SUMMING up the Dolphins’ season, skipper Daryn Smit uses a F-word — frustrating.
That’s putting it mildly and, as winter settles over Kingsmead, it’s hard not to notice the thickening layer of dust in the trophy cabinet since the last piece of silverware left the building in 2005.
The past season saw former Dolphins and Protea all-rounder Lance Klusener take up the coaching position and Smit replace Imraan Khan at the helm. It’s not a bad combination and optimism ran high that the team would stand up and be seen as a respected and strong franchise.
Klusener was quoted as saying he wanted to get the team playing horrible cricket, in your face stuff, not backing down from anything and at times, when the ingredients mixed well, the Dolphins proved what they could do.
Smit found his first season in charge enjoyable but challenging, learning to take the hard knocks and having the character to get up and start again.
Said Smit: “It’s been a rollercoaster season but we have lacked consistency and the killer punch when it was needed. The weather did play its part, meaning there was more pressure on us to perform when we did get on the park, having to win to make up ground, but such is the nature of our profession. It meant less slip-ups and introduced a new dimension to our game.
“I learnt much about the players and myself. Having myself and Lance new to the two most vital aspects of the team was not easy, but we have come through the season, recognised our strengths and weaknesses and done assessments to move forward.”
A positive for Smit was the four-day campaign where, despite having one whole match abandoned and another reduced to two days, the Dolphins finished with a flurry, notching three wins on the trot and four in total to finish on the podium in third spot.
“The games we won, we invariably won with a day to spare, taking 20 wickets and batting well enough to give the bowlers a platform to defend,” said Smit.
“My concern was the one-day and T20 formats. We started both competitions poorly and in these types of games, once you play catch-up cricket you are never a threat.”
Looking at his team, Smit said he had the players to win trophies but they needed to play as a team on the field. “Players need to know their purpose in the team and be responsible. There is no cover or excuse for consistently poor performances and players must step up to the plate. Players must be prepared to work on their faults and form. Relying on expectation or past records for team selection is meaningless. We want assets in the team, not liabilities,” he said.
On the batting front, Smit was satisfied the Dolphins had shown character on sporty wickets, designed to produce results. “They ground out ugly runs when required and got on with the job. When confronted by a green strip and having to bat first, they knuckled down and did what was relevant. While the averages are not mind-boggling, they are decent,” he said.
It’s the bowling department which could be the Dolphins’ Achilles heel next season, said Smit. “Kyle [Abbott] led the attack and guided the young bowlers through the season. He was my voice on many occasions when I was stuck behind the stumps. But, with him in the Protea mix, who do the bowlers turn to? This is the time for Mthokozisi [Shezi] and Craig [Alexander] to stand tall and lead the attack.”
At times, Smit admits he has felt somewhat isolated on the field, lacking the reassurance of a solid, senior pro to advise, help and listen.
“There are no senior players to contribute and having Ravi Bopara for the T20 campaign proved how important this aspect of the game is. He was invaluable on and off the field, working with me for the better of whatever situation we were in.”
In this regard, Smit looks forward to Free State stalwart Morné van Wyk joining the ranks next season saying, “That’s the input we need from a senior player. He will be a huge asset on the field and in the change room.”
Smit admits the pressure is on next season for the Dolphins to win one of the domestic trophies but he knows it won’t be easy.
“Every player must buy into our goals and what we want to achieve. It’s impossible to do on your own and the players need to be pulled along and enjoy the journey together.
There is a difference between playing cricket and wanting to play cricket. The players must all fit into the latter bracket and wear the Dolphins badge with pride and purpose,” he said.
As for working with Klusener, Smit admitted the coach was a man of few words but clear in what he wanted to achieve.
Said Smit, “Lance is a great cricket brain and we have discussed our approach to next season. As captain and coach, we want to spend more time analysing what’s going on and feed off each other’s thought processes.
“With that sorted and the players believing in our quest, we could be part of a rare occurrence at Kingsmead next season — opening the trophy cabinet.”