Proteas batsman Farhaan Behardien backs Mark Boucher’s appointment as head coach of the Titans.
With the domestic season set to kick off on Wednesday, Boucher’s tenure begins with a Sunfoil Series match at home to the Knights, and Behardien has given the former Proteas wicketkeeper his seal of approval.
‘He’s added something different to the Titans in the last three weeks and he’s been challenging me personally and our team,’ Behardien explained. ‘He’s batted in the middle order for South Africa in nearly 300 ODI games so I’ve been in quite close conversation with him in the last little bit, hopefully those thoughts and those gameplans can unfold in the next month or so.’
It would be a little too convenient to suggest Behardien’s subsequent 50 off 22 balls against Ireland in late-September was proof positive of Boucher’s Midas touch. But the former Proteas wicketkeeper will have been enthused by both the player’s performance and his utterances.
Having walked into a maelstrom of criticism for the Titans bosses who hired him despite his lack of coaching paperwork, Boucher has already had to defend his appointment: ‘I know a lot of people have been saying I don’t have a Level Four coaching certificate and I fully respect that, I’ve got no problem getting those coaching badges,’ Boucher said.
‘Whether it’s required with the experience I’ve got I’m not too sure, maybe more of a man-managing course is required from my side. I’m fully prepared and honest enough to know that I need that sort of stuff, and that’s something we’re planning to do in the near future.’
It is early days yet, but the part of Boucher’s CV the players seem most interested in is the one that reads ‘resident tough guy and closer for the Proteas for 15 years’.
‘His big focus is on producing tough cricketers so we’ve been taken out of our comfort zones a little bit, the guys have been in the bush on a pre-season camp…’ says Behardien. ‘He’s here to challenge us from a skill point of view, playing point of view, how we approach the game. I believe he can do that because he speaks with confidence and holds that respect in the change room.
‘The guys have really warmed to him.’
Warm and fuzzy aren’t exactly qualities associated with a man who snarled his way through international cricket, but there is a change about him these days as he edges ever closer to 40 this year (in December).
‘I had a very nice career which didn’t end so nicely,’ he says of the eye injury which ended his career four years ago. ‘But I think the injury I sustained changed me as a person completely. It made me realise a lot of things about the person I was and maybe had become. I wrote about it in my book that sometimes as a professional sportsman you can live in a bubble.
‘My bubble was burst and it wasn’t a bad thing at all because maybe I’d lost sight of what was really important, like family and friends. Sometimes when you travel the world you forget to SMS those guys and you break relationships you shouldn’t be breaking.’
The upshot of this softened approach is the totally different way he talks about approaching transformation, a topic which has vexed many a coach, in his team: ‘I’m very much of the mould that I want to bring some new talent in and create some stars, and we’ve got one or two here at the Titans, guys I think can play really nicely.
‘We need to give them the best coaching, and by that I don’t mean technical coaching, it’s more mental coaching. The young kids coming through, you can make or break them mentally so you’ve got to look after them by giving them the love and the care they deserve with regards to their culture and the dynamics of our country.’
That said, the real test of Boucher’s worth as a coach will be how he improves on former Titans coach Rob Walter’s two trophies last season.
‘That’s the question everyone is asking, how you top two trophies,’ he asks rhetorically. ‘But then again there’s a third trophy… In an ideal world it would be nice to look at the cabinet and say we’ve got three trophies, but it would be stupid of me to think that.
‘I think what I’ve got to try and do is keep the winning formula and if I can add more I should do that. I’ve said if I can improve each player by about 10% then I would have done a good job, and hopefully the trophies will take care of themselves. I’m not driven by trophies, I’m driven by improvement.’
Written by Simnikiwe Xabanisa, a freelance sports writer