Opinion: WIll Hussey help or hinder SA?

Anything Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis couldn’t do, the newer school must do better, but AB de Villiers and company will go into the 2015 World Cup with the usual questions hanging over their heads.

Can the sins of the past be redeemed? Is the collective mindset solid enough? Will key individuals rise to fore on a consistent basis? How long will the dreaded ‘c’ word remain at bay before fickle fans, foes and pundits alike dredge up the beleaguered past?

Chokers or not, the Proteas have the nation behind them. The patriotic send-off at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg presumably inspired the public and players to really believe a maiden World Cup title is a mere six victories and eight weeks away. The practicalities of such an illustrious achievement, however, must be balanced by mental edge.

Coach Russell Domingo has been very insistent about approaching this World Cup as any other series. His bid to downplay the importance of the event – and hopefully quieten public pressure – has been manifested in the absence of a mental conditioning coach. ‘Why create the anxiety when we’ve been playing so well without it?’ – home truths, indeed, from Domingo.

Paddy Upton, Jeremy Snape, Henning Gericke and Mike Horn performed the role in various capacities in the past. All have been deemed surplus to requirement this time, though.

Michael Hussey, however, has been recruited on a consultancy basis. The former Australian batsman played in two World Cups, winning one – and will largely liaise with the squad on an experiential front.

As a left-hander, he’ll afford Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy and David Miller plenty of insight. As a man adept at floating up and down the order, he’ll advise Rilee Rossouw accordingly. As a decent part-time ODI seamer, familiar with the lines and lengths required in Sydney and surrounds, he’ll monitor and hopefully correct the freelance trundle offered by Farhaan Behardien – and perhaps de Villiers.

Hussey’s proverbial inside scoop on the Australian team, when the staunch rivals trade blows toward the business end of the tourney, will be instrumental. Hussey will, at the very least, augment a coaching staff lined with the talents of Allan Donald, Charl Langeveldt and Claude Henderson.

In an intriguing sub-plot, Donald’s two months in Australasia will be telling. The employment of Langeveldt suggests he is being groomed to take over from ‘White Lightning’ as the bowling coach.

An early exit for the Proteas would probably mean the same for Donald, while a successful campaign should delay Langeveldt’s promotion. Either way, South Africa must get their death bowling spot on, necessitating the regular selection of yorker extraordinaire Kyle Abbott.

The Proteas should have a relatively simple start to their Pool B campaign against Zimbabwe. The minnows sprung a shock defeat over their African neighbours in 1999, but almost two decades later, are a substantially poorer opposition – and have been dogged by several off-field problems recently.

A tough fixture against India will follow in Melbourne, where hard and fast conditions will have to be tempered by calculated hitting and disciplined bowling. South Africa had the beating of the West Indies in January; February should be no different – but a potential banana peel in perennial giant slayers Ireland must be avoided.

Pakistan, their own worst enemy at the best of times, will present a litmus test regardless. A closing group match against the United Arab Emirates, as Gary Kirsten and Donald circa 1996 will attest, must bring nothing more than a walk in the park.

A mere 50 percent win ratio across these six fixtures should book South Africa a quarter-final berth, when the real challenge will kick in.

If Domingo’s men are to go all the way – justifying the ‘favourites’ label and nullifying the ‘chokers’ tag en route – five goals must be achieved.

– While their recent form has been great, now is the time for Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers to score big runs, when it counts the most.
– Wayne Parnell, in the absence of the discarded Ryan McLaren, must silence critics. Luke warm performances cannot be tolerated.
– JP Duminy and Behardien must take their bowling more seriously than ever. De Villiers won’t want to turn to himself or, say, Faf du Plessis for an over or three.
– The past is the past. The ruins of 1992’s rain, 1999’s catastrophic run-out, 2003’s humiliating miscalculation, et al, must not hamper 2015’s brimming promise.
– The backroom staff, particularly Donald, must justify their salaries. Adrian Birrell, Langeveldt, etc, are as much a part of the team as Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel.

Jonhenry Wilson