Will accommodating AB de Villiers be South Africa new coach Ottis Gibson’s biggest challenge?

Till a month back, Ottis Gibson could enjoy a tranquil evening over a bottle of beer and witness James Anderson and Stuart Broad run in and bowl flawlessly ball after ball. Nothing could presumably go wrong in his life.

File image of Ottis Gibson. AFP

File image of Ottis Gibson. AFP

He was England’s bowling coach, and a reputed one at that, after his four-year period with the West Indies (2010-2014) brought in the World T20 title in 2012. Resuming his duties with England (he had been England’s bowling coach from 2007 to 2010 as well) Gibson could afford a bit of lax. He had some reputed bowlers at his disposal and his major requirements involved fine-tuning rather than hardcore training.

But his elevation to South Africa’s head coach brings with it a plethora of issues, both political and cricketing-wise, and Gibson will need to bid goodbye to his English lifestyle. South Africa are on the back of an embarrassing Test series loss to England but their woes do not stop there. There are quite a few problems that the newly-anointed head coach needs to address.

“I am delighted to embark on this new chapter in my coaching career and I would like to thank Cricket South Africa for giving me this opportunity and the England and Wales Cricket Board for their understanding of my position,” Gibson had said. “I have spent a number of happy times in South Africa as a player and I am now looking forward to return as a coach,” Gibson added.

Gibson’s first assignment in the home season will be relatively easier with Bangladesh set to visit the rainbow nation. However, two tough series – India and Australia – follow and this is where Gibson would really be tested. His predecessor, Russel Domingo, now the coach of South Africa A team, had a laid-back attitude and approach which, in hindsight, did not work for the Proteas.

Ahead of the West Indian’s biggest test as a coach, we discuss the challenges he needs to front up to.

Return of Test stalwarts

AB de Villiers recently announced his return to Test cricket and would be available after the Bangladesh series. The veteran batsman should ideally walk back into the Test squad given his reputation and the fact that he averages 50.46 in the format. But that’s not how things work in high-end sports and de Villiers, who hasn’t played a First-class match since January 2016, might need to prove his fitness and form in domestic cricket.

That said, the final call will obviously rest with the selectors and Gibson and if they feel they need him right away. Finding a place for him in a developing and packed middle-order is another task.

Dale Steyn’s return from injury also puts Gibson in a fix. Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander did good enough job in England although Philander’s fitness and Morkel’s Kolpak twist presents them with new questions. If Steyn is fit by the time Bangladesh land, Gibson would definitely want to see how he goes. But accommodating him in the bowling line-up is another tough task. The likes of Duanne Olivier and Beuran Hendricks also await chances and managing the pace battery will be another of Gibson’s tasks.

The Test opener conundrum

Similar to his previous side’s situation, South Africa have just one stable opener in Test cricket and are on the hunt for an able partner at the top for Dean Elgar. Heino Kuhn, the latest experiment in that regard, came a cropper in England with just 113 runs across four matches and is unlikely to continue at the top given his age is on the higher side.

Stephen Cook, another opener in the Chris Rogers mould, was tried, tested and dumped but he has amassed quite a lot of runs in the recent South Africa A vs India A series which might put him back in contention. The fan favourite, though, is 22-year-old Aiden Markram, a superstar in the making with an under-19 World Cup under his belt.

He had average returns against India A in the four day Tests but had travelled with the Test team in England to gel with the dressing room. With Bangladesh at home being the first assignment, Markram will get a sedate and relaxed start to his Test career if he makes his debut. Gibson will, however, need to decide if it is time to back youth over experience.

Finding the right mix of all-rounders

When South Africa embarked on their English adventure, they had JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo as their Test all-rounders. But Duminy was sent back home after the first Test and Morris continued to be unpredictable. Phehlukwayo wasn’t tested and there are voices loud enough to suggest that he could just be satisfying the numbers.

With de Villiers’ return, there might also be room only for one all-rounder, which would be Philander, provided he is fit. But with this strategy, South Africa risk going into a Test with just four bowlers, one of whom could breakdown any time. Dwaine Pretorius is another champion all-rounder waiting in the wings and is a much better batsman than Morris, Phehlukwayo and Philander. Gibson will need to oversee and control these five options and find the right blend before the Indian juggernaut lands.

Prepping up the ODI team for the World Cup

Any South African escapade is incomplete without the World Cup. The biggest of them await in 2019, in England, and Gibson will need to identify and groom the right bunch of players for the mega event. While many of the experienced players are expected to be available two years from now, South Africa have less of younger talent coming through in recent times. Gibson may need to pick Domingo’s brains to identify the right players from the South African A team as well. While the World Cup is still some time away, it remains South Africa’s ultimate goal and Gibson would want to enhance his credentials with a triumph in the coveted tournament.

Adhering to transformation guidelines

Anyone coaching the South African cricket team will need to keep in mind the transformation guidelines and adhere to it in order to avoid unnecessary political hassles. The 2015 World Cup fiasco involving Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott is still vivid in the minds of cricket fans and a repeat of that must be avoided at all costs.

That said, the guidelines state that the numbers (six non-whites including two blacks) need to be satisfied only on a yearly basis. This means blooding more fringe talent in less important matches to ensure the numbers are matched so that they can walk in to big games with big players. All this takes a toll on the coach and the West Indian should get used to the South African ways.

Published Date: Sep 01, 2017 08:30 pm | Updated Date: Sep 01, 2017 08:30 pm

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