Walter makes SA coach dream come true

cricket15 March 2023 11:28
By:Neil Manthorp
Rob Walter ©

When Rob Walter said it was a “dream come true” to be appointed South Africa’s white ball coach it sounded like a predictable, well-rehearsed line. In Walter’s case, it was more the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition than a dream.

Committed, passionate and successful enough in his first career as a fitness and conditioning coach to be appointed to the Proteas squad in 2009, it was while working with Gary Kirsten that Walter realised he was under-selling his ability.

Walter’s knowledge of the game was embraced by Kirsten and soon enough he was throwing balls in the nets, running fielding drills and, more importantly, working with players on the personal, mental side of the game. In every respect he was an intrinsic part of the team.

Walter knew that he wanted to be a head coach – and that he was good enough.

Jacques Faul, as chief executive of the Titans, also saw the potential and appointed him as head coach of the country’s most successful franchise team in 2013. It was an eyebrow-raising decision given an application list which featured half a dozen coaches with international experience. Walter won four domestic trophies in his time at Centurion.

But his ambition remained at international level and, unable to see a way to the job in the country of his birth, he moved to New Zealand to take charge of the Otago Volts. Dunedin was a shock to the system, at least physically. The winters were freezing and the team, short of confidence, was losing more than winning. But there was an upside:

"Winning and losing is important, but it’s also about making a difference to people. I learned how to understand different cultures and the privileges that come with being a visitor in a different country,” Walter said last week.

“There's a lesson in SA where you have to invest in each other's cultures, understanding them more deeply and understanding each other.

"That's a learning I’ll take with me into this job, and I'll spend a bit more time investing in people and understanding what the culture means and how it impacts us as people."

Walter’s understanding and appreciation of different cultures was further enhanced by two spells in the IPL with the Delhi Daredevils and Pune Warriors and he dipped his toes further into international coaching when he led the New Zealand ‘A’ team on a tour of India a year ago.

“He is a smart man, an intellectual in the way he goes about his work,” Faul said last week. “I don’t know if he can turn the Proteas’ fortunes around but I know that he will not let anybody down.”

Walter has been smart in his early comments about his preferred style of play, true to his character. “Each coach has a way in which they want to play the game, but you also need to look at what your stable has. That can change quickly when you have a couple of injuries. You could have a fast-bowling policy, but then you incur injuries, and your attack changes.

“For the most part, the philosophy will be about playing an expansive and expressive game of cricket because I really want the guys to have a love and enjoyment for the game where they can express themselves. It's going to be about self-expression while taking the smart and aggressive approach when the chance comes,” Walter said.

So is this appointment the realisation of his dream, albeit via a route he never imagined? “When you start out on a coaching journey, the aspiration is to coach a national team or coach at international level. To then be able to do it for South Africa, having been deeply involved in the system for a long time, is a dream come true.”