Smith Boucher Spearhead Of South Africa'S Offer To Repair The Damage > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Smith, Boucher spearhead South Africa's bid to repair the damage
The appointments of Boucher as head coach and Smith as director of cricket are antidotes to months of mounting damage.
Enoch Nkwe was about to take a seat at one end of a top table of four places for a press conference at Newlands on Saturday (December 14) when his new boss, who was sat in the middle, held out a halting hand and waved him over to another empty space directly to his right.
Graeme Smith, as of Wednesday Cricket South Africa's director of cricket, if only for the next three months although he is open to a longer tenure, has been away from the glare of the game for more than five years. But he hasn't forgotten the importance of how things look, perhaps because he was never far from uncomplimentary opinions on his rough-hewn batting technique. Smith knew Saturday's optics demanded that Nkwe, who has been jettisoned as interim team director - or coach - of South Africa's men's team should not be seen to have been sidelined. So he drew him closer to the light.
Also in Smith's halo, at his left, sat someone who he knew, as a player, never walked onto a cricket ground without enough confidence to power an entire team, and then some. Mark Boucher, who had Smith as his captain in 85 of his 147 Tests, has been appointed South Africa's coach until after the 2023 World Cup. Nkwe will serve as his assistant.
The return of Smith and Boucher to the international stage after spells spent in the relative deserts of commentary and franchise coaching, and the appointment of the respected Jacques Faul as acting chief executive, have been antidotes to months of mounting damage that has resulted in four CSA board members resigning and seven staff suspended, among them the chief executive, Thabang Moroe.
"What's been happening of late has been disappointing for everybody," Smith said. "We need to turn around the image, and a lot of things still need to shift. My goal is focused on getting the Proteas and the structures performing well. We know that cricket is a big part of bringing in budget, and we know that a high-performing Proteas team goes a long way to providing some confidence."
Smith has stepped into a scrapyard strewn with the wrecks of a CSA board that has abdicated its responsibility to the game in favour of its own self-interest and survival, the severing of a longstanding sponsorship relationship and threats of the same from another, a men's team who have dwindled to a shadow of their former flinty selves, and outright anger from a cricket-minded pubic who have had enough of all that.
Importantly, the board have been removed from the process of trying to fix what is so obviously broken. "There is no relationship [with the board] at this stage," Smith said. "My point of call had been Jacques. We're trying to sort the game and take it forward." Smith said he had yet to talk to any board members since his appointment, and none of the remaining eight were present on Saturday. His agreement to take the position, which followed him refusing weeks ago, is thought to have hinged on Moroe's axing.
"I didn't have a lot of confidence in the leadership of CSA," Smith said. "I made the communication very clear that I didn't feel you could achieve in this role with the leadership that was there at the time. You need a robust CSA for people to be able to challenge each other. You need trust, and you need to have an environment that's ready for that. I didn't feel the environment was ready before I took this job. If I'm going to come in I want to be able to do the best [I can]. I feel that the opportunity is there now. I have a lot of confidence in Jacques as the CEO."
Boucher said players were not immune to trouble at higher levels infecting their performances, as was suggested by South Africa's poor World Cup, where they won only three of their eight completed games, and a 3-0 thrashing in their Test series in India under Nkwe in October: "When you lack leadership from up top it does seep into the lower sections of the train," Boucher said. "Guys start getting away with murder at the bottom. If we get the right leadership at the top it's going to filter down. I'm very confident that we've got the right leadership at the top and it will filter down to all sections of the game in our country." He acknowledged that there was plenty of repair work to do: "The game has been hurt. The bottom line is that myself and Enoch have been put in place to get the Protea team doing well. If we look after that space I do think we'll get the crowds and fans behind us again."
Linda Zondi, who convened the selection panel that was dissolved in the wake of the World Cup but not replaced, returns as an independent member of a committee to pick South Africa's squad that features captain Faf du Plessis along with Boucher and Nkwe. On Monday they will name the squad for the first two Tests against England in a four-match series that starts in Centurion on December 26. Ashwell Prince, who insiders say refused an offer to act as the team's batting consultant, will coach South Africa A on a part-time basis and retain his position as head coach of the Cape Cobras. Batting and bowling consultants will be appointed in the coming days.
But it is the replacement of Nkwe with Boucher that sticks out as potentially contentious. Both have won titles at franchise level but Nkwe has coached for longer and, as the holder of a level four certificate, is the more qualified of the two. Nkwe is also back in a game that is determined to transform itself to better reflect the majority of its players and supporters, as well as the wider nation. Boucher is white. But he comes with the credibility of a successful international career - which Nkwe never had.
"I felt the Proteas needed a really hardened, internationally experienced guy," Smith said. "Mark is tactically very knowledgeable. We all know what qualities he has as a man as well. I felt those decisions were the best for the current Proteas set-up. We've had a number of chats with Enoch in terms of his path going forward, and developing him into a high standard international coach. We feel he has a lot of qualities that are going to be very useful to Mark, and in progressing his own future in South African cricket." Smith said he was braced for questioning from a society that unflinchingly interrogates racial issues: "I expect that. My job is to create cricket excellence. I 100% feel I've made the right decision for the Proteas in terms of cricket excellence. I feel Enoch's appointment as assistant coach is the right thing, also for Enoch's future. We also need to think about managing people and not just a number. I'm very aware of transformation. I led my country for 11 years. I had to be very much part of managing those processes. Mark's appointment, as a battle-hardened international cricketer, is what was needed."
Did Nkwe consider himself demoted? "Not at all," he said. "Whatever decision that gets made, if I'm not involved then I go back to franchise cricket and do my utmost to impact the system positively. I've been fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to remain in the set-up. There's a lot of room for growth, but I feel I'm going to make a massive impact - not only in the team but in our country. We're going through a bit of a tough time, but there's no better opportunity than to be inside and help transform the team to become the best in the world."
A team like the side Smith and Boucher used to play for, perhaps, and which they seem determined to re-invent in that image. "I think Faf is happy that there's a bit of leadership around," Smith said. "It's been very frustrating for both him and Enoch - there's been almost no communication [with CSA]. I'm glad we were able to come in and provide some leadership for them. Hopefully, we can take away some of the drama from them so they can focus on playing cricket well. That's what we need from them. It's going to be our responsibility to clean up the rest." Boucher sounded like he knew how to do that: "Our confidence is a bit down. We need to get our confidence back. There's a wealth of knowledge in this country that can be utilised; to get consultants in, to try and get the confidence up, to try and get as much information going in the right direction through to the players and give them the space to try and perform at their best. We've got that talent in this country but that's got to be nurtured."
Right now, however, the priority is to stop the series against Joe Root's team catching fire in the wrong way. With Nasser Hussein posting on social media that he could pick a team of Kolpak players that could beat South Africa, the sparks are flying already. "I know they've been saying quite a few things in the media, and probably rightly so," Boucher said. "But I've got one thing to say to them: beware a wounded buffalo, especially in Africa."
Fighting words. But you wouldn't expect anything else from someone who knows no other way. For his next trick, could Boucher convince AB de Villiers to come out of international retirement for next year's T20 WC? "When you go to a World Cup you want your best players. If you feel he's one of the best players, then why wouldn't you want to have conversations with him? If there are a couple of issues you've got to iron out, if it's for the best of South Africa, absolutely. Let's try and do it."
Suddenly, and for the first time in a while in South African cricket, all good things seem possible.
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