No matter how close people feel they are to the inside of an international team, they cannot know its dynamics unless they are actually in the team. So whatever the public’s thoughts are about why the Test team isn’t ‘clicking’ like the one-day team, they are – at best – stabs in the dark.
Only the men on the inside have a chance of figuring out those reasons, and even they may have to resort to a little bit of guesswork.
There is an undeniable energy about the one-day side which comes from having been together as a squad for the best part of two years. The trust which is formed between players who know each other as people and trust each other as cricketers is a key ingredient to building a successful team.
While there is little doubt that every member of the Test squad has a deep respect for Hashim Amla, for example, they may not yet know what makes him ‘tick’. He has yet to confirm his credentials as a Test number three batsmen and, while he is grappling with that predicament, it is difficult for the senior players in the team to find the right comment or word of encouragement to fit the moment or ease the tension.
Ashwell Prince, too, is a man of few words but, in his current form, a man of inspiring deeds. What does he say to the rest of the batting order while they are failing and he is succeeding? With Amla and Prince consequently saying little, the change room may feel a little quieter than it does while the one-day squad is together.
Then there are the other ‘new’ faces, Paul Adams and Paul Harris. It’s hard to imagine that either man feels the urge to be chipper and chirpy in the current circumstances. More people keeping themselves to themselves.
Many celebrated sports psychologists have urged their clients to smile, to laugh, even if the action is initially forced, because the effect of obvious enjoyment has the twin effects of reminding them that sport is only a game and spreading the message to his teammates that he, at least, isn’t treating his job as a matter of life and death. The collective effect, ideally, is that everyone relaxes.
Easier said than done.
The only natural smilers and jokers in the squad, Makhaya Ntini and Herschelle Gibbs, endured an ordinary and dreadful Test respectively at the Wanderers and, consequently, they may not have been as lively as the team needs them to be in the build-up to Kingsmead. The sound of silence can be intimidating and depressing, and it’s hard not to imagine that there would have been a fair bit of it about in Durban these last few days.
It’s all very well saying that it’s the captain’s job to lead from the front in such circumstances, but if Graeme Smith was to grab his party hat and tell a few jokes in a team meeting at the moment it might be received with the same goodwill as a best man enjoys at a wedding while cracking gags about the groom’s salacious ex-girlfriends.
There may be no easy way to fix this lack of ‘vibe’ in the change room if that is the problem. But there are expert facilitators who work in the field and may be available, even during the holiday season. Alternatively, and this may sound whacky but it has been tried – successfully – by many other sports teams in many other countries, a respected comedian and entertainer could spend an hour with the team before the Cape Town Test. Just them and him. Johnny Clegg, Barry Hilton…whoever.
One thing which is a complete waste of time, however, is for frustrated and disgruntled fans to call for the dropping of Smith because sporting history suggests that captains are never removed from their post until they have irreversibly lost the support of their players. Administrators will never remove a popular or respected leader for fear of losing the entire team. The team will decide when that time has come and then, albeit with lowered eyes and few, if any words, they will alert the bosses.
But that time has not come. Instead of sacking the skipper, it would be more beneficial to put a smile on the team’s face.
Anyone know any good jokes?
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.