LEADING EDGE: SA need to learn from Australia

Sunday Times


HOW much do the English think about what makes their team perform at optimum level? Too much. They’ve written the manual on analysis paralysis.

Indians? Plenty. But only from their own perspective, as if no-one else plays the game well enough for them to take notice.

Pakistanis? Not at all – they just do. Or die trying.

Australians? Every last one of them seems to have been born knowing exactly what it takes to win.

So much so that Mitchell Marsh didn’t have to think when he was asked which South African batsman’s wicket he hoped to take in the one-day series that starts on Friday: “All of them.”

And that from a man who has yet to play a test against South Africa, and who in his 10 one-day internationals and four T20s against them has claimed only half-a-dozen scalps.

That’s confidence, instinct and national character all in one tall, strapping package.

It’s also not what South Africans would say.

Here’s what one of us did say: “If the opportunity comes and it’s 50-50 we’re always going to try and take the positive route.

“Instead of blocking out the game we want to try and change the momentum in our favour; we want to force it a bit.

“The Aussies are not going to play negatively. We can also learn from England and New Zealand – all those big teams.

“They’ve done very well at that and we’re also looking to do it.”

That was Quintin de Kock, who doesn’t clutter his game with too much thinking. Like a Pakistani, he prefers to do.

So we can be fairly sure that what De Kock said were his recollections from recent team meetings.

And that tells us South Africans borrow from other cricket cultures when they think about what makes them perform at their best.

Or, at least, that they do so these days.

It’s difficult to imagine Graeme Smith standing up in the dressingroom and saying, “Okes, I want you to think like the Poms …”

Times have, of course, changed. South Africa are no longer the most difficult team in the game to beat, and their thinking has to change to fit their new reality.

Anything else would be a dereliction of this generation of players’ responsibility to hand over to the next crop a team in reasonable shape.

But the conservative view would be that this is A Bad Thing, that we should nurture our own way of cricket, that if South Africa are thinking this way then they are clean out of original ideas.

Cricket is where conservatism comes to die, so if this spark catches fire expect plenty of that kind of opinion.

Here’s another view: that middling teams like South Africa have become – they are fifth in the test rankings and fourth in both the short formats – are doomed to slip slid further from the top if they don’t learn from others.

That’s an important part of the reason why the wheels have fallen off West Indian cricket. They thought they could keep doing things like they did in the 1980s. They were too good to learn, or so they thought. 

Not, however, the Australians. They were the first country to appoint a national team coach and the first to establish a formal academy. There’s thinking going on under those thar Baggy Greens.

Australians tend to see their own weaknesses before their opponents do and they know their opponents better than they know themselves.

That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because, beyond all their confidence, instinct and national character, they know that to stop thinking and learning is to give up on the future.

And now the Aussies, the No. 1 ODI team, are here. They will play hard and they will, probably, play well. So, probably, will South Africa.   

That’s what has made matches and series between these teams compelling for so many years.

If South Africa want to keep things that way they need to do more than beat the Aussies.

They need to learn from them.


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