Proteas spring another leak

When Clive Woodward became coach of the England rugby team he placed ‘results’ about fifth on his list of priorities. Instead of trying to win each and every game, and being judged purely by his win-loss ratio, Woodward concentrated on building a coaching and managerial structure which could withstand the rigours international rugby, provide strength-in-depth and also cope with the batterings of the infamous English media.

Fortunately, he was given the absolute faith and backing of the Board of directors, too, because they knew that change was necessary. The result, some years later, was the Webb Ellis trophy and a knighthood.

I don’t want to sound glib because there are always logical reasons behind decisions made by qualified and rational men, even in sport, but the tactics and selections for the reason series against India in Ireland were, to say the least, peculiar.

I know conditions weren’t conducive to spin bowling but – is that the point? I would have thought Thandi Tshabalala’s match temperament and ability to think on his feet against some of the best batsmen in the world might have been more relevant than how much grass there was under his feet.

And Vernon Philander? He had one good match against India, so what have we learned? Not much. We would all have been a great deal wiser if we’d see him play three games.

The problem, of course, is that everybody in South African sport judges everyone else on results. Winning and losing is all that counts, in every game, every tournament and every series.

If one could define the ultimate in irrelevancies, it would have been a three-match series played purely for revenue at a neutral venue watched by nobody. It was the ‘real thing’ in name only so what was Jacques Kallis doing captaining the team? He shouldn’t have been there at all. Same for Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini. Graeme Smith was injured leaving only Shaun Pollock of the senior players with a genuine leave of absence.

The reason? Two things: television producers have become pretty smart about countries selecting their ‘best available’ teams in order not to diminish their paid-for spectacle. Ultimately, though, there are hundreds of ways out of that one. Just ask Sachin Tendulkar and Herschelle Gibbs, both of whom were selected for the Afro-Asia Cup and replied with a metaphorical raising of two fingers.

The second reason is the one mentioned in the first paragraph; the win-loss ratio. Everybody, from selection convenor Haroon Lorgat to coach Mickey Arthur and captain Graeme Smith, believes their jobs are on the line if they don’t win.

Winning is good, don’t get me wrong. But nobody wins all the time and in order to win when it really matters, it’s actually important to lose a few that don’t. Australia’s cricketers rested Gilchrist, McGrath and Ponting for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy just before the World Cup and were given a 3-0 hiding. Didn’t do them too much harm in the Caribbean, however. (And ironically amusing that the Australian rugby fraternity is now letting out an ear-splitting, indignant squeal about Jake White doing exactly the same thing!).

Anyway, one man has had enough, and a very, very good man he is, too. Fitness trainer Adrian le Roux has called it a day and resigned, tired of the same mistakes being made again and again. He was rated the best in the world when he was with the Indian team where he was allowed to do his job and where he dealt every day with players who believed what he told them, listened to his advice and wanted their bodies – inside and out – to be the best they could possibly be. Sadly, that wasn’t always the case with the Proteas.

Good Luck, Adrian. I know you will make a resounding success of your new career. And enjoy your time with the family! No more room-service for you.

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