South Africa still looks to Hansie

Someone needs to instruct them that it is more useful to spend time at the nets and not at a seance. Someone needs to remind them ghosts don't win matches, men do.

rohit brijnath

"Hansie (left) was the supreme leader, he just had a presence about him that lifted the entire side." In short, what Donald is saying is that Pollock (right) is NOT the supreme leader and he couldn't lift his own game let alone the side.-— Pic. N. SRIDHARAN

"If you asked most guys in the team right now what we're missing I think they would say the coolness and the calmness Hansie brought to a side under pressure".

— Allan Donald

Hansie Cronje is dead. There is no dispute on that. We can say with some certainty too that he is not coming back either. His resurrection in time for this Cup is about as unlikely as Robert Mugabe hosting a banquet for Andy Flower.

Now someone needs to take Allan Donald and Herschelle Gibbs aside and tell them that. Someone needs to instruct them that it is more useful to spend time at the nets and not at a s�ance. Someone needs to remind them ghosts don't win matches, men do.

Someone, by the name of Shaun Pollock, also needs to take them outside the ground and give them a tongue-lashing. In a time when practicality is demanded his team is chasing phantoms.

In case you were busy trying to sort out India's batting order, this is what happened.

Allan Donald last week said "Hansie was the supreme leader, he just had a presence about him that lifted the entire side." In short, what he is saying is that Pollock is NOT the supreme leader and he couldn't lift his own game let alone the side.

We are under the impression that teams under pressure need to express faith in their leaders. Donald has grey hair but wisdom clearly hasn't come with it. Rallying together is a phrase that has escaped his vocabulary.

Then it got worse. Gibbs, who was led astray by Cronje, who carries a stain of corruption that will never be washed off with the strongest Nirma, joined the chorus too. "Hansie's leadership skills made him an icon. We do miss him. He played the game with passion and always believed we could win from any situation".

What Gibbs is trying to tell us that his team CANNOT win from any situation. It's not the sort of stuff recommended by authors of positive thinking books. These guys don't need a psychologist as much they require a padded cell. I mean, if he was Australian he'd be on the first plane home.

Great teams do not expose their insecurities, they keep their frailties private; they focus on strengths and dustbin weakness and present a unified face to the world; they support each others' dreams, raise their games together and challenge the impossible. By this homespun definition it is clear South Africa is NOT a great team.

At the smallest sign of adversity they have fallen apart like a house made of some spurious cement. Uncomfortable with the present they are clutching at the past instead of staring down the future. When Australia began the 1999 World Cup in insipid fashion no one fronted a microphone and called for Waugh's head, or wished plaintively for Don Bradman's return. Instead, privately, in a team room, said Ricky Ponting, they held a "really open and honest meeting." The air was cleared, the path set, and the Cup was won.

Over the phone, Ian Chappell, a man who knows a few things about leadership, called Donald's behaviour "ridiculous". He described this ability to stay focussed as a unit as one of Australia's "greatest strengths, it's why we start ahead of everyone else."

Apart from a few occasions, he said, "like the captain or not, once Australian teams cross the boundary ropes, they're behind him." It is less rocket science than it is common sense.

Chappell believes Australia are "more honest with themselves" and uses England's woes over the years as an example to prove his case. "England's been bad for so long because they, the players and the administrators, won't look in the mirror and say we're playing crap." In contrast, in the mid-80s, he says, the "Australians admitted they were playing crap and said we have got to do something about it." And they did.

Admittedly, Pollock is a reluctant leader, appearing like a man whose restricted imagination limits his dreams. His bowling is all honest soldiering, all line and length, and it suggests he lacks the quality of a general. He is the sort of man who eats the same breakfast every morning at the same time: he is distrustful of ideas, uncomfortable with invention and shy of change. As Ponting said: "They've got a very regimented style of playing."

But Pollock is not reflecting an individual personality but a national trait. South Africa's cricket has been inherently conservative over time, and Cronje, says Chappell, was "as predictable" as his predecessors. Teams rely on either keeping it tight and allowing opponents to make mistakes, or taking the game to them and forcing mistakes: South Africa has always chosen the former. It is a sound policy but against tough teams only the latter works. Only when a superior enemy is challenged does it fall into error.

That said, Pollocks' record is hardly dissimilar to Cronje's, there is no vast gap in performance that might account for Donald and Gibbs' plea. In Test cricket, Cronje captained in 53 matches, won 27 (50.94 winning percentage), lost 11 (20.75%) and drew 15. Pollock has captained in 26 games, won 14 (53.85%), lost 5 (19.23%) and drawn 7. In one-day matches, Cronje led in 140, won 99 (70.71%) and lost 37 (26.43%); in contrast Pollock has been boss in 87 games, won 55 (63.22%) and lost 29 (33.33%).

That said this is not about records, or Pollock's uninspiring captaincy. This is about a team that doesn't believe in itself. Or maybe, to twist Chappell's words, they're just being dishonest.

As Gary Kirsten, a South African voice of reason, put it: "Instead of blaming Shaun, individuals should look at themselves as to why things could go wrong."

Donald should start with himself. And we'd be happy to supply him tapes of his bowling if he can't remember.