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Gibson eyes top Test ranking for injury-hit SA

September 20, 2017
JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s coach Ottis Gibson speaks during a news conference on Tuesday.—AP
JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s coach Ottis Gibson speaks during a news conference on Tuesday.—AP

JOHANNESBURG: New South Africa coach Ottis Gibson faces a fast bowling crisis ahead of the two-Test home series against Bangladesh that starts on Sept 28, as he plots a path to return the side to number one in the International Cricket Council’s five-day rankings.

West Indian Gibson left his post as England bowling coach to take up the top position with South Africa, but already faces a challenging start with several top performers sidelined by injury.

“We have four quality fast bowlers injured. That’s a problem straight away,” Gibson said at his first press conference as coach on Tuesday. “You can’t really develop a team with that type of injury list. We have to take 20 wickets consistently to win Tests. We need a group of fast bowlers ready to perform.”

Dale Steyn’s return has been delayed again, this time indefinitely, after he suffered a set-back in his recovery with a strained muscle in his problematic shoulder which he fractured last November and no time frame was being put on his return to full bowling fitness.

Vernon Philander has also been ruled out of the first Test, at least, with a back problem sustained in the recent 3-1 Test series loss in England, while all-rounder Chris Morris will miss both games also because of a back injury.

Promising youngster Lungi Ngidi, who burst onto the scene in Twenty20 cricket earlier this year, is also out until mid-October with a stress fracture in his back.

It means Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel are the only two fit seamers with significant Test experience, leaving Duane Olivier, Wayne Parnell and Andile Phehlukwayo to likely fight over the other two positions in the side.

Injuries aside, Gibson feels he has the players to return South Africa to the top of the Test rankings.

“My philosophy over the next two years is taking the Proteas back to the top of the [Test] pile first of all, then hopefully winning the (2019) World Cup,” he said. “I’m lucky in a sense, the Proteas have been to number one in the world on a few occasions and not very long ago they were number one in the world.”

Gibson says he is well aware of Cricket South Africa’s transformation targets that mean the national side, across all formats, must select on average through the season six non-white players per game, two of whom must be black African.

“That process has been happening before I got here” he said. “As far as team selection is concerned we will continue on the path that we are on at the moment. The chairman of selectors and the captain have got a handle on that.”

Gibson said he had asked Cricket South Africa to get all the country’s leading players in action during the first round of four-day franchise matches, which started on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to get into any thinking that Bangladesh is an easy series.” He cited Bangladesh’s recent win against Australia and said he had been on the receiving end as England’s bowling coach when Bangladesh beat England during a shared series last year.

“They’re going to be tough,” said Gibson. “That’s why I said, let’s get everyone playing. We haven’t played a lot of cricket since the Tests in England in August and we need to make sure we’re up to speed.”

Gibson acknowledged that winning the World Cup in 2019 was a major goal, following a succession of failures by South Africa in global tournaments.

He said he would discuss with senior players what sort of legacy they wanted to leave. “If it is to win the 2019 World Cup and if everyone gets into that mode, we’re climbing a mountain on the way to doing something special.”

Gibson said he respected the job former coach Russell Domingo had done and said he was happy to be working with Domingo’s support staff during the Bangladesh tour.

“They have helped take the team to number one. By the end of the Bangladesh series I should be able to say to Cricket South Africa, these are the people I want.”

Gibson said he had been in frequent touch with South Africa captain Faf du Plessis and he would make it a priority to talk with all South Africa’s six franchise coaches to get their input on the quality and character of players in the system.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017