• Zondeki: Simons let men be men

    Former fast bowler Monde Zondeki remembers how coach Eric Simons’ relatively relaxed disposition contrasted with the collective nervousness of the squad in 2003, writes JONHENRY WILSON.

    The inexperienced Zondeki was named in a bowling group spearheaded by pace ace Makhaya Ntini and captain Shaun Pollock. He played two group matches against minnows Bangladesh and Canada – and eventually replaced strike bowler Allan Donald against Sri Lanka.

    He, too, relished the mentorship of the veteran Allan Donald – and was among the mourners when a bizarre miscalculation ended the campaign of the tournament co-hosts.

    ‘When I got picked for the World Cup, I had been around the squad for a while. But I was only 20 at the time, so I had not played much first-class cricket – let alone international cricket,’ Zondeki told SA Cricket magazine.

    ‘Donald was going through a hard time then – and he didn’t have a good World Cup. Results were not going his way, but he was always nice to me. He was always trying to help me become a better bowler, because I was sort of next in line.

    ‘The stress of the World Cup, and not performing well, was giving Allan a tough time. He was under pressure and was dropped for the last game against Sri Lanka.

    ‘I replaced him for that game. I probably didn’t get to speak to him or seek advice from as much as I would have liked. If the World Cup had gone differently, that might have changed. But he is a great guy, and ultimately was very good to me.’

    Zondeki also worked in South African domestic cricket alongside Richard Pybus, later coach to Pakistan, Bangladesh and the West Indies. Simons’ approach, by Zondeki‚Äôs account, differed significantly to that of Pybus.

    ‘Eric was a very relaxed coach. He wasn’t a disciplinarian and he was not strict. He let men be men and let the guys make their own decisions,’ he added.

    ‘There were obviously rules to be followed, but other than those, Eric was quite chilled. He certainly was not one of the strictest coaches I played under.

    ‘Throughout the World Cup, we probably didn’t have the most relaxed squad. I think we were very nervous, expectations were very high. We didn’t play the brand of cricket we were used to – and uncharacteristically dropped a lot of catches in our last game against Sri Lanka. Leading up to the game, we knew we had to win to get into the next round. The guys were very nervous.’

    South Africa lost that contest to a star-studded Sri Lankan XI. But the sterling performances of centurion Marvan Atapattu, and spinners Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva were effectively overshadowed by the Proteas’ miscalculation, which yielded a tie rather than victory – and a lack of progression to the next round.

    ‘The way it ended was the most disappointing. We had the game within our grasp, but mathematically messed it up, thinking we had enough runs when we did not,’ lamented Zondeki.

    ‘The worst thing about how we got eliminated was how we actually miscalculated things. It was all in our hands, but we did not do our math correctly. By the time we realised we needed an extra one run, it was too late.

    ‘We were one of the favourites coming into the World Cup. We expected ourselves, in front of our home crowds, to do much better than we did. That was probably the most disappointing part, not getting out of the group stages and not getting ourselves in the knockout stages.’

    Photo: Gallo Images

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    Jonhenry Wilson