If anyone’s thinking that Cornelius van Zyl is merely a stand-in coach for South Africa’s tour to India, think again. On Wednesday night, bare hours after he was hurriedly announced as Mickey Arthur’s replacement, ‘Corrie’, as he is known, told the Hindustan Times that he was looking to “keep the job”.
Here’s a peek into the head of a man most of India have never heard of — he was last here as assistant coach with Hansie Cronje’s 2000 team — but will probably know intimately by next week.
With Mickey Arthur’s resignation and the selection committee being relieved, it’s been a dramatic two days. Will it be tough to keep the players focussed?
It’s obviously a very difficult situation, I don’t want to play it down — it’s been a huge surprise for the players that the week before they go to India, their coach has changed. I’ve spoken to the captain (Graeme Smith) but knowing the players, knowing how professional they are, they know what is needed from a tour like this. There are processes in place. We need to make sure that when we get to India, the team focuses on the job at hand. Sometimes, things like this pull the team together. My focus will be on making sure the team pulls together.
Are matters made more difficult because you’re a stand-in coach?
Yes and no. If I see myself just as a stand-in coach, my attitude’s going to be like, ‘let’s just get through this tour’. But I have aspirations to coach the national team and therefore look at this as an opportunity to try and introduce and implement my ideas. I’m going to talk about this in detail when I meet with the captain, tell him my ideas and hear what he has to say. I don’t plan on being here just for a while.
People say being Proteas coach is tougher because of a ruling clique, a strong unit within the players - Smith, Kallis, Boucher and de Villiers…
Yes, it is a strong unit, but then, a group of senior players within a team is always going to be strong. After all, they form the core and are essential to the team.
I don’t think it’s any different in other teams. It’s very important therefore, how you approach them, manage them. Coming back to what I said earlier about what I want to achieve, if I want to introduce a long-term plan, I need to manage this strong group very well.
They are not going to go away, so it’s a question of making sure it (the group) does not work against what we want to achieve as a team.
(Batting consultant) Kepler Wessels also reportedly has very strong ideas on how things should be done.
I know Kepler very well, and yes, he is a strong person with very strong views. But Kepler is a consultant --- I will consult him and he will give his ideas. If an idea from him makes cricketing sense, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be implemented.
I have to listen to a lot of views and inputs as coach and Kepler’s will be one of those. I respect his views and think he can add great value to the team and the trip. We have a very good working relationship, but at the end of the day, I’m the coach.
Switching tack, how are you looking at the Indians?
My focus at this stage unfortunately, has not been on preparation. I only heard about it (going on the tour) two-three days ago, and haven’t really gone into lots of analysing. I know the Indian team, it has a strong batting line-up, is No1. at the moment and it will be tough playing them in home conditions.
All this will be part of my discussion with the team. But as I said, processes are in place. We won’t single out certain individuals, that would be dangerous. We’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian team as a whole and play to our strengths.
You think you’re going in as the underdogs, unfamiliar for South Africa?
Yes, I’m sure we are. India being No,1 they are obviously high on confidence, and it’s just the way they play. They’ve beaten Bangladesh comprehensively and are playing in home conditions, with a very strong batting line-up, so yes, we must be the underdogs. But then, the pressure really will be on the Indians. And we might be slight underdogs but when we go in there, we’re going in there to win.
But having Gary Kirsten there’s an advantage for India?
Yes, an advantage, I worked with him as assistant coach when he was a player. Gary has an unbelievable work ethic and he’s one of the great thinkers of the game, he’s very aware generally of the strengths and weaknesses of the South African side, but there are a lot of new players around now that he doesn’t really know.
There’s a lot of talk about how South Africa’s changes have been fuelled by the policy of transformation. How do you feel about it?
Very honestly, we are well aware of the aims of South African cricket and they are part and parcel of our cricket. To me, it’s not something new; it’s part of everything we do, in everything we do. That’s all really I can say about it.