointed for crisis management and by then it's too late." Dippenaar said that without a real effort being made to change that attitude, personnel switches would have no effect. "We can, say, drop Jacques Kallis or drop Mark Boucher but that won't solve the problem of the team's non-performance at major tournaments time and time again."
Omar Henry, a former convenor of selectors, also said the problem lay between the players' ears. "Everyone who wants to play for South Africa needs to take ownership of the responsibility that comes with that," Henry told eNews, a television channel. "That responsibility involves mental toughness just as much as it does technique and the ability to score runs and take wickets."
Former batsman Jonty Rhodes cautioned against chopping and changing. "For us to sit back and say we need new faces to start up fresh is not the way to go," Rhodes told eNews. "That's the panic route."
Telford Vice and Firdose Moonda are freelance cricket writers in Johannesburg