The great escape to India
Proteas will be relieved to regroup away from controversy
TIME was when a trip to India was viewed with some trepidation by South African cricketers, that is most certainly not the case today.
Following a week of upheaval, caused by boardroom interference in the team’s coaching structure, the best move for the South African team to make is to go to India, which is exactly what they will do this morning.
There may be a genuine sense of relief flowing through the side that they can get out of the country after all the controversy of the last five days that has seen Mickey Arthur, their coach of five years resign, and the captain’s role in that decision scrutinised.
“That’s the good thing, that our focus will be on one thing and that’s the cricket,” said Kepler Wessels, who has been roped in as a batting consultant by the interim coach Corrie van Zyl, and as a stop-gap selector by Cricket SA’s board.
“We can take the emphasis off the political stuff and concentrate on the cricket. There are a few days which we will have together in Nagpur that include a warm-up game and that should allow everyone’s minds to focus on the task at hand.”
The problems within the side may not be as profound as those in CSA’s boardroom, but they still need fixing.
For the most part they involve the area Wessels has been hired to look after – the batting.
Right at the top is Ashwell Prince who struggled to make runs against England and has voiced his unhappiness at having to do duty as an opener.
“Before anything happens there, Corrie wants to have a discussion with Ashwell about how he feels about opening the batting,” said Wessels.
If Prince stays true to what he said before the England series then he’ll tell Van Zyl he’s not very happy at all.
Prince only did the job for the first time last year when in the final Test against Australia he opened the batting with Graeme Smith out injured and Neil McKenzie dropped.
He made 150 and everyone thought the problem was solved. Against England he averaged 13.85 with just one noteworthy score of 45, though at least half his dismissals came with excellent deliveries.
“If he tells Corrie he wants to stay at the top of the order then he will find it beneficial to play in the subcontinent,” Wessels explained.
“I know there’s the old saying about opening the batting being the hardest job in the game, but there are some advantages to being an opener in the subcontinent, where you don’t face the kind of bowlerfriendly wickets you find in England, Australia and South Africa.”
Once they do find Prince’s favoured position, discussion will centre mainly around strategy for his technique remains strong and compact.
JP Duminy’s technique may have been questioned over the course of the England series, but Wessels wants to highlight two major points with him.
“ I ’ ve worked with him before, the first thing is to look at his approach to the offspinner and second is his play against short pitched bowling.
“Obviously he won’t get a lot of that in India this time but it will be useful for him to figure out how to regain his confidence against the short ball.”
Harbhajan Singh lies in wait when it comes to the first issue and following his troubles with Graeme Swann, it’s an area of Duminy’s game that requires specific attention.
In his capacity as selector Wessels doesn’t anticipate making drastic changes to the starting XI, though the conditions will dictate which course the selectors take, and they’re more than likely to include a spinner. “The last time we were there we got that green top in Ahmedabad and then a broken raging turner in Kanpur.
“I don’t think we’ll see another green top again, they won’t being doing us similar favours this time.”
South Africa play a two-day warm-up game starting on Tuesday.
The first Test begins in Nagpur next Saturday.
FOCUS: Batting coach Kepler Wessels will concentrate on cricket.