Time. It's the one thing South Africa coach Ottis Gibson wishes he'd had more of. More time to find and nurture a replacement for AB de Villiers. Time to rest his fast bowlers. Time to inculcate brave, adventurous batting into his charges. Time to fail at doing so, and to try again. Fail again. Fail better.
"Time, I would say," Gibson said, when asked what the biggest challenge of his coaching tenure has been. "Having enough time to build a team."
There were other things to deal with off the field. Cricket South Africa is battling multiple challenges, looking to offset forecasted losses of R654 million (approx. USD 47 million) over the next four years and coming up against the South African Cricketers' Association in the process. On the eve of South Africa's World Cup opener, SACA launched legal proceedings against CSA over the decision to restructure domestic cricket as part of a financial recovery plan.
Gibson insisted that CSA's lack of financial clout and the ongoing trouble between CSA and SACA could not be blamed for failure on the field.
"It's not anybody in the boardroom's fault that we didn't play well. I feel like I've had a lot of support. Things haven't gone well, and I'm not going to stand here and throw anybody under the bus or anything.
"Ultimately, could we have had a little more support? We wanted the IPL players pulled out of the IPL certainly earlier. That didn't happen. Could that have made a difference? Perhaps. Australia withheld their fast bowlers from going to the tournament. But every situation is different. Australia isn't trying to save 600 million or whatever like CSA are."
"The country craves a World Cup. And I understand that. I get that now, and I probably get it now more than ever"
Gibson accepted a deal to become South Africa's coach in August 2017, with the team playing its first game under him in September that year. Gibson was a man with a plan, immediately setting in motion the creation of an elite fast-bowling group to nurture South Africa's greatest asset, and giving his players an ideal to work towards in 'Vision 2019'. But the reality did not live up to the ideal, and as time went on, the challenges kept mounting.
"In that time we've had retirements, we've had some people go off and Kolpak, we've had injuries - especially in the last six months or so. Hash [Hashim Amla] had a family situation to deal with. And then players that you felt were ready didn't put the runs on the board, so you feel that you have to give them a little more time. All in all, looking back on it now, you feel like you just wish you had a little bit more time. But you didn't have that time. The World Cup was around the corner, and you had to deal with it."
While Australia have rediscovered their one-day mojo in the nick of time for this World Cup, Gibson reckons time has been a key ingredient in England's one-day uptick. He would know, having enjoyed a front-row seat while serving two stints as England bowling coach, the second of which started in early 2015, just before Trevor Bayliss took up the coaching position. From the horror show of World Cup 2015 campaign, England's one-day cricket has surged from strength to strength, and Gibson once again had a close-up look at just how much they have improved when South Africa lost to England in the 2019 World Cup opener five weeks ago.
"I worked with England after the last World Cup. After the last World Cup didn't go well for them, they got together and decided that they need to change. Trevor Bayliss came in in 2015. He had from 2015 until now to build the team, and over the course of those four years, you've seen where he took the team.
"You see [Jason] Roy and [Jonny] Bairstow at the top for instance, the way they go about their game, they put bowlers under pressure from the first ball. But that takes time, because it didn't work straight away. But they had four years for it to bed in, and in the end you can see how it has changed English cricket. I guess with time we can do something similar to change South African cricket.
"We only had 18 months, probably less than 18 months to build a team, so time was always against us. And then when you've got the retirement of significant players as well, that puts a strain on the system. Ultimately we ran out of time in trying to put together the team that we would have liked to come and compete at the World Cup."
South Africa's World Cup campaign has been viewed as a major let-down, given how well they have performed under Gibson prior to the tournament. Despite de Villiers' retirement, Steyn's injuries and Amla's loss of form, it all seemed to be coming together. Under Gibson, South Africa had lost only one ODI series, to India last year, and two Test series, to Sri Lanka home and away.
But none of that mattered as much to South Africa - and South Africans - as the World Cup, and that's something Gibson has come to truly understand over the last six weeks. "The country craves a World Cup," he said. "And I understand that. I get that now, and I probably get it now more than ever.
"When we played against Pakistan, we still had an opportunity to keep ourselves in the tournament, and that game to me was probably the biggest disappointment in the whole thing because we had a chance to save ourselves, and we didn't do that on that day."
And because of South Africa's inability to come anywhere close to winning a World Cup under his tenure, Gibson's time may well be running out. His contract is due to expire in September, and though he seems up for renegotiating an extension to his tenure, CSA may want an overhaul in more than just the senior playing personnel.
"The tournament is still on at the moment and this is not the time to talk about the coach's contract," CSA president Chris Nenzani said when South Africa were knocked out of contention by their defeat to Pakistan. "But we are waiting for it to finish and we will make an assessment then.
"We are not going to be irresponsible or irrational in our deliberations during the assessment but we are going to take decisions for the best of the sport in our country. Definitely‚ there are going to be changes in the set-up."
If it were up to him, Gibson would continue to coach South Africa beyond September, with the prospect of series against India and England to come towards the end of the year. "I want my job," he said. "I love my job."
"Nothing's changed from my point of view. Of course, we've had a very disappointing World Cup. If you take the World Cup in isolation, you think, it depends on how you look at it. You might feel there's a need for change. But if you look at what has happened in the last two years, you'll also think that we've done some good things as well. We'll have to wait and see how CSA look at the whole picture."