Enlightened Jennings sees way forward

It’s often a very good idea to wait for the dust to settle on any contentious situation before commenting or reacting, particularly if there are strong emotions involved. Hot-hotheadedness, impetuosity and knee-jerk reactions can be the bane of all our lives.

So it is with great relief that Ray Jennings’ appointment as coach went without comment on this page for three days because I have now seen the light.

A premature reaction would almost certainly have cast caution – even alarm – at the possibility of a return to the dark, military-dictatorship style of coaching that became redundant over a decade ago. Running punishment laps of the field for bowling no-balls and being made to drink (only) warm water during a match had its place 30 years ago when cricket was an amateur sport but that approach is now redundant.

Sure, Mr Jennings made some comments in the weekend newspapers about making his players crawl under a tap on their hands and knees to drink water if it reinforced the honour of representing their country, but it was only a show. Mr Jennings is, in fact, a man of far greater vision and sensitivity that that.

It became obvious when he spoke of “trust, respect and honour.” It was obvious when he said that his cricketers would need to be “honest” and “enjoy themselves” while they were playing under his command.

And it became most obvious of all when he said that he wanted to travel with his second wife, Alison, while on duty in national colours. Tough guy though he may be, Jennings has the good sense and humility to acknowledge the importance of the role played by his wife. She both “energises” him and “calms me down,” he said.

This is fantastic news for South African cricket – the positive effect a woman can have on a professional cricketer can be staggering. No longer will the national team be tempted to stay out too late while on tour or to stray from the path of fidelity.

I’m not sure how Cricket South Africa is going to pay for all the extra airfares and other costs of having the players families traveling on tour but Jennings has obviously struck a deal of some sort and he should be warmly applauded for that.

As he has said on many occasions, Jennings believes in equality and respect so there is no way he could possibly have demanded – or expected – special treatment for himself. His own system of values simply would not have allowed him to ask for Alison to be there at his side while the players endured expensive hotel phone bills and home-sickness with their partners back in South Africa. And even if he had resorted to that, Cricket South Africa could not possibly agree. Imagine the divide that would immediately be created between coach and players – instantly destructive.

So there I was, thinking that Jennings would undo all the social-skills progress made by the national players in the last 12 months when, in fact, he is introducing an element of maturity and farsightedness unsurpassed in the history of South African cricket.

At least, I hope I’m understanding the situation correctly.


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