Cynics smiled when Omar Henry announced the national squad for the Morocco Cup because it was, Paul Adams apart, exactly the same squad that Rushdie Magiet and Graeme Pollock etc would have picked. Those people might be a little more straight-faced now.
The selections of Dale Benkenstein and Alan Dawson in place of Gary Kirsten and Roger Telemachus cannot be described as ‘inspired’ because the new men haven’t done anything yet, but they can tell us an awful lot about the future while we wait for the ICC Champions Trophy to begin.
Omar Henry is not going to ‘coast’. He will not take the easy way out and he will confront difficult decisions when they arise. Just as a weak umpire can avoid controversy by saying ‘not out’, a weak selector will take the easy and ‘safe’ option whenever he can. Henry isn’t going to do that.
The national team has often been described as an exclusive club with a small membership and conditions of entry that are virtually impossible meet. Once accepted, however, membership is for life. Or so it can appear.
Henry has made an emphatic statement that he will explode that notion during his term of office.
By dropping Kirsten he has shown that reputation and status will play no more than a minor role in selection meetings from now on. By dropping Telemachus, Henry has admitted to making an embarrassing mistake by picking him in the first place. He wasn’t fit enough but Henry went on ‘gut feel’ and instinct, relying on the player’s in-your-face attitude to get him through.
Instinct and gut feel are essential qualities for any selector to use.
Would the Springboks ever have had Brent Russell and Andre Pretorius in the starting line-up if someone hadn’t backed an inner belief?
Between 1994 and 1997 Benkenstein was regarded as Hansie Cronje’s natural successor. Cronje even said so himself. But he has spent the last two years sitting on the sidelines, waiting and waiting, having never been given a decent chance to establish himself. Can there be anybody more motivated?
Dawson, too, was treated shabbily. There are 14 men in South Africa who have a Commonwealth Games gold medal thanks to him but Dawson was tossed aside like a used serviette. By inviting him back to the club, Henry is saying to every ‘hopeful’ in the country: “You are not forgotten.”
Gut-feel selections can go wrong, as we saw in Morocco, but this time I suspect they won’t.
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