Team talks and ‘honesty sessions’ with a sports psychologist are playing a significant and potentially crucial part of South Africa’s preparations ahead of the World Cup.
Team management is sparing no effort to ensure that potential banana skins are cleaned up. The squad has even been encouraged to talk about what they like and dislike about each other and how they can improve and be improved as people and as a team.
The players must have offloaded all their ‘chips’ when the chips are down and the pressure is on, as it will be during the tournament.
There is one potential source of discord and embarrassment that will be difficult to prepare for, however, and that is the looming English county season.
Scouts from that country have been crawling all over South Africa’s best players, concentrating on the junior ones with huge potential and the very senior ones coming towards the end of their careers. Each county can employ two overseas professionals these days and pressure is being applied to sign now, not next year.
Andrew Hall’s contract with Worcestershire raised a few eyebrows given that South Africa will be playing a five-test series in England next winter but doubters can relax – Hally is not turning his back on his country.
His contract has a clear and bold clause that releases him immediately should he be selected for the national side.
Other players, on the other hand, are being encouraged to sign ‘secretly’ for large sums of money in the knowledge that they will not be available for national selection but the news will not be made public until after the World Cup. That will be a big, big mistake.
Such ‘secrets’ always leak and a leak could be, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a major morale sinker.
An old friend and ex-cricketer in England tells me, for example, that Yorkshire are determined to sign Lance Klusener. If he signs, which seems likely, the deal must not be concealed and Klusener’s future status must be made public.
The same applies to Hayward, Kirsten, Ntini, Boje, Kallis and Pollock. And several others.
It is only right and proper that professional sportsmen should assess their options and make business decisions, not emotional ones. But if there are any players already planning to retire into well paid mediocrity straight after the World Cup, the story will be exposed. And that could get ugly.
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