Soft Generation

Sometimes a hunch or intuition proves to be true and sometimes the opposite is the case. And sometimes the truth hits you between the eyes like a bolt of lightning, unseen and unsuspected.

So here it is: the next generation of South Africa’s international cricketers are a soft, weak, spoiled bunch of pansies.

Of course there is always an exception but it simply proves the rule. Naming 18, 19 or 20-year-olds would be grossly unfair and I have no intention of doing so, largely because it is not their fault that they have grown up believing cricket to be an ‘easy’ option.

Social scientists and psychologists could spent thousands of hours devising theories as to how it has happened.

What part has the millions of rands spent on development programmes played in producing the prevalent malaise? Has the enforced quota system in schools led to complacency on one hand and despair on the other? Neither emotion is likely to produce the determination to fight and work hard in a potential cricketer.

I don’t know what has produced so many ‘soft’ individuals and it’s probably wrong of me to speculate.

What I do know is that they exist. And I also know that they are in the process of being re- educated in the ways of the real world. And I am delighted to say that the majority are responding superbly to the shock of reality and only a couple have said ‘no thanks’ and walked away from the pain of training.

I am referring to the 35 young cricketers identified as the most talented in the country and assigned to Gary Kirsten’s winter programme of Excellence.

Let me say immediately that Kirsten has not spoken a word against his pupils, either privately or publicly, because he is a man of integrity and honour and he’d rather fix a problem than talk about it.

But the good folk at the South African Sports Science Institute in Cape Town have been unable to contain their surprise. Ever since the first national cricket squad went to the Institute for fitness assessments back in the early 1990s, there has never been a less fit cricket squad than this current one.

Even Kirsten, presumably, would not deny the results of the general fitness test on the youngsters. Kirsten, at the age of 37, came third!

Once again, almost without exception, the young cricketers worked reasonably hard under the tutelage of Kirsten and his team of experts (Garth le Roux, Vince van der Bijl, Vinnie Barnes, Eric Simons and Mickey Arthur to name but a few) and then put their feet up and waited until the next organised session. It never occurred to them to make use of the facilities at their disposal in their own time.

The look of stunned comprehension on the faces of the young lads was quite a sight, I’m told, when the likes of ‘Big Vince’ described how he would bowl at a set of stumps by himself for hours on end after official net sessions were over. Kirsten, of course, was a devoted trainer who would also spent hours practising with Jonty Rhodes when others were cooling off in the pool.

This column is not being negative. In fact, as the Excellence programme unfolds we should all start feeling more and more positive and optimistic about the future. All I am saying is that we have inadvertently produced a generation of young men who think cricket is ‘easy’ – both the playing and the training.

Too many of the hardest workers of previous generations have left the game too quickly without imparting their knowledge to the young men who are starting their careers now.

Thank goodness for Kirsten and his determination to make 35 young men (I think it might actually be 33 or 32 now but I can’t be sure – one or two were unable to cope with the pace and dropped out) work harder than they have ever worked before.

And if the sociologists can work out what happened to them on their way to their current state, perhaps we might even learn the lessons and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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