Mark Boucher began his tenure as South Africa’s national coach with his usual bullishness as he issued a warning to their next opposition, England, ahead of the first of four Tests starting in under a fortnight.
“They’ve been saying quite a few things in the media but I’ve got one thing to say to them: Beware a wounded buffalo, especially in Africa,” Boucher said.
Having spent much of the last seven years since his international retirement involved in nature conservation projects, Boucher knows a thing or two about buffaloes. He also knows about overcoming adversity. Boucher had to put his life back together after losing sight in his left eye in a horrific injury that ended his career three Tests short of 150, before moving on to a successful career as a coach.
In four seasons with the Titans, Boucher won five trophies and could add a sixth to his name when the Tshwane Spartans play in the Mzansi Super League final on Monday. He has also overseen the elevation of Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi and Heinrich Klaasen to international cricket.
Now, another difficult task lies ahead. Boucher has been put in charge of rebuilding a South Africa side that has suffered reputational damage and several defeats and now sits at the bottom of the World Test Championship points table. He believes he can do it, because he has seen it done before.
“I’ve been involved in sides over the years where we have had some tough times. One of the toughest times was the Hansie Cronje saga and straight away after that, we beat Australia,” Boucher said, referring to a 2-1 ODI series win in April 2000 after Cronje admitted to his involvement in match-fixing.
Boucher scored a match-winning 55 not out in the decider to underline his ability to perform under pressure, as well as his immense self-confidence. He wants the South Africa team of 2019 to do the same.
“I think we’ve got a good chance of turning it around,” he said. “Sport is an amazing thing. It can be turned around in a couple of days but I understand there is a lot of work to be done before that.
“Our confidence is a bit down. We need to get our confidence back. There’s a wealth of knowledge in this country that can get utilised so we need to get consultants in to try and get the confidence up, get as much information going in the right direction and give the players the space to try and perform at their best.
“We’ve got the talent in this country. It needs to be nurtured a bit and given the opportunities for information to come through. In the right environment and with the right sort of communication channels, I think we can get the best out of our players.”
His assistant, Enoch Nkwe, echoed those ideas, especially after seeing first-hand the struggles of the national side in India. Nkwe was put in charge for the tour, in which South Africa drew the T20 rubber but lost the Tests 3-0.
“We felt the T20 went well and created a good foundation,” Nkwe said. “The Test series, we knew it was going to be a challenging one. There are lot of lessons to take away. We identified that we need a bit more leadership in the team. It was going to be part of a plan to tap into some great minds around the country to see how we can build the confidence of the team and the players.”
Boucher is hopeful the restoration of stability at CSA, where Graeme Smith has been appointed acting director of cricket and Jacques Faul is interim CEO, will lay the foundation for the national side’s recovery.
“When you lack leadership from up top, it does tend to seep into the lower sections of the whole train and guys start getting away with murder at the bottom,” Boucher said. “If we get the right leadership at the top, it is going to filter down and I am very confident we have got the right leadership at the top at the moment.”
He also believes a stronger structure will help deepen a talent pool that currently appears shallow, as aspiring cricketers turn to other professions or countries.
“The talent pool has probably got a little less over the years, which is a concerning factor but if we get the right leadership in place, I think we can sort that out very quickly,” Boucher said. “If you have a look around at the moment, on social media, the game has been hurt. Myself and Enoch have been put in place to get the Protea team doing well. If we look after that space, I think we will get the crowds and fans behind us again and things will start to change.”