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A catch-up game

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It still seems as if the wilting Proteas can learn a lot from from the boys in the Baggy Greens

TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Ottis Gibson (right), coach of South Africa talking to his players while assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa (second from left) looks on. Picture: Muzi Ntombela BackpagePix

IT was a little more than a year ago that Australian cricket was plunged into its biggest crisis since the Kerry Packer revolution of the 1970s.

Under the watchful guise of Table Mountain, two of the game’s most celebrated stars Down Under captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner resorted to cheating in order to gain an advantage over the Proteas.

Fallout

The fallout was immense with both Smith and Warner being handed 12-month bans, along with a nine-month suspension for young batsman Cameron Bancroft.

They were, however, not alone to fall on their sword with a cleanout of epic proportions accounting for coach Darren Lehmann, Cricket Australia chairman David Peever, chief executive James Sutherland and high performance boss Pat Howard. It was what the Australian public demanded.

The Proteas dismal campaign at the World Cup in England and Wales has been met with similar fury back home, although #SandpaperGate is arguably closer to #Hansiegate when the match-fixing scandal rocked South African cricket to its core at the turn of the millennium.

Equally the fans are irate and want heads to roll.

My personal take, though, from the Australian saga is how the decision-makers managed to keep their heads above the clouds to make clear, concise and “good cricketing” decisions that has taken the national team forward to its current position of strength, with the Aussies already have qualified for the World Cup semi-finals before the completion of the league phase.

The standout feature, for me at least, was the appointment of the coaching structure that now guides the Baggy Greens. It is world-class, highly-experienced, and has the respect of all the players.

Unfortunately the current Proteas brainstrust falls drastically short, and the spotlight will be on Cricket South Africa to see whether it has the capabilities to make the hard calls.

Australia needed a battler to restore its battered image and Justin Langer was the perfect match. Instead of opting for a “soft” option due to the pressure of a culture review, the Aussies knew the former Test opener would re-install the values attached to wearing the Baggy Green through sheer bloody determination.

In contrast the Proteas are led by Ottis Gibson. The Bajan arrived with the plaudits of having led the Windies to the World T20 title in 2012, and although he has overseen Test and ODI series victories over the Aussies over the past two years, the Proteas’ batting, in particular, had digressed drastically during his tenure.

Further down the line, there is a vast difference in the support structures. Australia have legend Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin assisting Langer in the dressingroom.

South Africa’s Malibongwe Maketa and Dale Benkenstein only have 23 ODI’s between them, with Justin Ontong (fielding coach) and Claude Henderson (spinning coach) increasing the number by 55 caps.

There was a period when South Africa would follow Australia’s lead in everything regards to its structures, from the domestic team set-up to its high-performance academies.

It led the Proteas to achieve an incredible hat-trick of Test series wins Down Under, a 5-0 ODI home whitewash, and a historic maiden home Test series win over the Aussies over the past decade.

However, it seems now that the Aussies have restored its image as the market-leaders with South Africa playing catch-up once again.