Rob Walter turned the Proteas into World Cup contenders, but humbly shares the spotlight of success

Rob Walter turned the Proteas into World Cup contenders, but humbly shares the spotlight of success
Proteas coach Rob Walter on 16 November 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

Proteas white-ball head coach Rob Walter’s down-to-earth nature has allowed his players to soar during his short time at the national team.

South Africa started this year prepared to travel to Zimbabwe in June and July to play in the Cricket World Cup qualifiers. That was the state of the one-day international (ODI) team that languished outside the top eight qualifying spots in the Cricket World Cup Super League — the three-year World Cup qualifying league.

But a new lease of life was breathed into the side with the appointment of Rob Walter and his attacking philosophy at the start of the year.

With his commitments tied up in New Zealand, where he was still coaching, red-ball coach Shukri Conrad played the lead role in the team’s first challenge against England in January and February.

They thumped the World Champion English 2-1 at home to restore their qualification chances.

“The guys played very well against England in January,” Walter said on Tuesday.

“That sort of gave us a shot at being direct qualifiers for the World Cup, and I was only remotely involved in that … So we started the year well and then continued on.”

The Proteas went on to defeat Netherlands – who have often proven to be their bogey team – 2-0 in March and April to seal their spot in the ongoing World Cup in India.

“As far as the World Cup goes, I think there’s quality players and always have been quality players and have spent a long time together in some respects,” Walter said.

“And then we’ve got some nice youth that have come in and stepped up at the World Cup, which has been great to see.”

Temba Bavuma (captain) of South Africa interacts with head coach Rob Walter during the South Africa men’s national cricket team training session at Arun Jaitley Stadium on 6 October 2023 in Delhi, India. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia / Gallo Images)

Smooth interactions

To what does Walter attribute the quick turnaround in fortunes? 

“I don’t think it’s only one thing. I think it’s a number of things,” he said.

“The batting development as a unit didn’t start with me … it started before me.

“And the same could be said for the bowling. I think the coaches who have been part of the Proteas’ environment have been world class.

“It’s been such a pleasure working with Wandile [Gwavu], JP [Duminy], Eric [Simons] and Matthew [Reuben] from a coaching point of view.

“The interactions between the staff have been awesome and the way they interact with the players has been great.”

“So yeah, it could be a host of different things.”

It’s been less than 12 months since Walter took charge, yet the team is gelling like few Proteas teams have before.

“Has it happened reasonably quickly? I honestly feel like I’ve just started,” the head coach said.

“Understanding [the role of] a head coach and the time taken to influence a team, that can take some time – building relationships takes time.

“And as a national coach, you know, we don’t spend a huge amount of time together other than in a World Cup, when we’re together for a long period of time.

“So yeah, it’s early days in the journey. I don’t want to attribute success to any one thing other than you’ve got a lot of good people working very hard to make this team successful, and that includes the players.”

Rob Walter during the South Africa national cricket team training session at SuperSport Park on 24 August 2023 in Centurion, South Africa. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Away from the limelight

Walter is quick to shift the spotlight of success to his backroom staff, a feature of his management style that has been with him since his days as coach of the Titans from 2013 to 2016.

“He has a lot of emotional intelligence,” Jacques Faul, CEO of the Titans, told Daily Maverick. Walter was a coach at Supersport Park.

“He’s smart but what I love, it’s not just about him. He’s not one of those guys … there’s no ego, there’s just hard work and there’s ‘try hard’ there, but there’s no ego.”

This is Walter’s second gig with the Proteas, having worked as strength and conditioning coach during Gary Kirsten’s tenure from 2011 until 2013, before Faul took a chance on him by appointing him head coach of the Titans.

Up to that point, Walter had never been the head coach of any professional team.

“When things work out, and you look back, you look really smart,” Faul said. “But I can tell you, I was really nervous that season because I did stick out my neck a little bit.

“What we liked about him is his scientific approach to the game. He came from [Pretoria] and he understood the Titans way, because he worked here previously as a strength and conditioning coach, which was important to us.

“And yeah, he had good academic qualifications and he interviewed well.”

Walter went on to win four domestic trophies with the Titans and was awarded the Cricket South Africa Coach of the Year in 2016 before deciding to further his coaching career in New Zealand — first leading Otago from 2016 until 2021 and then Central Districts from 2021 until the start of this year.

Rob Walter (Proteas white-ball head coach) addresses the media during the South Africa men’s national cricket team ODI and T20I squad announcement at DP World Wanderers Stadium on 6 March 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Talent scout

The Titans’ influence runs deep in the Proteas squad – seven of the 15-player squad plays for the Sky Blue outfit in Pretoria.

Not only that, but Walter helped unearth some of the talent that is currently shining on the biggest stage during his time at the Titans.

“You look at Lungi [Ngidi] who came through, [Aiden] Markram came through, [Heinrich] Klaasen,” Faul said about the talent scouted by Walter during his time in charge of the franchise.

Walter also played an important role in signing spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who played for KZN Inland as a semi-professional at the time, and whose subsequent career rise was rapid.

With a core of players and staff who have supreme trust in one another and have travelled a difficult road together, it is no surprise the Proteas have become a cohesive ODI force in such a short space of time. DM


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