JOHANNESBURG – An off-season that kept players indoors in more ways than one created an opportunity to approach the pre-season differently, according to the Titans head coach Mandla Mashimbyi.
Sure the goal remains winning and in the case of the Titans, the expectations about seizing trophies, is as high as ever. However the dark winter for South African cricket in particular provided some salutary lessons.
Mashimbyi and the Titans were among the first local teams to throw support behind Lungi Ngidi – one of their own – after he was publicly rebuked by some former players about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and particularly how he wanted to get his fellow national teammates involved in discussions about the social issues that had been highlighted.
For Mashimbyi, who was elevated to the head coaching role at the franchise after Mark Boucher was seconded to the national team last summer, the controversy and drama Ngidi’s innocent remarks elicited, made for a change in how he approached the pre-season with the Titans – which was made longer by the Covid-19 lockdown measures.
“I’m big on the opportunities that present themselves in this type of situation,” said the 39-year-old. “That opportunity was that we were able to connect as a team. We managed to get to know each other a bit better. Covid allowed that to happen, it gave us ample time to look after the ‘soft skills’.”
For all the painful revelations that were made regarding racism in the sport – including by a former Titan, Ethy Mbhalati – none of what those players said will mean anything if current and future generations don’t learn from them.
In that regard, Mashimbyi didn’t just want a five-day camp – the usual ploy for team building activities over the years. He emphasised openness and inclusivity and frank conversation among the players and also less machoness.
“It was about guys being able to be vulnerable in front of each getting to understand each other a bit better, raising awareness from an empathy point of view and discussing where that would take us as a group. Through that we hope the connections and the camaraderie gets stronger.
“The response has been unbelievable. The guys were hungry to get back into the swing of things, everybody is holding themselves accountable based on what they can offer and taken responsibility based on what they can contribute to the team.”
Measuring the success of that pre-season work, won’t be entirely possible in the coming season, which is set to be a truncated one owing to the lockdown and some of Cricket SA’s financial problems.
The season is set to start on November 2, with the Four-Day series. The Titans’ first opponents are slated to be the Cape Cobras.
“The guys are at about 50 to 60%, but there there four weeks to go and hopefully by that time everyone will be where they want to be and then we focus on performance.”