Ken Borland

By Ken Borland

Journalist


Enoch Nkwe was never fully utilised in the Proteas setup

In order for the arrangement to work, Boucher and Nkwe would have had to co-operate when it came to the strategy and management of the national team.


Enoch Nkwe resigned this week as the Proteas assistant coach and one can only have sympathy for one of the country’s best young coaches in terms of how his experiences with the national team have gone.

It all started in August 2019 when he had to go as interim team director to India, replacing the axed Ottis Gibson after South Africa came an awful cropper in the World Cup in England that year. Nkwe had a new-look team with several of their stalwarts of previous years being absent, taking on superpowers India on their home turf and at their best.

The Proteas did very well to draw the T20 series after one match was washed out, but the Tests were a disaster as South Africa were destroyed by margins of 203 runs, an innings and 137 runs and an innings and 202 runs. It was the first time since losing to Australia in 1935/36 that South Africa had lost consecutive matches by an innings.

None of which should have been held against Nkwe. He came in at short notice, and with the experience of just one franchise season of coaching – albeit a hugely successful one with three trophies being won by the Highveld Lions/Jozi Stars – behind him. And the team was in such a state of transition and a poor mental space that even the best coach in the world would probably not have done much better.

It was akin to a suicide mission and this columnist expressed his concerns at the time.

In December that year, Graeme Smith was appointed director of cricket and one of his most urgent tasks was to assemble a coaching team to take on another superpower, England, whose tour was by then just two weeks away.

In Cricket South Africa’s review of the disastrous previous year, it emerged that the players felt the need to have a coach with greater international playing experience, given how much wisdom had been lost in their ranks after the retirements of Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers.

And so the decision was made to appoint Mark Boucher, one of the Proteas’ greatest players and a coach who had won five trophies in the last three seasons with the Titans.

Nkwe was named assistant coach, which was viewed as a demotion in some quarters. So in order for this new arrangement to work it was clear that Boucher and Nkwe would have to co-operate when it came to the strategy and management of the team.

ALSO READ: Spin bowler Shamsi delighted to link up with Proteas squad

I personally had discussions with Smith about how important it was for Nkwe to not be the usual sort of assistant coach – more involved in throwing balls and running drills than helping direct the actual tactical and technical decisions made for the national team.

For the sake of transformation, he had to be empowered. By nature, Nkwe is not an assistant coach. He is a head coach. That is his stature and he showed his capabilities while at the Wanderers.

By saying in his resignation statement to the CSA board that he was dissatisfied with “the functioning and culture” of the Proteas team environment, it was clear that Boucher had failed in his responsibility to fully utilise the 38-year-old Nkwe’s talents. And so one can hardly blame Nkwe for going his own way, especially with the whole atmosphere around South African cricket being so uncivil at the moment.

It will be a huge loss to South African cricket if Nkwe is chased away from our game. He already has many international contacts through his coaching in the Netherlands and let us hope he returns to our fold soon rather than popping up in the coaching team of some other international outfit.

In this regard, South African cricket could once again have taken a leaf out of the Springboks’ books. Backline coach Mzwandile Stick was a target of awful, unwarranted abuse when he was on Allister Coetzee’s coaching staff, but he is now clearly a rising star. And that’s because he has been properly empowered and backed by Rassie Erasmus.

Stick gives press conferences every couple of weeks when the Springboks are in camp, allowing him to showcase his knowledge and passion for the team. By my reckoning, Nkwe has only been put forward by the Proteas twice this year.