Since their “culture camp” ahead of the New Zealand series last year, South Africa has put on a united front. The disasters against India and England seem aeons away now, but with two high-profile players deciding to bugger off without a peep to the team, the Proteas have hit a bit of an adversity road block once more. Luckily, getting around those is something they’re quite good at. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
“Guys, in case you’ve forgotten, we won a Test match,” Russ “Two LLs” Domingo quipped while he was being probed on the departure of Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw at Newlands on Thursday.
Post-match pressers for the coach and captain are usually reserved for answering questions about the team’s performance, game plans and what will happen next. Domingo knew that there’d be little of that considering the high-profile Kolpak departures that had hit the team.
The reminder that this team has continued to enjoy an upward trajectory since the disastrous series against India and England was playful more than it was a sign of frustration, but you can forgive the coach if he was feeling just a little bit exasperated with all the hoohaa.
Sri Lanka have been utterly inept on this tour, but South Africa have never looked like they consider their opposition to be so. The bowlers have continued to shine under Charl Langevedlt’s tutelage, despite Sri Lanka’s bastmen doing their best to play shots unworthy of such fine bowling. The batsmen have stepped up when they needed to and not once has the team been over-reliant on their “big name” players. Those who have had something to prove – like Stephen Cook – have put in the hard yards to do just that.
Cook and his father Jimmy even went so far as to spend time in Potchefstroom so that Cook Jr could watch and analyse the Sri Lankan bowlers ahead of the Boxing Day Test in Port Elizabeth. Nobody willingly spends time in Potch for free. But that dedication and dogged culture are exactly what this team is all about – and it has shown in their results since the “culture camp” that preceded the New Zealand series.
But the departures of two high-profile players like Abbott and Rossouw have slightly jarred those perceptions. How can two players bugger off without so much as a peep about their intentions? How, after the united front the team put up when Faf du Plessis’s ball tampering incident threatened to similarly take the shine off a superb series victory in Australia, can those from the outside looking still believe that all is hunky dory in camp Protea Fire?
It would be foolish to deny that the off-field hullabaloo has not preyed on the minds of the squad. They came through the Australian fiasco largely unscathed, despite losing the final Test with one of the best performances in recent memory, in the Hobart Test to boot. But that was different. For that, the team was united in something that they felt was against them. This time, some might be forgiven for feeling like they are against each other.
Du Plessis appeared genuinely gutted by Abbott’s decision while Domingo seemed slightly more irked, especially about Rossouw’s departure. The coach did not mince his words when expressing his “bitter disappointment” at the way Rossouw handled things, but he did not think that there were any underlying factors to be concerned about.
“I don’t know if trust has been broken,” the coach said. “You can understand players wanting to feel secure. Everyone wants to feel secure. The coach wants a four-year contract, the captain wants to know that he’ll be captaining for four years … that’s just the general nature of people.
“There are obviously issues that haven’t been discussed or that players haven’t opened up about or haven’t been sincere about.”
Sincerity is something that this team pride themselves on, even if the administrators have had some difficulty doing the same in the past. Being honest and discussing sensitive topics is something they believe defines them and under Du Plessis’s leadership, they were the poster kids of sitting around the fines table singing Kumbaya. And then came the googly from Abbott and Rossouw. While almost everyone understands that the spate of Kolpak signings in recent months are largely career moves, it is the manner in which Abbott and Rossouw departed that will sting.
But the team has been here before. Throughout their reign as, and throughout their journey to, the number one Test team slot in the world, adversity intermittently knocked on the door both on the field and off. More often than not, the team thrived when things seemed to be at their most difficult. Even when the opposition tried to use it to their advantage, they simply puffed out their chests and got on with it.
The opposition that awaits them in the third and final Test, beginning in Johannesburg later this week, is probably too bereft of self-confidence to see this bump in the road as a way to get under their skin, but it does not mean all rumblings of discontent will be eliminated from the back of players’ minds.
Du Plessis’s leadership credentials have already been tested in steering the ship calmly through the last few days of the storm since the Abbott story first broke. His next task will be to ensure that the team emerges as convincingly triumphant in the third and final Test as is expected of them. Then, after the limited overs series is done, it might be time for another culture camp – if they can sandwich it into their demanding tour schedule, of course. DM
Photo: Kagiso Rabada of South Africa celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal of Sri Lanka during Day 2 of the Sunfoil Test Series, 2nd Test match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 3 January 2017 ©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
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