Boucher’s ‘gross misconduct’ hearing clouds the future for Proteas
After a summer of success, the South African cricket team should be in a good space heading into a break before their tour to England in August. But it could be without coach Mark Boucher.
After winning five of seven Tests played this summer with two series’ wins and one drawn series, South Africa’s Test team is in good shape for its next assignment – an away three-Test challenge against England.
A come-from-behind 2-1 home series win over India in December and January was a staggeringly good effort against a team ranked No 1 in the world at the time. India were trying to scale their last significant hurdle as a Test nation: winning an away series in South Africa.
But the Proteas, despite suffering a 113-run first Test defeat at Centurion, which was partly attributable to the fact they hadn’t played any Test cricket for months, bounced back.
That has become a significant trait of this team. They are quickly being built in the image of captain Dean Elgar, who only knows one way to approach the game – with a tough mental attitude. In vice-captain Temba Bavuma, the Proteas have a good foil as he offers calmness at crucial times.
Coach Mark Boucher is hewn from the same material as his skipper, which has forged a unit that never gives up. The Proteas may not be the most gifted collection of talents (by world-class standards), but they are certainly now one of the most belligerent teams in the game. The sum of the parts is better than its individual pieces.
After beating India in the second and third Tests for a stunning turnaround, the Proteas then staged one of the great heists by drawing the two Test series in New Zealand after a hopeless position.
After being trounced by an innings and 276 runs in the first Test, owed in no small part to their horrendous build-up to the match that involved 11 days in isolation, South Africa could easily have disappeared in the second Test. But rolling over is not in the nature of this team, and they bounced back in stunning style to win the second Test by 198 runs.
Elgar’s depleted side, which lost six regulars to Indian Premier League (IPL) duty, followed that with a 2-0 series win over Bangladesh, winning by massive margins of 220 and 332 runs in Durban and Gqeberha, respectively.
Against India it was fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen, with 53 wickets between them, who set the tone. Rabada took 20 wickets at 19.05. Jansen claimed 19 wickets at 16.47 and Ngidi weighed in with 15 at 15.00. Elgar (235 runs at an average of 47), Bavuma (221 runs at 73.66) and Keegan Petersen (276 at 46) provided the batting foundation.
In Christchurch, against New Zealand, it was the batting of Sarel Erwee (108) and Kyle Verreynne (136*), and Rabada’s bowling (8-106 in the match) that steered them over the line in the second Test.
And against Bangladesh, it was the spinning duo of Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer that did the bulk of the damage. Maharaj took 16 wickets in the series at 12.12 and Harmer took 13 scalps at 15.15. Maharaj chipped in with a handy 108 runs with the bat, averaging 36. Elgar led from the front with 236 runs over the two Tests.
The success has been liberally spread across the team. In Petersen, Jansen, Verreynne, Erwee and even the veteran Harmer – who returned to Test cricket after seven years – some new depth has been created.
In white-ball cricket, the Proteas had a one-day international (ODI) series wins over India and a Twenty20 international (T20I) series win against Sri Lanka. The Proteas missed out on a place in the T20I World Cup semifinals on net run rate.
They did lose the ODI series 2-1 against Bangladesh, which was the only truly poor return in six months of competitive cricket.
Boucher in the dock
But cricketing success is only one story of the summer. The other is that Boucher will now face charges for “gross misconduct” in May.
The charges relate to Boucher’s part played in a team song that racially abused former teammate Paul Adams more than 20 years ago. Details of this incident emerged at last year’s Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings and form one leg of the charges against him.
Boucher never denied them and has apologised for his role in that ugly incident. But his apology was criticised in the final SJN report, which itself has been criticised as a flimsy document riddled with errors.
The other, multilayered charges that Cricket South Africa (CSA) have brought against the Proteas coach relate to his relationship with former assistant coach Enoch Nkwe.
They also relate to his alleged poor handling of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the seven-page charge sheet sent to Boucher on 17 January, a day before the first ODI against India, it is repeatedly inferred that he is a “racist”.
“When dealing with the Black Lives Matter issue and the question of ‘taking the knee’, you allegedly dealt with the white players’ concerns and requested that the team manager [who is black] deal with the black players’ concerns,” the charge sheet contends. “This allegedly created or exacerbated the division and alienated players and the team.
“You allegedly did not formalise any documented ‘roles and responsibilities’ or meaningful KPIs [key performance indicators] for the assistant coach, Mr Nkwe.
“You allegedly did not provide any specific or sufficiently specific and defined role for Mr Nkwe and no ‘personal development plans’ were documented or implemented for Mr Nkwe; and you allegedly treated Mr Nkwe in a manner unbecoming of a leader in your position.”
‘It’s been tough’
Boucher will dispute all the charges and he has suggested he might call members of the playing group to testify on his behalf at the hearing, which will be chaired by advocate Terry Motau SC.
Less than an hour after the Proteas wrapped up the Bangladesh series, Boucher was asked if he enjoyed being Proteas coach.
“It’s been tough,” Boucher told a media conference. “I’ve really enjoyed coaching the guys. On the cricketing side of things, we’ve got a very tight unit. I’ve really enjoyed being around the guys and seeing the development in their cricket.
“Outside that, it would be quite difficult for me to say I’ve enjoyed it. That’s just being honest. I don’t think anyone in my situation can enjoy what’s been put on my plate.”
If he is cleared at the hearing, it could lead to an interesting situation: would he stay on to lead the team against England? Winning in England is one of the sport’s most glamorous assignments.
“I’m very competitive and you want to judge yourself against the best teams in the world,” Boucher said. “We played against the two best of recent times against India and New Zealand, and they were hard-fought series. When I was playing, going to England and Australia was always very tough. It would be nice to compete against them, but we’ll see what happens in the future.”
Boucher said he would continue to prepare the team for England and beyond, even if his own personal situation is not immediately clear.
There is a break now and many players are not scheduled to play any cricket for the better part of four months.
“We’ll have a personal development plan for each player. We’ll talk about contracts,” Boucher said. “Our coaches will sit together with them and talk about areas in which they’ve been good and where we feel they can improve.
“There’s a World Cup around the corner [in India in October and November next year], so we’ll need to do some planning about the team we’re looking to select in those conditions. There’s a lot of work to be done outside the season. That will happen hopefully within the next month.
“As far as I’m concerned everyone is available [for England],” Boucher said. “I’ve had personal conversations with most of the guys, and they’ve all come into the set-up saying they want to play for South Africa. I’d like to think each guy, if they’re selected to play for South Africa, would choose to do so ahead of any county or franchise team around the world.”
There is a plan for the players, there is a schedule and there is confidence after a successful summer. All that remains now is whether the Proteas will go to England with Boucher as coach, or whether they start all over again with a new mentor. DM168
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