Having spent the last 3 weeks in Australia, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much respect our cricket boys have gained from the Aussie public at large. I have been told several times that the test series was one of the best seen in living memory. Tough, exciting and fair.
Graeme Smith returned to Australia a more mature and experienced man, as a player and a captain; his last tour he put himself under tremendous pressure with his comments to the press, this year he let the bat do the talking and was humble in victory and liberal in praise and recognition for others.
Well the core ingredients have been there for some time. The team is hard working, has consistency and stability, a nice mix of experience and youth- everything you need to be good. What has shifted the team towards greatness is 2 elements of spice added to the mix. Firstly the appointment of Duncan Fletcher to assist in coaching. It takes a confident coach to buy into having an experienced and respected peer brought into assist, however the benefits can be massive- just ask Jake White.
The 2nd element of spice is Jeremy Snape. He is an Executive Coach that joined the team when we toured England last year, and his focus has been to mentally develop the players to support improved performance. He is the second Executive Coach to have a full time job in world cricket, the first being Paddy Upton with India. If you look at the rise in performance and rankings of both India and South Africa over the last several months – it is clear something has been happening. Both teams have knocked over Australia recently; the best team in the world, and a team renowned for its mental edge.
I believe that Jeremy specifically has added three important aspects to this team which have been especially visible on this tour. He has been able to do this by building on a solid team and management foundation and through buy in from the players.
Firstly, the new emergent element in South African cricket is a deeply set resilience. A feature that has been commented on extensively in all forms of the Australian press- “These South Africans just don’t give up!”
Secondly preparing mentally some of our key performers. Most notably Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn and JP Duminy. The first two arrived on tour with much hype and expectation… and pressure and they still performed incredibly well. As JP got his chance the pressure and expectation to continue to perform just got bigger and bigger. This pressure did not overshadow him, a notable contrast to the exciting David Warner’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall back to earth.
The third, and for me most impressive element, is the fast paced learning happening within the team. The transformation from Johan Botha’s first few fledgling steps as a ODI captain, to powerfully commanding his troops just a few games later has been remarkable.
For me the most satisfying shift was comparing our England tour to our Australia tour. The fast paced learning of this team is especially evident here. In England we won the tests, but couldn’t get over the euphoria of that bit of history making and got thrashed in the ODI’s. In Australia we won the test series, and then shifted up a gear to dominate in the ODI’s. In the words of the team-” we have had a good tour, and so we had to decide if we wanted a great tour, and that would mean taking the ODI series.” Well done Mickey, Graeme, Johan, Duncan, Vince, Jeremy and all the others who make up this emerging, exciting and dynamic Protea team- you have done us proud!
Tim Goodenough is the author of “In the Zone with South Africa’s Sport Heroes”. Find out more about his work at www.coachingunity.co.za.Tweet