Graham Ford. (Photo by Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images)
- The proverbial old dogs among the SA20 head coaches still have the biggest bite as it’s Graham Ford and Adi Birrell, both 62, whose respective franchises have reached the final.
- It shows the type of intellectual capital that’s available to South African cricket though much of it is only in the system for the tournament currently.
- Both teams’ skippers praise Ford and Birrell for their inclusive, calm approaches over the past few weeks.
Old dogs might not readily learn new tricks, but they invariably still possess a nasty bite.
One of the interesting features of Pretoria Capitals and Sunrisers Eastern Cape’s respective marches to Saturday’s SA20 final at the Wanderers is that the franchises are mentored by the two oldest coaches in the tournament, 62-year-olds Graham Ford and Adi Birrell.
The most obvious thing to point out in this regard is the two men’s longevity and adaptability in a cricketing landscape that is increasingly data-driven and demanding of innovation.
Perhaps more frustratingly for the South African cricketing fraternity, it’s a teasing glimpse into the intellectual capital that the local game can boast.
Indeed, Ford and Birrell head a group of coaches that also includes Lance Klusener, JP Duminy, Jacques Kallis, Dale Benkenstein, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn, among others.
Adi Birrell. (Photo by SA20/Sportzpics/Gallo Images)
The only problem is that South African cricket – with the exception of Duminy – currently only have these men in the system for the duration of the SA20.
When the dust settles, they’re scattered all over again.
It’s true that South African cricket needs to grow its new generation of coaches, but it feels wasteful when a guy like Ford – who’s coached the Proteas, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Kent and Surrey – or Birrell – Proteas assistant, Hampshire, Ireland, Boland – aren’t more regularly around.
Pretoria’s team management is particularly star-studded, with former Proteas Dale Benkenstein and Jacques Kallis both being assistants to Ford.
According to Capitals skipper Wayne Parnell, calmness and clarity have characterised the table-toppers campaign.
“Fordie is vastly experienced. He’s coached all around the world, and he’s just really such a calm, easy-going type of coach,” he said.
“It’s similar to Benky. The two men think very similarly. It sounds strange, they have different ideas, but in the end, they’re very much the same. It’s actually been refreshing. I played alongside Jacques in the Proteas side, and he’s never been a guy of many words. He’s definitely not outspoken.
“But behind the scenes, he gives nuggets of wisdom, and his pedigree is just something the players latch onto.”
Importantly, Ford’s wisdom also translated into him maintaining a balance between imposing ideas and promoting “freedom of expression”, so to speak.
“As a leadership group, we’ve generally been on the same page with the coaches from the outset,” said Parnell.
“It’s refreshing and important because sometimes you find that people try to force their ideas and agenda on you as a player. But we’ve definitely found a nice blend.”
Down in Gqeberha, Birrell has flourished at his old stomping ground.
Far from being rigid, Sunrisers captain Aiden Markram has enjoyed his franchise coach’s focus on traditional virtues.
“I get on really well with Adi. I spent a little time with him on my first Test trip to England when he was still national assistant. I also had half-a-season with him at Hampshire too. So, we go quite a good way back,” said the Proteas stroke-maker.
“I just love his simplicity about the way he goes about his coaching. He has a sharp sense of humour, [and is] never short of a funny comment. He has this nice, old-school approach where everything is always very clear. Even at his ‘young age’, he’s still extremely passionate.
“It rubs off on the guys, that enthusiasm and calmness. He’s seen it all, he’s been around for many years now. His experience helps us a lot.”
First ball in the final will be bowled at 16:30.