The axe hangs on an era of South African cricket

Vignesh Kumar

Ottis Gibson will not be retained as South Africa coach.

An era in South African cricket is coming to a painful end. Following a dismal showing at the World Cup, Cricket South Africa president Chris Nenzani warned that heads would roll.

The heads have begun rolling as predicted, starting with head coach Ottis Gibson and his support staff of assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa, batting coach Dale Benkenstein, fielding coach Justin Ontong, and spin bowling coach Claude Henderson.

None of their services will be retained following a restructure of how the national team operates. Such a drastic move seemed inevitable following the World Cup and it brings Gibson's tenure to a close.

In a larger view, it is also the final chapter of a remarkable era in South African cricket. For, with the end of the tenure of the coaching staff, it is also likely that the senior players will decide that their careers in international cricket are done.

Time for the players?

South Africa are a team is in transition, with the likes of Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir and JP Duminy unlikely to play alongside each other again for too long. It was a stage that South Africa were approaching for a long time since Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith retired five years ago.

In the time between, South Africa have dealt with two painful World Cup exits, uninspiring performances in the World Twenty20 and Champions Trophy, transformation targets, promising players taking up Kolpak deals, financial instability, injuries, poor results and a few occasional flashes of brilliance. Inconsistent would be the best way to describe their performances.

In an ideal world, this year's World Cup would have been the final time AB de Villiers, du Plessis, Amla, Tahir, Steyn, Duminy, and Morne Morkel played together at the international level and achieved the success they had always promised.

Once they moved on, the likes of Vernon Philander, Rilee Roussow, Kyle Abbott, David Miller, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dean Elgar, Duanne Olivier, and Aiden Markram would take the team forward.

What transpired in reality was that de Villiers retired last year, and Morkel, Abbott, Roussow, and Olivier took Kolpak deals. David Miller lost form and confidence, Dale Steyn was injured more than he played, Amla's batting gradually went into decline, Duminy never played as well as his potential suggested, and du Plessis was left with too much to deal with as a batsman and captain.

Faf du Plessis' standing as captain is also in doubt following the restructure.

du Plessis' future as a player and as a captain is also in doubt, as Cricket South Africa stated that an interim captain would be appointed for the upcoming India tour. It is possible that du Plessis could stay on as captain until next year's World Twenty20 in a caretaker capacity until a permanent successor is identified.

Who that successor will be is another issue. Aiden Markram has been talked up as a future captain but hasn't established himself in the ODI and T20I teams, Quinton de Kock was tried as stand-in captain last year and Rassie van der Dussen was spoken about following his decent World Cup campaign. Dean Elgar stood in as Test captain last winter while Temba Bavuma is also another option.

As things stand, South Africa are in for a difficult few years in international cricket. The quality of the players that South Africa has is not in doubt, but it takes time for a team to perform well together. And if South Africa are to finally win a global event, they have to put that team together now.

That will be the next chapter in South African cricket. For now it seems, that an end to a dominant era is on the horizon. A painful end, but an end nonetheless.

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