Test cricket is alive and well but finds itself living in a world very different to its heyday. When trains and typewriters were everyday things and the pace of life was slower, Test cricket was totally in tune with daily life.
Times have changed and so has the make-up of those playing the wonderful version of the great game. No longer do people stand in queues patiently, no longer do they wait for much. Everything has speed to it. The internet, the mobile phone connection, ordering goods, service delivery and a myriad of things today demand that the pace of things happening are critical.
The T20 version of cricket appeals to the modern world and thus to the modern cricketer. Yet he is also required to play a version of the game that has its rules and strategy firmly fixed by times long-gone. The clash means adapting or not surviving in the “old world” game.
The Proteas find themselves stuck in a space of transition right now. Clearly the culture that is exists in the Test team setup lacks patience. It has become patently obvious that this single and probably most important quality is not being dealt with adequately. The question is who carries that responsibility.
A culture is a facet of any organisation that binds those in the circle to each other. Individuals are able to function independantly but always bearing the culture in mind. Huge corporations are acutely aware of it and often mergers are scuppered through differing cultures. People need to fit into the way things are done. It is often the DNA of the organisation that sets it apart from its competitors. So too in the world of Test cricket.
Understanding this process and implementing it means firstly acknowledging the importance of a culture and then committing to understanding the what and the how much the importance in the make-up towards achieving success really is. In simple terms, it means knowing what individuals have the qualities that fit into the culture.
It is worth repeating again that Test cricket demands one vitally important ingredient in every single player, be he a batsmen or a bowler. It is the value called patience.
My belief is that this “culture thing” isn’ t being understood by those selecting the team, which starts with the Chairman of Selectors and transcends through to those in the management of the team. Again, it is something that is learnt over time and is more likely to be understood more deeply by experiencing it first-hand. A concern is that those entrusted with ensuring a culture of patience is a priority have never had first-hand experience of it. In the business world the CEO and Chairman play a pivotal role in laying the foundation for a culture and are guardians of it sometimes for years on end. How would Linda Zondi our Convenor, or Russel Domingo our coach understand its importance fully when they themselves haven’t had first-hand knowledge of developing and implementing one at the coal-face over a long period of time in this environment.
When one looks at the performances of the Proteas in recent times it is punctuated with the lack of that quality called patience. Too many players get out when they are set for a big score. Bowlers don’ t build enough presure through consistently bowling in the right area. No-one doubts the ability of each player to hit a half-volley or to bowl and top delivery. It’s the in-between moments that are continuously letting them down. The impact of the quicker version of the game is real and resisting it demands extreme discipline and that thing called patience.
Every once in a while there comes a genius that somehow overcomes his lack of patience through sheer ability. AB de Villiers fits that mould and the danger is that others follow that style. Brian Lara was one such player as was Ricky Ponting. When their ability was blended with patience on a day, they took total control and posted massive scores. Graeme Smith was another player showed he could be patient and then dominate within that zone.
The greatest attribute Hashim Amla has is his ability to stay patient yet even he nowadays is not able to control himself when out of survival mode. Faf du Plessis finds himself in that space too. JP Duminy is a wonderful batsman with amazing hands and great shot-making ability but averages just 32 in Test cricket. He is paying the price for not being patient.
The latest success story of the Proteas is Dean Elgar. He’s singe biggest strength is his ability to wait for the poor delivery. Gary Kirsten was the same. Jacques Kallis stayed at the top of his game for many years through his ability to stay patient when under pressure and became the rock around which the Proteas climbed to number one in the world.
Until the Proteas and their entire system come to grips with understanding the value of a culture with patience as its core we will continue to see players being selected who have not yet mastered that aspect of their game as well as players being over-looked who do have it.
Inconsistent performances and under-performing players in the Test arena will remain a reality and that will eventually cost the Proteas the number one ranking in the Test world.
The management team currently has a specialist to coach each discipline from fast bowling to spin. But alas, how many of them have captained an organisation at a level equal to the demands of Test cricket and it’s many intracacies. One expects that a player selected to represent his country at Test cricket is already developed to a level where he is able to work out his own game. The real challenge is for him to adapt at a mental level and mature his thought-processes to be a success in Test cricket for a prolonged period of time. Unfortunately our school and provincial cricket aren’t geared around this thought process and hence the enormous gap between Test and other cricket.
Russel Domingo has work to do or he too will become a victim of the Test cricket culture.