The ability to not lose their collective cool during South Africa's worst home season since readmission is what kept the new national staff on track during the 2019-20 summer, according to bowling coach Charl Langeveldt.
South Africa won only one out of five home series across all formats and navigated through numerous obstacles, including administrative crisis, retirements and several debuts, but the team management remained level-headed and now have a clear way forward.
"As a coaching staff, we were calm. I am very calm. I am not an emotional coach, so I keep my emotions in check," Langeveldt said, in the midst of a 35-day nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus. "I think if you want to become a good coach, you need to find a balance with your emotions. As a coaching group, we could have got very upset but we just came back and said this is what we need to focus on to improve. The players listened and they went and took that out onto the field."
Langeveldt joined Mark Boucher's backroom staff from Bangladesh, where he was working as the bowling coach after a stint with Afghanistan and a previous spell with South Africa between 2015 and 2017. He was let go when Ottis Gibson took over as head coach and assumed the bowling coach duties himself. Under Boucher, a bowling coach was once again required and Langeveldt was persuaded to return home and work with players he knew, albeit in very different circumstances.
The South African team Langeveldt left had lost a Test series in England in 2017 but still had Morne Morkel, Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris in its ranks. The one he returned to had none of them and was also preparing to say goodbye to Vernon Philander, besides coping without Kagiso Rabada, who was first suspended, then rested and then injured.
"We had a lot of youngsters coming into the set-up and that was really hard for us and then when you lose a big player like KG, it's difficult to replace him," Langeveldt said. "But in saying that, we came back and showed we can play with a young attack and we competed."
Langeveldt's stand-out speedster of the summer was Lungi Ngidi, who is South Africa's leading white-ball wicket-taker in 2020 so far and rated himself as six out of 10 last week. "When Lungi Ngidi came back after a long layoff, there was a lot of pressure on him to perform. In a young attack, he was regarded as one of the senior bowlers," Langeveldt said. "He really handled it well. He stepped up to the plate. I was so proud of him. He showed he can handle pressure."
Ngidi was particularly impressive at the death, where he took three wickets in the final over of the opening T20I against England, for example. He also worked well with Anrich Nortje, Lutho Sipamla and Tabraiz Shamsi. "Where we came from, in December, it showed there was a lot of improvement and guys were assessing conditions on the field and adjusting," Langeveldt said. "Most of these guys come from the domestic level and they haven't played a lot of international cricket. It showed a lot of maturity and that for us is a real plus point in going forward."
But the work is far from over and Langeveldt's next task is to develop a second-tier of international quality bowlers who can step up, if needed, with him having already identified some candidates. "We've been looking around the country for young and upcoming bowlers. You always have to have replacements if somebody gets injured," Langeveldt said. "Guys like [Under-19 players] Lifa Ntanzi and Gerald Coetzee and Glenton Stuurman from the Warriors. These are the guys that are going to be the back-up for our national team."
All those players were due to be involved in a six-day bowling camp scheduled to start on Sunday but it was postponed. Instead, Langeveldt and the rest of the coaching staff have a meeting planned for Wednesday to address their plans for the rest of the winter period. And Langeveldt is hopeful they will be able to get some intensive training in. "These camps are really important to up skill these guys to international standard," he said.
South Africa's lockdown is scheduled to end on April 30 but the national team will not be in action until at least mid-July when they are due to travel to the West Indies for two Tests and five T20Is. On Monday, their June white-ball tour of Sri Lanka was postponed and a call on the West Indies series is likely to be made in the coming weeks with officials hopeful that the home summer, starting in September-October will go ahead as planned.