One of South Africa’s problems is the dearth of all-rounders who can ‘do it all’, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA for SA Cricket Magazine.
England all-rounder Ben Stokes was comfortably the difference in the series against South Africa. His outstanding performances across all formats prompted former Proteas spinner Robin Peterson to dub him ‘Jacques Kallis on steroids’.
The Kallis reference will be particularly resonant with South African fans, given that a lot of the Proteas’ recent struggles can be traced back to them not having a genuine all-rounder as the glue that binds the batting and bowling.
Peterson, now the Warriors’ coachafter an international career in which he could be relied on for some lusty lower-order hitting, did his best to explain why South Africa – having also lost the services of Vernon Philander – hasn’t produced quality all-rounders of late.
What makes Stokes so good?
He’s a once-in-a-generation cricketer, like we had with Jacques Kallis. In fact we had three in one team with Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener. But I think what makes Ben Stokes the kind of cricketer he is has more to do with his mentality: he’s always up for it when the game is on the line, he always seems to be the guy who wants to take up the challenge. You can’t coach that, it’s an internal driver and he’s got those drivers when the game is on the line – to succeed when the pressure is on and to do it for his team. His mentality is what sets him apart. He’s almost like a Cristiano Ronaldo in football – he’s got the hunger to do it when the pressure is on.
Isn’t that hunger a basic prerequisite for an all-rounder?
You have to want to be involved in the game at all times and not want to be left out. We haven’t even spoken about Stokes’ catching at slip – he catches, he bowls, he bats … that mentality to keep going, and wanting to do it, is a prerequisite because being an all-rounder is hard work. At training you’ve got to do all the fielding training. You’ve got to do all your bowling intensity training, you’ve got to do your volume of batting – you can only do that if you’ve got a strong mentality and you’re extremely fit. As a bowler you can bowl your overs, have a break, wait for everyone to finish and maybe hit a few of the net bowlers. Batsmen can bat a little bit, have a rest and then maybe throw-downs afterwards. All-rounders are involved in all the training and all the game time, so it’s really important that they have the mentality to do that work.
Does the division of training work depend on what kind of all-rounder you are?
When you’re younger you pretty much do everything and then as you get older you see which skills are a little bit stronger. So, if you’re a bowling all-rounder you’re probably going to be focusing 65-35% on the bowling and the other way around if you’re a batting all-rounder. But the training is different now. All-rounders used to just bowl and bat a bit but the tempo of the game is so crazy now that guys need to have a split training structure and do a lot of alone time to get their skill levels on point. You’ve almost got to split up your training because it can’t all be done in one training session any more. You have to say: ‘Today I’m concentrating more on my bowling or my batting.’ It depends on which suit you need to work more on, based on how your form is.
Why does South Africa no longer have the same quality all-rounders it used to have?
I believe it’s because we don’t play three-day cricket at U19 level any more. You can’t develop all-rounders who bowl four overs in T20 and only 10 overs in 50-over cricket at junior level. The only way you develop all-rounders is by having them hone both skills by bowling a lot of overs and learning how to bat over time. You don’t learn how to do that by bowling 10 overs, and at the moment our schoolboy cricket revolves around 50- and 20-over cricket. That’s where we need to look in terms of why we’re not producing all-rounders. It’s easy to change your pace in white-ball cricket; in senior cricket you need shift gears as an all-rounder, bowling third and fourth spells and batting last when conditions aren’t always friendly. Stopping three-day cricket at U19 level was the biggest mistake we’ve made in South African cricket. We were so obsessed with never having won
a World Cup that we thought kids needed to start playing 50-over and T20 cricket to try to get us there.
How have England produced so many all-rounders at the same time?
When I was playing county cricket for Derbyshire in 2010 the ECB was concerned about losing Andy Flintoff and there was a big drive to produce all-rounders. They came to work with all the young all-rounders in our system, with the England bowling and batting coaches helping them tighten up their techniques. That was when guys like Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid were coming through. I think Ben Stokes may have been part of that group. But there was definitely an intervention, and it’s no mistake that they’re producing all these all-rounders now. Their one-day cricket performances have gone through the roof because they’ve produced a team in which their strength is their all-rounders.
Would three-day cricket at junior level be South Africa’s version of an intervention?
We need to start somewhere, I’m finding that we’re bringing youngsters who have played only eight games to franchise level and trying to teach them first-class cricket at franchise level. That’s unfair on a player who hasn’t even built up a framework or experience of his game. When we were at U19 level, I would bowl 30 overs in a game as a 17-year-old. I learned more in those games than I did in any one-day game. We probably need to revisit getting the kids to play three-day cricket to produce better quality cricketers.
Why have Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder, who had bright futures predicted for them, not quite kicked on?
I’m not too sure. You have to have strong internal drivers to be an all-rounder. I can’t really comment on their careers or career paths because I don’t know them that well. We probably need to look at how many games they’ve won for their franchises or SA A because all-rounders need to do those things to move up the levels. All-rounders also take a long time to develop: Kallis came into the national team more for his batting and as he got into international cricket his bowling became more important for the group. And I’m talking purely Test cricket here, not 20-over or ODI cricket.
As a franchise coach, is there anyone who’s under the radar who you think could solve SA’s all-rounder problem?
I think if we’re talking all-rounders we’ve got to talk about wicketkeepers, too. If we accept that, a guy like Warriors wicketkeeper Sine Qeshile comes into the mix, especially in white-ball cricket. He’s got a good record in white-ball cricket and he plays his shots in T20 cricket. He’s a modern-day cricketer who backs himself and has a strong presence at the crease. Maybe he’s a year or two out in terms of his development, but he’s someone I believe could go very far because the higher you go it’s more about whether or not you believe in yourself. I don’t have to give him pep talks, he’s very internally driven to do well. But in terms of traditional all-rounders I can’t see too many outside Phehlukwayo, Mulder and Dwayne Pretorius. If we could find a guy who can bat and bowl reliably as a fourth seamer we’d solve our problems in South Africa.
PICK OF THE BEST
McMillan played for the Proteas for seven years before retiring in 1998. He took 78 Test wickets at an average of 33.82 and at an economy rate of 2.51, with his best bowling performance being 4-65 against New Zealand in Cape Town in 1995. In the 78 ODIs he played, he scored 841 runs at an average of 23.36 with a strike rate of 73.32. His highest ODI score was 127 against Zimbabwe at Harare in 1995. He also took 70 wickets at an average of 36.98 with an economy rate of 4.28, with his best bowling figures being 4-34 against India in Port Elizabeth in 1992.
Klusener made his debut for South Africa in 1996 in an ODI against England. In the 49 Tests he played, he scored 1 906 runs at an average of 32.86 with a strike rate of 59.80, hitting eight half-centuries and four centuries. His highest Test score was 174 against England in Port Elizabeth in 1999. He took 80 wickets at an average of 37.91 with an economy rate of 2.64.
His best bowling figures were 8-64 against India on his Test debut. In 171 ODIs, Klusener scored 3 576 runs at an average of 41.10 with a strike rate of 89.91, scoring 19 half-centuries and two centuries. His highest ODI score was an unbeaten 103 against New Zealand in Auckland in 1999. He took 192 wickets at an average of 29.95 with an economy rate of 4.70. His best bowling figures were 6-49 against Sri Lanka in Lahore in 1997.
He represented South Africa in four World Cups and the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and retired from international cricket in 2008. Pollock took 421 Test wickets at an average of 23.11 with an economy rate of 2.39 and 393 ODI wickets at an average of 24.50 with an economy rate of just 3.67. He also played 12 T20Is in which he took 15 wickets at an average of 20.60 with an economy rate of 7.62. His best bowling figures are 7-87 against Australia in Adelaide in Tests, 6-35 against West Indies in East London in ODIs, and 3-28 against New Zealand in Johannesburg in T20Is. Pollock scored 3 781 runs in Tests at an average of 32.31 with a strike rate of 52.52, hitting 16 fifties and two hundreds with his highest score being 111 against Sri Lanka in Centurion in 2001. In ODIs, he scored 3 519 runs at an average of 26.45 and a strike rate of 86.69, hitting 14 fifties and a century, with his highest score being 130 while playing for Africa XI against Asia XI in 2007. In T20Is, Pollock scored 86 runs at an average of 12.28 and a strike rate of 122.85. His highest score was an unbeaten 36 against West Indies in 2008.
Having made his national debut in 1995, Kallis represented South Africa in five 50-over World Cups and three Twenty20 World Cups in an international career that lasted nearly two decades. In 166 Tests, he scored 13 289 runs at an average of 55.37 with a strike rate of 45.97, hitting 58 half-centuries and 45 centuries. His highest Test score was 224 against Sri Lanka in Cape Town in 2012. He took 292 wickets at an average of 32.65 with an economy rate of 2.82. His best bowling figures were 6-54 against England in Leeds in 2003. In 328 ODIs, Kallis scored 11 579 runs at an average of 44.36 with a strike rate of 72.89, hitting 86 half-centuries and 17 centuries. His highest score was 139 against West Indies in Johannesburg in 2004. He took 273 wickets at an average of 31.79 with an economy rate of 4.84. His best bowling figures were 5-30 against West Indies in the 1998 Champions Trophy final in Dhaka. In T20Is, Kallis scored 666 runs at an average of 35.05 with a strike rate of 119.35. His highest score was 73 against India at the 2010 ICC World T20. He took 12 wickets at an average of 27.75 and an economy rate of 7.23. His best bowling figures were 4-15 against Zimbabwe in Hambantota during the 2012 ICC World T20. He retired from international cricket in 2014.
This feature appears in the April-June issue of SA Cricket magazine