Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says South Africa’s batting woes can be remedied by taking collective responsibility rather than apportioning individual blame.
South Africa’s Test series defeat to Sri Lanka came out of the blue, as no-one – including the visitors – would have expected the islanders to make history and become the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa. The defeat was as bad as it can get, and has exposed plenty of nerve endings.
The Proteas got away with it against Pakistan because the bowlers stepped up to the plate. However, against Sri Lanka, even the fine efforts of the bowling battery couldn’t prevent defeat owing to the long-standing batting woes. The calls are coming thick and fast that South Africa need to relook their batting strategy, which includes the much-maligned batting coach Dale Benkenstein.
I don’t want to be the guy that creates headlines by saying that Benkenstein must lose his job. I have played with Dale, know that he was a good batsmen in his time, is a committed coach and understands cricket well. The way the Proteas are batting is hard to fathom because there are so many good players that aren’t finding form. The players are probably going to be the cause of Benkenstein getting axed.
When you are facing the ball, the batting coach is definitely not the issue. If players are going to go out and bat the way they did, it doesn’t actually matter who the batting coach is. As a collective, I’m questioning the intellectual capital that exists among the batting unit.
Meanwhile, Hashim Amla’s slump has been for a long time and is emblematic of South Africa’s batting ills. All batsmen endure a spell of bad form, but he hasn’t batted well for an extended period. When you get older and you don’t have a solid enough technique you get found out at Test level. He still has plenty of natural flair, but is not as sharp as he was and his eyes are gone. However, of even greater concern is the fact that players outside the Proteas set-up aren’t bashing down the door for national selection.
In a well-functioning environment, fresh talent should emerge from the domestic franchise system. Ideally, you should have batsmen in their mid-twenties within the franchise system, who have been there for five years, making so many runs that they can step up seamlessly to the national setup when the incumbents lose form or get too old. The fact that the batsmen making runs are the Vaughn van Jaarsveld’s of the world, who is 34 and has been around for 15 years, speaks to the heart of the problem. Has the player drain – via Kolpak deals – contributed to the crisis?
At present, there are 40 South Africans on Kolpak contracts and Colin Ackermann is one such case study. The 27-year-old made a hatful of runs in the Sunfoil Series before signing his Kolpak contract in 2016. It seems some players don’t buy into a secure future with South African cricket. The seeds of doubt exist among certain South African players and hence they are making calls to play elsewhere.
Though South Africa has performed admirably on the bowling front, the hemorrhaging of talent has been equally as significant. Over the last two years, from Kyle Abbott to Duanne Olivier, we are seeing a move away from South African cricket for whatever reason. The fact that players are departing the organisation should be of concern to Cricket South Africa. In all businesses, communication and the assurance of a future is key to employees remaining happy in their jobs. There is an element of that missing in the South African set-up, and senior management needs to take note.
Bringing in new players every week would have put Olivier in a space where he would’ve thought, ‘I only have to bowl badly in one game and I’m gone, so I’d rather opt for the Kolpak deal.’
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