Because as CSA’s general cricket manager Corrie van Zyl remarks, “it’s very important to work from top to bottom in sport. You can also argue conversely but in many ways it’s about learning developments emanating from the national side and what it entails to be competitive at that level and utilising that knowledge down the pipeline to produce players for international competition”.
The former national coach’s encapsulating statement reveals a basic if neglected truth – in the intermittent times where the Proteas stumble pronouncedly, like the 4-1 limited overs series loss, many critics are eager to wield their personal selection axe. Yet when the demands for the discarding of Faf du Plessis start flooding in, it’s easy to forget that there’s deliberation needed on a replacement.
Is there one in the system and is he ready?
Would he be able to cope any better in a tricky milieu than the incumbent?
Advocating the influx of new faces in the national set-up means little if those individuals haven’t been primed for the rigours of international play and as Van Zyl notes realistically, limited opportunities exist, which places even more importance on the organisation of ‘A’ tours.
“An ‘A’ tour is the finishing school of the pipeline. We’ve started approaching ‘A’ tours differently. It’s not just about playing, it’s about trying to make it as strong as possible,” he said.
“We don’t have tournaments like an IPL or Big Bash where we can simulate international conditions like big crowds and create a bit of a cauldron of pressure.
“You’re thus forced to create the next best thing, which is playing the best possible opposition.”
And by all accounts, CSA have got it right this year with India ‘A’ also visiting soon.
However, Van Zyl admits much of their high performance strategy currently is coloured in by the transitional phase of the limited overs sides – World Cups are after all played in those formats.
Former Proteas batsman and astute commentator Boeta Dippenaar is slightly concerned by certain structural flaws in that sphere of the system.
“It’s a good thing that at franchise level we play 50-over cricket and the standard isn’t bad but when you go lower down there’s a problem in the semi-professional setup,” he noted.
“Too many times, limited overs games are played on worn or underprepared surfaces because 3-day and 1-day games are played over the course of a week and prospective batters don’t learn how to construct a long innings. Too many times a total of 180 plays 150. Pitches need to be looked at.”
There’s consensus that the franchise system is healthy yet question remain over its feeder system, the semi-pro setup.
“We must remember it’s not a problem unique to South Africa,” said Dippenaar
“But the gap is still a bit too big for my liking.”
However, Garry Hampson, coach of CSA’s most recent affiliate, South Western Districts, is optimistic.
“I participated in this week’s level four course and I did with coaches from all levels,” he said.
“In my view, there’s a concerted effort to share ideas at all levels and the co-operation between affiliates and their franchises is getting better.
“Every area has its unique challenges but there’s a drive towards better integration.”
Dippenaar lauded the upcoming domestic season’s schedule for incorporating the interests of the national team, labelling such an undertaking “very important”.
“It’s just one of the products of our review system. Synchronised fixture lists allow for better integration,” said Van Zyl.
“Even if the most important asset is experiencing difficulties that need addressing.”