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Ottis Gibson's reign will not end well

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Ottis_Gibson_West_Indies_Cricket_coachAfter weeks of speculation, Ottis Gibson is officially the new head coach of the Proteas.

It has been a difficult year for South African cricket and the now ex-coach Russell Domingo. A disastrous summer in England saw them spectacularly choke again in a must win ICC tournament match, then they also got hammered by the English in all three formats of the game.

The way they capitulated in the Test matches was most alarming for the team, and now Gibson has to pick up the pieces before the home series versus Bangladesh. Now don’t let the title of this piece give you the wrong idea. As a South African cricket fan, I’m behind his appointment. The West Indian may not be the most experienced or successful of international coaches, but his credentials are solid enough.

The Proteas are in desperate need of some fresh ideas and energy. He will bring such things, but the Proteas coaching gig is not the one you want right now.

Dreadful recent results aside, Gibson is destined to fail for numerous reasons regardless of what he does. Let’s run through a few here.

He will never really have control of the team

Faf Du Plessis’ first recorded comments on Gibson being in line for the coaching job were around how Gibson should resist making sweeping changes personal wise. So essentially the captain believes the current assistant coaches should still be a part of the system despite a run of not-so-great performances. What if Gibson disagrees? Is he allowed to? Faf aside, will Cricket South Africa permit new appointments?

I’m going to go with a big no here. It sounds progressive of Cricket South Africa to appoint a foreign coach, but he will be ‘locally managed’. And even if he does get new appointments, they will be very much decided by the powers that be instead of him.

You have also got the impression that the captain and senior players have run the Proteas setup since re-admission. Not the worst thing when you have a guy like Graeme Smith in charge and players like Kallis and Steyn in their primes, but when things aren’t going well and you are looking for a coach to go in a new direction, this is problematic.

The racial/development hot potato

South Africa has embarked on a difficult racial transformation programme to ensure their national teams always represent the demographic make up of the country. In short, ensure there are always a good representation of black players, and not too many white players.

All good and well in theory, and when you consider talent like Rabada, Bavuma, Phehlukwayo and Ngidi in the early stages of their international careers, it suggests the future is certainly a bright one.

Only it’s not really, as not enough development work is being done in development areas. Cricket South Africa are doing a fine job in developing talent in focused areas, but with regards to the general masses, and getting the population involved, local government is not matching the commitment and application. Their expectations however are sky high, and Gibson will constantly be made aware of this.

So even though there are plenty of talented black players in the system, they are not getting enough development-wise, and often getting fast tracked to the top. SA’s domestic cricket has suffered as a result, with the standard below that of international cricket not being what it should be. Players are therefore coming into international cricket short of true top level experience and getting found out. So they are essentially finding their feet at the hardest platform, and that spells disaster.

The feeder problems aside, Gibson will want to pick on merit, and work a plan around certain players, but this won’t always be possible. This will make things difficult at times, and even though it has become a reality in South Africa for those that live here, Gibson will not always be able to toe the line, so to speak.

Especially if he isn’t getting the desired results, but there are no alternatives.

Are the Proteas going the way of Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan cricket is a mess right now, and essentially has been since the departure of their irreplaceable senior stars of the past generation. They also have a great deal of administrational interference, and those left on the field are simply hanging on against superior opposition.

Are South Africa going the same way? It’s becoming harder and harder to disagree with this, sadly, especially after that recent Test failure against England where the team couldn’t even display their usual characteristic fight and determination. Kolpak deals are only going to become more commonplace, luring established talent away. South Africa’s domestic cricket structures are only going to get weaker through poor management and lack of significant financial interest. Then you have the young stars in age group level coming from strong local cricketing schools but moving abroad from an early age.

As a country, South Africa is not in a great way right now economically and politically, and sport sadly mirrors this as it is a part of society. While all of these elements play out, nations like England, India and Australia will only improve, and the gap will widen.

Gibson can only work with what he has at his disposal, and if that is losing substance with each season, he won’t have enough to take the Proteas back to the top of the game. The Proteas won’t become Sri Lanka overnight, but the signs are there.

How can Gibson succeed in the role?

In the interest of balance, it only seems fair that we try to balance this piece with how Gibson can possibly succeed in the role.

Sadly, it is through compromise, especially in the beginning. South Africans are obsessed with their own problems and situations, so going in there looking to make things new and different will not serve him well.

He will have to assimilate into the culture, get an understanding for how things work politically and try and get a handle of the domestic game. His relationship with Faf Du Plessis will be crucial in this regard.

Thankfully, the initial challenges on the field are pretty manageable, in that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at home are his first assignments. This provides a great opportunity to find his feet and build some momentum.

From here he can look to be a little bolder, push the boat out with some ideas and put his stamp of approval on things. For this, he will need a solid core of proven performers by then. Just looking at the Test team, this means he needs a top 5 that is going to be able to win games for him. In the bowling, he will need to make sure the team isn’t so reliant on Philander, and for them to have a genuine all rounder they can depend on.

It is important that he makes it this far, as the Proteas really need someone new come the next World Cup. Someone who can take the team into the tournament, who isn’t connected with failure, who doesn't bare the scars of previous disasters. And if he gets that right and secures the trophy, well then there is naturally nothing to worry about.

I really hope he succeeds, but there is good reason to believe that he may not.

 

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Ben Karpinski is a South African sports blogger/MC/tweeter with a heart so broken by the Proteas, t...

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