Photo Credit: SA20 League
Adrian Birrell may currently be preparing for his next assignment at a Spanish sea-side resort, but he cannot help but think back to a glorious summer in South Africa with the Sunrisers Eastern Cape.
Birrell was instrumental in guiding the Sunrisers to the inaugural Betway SA20 title at a sold out Wanderers last month.
It was an incredible journey for a team not many had given any hope of competing for the title, especially after two defeats to kickstart their campaign.
But the former Proteas assistant coach is one of the most successful T20 coaches on the global circuit, having previously led the Paarl Rocks to the Mzansi Super League and Cricket SA T20 Challenge titles, and also English County Championship side Hampshire to the Vitality Blast T20 trophy. The 62-year-old relied on all this experience to get his team through the initial tough stages.
“There isn’t a silver bullet to how success is gained. But cricket is fortunately not played on paper. We invested heavily in South African players. We wanted a local flavour to our team because we knew we did not have a lot of time to prepare and wanted the players to hit the ground running,” Birrell said.
“We also wanted to put together a team that could not only play on the coast, but also finish strongly on the Highveld where the latter part of the tournament was to be played. That played a big role in our recruitment with the likes of captain Aiden Markram, Tristan Stubbs, Marco Jansen, Aya Gqamane, Jon Jon Smuts and Sisanda Magala.
“Some of these guys were ‘coming home’ to Gqeberha, but were currently playing their domestic cricket up north and could adapt to all conditions. We didn’t go for the big names and instead opted for ‘clever picks’. By me coaching both in South Africa and England also opened the path for guys like Adam Rossington, Brydon Carse, Tom Abell, Jordan Cox and Mason Crane.”
A significant part of the Sunrisers’ success came from their unique team culture and their “will to win” even under the most trying circumstances. It was often these characteristics that took them over the line in close matches and that ultimately separated them from their opposition.
Birrell believes this was fostered on a trip to his cattle farm down in the Eastern Cape.
“We had individuals like Stubbsy, Roelof van der Merwe … guys who just don’t give up, and don’t take kindly to losing. They are an inspiration to others. Stubbsy even played with an injured ankle in the semi-final, and refused to come off in the field, that’s a desire to win that cannot be coached,” Birrell said.
“I took the team down to the farm for a day, and we really connected there. The guys bonded and a culture was created. We could always go back to that day when things got tough and use those learnings. The support staff were also excellent in fostering this culture throughout the campaign. We had no egos in our side.”