Cricket: Keep calm and Gary on

By Ant Sims 25 January 2013

There is a long-term plan for the Proteas, insists coach Gary Kirsten. They might be disturbingly close to a whitewash when they face the Black Caps in a dead rubber match in Potchefstroom on Friday. But, despite having already lost the series, Kirsten says that to look to the future, sometimes you have to take a few steps back. That said, they’ve stepped so far back that New Zealand managed to win their first ever series on South African soil. Let’s hope they can still salvage some pride. By ANT SIMS.

Fingers will be drumming impatiently on desks and all eyes will be on the South African national cricket team when they take on New Zealand in the third and final one-day international in Potchefstroom on Friday.

Since they’ve already lost the series 2-0, Friday’s match holds little motivation other than salvaging some pride and shutting up some of the critics. A relatively inexperienced side which has been hit with injuries and the suspension of their captain now has to overcome the adversity and prove that they’re not as useless as they’ve looked in their last two matches.

Coach Gary Kirsten admits that his side has not been up to scratch, but he insists that there is a long-term plan which just needs to be seen through calmly. A plan which involves looking towards the future when players like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith will no longer form part of the one-day set-up; a plan which allows the coach to know exactly where he stands when some of the key players get injured; a plan which is slowly but surely paving the way towards the 2015 World Cup.

“It’s not nice (to have lost the series). I don’t think we’ve played very well, but we’ve acknowledged that. It’s amazing how quickly things change in cricket. I think we’ve taken a lot out of it,[so] it’s important for us to fulfil a longer term vision. You need to take a few steps back,” Kirsten said.

There’s not much time to reflect on the current situation right now, and looking to the future, there are just five one-day internationals against Pakistan to come before the ICC Champions Trophy in England. Kirsten admits that a learning curve will always be accompanied by some danger.

“Whenever we try to explore our talent, there is always going to be a risk attached. Nobody likes losing, but we need to know about our depth. It gives us clarity of where we’re going as a team and we have to take the learning out of it and go forward with it,” the coach added.

One of the young talents which will get a look in on Friday is Aaron Phangiso. Some might remember him as the man with the bright smile who got Sachin Tendulkar out in the Champions League T20 a few months ago.

Phangiso was rewarded for his efforts in that competition with a T20 cap in December, and while he flunked on his debut – being hit for 42 runs and not taking a single wicket – the 29-year-old came back strongly in his second match, bagging three scalps.

He now has a chance to test his credentials on a much bigger stage. A flat and tough track is expected in Potchefstroom and he’ll have to work harder than usual to make it work, but as ever, the spinner is not worried. He’s simply excited about what is to come, lauding the advice given to him by fellow teammate Robin Peterson and bowling coach Allan Donald.

“I’m very excited and I’ve been working hard so I’m hoping tomorrow goes well for me. Working with Robbie P has helped me quite a bit. He’s shown me a couple of strategies and techniques and it’s been good working with Allan too,” Phangiso said.

While some spinners get down and out when they’re slapped around in their first match, Phangiso says he took the positives from that dreadful debut and with the help of the coaching staff, focused on the next task at hand, just like he has to focus on his looming ODI debut.

“I was told that I must just keep going; it’s part of the game and I mustn’t take it too hard.  I think everyone dreams of having a great debut. Having a harsh one means that people kind of expect you to bounce back and that’s what happened to me. It worked out quite nicely for me,” the spinner explained.

Seizing opportunities through injury has been a theme for the Proteas, and Phangiso has become the latest beneficiary. He’ll play owing to an injury to Peterson, who split the webbing in his hand and had to be stitched up.

The Lions player did struggle slightly in South Africa’s domestic one-day competition, picking up eight wickets in eleven matches at an economy rate of 4.42. And with the Black Caps players undoubtedly high on confidence after their series win, it’ll be important for him to keep his cool and feed off the experience in the side.

Mixing experience with new faces has been the aim of the one-day series and so has exploring AB de Villiers’ captaincy credentials.

He handed the gloves over to rookie keeper Quinton de Kock in order to focus more on leading the side, but the experiment flopped when he was found guilty of a slow over rate in the first match.

There has been plenty of talk around the decision to hand the gloves over to De Kock, but Kirsten insists that just because it was an option in this series, it doesn’t mean that it will be so for the future. 

“The way things have unfolded is rather unfortunate in that he didn’t have the chance to focus on his captaincy,” Kirsten said.

“We haven’t made any final decision of what we want to do with AB. We’re exploring and learning and we certainly haven’t closed the door on whether he will or won’t be our one-day keeper. The decision to not let him keep in this series was a specific decision which wasn’t his own, we have a process we follow in the side.”

Process is a word that has been thrown around a lot in the Proteas camp lately. The fruitful product of the process of experimentation and to a lesser extent, rotation, is yet to be seen; but there’s no doubt that the side is somewhat startled after their series loss.

How they respond to the situation will certainly set the tone for a busy year ahead, and a win on Friday will be the first step in the right direction. DM

Photo: South Africa’s coach Gary Kirsten looks up during a training session before Thursday’s first cricket test match against England at the Oval cricket ground in London July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown



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