South Africa’s elephant in the room

Even though transformation is taking place in South Africa, leadership roles are generally still with the white guys.

Faf du Plessis is bowled by India’s Mohammed Shami on the final day of the first Test on October 6. Compared to the energetic and livewire Virat Kohli, the South African captain seemed to have little or no idea with regard to salvaging situations.   -  PTI

South Africa winning the Rugby World Cup will be huge in a country that is sports-mad and loves rugby more than any other sport. The win, coming under the first-ever black captain of a South African rugby team, is also a game-changer of sorts, for even though transformation is taking place in South Africa, leadership roles are generally still with the white guys. The government is trying to push through for more black and coloured players to be picked in the squads and that has created a bit of angst among the white minority, and in cricket especially some are trying to go elsewhere and look for opportunities that they perceive as being denied to them in South Africa.

In cricket, some of these have taken the Kolpak route to go ply their trade in England, and some like Keaton Jennings have actually opted to play for England, just like Kevin Pietersen did some years ago and Allan Lamb and Robin and Chris Smith did earlier, too. There’s no doubt that if South Africa had lost the rugby final, the media, which is again dominated by the white minority, would have slammed the coach for appointing a black guy as captain and would have somehow laid the blame at the captain’s door. This is the sad bit about a country whose passion for sport is unbelievable. It is still perceived that black and coloured sportspersons are not as good as the white guys.

While there would have been endless articles about appointing a black captain and how that deprived South Africa of a world title if they had lost, there is nary a word against Faf du Plessis under whose leadership South Africa had its worst ever performance in the ICC Cricket World Cup earlier in the year, which was followed by a complete rout at the hands of India in the recent Test series. Not one person in South Africa is questioning his leadership in these events and in fact there’s talk about him leading the Proteas in the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia next year.

Captain Siya Kolisi holds up the Webb Ellis trophy as fans surround the bus carrying the South African rugby World Cup-winning team during a victory parade in Soweto, South Africa, on November 7.   -  AP

 

A captain or coach for that matter are only as good as the team is, but it was clear to the unbiased in the World Cup and in India that the leadership ingredient was totally missing from the South African team.

Compared to the energetic and livewire Virat Kohli, the South African captain seemed to have little or no idea with regard to salvaging situations. Worse still, the body language was so resigned to fate that it was no surprise that even on a Pune pitch, which both South African commentators Graeme Smith and Shaun Pollock described as being like the one in Centurion in South Africa, the Proteas gave up sooner than expected. A captain has to lead from the front, but here was a captain with his shirt tucked outside his trousers and walking so slowly between overs, hardly ever going up to a bowler who was being hit, and generally standing in the field where there was minimal running required to chase the ball.

Then to complain that losing the toss was the main factor and should be done away with was just an excuse to shift the blame elsewhere. South Africa had their opportunities, but they missed them, and then with the skipper himself not showing much interest in the proceedings, the rest of the team meandered along.

The other excuse of a team in transition also does not wash, for apart from the odd player, most members of the team had played three or more years of international cricket. In more than any other sport, captaincy in cricket is a crucial element of the game and decisions that the captain takes can turn the game around for better or for worse.

Unless South Africa cricket accepts the elephant in the room, they will be destined to disappointment more often than they would like.