Former SA spinner Paul Harris says the Proteas are paying the price for a lack of effort put into domestic first-class cricket by CSA.
The 44-year-old, who earned 37 Test caps from 2007 to 2011, didn’t hold back when asked for his thoughts on what went wrong for the Proteas in Australia by co-host Neil Manthorp on TalkSport’s weekly cricket programme, the Cricket Collective.
“None of the defeats were a surprise, they’ve been a long time coming,” he said. “Our first-class cricket is not very good and has been in decline for some time. Contrary to other countries, like the UK where they have actually kept first-class cricket strong, the emphasis in South Africa has been on white-ball cricket for years and consequently, it’s not very good at the moment. It’s actually very weak.
“You have to separate players from administrators. We can talk for hours about how bad the administrators have been for the last 10 years, which has led to severe financial strife. T20 cricket is the quickest and easiest way to rectify that, you can’t ignore that fact, and we’ll have to play a lot of it.
“The players want to play Test cricket because it’s the pinnacle of the game but South Africa have lost most of their clout at the ICC and haven’t done themselves any favours so we’re being marginalised as a Test nation.
“There is frustration bordering on anger because this hasn’t happened overnight, the batting has been poor for a long time but we get away with it at home because our bowling attack is so good and our wickets are rubbish, so the gap is narrowed.
“We saw it a year ago when India were beaten at home – yes, we played really well but we needed the bowlers to chip in with runs to get us out of trouble. It’s been a mess for a while but we’re now seeing the chickens coming home to roost.
“In 2008 we had the best top six South Africa has ever produced and we had Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel leading the attack. The current players simply aren’t good enough, but they don’t lack guts or spirit, they’re doing their best and they’re not lacking character.”
“Temba [Bavuma] is our best player and should be batting at three to give himself the best chance of scoring hundreds. But we’ve got guys at home who are averaging over 50 – Ryan Rickelton was injured, apparently, but he’s been popping out hundreds in domestic cricket.
“South Africa has put so little effort into first-class cricket for so long that we’re now reaping the ‘rewards’ of that. We had six franchises and that was working, the system wasn’t broken, but then we returned to 15 provincial teams. I can’t see how that is going to work. Our international players don’t play domestic cricket anymore, they are given mental health breaks, so I can’t see how that is going to work for the national team.
“The leadership has been incredibly weak from the top down and it isn’t changing. There is no silver bullet, obviously, it is going to require effort, commitment and money. I just hope there are sufficient recourses in all three departments.
“Like many people around the world, and this pains me to say because I loved beating them more than anyone, but I’ve loved watching England play Test cricket in the last six months. I may even manage my time in the bush and on the golf course to make sure I can watch the Ashes. People ask me why we couldn’t play a bit more positively in Australia. Well, you need to have the technique to keep the good balls out before you can whack the bad ones.”