SA risks decline ‘like Windies’
CAPE TOWN — Michael Holding has a unique vantage-point. He was a member of the West Indies cricket team that became the world Test champions in the 1980s, and is now a television commentator on the current series which has seen England topple South Africa from their position as No1-ranked Test team.
At the Wanderers last Saturday, Holding admired Stuart Broad’s six for 17. “It was a magnificent spell of bowling,” said the Rolls Royce of fast bowlers. “On that surface you needed control and consistency, and when you have someone of that height in total control, it’s difficult to make any runs.
“He [Broad] just mastered the conditions and didn’t experiment too much,” Holding added. “In England you can get away with bad deliveries, but here they would get put away – and he didn’t bowl any.”
Holding has also been taken with the 20-year-old clocking more than 90 mile-perhour for South Africa, Kagiso Rabada. “He looks so easy, he looks smooth, he doesn’t look as though he’s expending any energy,” Holding almost purred.
When comparing the West Indies’ decline from No1 to South Africa’s fall, Holding has some valuable insights into the similarities and differences. He speaks his mind too, never deferential to the game’s politicians, or any other kind.
“The first thing I identify is that the West Indies lost a lot of their great players in that early to mid-1990s period. South Africa is in a similar situation,” Holding said. For Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Desmond Haynes and Jeff Dujon then, read Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher.
“West Indies had no forward planning, no succession plan, and I’m not too sure they [South Africa] do. What I’m seeing with this South Africa team, it seems as though they’re doing a lot of patchwork. Having an opener (Stiaan van Zyl) who is not really an opener - instead of saying OK, we have to plan for down the road. If you want to rebuild a team you can’t do patchwork, and the West Indies did a lot of that.”
Developing satisfactory successors for great players, who can never be fully replaced, depends on sensible administration and plenty of investment. “You’ve got to have a lot of A tours,” said Holding, “and do as England does – have two teams on tour, the Test team and an A team in the same country, so there’s some overlapping and people are learning from each other. It mustn’t be a culture shock when you step into the Test arena, and I haven’t seen the West Indies do anything like that.”
“What did not affect the West Indies, but I think is going to affect South Africa, is the T20 cricket you have around the world. There are so many whispers about AB de Villiers retiring – and Dale Steyn too, but as a fast bowler, he’s getting close to the end of his career anyway, and when you see a fast bowler retire a year or two before he’s totally done, that’s not really a serious problem. But when a batsman retires five or six years before, that is a bigger problem, and I think that’s going to affect this team.
“You heard AB de Villiers talking about the workload. There’s plenty more cricket being played today than in years gone by but you know he’s not going to give up the Indian Premier League.
“So it’s going to be the South African Test team that will suffer in that regard. We didn’t have that problem in the mid-90s, but we’re suffering that problem now.”
When the West Indies were playing their Test series in Australia, they seemed to have more players in the Big Bash – more good players at any rate.
“We can’t afford to sit down and wait in the Caribbean for cricketers to turn up, because a lot of them have been turned off anyway. When you watch the current West Indies team, who wants to aspire to be what they are? And South Africa could be heading in that direction.”
Holding then looks at the strength of schools cricket in South Africa, and the scholarships which are given to promising boys like Temba Bavuma, and sees the basis of a structure.
“That’s where they are far ahead of us. If we could get that sort of thing happening in the Caribbean it would help us a great deal. I think we have gone totally downhill, but they have a better chance of rescuing the situation than we did because we were not prepared at all.”
Money? “I don’t think they are rock bottom as far as funding is concerned. Castle and Sunfoil are ready to put money in the sport. We have never had a West Indian company putting money into cricket. They [South Africa] should never get to the stage where we are now, but there’s a chance of it slipping to an unacceptable level.
“You’ve got to have money to keep your people playing domestic cricket. The countries that have money and can afford to pay their cricketers, and convince them to stay back and help the development of their cricket, will always be well ahead of those countries that don’t.
“I’d love to see Shashank Manohar (the new chairman of the International Cricket Council) change the existing arrangement of the three countries [Australia, England and India] raping the cricket system. Without funding, the lesser countries will keep on getting more and more insignificant.” — www. telegraph.co.uk
SA'S Temba Bavuma celebrates after scoring a century against England in Cape Town last week.