Martin Crowe

Letter to de Villiers

South Africa's captain needs to single out his players for attention and get them firing individually and as a team

Martin Crowe
Martin Crowe
South Africa celebrate a wicket, South Africa v Zimbabwe, Group B, World Cup 2015, Hamilton, February 15, 2015

AB de Villiers needs to sit his troops down pronto  •  Getty Images

Dear AB,
You might have picked up that pre-tournament my head predicted you boys to win this baby, while my heart, naturally, is dressed in black.
Don't be sad, AB. So far you've dropped a few backers, looked pretty ordinary at times, but I'm holding fast. And if I had a quiet moment with you, then this is what I would offer, for what it's worth.
Firstly, and most important of all, any success of the highest order is down to bold, courageous leadership. You guys should know; you had one of the best of all time - Nelson Mandela. So my first little tip is to acknowledge that bold leadership is your domain. This is your time to march them out, take them home. The skipper in black has already assumed that role and is mounting an assault, just as Edmund Hillary did. On your side, if I were you, AB, I'd reach out and feel the presence of Madiba.
Next, your key role is to find each person's button and press it firmly. Look them in the eye and implore that they reveal their individual expression to fit perfectly within the team endeavour. Press the button: it's green (with a yellow stripe).
Let me start with the critical aspect of leadership - tactics. Your bowling attack needs tweaking, so open your mind to a few ideas and see if AD agrees.
One of the roles you have to get right is the fourth seamer. Wayne Parnell is your man. Trouble is, he is a rogue and can go walkabout, but he's likeable and eager, and if his button is correctly pushed, he will be a massive positive for the rocky road ahead. So open with him, giving him a chance to swing the ball, to feel important. Remove his fear, free him to be the best he can be. Rest Vernon for ten days, freshen him up for the last four games of the Cup. But empower Wayne to be the man he can be, steer him down the path of fulfilment. He can bat at eight with purpose. His button is your main priority.
Get Dale to relax, get rid of the stunned mullet look, get him looser. His wrist-snap is missing, the venom of old lacking. His body looks tight, with the will spilling over, over-stretched, so give him a list of different roles for a few games: open one day, bowl from middle to death on another. Get him challenged on different fronts to keep him fresh, not thinking too much, just lots of doing and being the class act he is.
Same with Morne. Change when and where he bowls from one game to another. These guys are experienced, they need to enjoy the game for a period, get the right juices flowing. Let them have turns opening with Wayne, trying a combo or two to scene-set by attacking with vigour.
Oh, I love Imran. What a big heart. If only you had 11 of him. He has been through so much and still keeps fighting on. He's your go-to guy, your banker, so be grateful he is in fluent form.
JP has to drop this flat rubbish he's bowling. Get him back to flighting the ball sweetly, dipping to create bounce, as he can. Tell him to take wickets, to attack, to be flamboyant. Inspire him.
Hey, and when it feels right, bowl an over yourself. Get that smile back on your face. Roll the dice: six balls, one wicket. No one will dare to get out to your slow straight dobblies. Nothing to lose for an over, and if you play Rilee at seven for a game as you rest Vernon, then you become the sixth bowler.
You have the attack, now you need to manipulate it better.
Hashim is your right-hand man, a beautifully strong, resilient player, so don't be afraid to ask him to carry more of the load. Tell him to take his time, anchor and secure the innings. He must bat through in his well-grooved tempo, not in this frenetic mood he seems to be in at present.
When it feels right, bowl an over yourself. Get that smile back on your face. Roll the dice: six balls, one wicket. No one will dare to get out to your slow straight dobblies
Tell young Quinton to clear the mind a little, not premeditate so much, as it roots the feet to the spot. Tell him to breathe deep and let the feet find fluency, then the hitting and timing will return. He's a critical cog in the wheel. Breathe and believe.
I'm worried about Faf, your long-time sparring partner. He's got the weight of the world on his shoulders, plus a small chip that needs removing. You are the one that needs to pull it out, as I sense it's there because you have left him so far behind over this decade. Encourage him to drop the burden he appears to be carrying, let him know that he can have some of your runs this tournament. That you can bat side by side, brothers in arms. You need him to be free.
Have a shave, AB, you look ragged and rattled. Smarten up. A touch of polish is required. Since that 31-ball ton, you have got a bit sloppy. You need to be all things in all situations. You need to lead like never before. Take a leap of faith. Feel Mandela in your bones.
It's you and you only who can push the buttons of your comrades. Black buttons are being pushed over the ditch, and you need to match it.
Four matches left in the round robin, so try a few subtle changes and freshen up the senior men and empower some key young talents. Chill, mate. Whistle a tune as you start pressing buttons.
It's all good. Plenty of time to pick up the pace. But I wouldn't waste another moment, eh.
A big fan

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand