“I don’t want to get emotional about it, you have to try and be practical as a team and understand that there is a lot of hard work to do”
In typical Mark Boucher fashion there was no mincing of words about his experience as Proteas coach over the last two months.
“Tough. I knew it was going to be tough,” Boucher said after his team suffered their second series defeat against England at Centurion on Sunday.
South Africa took leads in all three series and lost two of those, with the one-day international series being drawn after the second match in Durban was rained out. Boucher was parachuted into the head coaching position barely a week before the first Test against England amidst a turbulent period for Cricket SA’s administration.
He and Linda Zondi, the lead independent selector, picked a Test squad that contained six players who had never played a Test, then had to deal with injuries to Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram and later the suspension of Kagiso Rabada. Before the Tests even started Vernon Philander announced his international retirement and then yesterday, Faf du Plessis, under pressure for much of the last 18 months, stepped down as captain.
“Tough,” may be an understatement.
“I don’t want to get emotional about it, you have to try and be practical as a team and understand that there is a lot of hard work to do,” said Boucher.
Grading each of the formats Boucher explained how England had shown how large the gap was, that the Proteas had to bridge. “In Test cricket we are a long way off the mark and we need to work nice and hard there especially in our batting which let us down in the Test series. Guys need to get some confidence and up their level of skill in Test cricket,” he said.
There are holes throughout the batting line-up. Too much was asked of Quinton de Kock, who by the final Test had moved up the order to No 5 while the pressures of captaincy coupled with his decision to take more of the burden concerning the administrative fall out at CSA onto his own shoulders, had a damaging effect on Du Plessis’ leadership and his batting.
Boucher was more optimistic about the efforts seen from the team in the two limited-over formats. “Our one-day side is very young, we rested a few guys there and it was a good opportunity for youngsters to put their hands up. I was happy with how that went,” Boucher said.
De Kock was the star in the ODI series too, but Lutho Sipamla’s bowling in the last one dayer was certainly a highlight as were the efforts of Beuran Hendricks and Tabraiz Shamsi with the ball.
The biggest reason for cheer was arguably the burgeoning opening partnership that has developed between De Kock and Temba Bavuma. The latter has launched from the platform he built for himself domestically last season, to become a real weapon for SA at the top of the order. Opening stands of 92, 48 and 84 in the T20 series against England were more than Boucher and Zondi could have hoped for and throw in their 173-run second-wicket partnership in the opening ODI at Newlands and its clear SA’s batting has a couple of players to build around.
The T20s have a fixed target on the horizon in the shape of the World Cup, and Boucher feels the side is well positioned to mount a decent challenge at that tournament. “We have a lot of quality players, and there are gaps we need to cover for and in other areas we are giving opportunities for players to put their hands up for the World Cup.”
Bavuma was one of those to enhance his credentials against England, while the prospect of Du Plessis and Rabada’s return adds more depth.
And then there’s AB de Villiers, who Boucher repeated would come in for consideration. “ I’ve had chats with him. We’ll learn pretty soon what will happen with AB,” Boucher said.
“If AB’s in good form and he’s raring to go and avails himself in the time that we have asked him to be available and he’s the best man for the job he must go. It’s not about egos, it’s about sending your best team to the World Cup to try and win the competition.”