The time was ripe for change in South African cricket after a summer in England that produced nothing but pain and misery for fans of the Proteas.
South African fans will have a hard time trying to find any other series abroad that played out so disastrously. Beaten in all three formats by England was topped off with a first-round exit at the ICC Champions trophy.
South Africa’s history at the ICC events has been well-documented but their failures normally come after blowing away the competition only to lose in a knockout game. The way in which South Africa yielded to their opponents in Group B was probably the deciding moment in then-coach Russell Domingo’s stint as Proteas coach. The man from Port Elizabeth wasn’t fired but rather had to apply for his job again after his contract ran out.
Cricket South Africa started the process of finding the best possible coach in January 2017 and they decided to move Domingo on and replace him with West Indian Ottis Gibson.
Ottis Gibson signed from England in bold move
Gibson left his role as the English bowling coach after accepting a two-year deal with South Africa that will run until the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup. It was a bold move from Cricket South Africa to make an international appointment as the tendency in the rainbow nation is to appoint from within especially when it comes to cricket and rugby.
A bold move, yes, but also a shrewd one as Gibson arrives with a resume that seems to get better year on year. He previously coached the West Indies between 2010 and 2014 in what was a fruitful spell. Gibson led the Islanders to the 2012 World T20 and has worked for England since, helping them become a powerhouse once again in world cricket. There is no doubt that Gibson brings a lot to the table of South African cricket but does he know exactly who else is seated there with him?
The issue of transformation in South African sport is a sensitive one that is there to stay. Gibson knows that as well as anyone and still that didn’t put him off taking the job. Speaking to the media shortly after being appointed as the man to take South Africa forward, Gibson was asked about the quota system and replied by saying “transformation was mentioned, but it didn’t have to be in my opinion because it’s a government policy; once it’s a government policy there is nothing I can do about it. I have to work with it”.
Gibson didn’t give too much away and quite wisely perched himself firmly on the fence. If one were to come away from anything by those comments it would be that he would do what was asked of him even if he didn’t necessarily agree with the entire process. That was Gibson’s first juggling act as there was a very captive audience sitting in South Africa listening intently as to how he answered that question, with both sides of the fence looking for different answers. If Gibson wasn’t yet a master of walking on eggshells then he will soon become one.
Gibson must unite a nation
There is an agenda in place that Gibson will have to follow if he is to appease his employers. The question is can Gibson do what very few have done and unite a nation with his team selection and back it up with results on the field? Gary Kirsten proved it can be done after he took the Proteas to the summit of the test rankings in 2012 with away test series wins against England and Australia.
The foundations were put in place during the Mickey Arthur era as he was the man that oversaw the start of a phenomenal away record that would see South Africa unbeaten in tests away from home for nine years. It was phenomenal going and record like that suggest it isn’t a quota problem that South Africa have been struggling with and maybe just poor coaching of late.
After Kyle Abbott announced he would be taking up a Kolpak contract in England during the middle of a series against Sri Lanka in South Africa during January it became evident that Cricket South Africa would have a new type of fight on their hands. With the weakening Rand and the offer of financial security with guaranteed selection coming from abroad, it makes sense that good players left on the fringes will look to make the most of what is already a short career.
The problem for Gibson and South Africa is that the pool of talented players to choose from will begin to evaporate. Abbott wasn’t the first South African to take up a Kolpak contract but his particular case sent shockwaves through South African cricket. Kyle Abbott had waited patiently for five years to get his shot at being asked to take the new ball. Dale Steyn stood firmly in his way and Abbott had to be content with cameo appearances due to injury or squad rotation.
Steyn’s injuries got worse and at the same time, Abbott’s bowling got a great deal better. He could no longer be ignored and with Dale Steyn facing a sustained period out with persisting shoulder injuries, the time had arrived for Abbott to make himself the number one seamer in the country.
Just after he had done that and had received a longer run in the side he had ever been given, Abbott upped sticks and decided he would be better off playing for Hampshire in the English domestic circuit and put pen to paper on a four-year deal that would make him unavailable for selection for the Proteas. At 29 Abbott put paid to his international career and won’t be seen donning the colours of South Africa again. The red flags that Abbott’s decision raised were higher than Table Mountain.
Can coach retain his charges’ SA allegiance?
One of Ottis Gibson’s remits will be to minimise the number of players leaving South African shores to seek greener pastures. It may be well out of his hands but one of the West Indian’s strengths is his man management and he will need every bit of his powers of persuasion to keep the best young South African’s available for selection. Too many have slipped through the net and gone onto more than hold their own in international cricket. How much of an impact could a player like Kevin Pietersen have had on the fortunes over the Proteas during his career?
The size of the task that Ottis Gibson has in front of him is a daunting one as South African cricket sits at a crossroad. A strong individual needs to sell the young and upcoming players his vision. The financial support of the administrators during this is crucial if they are to succeed in turning the tide against the current situation.
Gibson has had his first taste of international cricket with the Proteas when Bangladesh toured South Africa in October. The old saying of you can only beat what is in front of you applied as Gibson’s troops went about demolishing the tourists by whitewashing them in tests, ODI’s and the T20’s. It was as clinical a performance as a new coach could have possibly asked for.
In recent series gone by, South Africa have been guilty of resting their key players when playing weakened opposition. Looking back retrospectively this has resulted in a lack of unity and chemistry when the Proteas arrive on the world stage to try and win an ICC trophy. A staggering stat to prove that is during Dale Steyn’s 13-year career he has only played 116 ODI’s.
In comparison, 24-year-old Quinton de Dock has already played 88 ODI’s. Gibson insisting on playing his best team against every opposition is a refreshing change and the results are already showing. If South Africa is to ever put their demons to bed that haunts them every time a World Cup comes about they will need a team that has played together consistently for the build up. Gibson’s ruthless approach will be music to the ears of Proteas fans.
South Africa face tough summer opposition
The going will certainly get a little tougher over the South African summer. The opposition making their way to the rainbow nation will reveal just how the Proteas are getting on under Ottis Gibson. India arrive for a two-month tour followed by Australia, who will play four tests against South Africa. There won’t be anywhere to hide for Gibson with seven tests against the world’s best. There will be a huge global interest in those two respective test series.
The South Africans will feel like there is some unfinished business against India after the pitches they played on in 2015 in India. What first looked like sour grapes from the Proteas changed when the ICC got involved and deemed the Nagpur pitch they played on as poor. The chances are that the curators of pitches at grounds such as Newlands, Kingsmead, and the Wanderers will prepare some of the more greener pitches visiting teams have seen in South Africa.
Ottis Gibson was a fast bowler himself and will no doubt see the use of the Proteas quicks to get a favourable result against an incredibly strong Indian side and punters eagerly awaiting the clash of these titans are in for good news as now BTC can be used during these upcoming series. There’s an immense amount on the line so early on in the new South African coach’s career but still, good reason to believe he can oversee wins against both India and Australia.
Even after such a dominating display against Bangladesh, the Proteas are somewhat of an unknown entity under Gibson and the watching world will be chomping at the bit to see how they get on. The international scrutiny will be a lot more intense than what Gibson has been used to as the cricket community comes together to see how he handles his first challenges.
The sounds coming out of the Proteas camp are good ones with players expressing their excitement at the chance to work with the former West Indian fast bowler. Skipper Faf du Plessis has said how much he is enjoying working with the new coach and that will bode well for the future. Both men believe in structure, which indicates there shouldn’t be any clashing between captain and coach. They complement each other a great deal and that, in turn, will increase the chemistry within the team as the Proteas begin their journey on the road to the World Cup in two years time.
Gibson relishing chance to prove himself
Becoming the South African cricket coach is a job that most would covet. From the constant sunshine in South Africa to the beauty of living on the southernmost tip of Africa, as a lifestyle, it doesn’t get much better. There are many reasons why Ottis Gibson wanted this job and just as many to justify why he was awarded it. The hard work begins in earnest now to try and satisfy the demand of the cricketing public by delivering wins and top performances.
It could be said that there are a few factors away from the cricket pitch that has the potential to hinder Gibson’s progress but as it stands there is a great chance for him to become a huge success. The talent pool in South Africa is still rich and plentiful. The skill of the players that are currently contracted to the national team is there for all to see. Gibson will be relishing the chance to work with AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, and Kagiso Rabada to name a few.
Every national team coach handed the baton in South Africa has the ability to have their name written in the annals of South African cricket for eternity with the ultimate prize in the game still unattained in the form of the elusive World Cup trophy. Gibson has a long and tricky path ahead to negotiate but if he can do so then he will be made in the game for life. It is now up to him to make the most out of an incredibly special set of players whilst adhering to all of the specific remits expected of him.