The Leading Edge

Cricketing stampede in SA to coach ... Scotland

What's with all the interest from South Africans? Telford Vice investigates

23 December 2018 - 00:02 By Telford Vice


Someone from Cricket Scotland got hold of a South African of their acquaintance the other day: "Could I run a few wee names by ye, laddie?"
The job of coaching Scotland's national men's team is available, and the suits (actually, the kilts) were getting on with filling the vacancy. Having sifted through the applications they arrived at likely suspects.
That's where the Saffer came in. The Scot wanted an opinion on the South Africans who had shown interest.
Fire away...
One name. Then another. And another. Still another. A bunch more...
There were 15 in all. Fifteen! All vying for the privilege of presiding over the at-best-middling performance of a team who struggle for recognition in a country where football and rugby matter exponentially more, and who will not be at next year's World Cup.
Some of the 15 were engaged at franchise level, others with Cricket SA. All had gone through a long and careful process.
New players are minted every time someone makes a debut, and the progress of those of exceptionally rare quality, like Kagiso Rabada, can be hastened for the good of the cricketer, their team and the game alike.
Coaching doesn't work like that. There is no reliable substitute for the years it takes the best of them to develop and mature.
That as many as 15 of high calibre should be looking for alternative employment is as loud an alarm as could be: removing that much expertise and experience would be a severe shock to the system.
Then there's coach no 16. Adrian Birrell wasn't in the mix for the Scotland post, maybe because he has been signed by Hampshire. The county, it has been reliably learnt, came looking for him and not the other way round.
Birrell spent five years as SA's assistant coach, a position he reached after decades in the game that included taking South Africa's under-19 team to the West Indies in 1992 and engineering Ireland's defeat of Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup.
Now he's left for at least three years, taking with him his Eastern Cape farmer's sense of perspective - when the sheep are so maer that you're sommer going to fax them to the abattoir, who cares who wins and loses?
But we should care that SA has neglected to get the most out of its investment in Birrell. Why not? It's a good time to ask the question, what with Mickey Arthur in a Pakistan tracksuit these days and thus back in his home country for a few weeks.
Steve Elworthy hasn't called SA home for years and he is unlikely to for years to come. Further evidence of his Britishification was had the other day when he popped off to Buckingham Palace to have a medal pinned to his lapel by a jug-eared septuagenarian called Charles, who needs his mother to die before he can start the job that was unfairly reserved for him at birth.
Whatever you think of the British monarchy, they know an excellent administrator when they see one. Elworthy is exactly that, and now he is also a "Member of the British Empire" for "services to cricket". He is also, of course, lost to the game in SA.
Birrell, Arthur and Elworthy are all white, which probably means they were better placed to market themselves in a wider cricket world that, shamefully, doesn't trust blackness.
Whatever. They're gone.
South African cricket needs to ask itself why they left. And why at least 15 more want to follow them.

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