South Africa Is Not the Only Team that Chokes

If India or England were in the same position, would it still be considered a choke? Or a poor display of skill?

Naturally, one would say: “yes, of course they are” Or even: “they have been choking for the past 18-odd years”. Personally, I despise using this word, but merely classifying the Proteas losing in any game as a choke annoys me. You cannot lose a match you were never going to win. For many people whom I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with on Twitter, a common understanding of the word ‘choking’ means to be in a winning positing in a match, but you lose after being inches away from victory. A perfect example is the chance South Africa had in the 1999 World Cup against Australia to advance to the final. However, a disaster of a run out between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald saw the last South African wicket fall resulting in the match ending in a draw. Australia advanced ahead of South Africa because of a higher net run-rate.

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Always so close, but so far away. Image from: youtube.com

 

Heartbreaking? Extremely. But this is not the only example of choking the Proteas have had in their time playing against international teams.

They recently played a three-match ODI series against England in which they lost 2-1: the first ODI series loss since the end of 2015 when they managed to beat India 3-2 in their conditions. The team had lost the first match by a heavy 72 runs, placing England a step higher than South Africa. The second ODI was a choke. I recall the commentator in that match stating that it was truly the Proteas’ game to lose. The last over saw them need seven more runs to win. A boundary would have swung things in their favour. Big hitters in Chris Morris and David Miller could not muster up a last dose of economy-raising batting to prevent a series victory for the English. In the end, England won by two runs and won the series.

I am not debating that South Africa don’t let the pressure get to them when it matters and they are in a winning position, but why is the term ‘choking’ only used whenever they lose? Is it because of the numerous chances they have had to get to the final and add more silverware to their cabinet?

Watching highlights of the matches from rain-speckled Champions Trophy this year, there were many teams that choked in games, but it was classified as the underdogs winning, or that the bowling and/or batting were not working together. Looking at the teams in Group A, New Zealand choked against Bangladesh which effectively knocked them out of the tournament. Four early wickets, including the wicket of Tamim Iqbal pushed the Kiwis forward to victory. Thanks to fabulous batting by Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan saw them win by five wickets. Tim Southee, Adam Milne and Trent Boult being the main wicket-takers for their squad, taking three wickets each in the tournament, failed to defend 265 which is an above average score at Sophia Gardens.

Australia, technically, choked twice: first against New Zealand, and second against England. Their first game saw the match being abandoned due to the weather; however it was Australia who were the grateful ones as they were reeling at 53-3 when the floodgates opened with their two openers and Captain Steve Smith out. Although Australia had an unfortunate time in the tournament with two of their games being rained out, and one affected by rain in a losing cause, one would think that they would play their hardest against old foes England to qualify for the semi-finals. After a slightly questionable batting display saw them put up 277-9, it showed how much the Baggy Greens rely on Smith, Warner, and Finch to make runs. After those three went out, Travis Head failed to have a partner take the team over 300 as middle and lower order wickets fell just like the English rain. When they were bowling, Starc and Hazelwood put England on the back foot, claiming three wickets including that of their in-form batsman Joe Root. Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes managed to chase the Duckworth Lewis score and had England win by 40 runs, having Australia kicked out without winning a single game. The Aussie bowlers failed to capitalise on the three wickets they had early in the innings, especially with the undecided weather lurking around the ground.

Another incident of a team choking came a day after South Africa’s disastrous performance against India, with the winner of the Sri Lanka and Pakistan game going against England in the semi-finals. Sri Lanka had batted first and felt the wrath of the Pakistan bowling attack, as they succumbed to 236. Into the batting innings, the match was really one that could have gone either way, but Sri Lanka were favourites to win as they needed three more wickets to qualify and play against the hosting country. Dropped catches were aplenty as Pakistan managed to chase down 237 with three wickets to spare. Again, the Lankans had failed to work on the chances presented to them in order to win the game, but not one media publication called that losing game a choke.

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Hasan Ali: Chief destroyer in the Pakistan bowling unit. Image from: hindustantimes.com

Why is that dreaded word only applicable to when South Africa loses any game, regardless of whether or not they would have lost? Most newspaper headlines in Australia, England, and pretty much anywhere else in the cricketing world slammed the ‘choker’ tag and ‘South Africa’ in the same line. But the fact of the matter is that South Africa were never going to win against India by their terrible shot selection and senseless run-outs which gave their bowlers nothing to defend against a great Indian batting line up. As I stated earlier: you cannot choke in a match you were never going to win. But I will end with this scenario: if a match between Australia and South Africa were to take place, and the Aussies needing three runs off two balls to win a semi-final. If their batsmen failed to get the three runs needed, lost two wickets in quick succession and lost, what would that be called? We know it would be called choking if it was South Africa batting for a win, but what would be called if it was Australia? Poor play on shot selection? Unfortunate? Mediocre play?

Now I’ll ask again: Is South Africa the only team that chokes?

Congratulations, Proteas. You Played Yourselves.

But hey, it’s not like South Africa were going to get a round of applause for winning the Champions Trophy because it’s not a World Cup title anyway.

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South Africa’s hope of qualifying for the semi-finals being destroyed. Image from: cricketcountry.com

Well, let’s get this out of the way first:

A team cannot choke in a match that they were not going to win in the first place. A team chokes in a match when they were on the verge of victory, only to miss a run out by a centimetre, or to not score that one run needed for a series-levelling victory. See The Popping Crease speak more about the matter of choking in matches. Again, first and last time I ever use that word on this blog. This is just for clarity’s sake.

South Africa did not choke against India on Sunday. The batting was abysmal and too slow to score runs upfront with some useless run-outs. From that batting innings, the bowlers were given nothing to defend. When that last over had commenced, all they needed was a run a ball to win. But they made things difficult for themselves in not doing so.

South Africa, however, did choke against England in the second match of the ODI series when Chris Morris failed to hit four runs off the last two balls.

Australia could have won the match against England as they had three early wickets, but the bowlers, including everyone’s beloved Mitchell Starc, could not take three more wickets after the first three to place England on the back-foot. They choked.

Sri Lanka needed three more wickets against Pakistan to win the match, and effectively go through to semi-finals. I wanted Sri Lanka to go through to the semis now that South Africa were knocked out, but congratulations to Pakistan on coming back from that performance against India in their first game. The Lankans failed to take the last three wickets needed, and Pakistan cruised to the low 237 total set by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka choked in that game.

Why is it only a choke when South Africa is involved? If Australia and India are in a final with the Aussies needing two more runs to win with one ball remaining, and Travis Head on 78 and Matthew Wade on 44 at the crease. A full toss is bowled by Jasprit Bumrah to Head begging to be hit for a six, but he bunts it for a dot-ball and India win. Does that not qualify as a choke?

 

I understand that in life, and in cricket, there can only be one winner most times. Someone has to lose, and that’s fine. What I have a problem with is when you lose dismally. South African media and fans are sick and tired of hearing “it’s just one of those games where we don’t know what went went wrong, but we have to go back to the drawing board for the next tournament”. We’ve been hearing that post 1998.

Now that South Africa is out of this tournament, Kagiso Rabada and AB de Villiers have lost their number one rankings in bowling and batting respectively. Am I mad? Not really. It’s a time for introspection, reflection, and actual preparation for the next ODI series and tournaments. Will South Africa lose their number one ranking after this tournament? Most likely, but I will be surprised if they don’t.

AB is not captain material, and here is why I think so. You cannot go into a media conference saying that the opposition is a team you’ve played multiple times before, so you know what they are capable of. You never know what teams have cooking up their sleeves to win a match, and I would think as a captain AB would get that. You cannot claim that you are a good captain just because you feel that you are.

Great that you think you can lead and that you feel like you’ve got great leadership qualities, but if ex-players and commentators are questioning your leadership styles after each match and tournament, then there’s a real problem. Asking another player to help you with field placements as well as who should bowl next is just not on. You cannot be a captain who picks and chooses when and which format and series you want to play.  You should be with the team throughout all obstacles and victories.

Some people have leadership skills and some don’t. That’s all good and well, but in saying that, the best player on the team does not always make for the best captain. That’s cool, too. But if you feel that there is a need for you to keep justifying why you are a good captain, people are not really sure who you are trying to convince.

The team is completely different under Faf’s reigns than under AB’s. Fearless and ruthless compared to the timid and cautious team in the Champions Trophy is a big contrast for a team that is number one in the world. The best cricket we saw from the Proteas was when Faf was in charge.

But the problem is; most people could see the cracks in this team as far back as the ODI series against New Zealand.

So what is the actual problem within the Proteas camp? Is it coaches? Is it the captain? Is it mental? It is NOT quotas. Has the passion dissipated from the players? Should we expect the player performance be similar to that of the Tri-Series in the Caribbean last year?

But hey, we shouldn’t worry; the Proteas are to play in a T20I 3-match series later this month against England with AB as stand-in captain for Faf. So surely, AB will be back in full swing come that series because it’s T20s, right?

A Look In the Past, and to the Hopeful Future

We want you to win; we just want to see that you want to as well.

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Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy trying to grab the chance at getting form in batting. Image by dnaindia.com

As heartbreaking as this subject is for South African fans, it does need to be spoken about, as that is what we are currently remembered for: falling under pressure short of making the semi finals, or winning the final match.

Indeed, they definitely need get that monkey off of their back and just finally win another ICC trophy and be rid of their “chokers” tag. Personally, I hate using that word, so this is the first and last time I use it on my blog.

 

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Seeing that the tournament was in a country where the time-zone are a far bit ahead, I did not get to watch the match… I was asleep when it started, then at school throughout the day during the match. But I do remember hearing about the final over from a friend who was live-streaming the game on his phone. After that match-winning six was smacked into the stands, there was a morose atmosphere around my school, with most of my friends who love cricket on the verge of tears. It was my busiest year; my final year of high school with stress being a massive factor in my daily emotions, but nothing had stressed me out more than waiting to hear what the result was for that match.

So what happened in that semi-final against New Zealand two years ago? Almost everything a team did not want to happen.

– There was rain which reduced the allotted overs to 43 thanks to that blasted Duckworth/Lewis system

– Our best bowler in the line up, Dale Steyn, conceded 12 runs in the last over… the number of runs New Zealand needed to win

– MISFIELDS GALORE:

  • de Kock missed stumping of Grant Elliott, who was unofficially deemed New Zealand’s hero for his efforts with the bat
  • AB missed a Corey Anderson run-out
  • de Kock missed a chance to run out Elliott
  • who can forget that collision involving JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien going for a catch of Elliott’s bat
  • AB missing the stumps to get New Zealand’s former captain Daniel Vettori

– From what I understand from reading the comments of the extremely upset South Africans after we lost that match is de Kock was slightly out of touch the entire tournament, but maybe we were looking for someone to blame and be the scapegoat

– Some guy who’s now taken a Kolpak deal was benched for Vernon Philander even though he was not fully fit from an injury. I will soon give my views on the transformation targets in South African cricket in another post.

Control things that can be controlled, they say. 99 percent of the atrocities that happened that day could have been controlled. We cannot state that because Kyle Abbott didn’t play, we lost the game. We can say that as much as we would like, but no one knows what would’ve happened if he played. You have to make do with what you have in the squad sometimes. The things we could have controlled in that game did not come into play and that is what we should say whenever we want to give the reason as to why we were knocked out of a tournament or lose a match.

 

Saturday 11 June 2017

Seeing that Sri Lanka managed to upset India on Thursday to win by 7 wickets, India will definitely be looking to bounce back from that loss. South Africa’s best friend, the Duckworth Lewis system, had returned in granting Pakistan a win over us by 19 runs. Poor top-order batting had brought the team down to 118-6 with David Miller contributing 75 not out to get us to 219-8 at the end of the 50 overs. When fielding, Morné Morkel (3-18) was the only bowler to take wickets and not give away many runs. And to make matters worse, Kagiso Rabada had started quite well in the bowling innings to an unpredictable Pakistan side chasing 220, only for it to be ruined by Wayne Parnell to leak one too many runs in the next over he bowled. If I could have altered our starting eleven, I would have definitely benched Parnell and put in Andile Phehlukwayo for his big match temperament. A touch expensive at times, but not as bad as Parnell, and he’s great with the bat too.

With AB slightly in doubt for the must-win match against India on Sunday due to a hamstring niggle, SA will definitely need to bring their A-game to the clash and show their fans and their opponents why they are the number one side in the world. As a side of this fantastic ranking, you cannot just hope because you are on top you will win every game. My request to the team is a simple one: play with the passion your fans feel for you, not because of your status and ranking. We want you to win; we just want to see that you want to as well.

With that being said, I think my starting XI for South Africa would be the same as it was against Pakistan, but taking out Parnell for Phehlukwayo, with Morkel opening with Rabada. Depending on other players’ fitness as well, I would really like to see Dwaine Pretorius get a shot. If de Villiers is unavailable, one could push Miller, Duminy and Morris up by one then slot Pretorius at number seven.

My predicting eleven for Sunday’s game:

  1. de Kock (wk)
  2. Amla
  3. du Plessis
  4. de Villiers* (if available)
  5. Miller
  6. Duminy
  7. Morris
  8. Phehlukwayo
  9. Rabada
  10. Morkel
  11. Tahir

It’s Only All About the Champions Trophy

If you thought that the choker tag was haunting the Proteas after the first game, then you are dead wrong.

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The new number one ODI bowler, Kagiso Rabada, celebrating the early wicket of Jason Roy in what soon would be a colossal collapse. Image from: ©Getty Images

Just a general wrap up of the series:

Much to the contrasting result for South Africa, it was quite an interesting one.

The first ODI was won quite convincingly by the hosts for 72 runs, with Captain Morgan scoring 107 and Moeen Ali scoring a blitz 77 to propel England to 339 runs. South Africa could not keep the momentum going with their batting, as wickets were falling in quick succession, giving Chris Woaks 4-38 after eight overs. Amla and du Plessis did manage to put up a 112-run partnership, but it was no use as a collapse ensued after they went out. The visitors were bowled out for 267 with Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis being the top scorers with 73 and 67 respectively. This match just seemed like the Proteas were not in it, with Kagiso Rabada bowling 3 no-balls, and being a tad expensive. Cricket fans who love to hate South Africa were sitting at the edge of their seat, going blue in the face, getting ready to scream the dreaded “chokers” tag on any social networking site they could, but they had to hold out for the next game to see the outcome of that one.

Ah, the second ODI that occurred three days later. If you thought that the choker tag was haunting the Proteas after the first game, then you are dead wrong. This second ODI had most South African fans on the edge of their seat come the last ten balls of their batting innings. The English had, again, put up a score well over 300 – 330 to be exact. With the ball, the Proteas were quite expensive, with Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris going for 74 and 66 respectively. The fielding was just as reckless, with a few catches being out down: Ben Stokes was dropped twice. A tough ask for South Africa, no doubt, but all that was needed for the chase to be successful was for a collapse like in the previous game to not happen again, and to not lose wicket early. Amla and de Kock managed put up a 50-run opening partnership, when Amla’s wicket fell after scoring 26, and AB and de Kock put up 96 more runs together. Maybe I can speak for everyone when I say that many people knew England was going to lose by the way Morris and Miller were batting. The two explosive batsmen put up 62 runs (could have been 4 more, but…) for the 6th wicket, with Miller ending on 71 not out. I explicitly remember hearing the commentator say that this was now our game to lose, and agreeing with him, as South Africa needed a run a ball to win and level the series. England’s bowling in the last over was tight, a wide was bowled but was not called, and Wood had managed to concede no more than four runs. England had taken an unassailable lead in the series, leaving the last game as a dead rubber. Remember the cricket trolls I spoke about earlier? They were having a field day on Twitter and Facebook.

Then came the third ODI. Dead rubber. To some, not important. To South Africa, a quest for pride and confidence going into the Champions Trophy. Fantastic bowling by Rabada and Parnell had England frowning and reeling at 20-6 after 5 overs into the game: the worst ODI starting total for any team. Johnny Bairstow, alongside debutant Toby Roland-Jones, managed to hold anchor to propel the hosts to 153 all-out. An easy chase for South Africa on a grassy pitch which was apparently not good enough for Eoin Morgan and his troops as he stated in a press-conference after the series. South Africa won the final match by 7 wickets; with Rabada taking man-of-the-match for his terrific bowling spell of 4-39. Cricket trolls, you ask? Still going nuts on South Africa not managing to win the second ODI.

An overall good series to watch, as we saw England’s complacency get the better of them in the final game, and South Africa’s selectors, some sports journos, players, and wonderful coach Russell Domingo not really regarding this series as important by constantly referring to this series as a warm up. Not really what it was stated as on the itinerary, but okay. South Africa have got to get their combinations right before their first match on Saturday 3rd June against Sri Lanka in their opening game of the apparently more important Champions Trophy tournament. Rabada was the only bowler in the SA squad to show promise as a wicket-taker in the series, but who will partner him in opening the bowling? Parnell? Morris? Morkel? Is Morkel even bowling well enough to not break down during an innings in a match this tournament? I guess what I’m asking is, is Morkel going to be completely match fit for the whole tournament?

My predicting starting XI for the tournament will look a little like this, pitch dependent of course. No need to really bat down the order, so I will not suggest any more than two all-rounders in the squad. That’s what the top six is for.

  1. de Kock (wk)
  2. Amla
  3. du Plessis
  4. de Villiers (Capt.)
  5. Duminy (I detest him too, but a spin option maybe)
  6. Miller (not one of my favourites, but he can be a deadly run-scorer when necessary)
  7. Morris
  8. Phehlukwayo/Parnell (if absolutely necessary)
  9. Rabada
  10. Morkel (provided he is indeed match-fit, he will be a very big help to Rabada in the opening overs)
  11. Tahir

 

A hearty congratulations to the England team for winning the series 2-1 over South Africa. As well as a big congratulations to Kagiso Rabada for moving up to the number one ODI bowler in the world, overtaking Imran Tahir, who is now in the second spot. The top three ODIs bowlers are now Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, and Mitchell Starc of Australia.

Is T20 Cricket Ruining Actual Cricket?

Apart from the length of play, test cricket requires the skill of match temperament, consistency, and patience; a quality that some T20 specialists just do not have.

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Extravagant play and entertainment is apparently the priority. Image: cricketcountry.com

The fear that I have most days, if I’m honest. I’m not going to act all high and mighty like some cricket commentators that sometimes have that “holier than thou” attitude when they say that T20s should be eradicated and there should only be test matches. Nothing is wrong with T20s themselves, but the sudden influx of these leagues could really just be turning people off of the other formats: fans and players alike. I just sometimes feel that these leagues are good exposure for young up-and coming players, and for former internationals to stay relevant.

So, how many T20 leagues are there, you ask? Well, Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia, IPL in India, Caribbean Premier League in the Caribbean, Ram Slam which is now called the T20 Challenge as well as the Africa T20 Cup in South Africa, Pakistan Super League, the NatWest T20 blast in England, to name a few. There are numerous numbers of these leagues around the world, and there are going to be more within the next couple of years. South Africa are working on another T20 Global Destination League in order to prevent local players from going Kolpak, to get the interest and attention of new and more fans, as well as make more money by having overseas players coming in. Now wanting to bring in more fans to a format that’s known for entertaining the crowd rather than skill and putting on different performances is all good and well, but when these fans, assuming they don’t know that there are three different formats, come to a test match wanting the same entertainment they got in a T20 match with fireworks that went off after every wicket taken or six scored, they are in for a slightly rude awakening.

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It’s all about the theatrics, and keeping fans entertained. Image: indianexpress.com

Now this article is not to say that I detest T20 cricket, because I do enjoy it only when the Proteas play. The IPL gets very interesting after seven matches if your team is not Kings XI Punjab. There is plenty of entertainment in these T20 leagues, but it also makes the perfect platform for spot-fixing/match-fixing to take place. Corruption and match-fixing take place in international games, yes, but it appears more in these leagues. Cricket South Africa (CSA) had banned a group of their players in the domestic teams in August 2016, namely the bizhub Highveld Lions and the multiply Titans for their involvement in spot-fixing. The players involved, for different offenses but still the same case, were Thami Tsolekile, Gulam Bodi, Alviro Peterson, Jean Symes, Pumelela Matshikwe, and Ethy Mbhalati with their bans lasting between 5-20 years. The scandal took place in the 2015 RAM Slam domestic competition in South Africa. In the event of this, the major sponsor in RAM withdrew their sponsorship from the competition, which led to CSA having to change the competition name to the T20 Challenge after failing to find a major sponsor.

Another well-known example is in the IPL where two franchises in Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings were suspended for two years following some rotten and shady deals that took place in 2013 between players and ‘bookies’. People were arrested, tried, banned, and so were the two teams for two years. They are set to come back in 2018. I could go on about this, but I may have made my point. It’s all about money, to an extent. Jason Roy reportedly said that he was quite upset when he went unsold in the first round of the IPL auction, but now is playing for the Gujarat Lions team, which has a portion of players whom previously played for the Chennai Super Kings. Do players really base their self-worth and skill on an event that is so lucrative that it’s known for being lucrative? South Africa’s well-loved Imran Tahir was snubbed during the first and second round of the IPL auction despite being the number one bowler in the limited overs rankings. Thankfully, he was called up to play for the Rising Pune Supergiants. If that is not an indication that these leagues are not really about having skill and is all about money, then what is it about?

Moving onto the skill side of things, there is obviously a great difference between test cricket and T20 cricket. Apart from the length of play, test cricket requires the skill of match temperament, consistency, and patience; a quality that, forgive me, some T20 specialists do not have. I do remember in 2016, there was an avalanche of these matches being played, from the Proteas playing England and Australia in a space of three weeks in late February, to the World T20 in mid-March, to the IPL in April to May. By the time the ODI Tri-Series between the Aussies and the Windies around in the beginning of June, the ODIs felt like a test match: everything was moving so slowly, and not having much progression in the game, with the first innings only ending with 184 runs scored.  If I, as a spectator and cricket fan, had no real patience and interest watching the rest of that match, let alone the series, what would new fans who only know of T20s think in that moment? I think it can be learned and developed overtime, but most of these players who do not play so well in ODIs or Tests will have outstanding performances in the shortest format of the game, internationally or domestically. When I think of players that are like this of late, I think of JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, or even Wayne Parnell.

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Domestic standard, but not really international standard. Image: cricketnmore.com

There are probably more players in other countries, but those ones come straight to mind. If I had to be blunt, I don’t really think much skill is needed at this level. Commentators and fans on social media were praising Imran Tahir for taking wickets and being very economical during his spell. Is this something that is so rarely seen in T20s: a bowler who keeps their line and length correct throughout their four overs and continue to take wickets even though that’s what they are supposed to do? If the answer is no, then should the reason be because they don’t have enough overs to try and get the ball to swing in their favour? Andrew Birch of the Warriors in South Africa was the only bowler in the T20 Challenge in 2016 to take a 5-for in the whole tournament, while every other bowler was smacked silly around the park. This then poses my question: is this format only made to really favour batsmen than bowlers?

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There is a chance for female cricketers to get screen-time in the WBBL. Image: theherald.com.au

Although, there is one positive aspect of T20 cricket in the domestic scene, in my opinion. One is that the BBL, while having a competition for men, there is the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) which helps promote the sport and get more females getting into cricket, and more people to watch women’s cricket, too. The KIA Super League does this as well for female cricketers, international and in the domestic scene, and is open to players around the world. Women’s cricket has not taken off as much as men’s cricket has, but these tournaments are helping it get there and improve with time. We may not have to wait a bit long for that, because there is the Women’s World Cup coming soon in June this year.

To conclude, I do definitely agree that the format could send ODIs and test matches to an unexpected demise and decline in numbers. If these competitions keep cropping up everywhere in the year, it draws the international players from their duty in playing for their country as some of these competitions clash with their national duty. And sometimes, players decide that they would rather play at these tournaments than their country. The minute that happens to three, or more, players in every cricket-playing country, descend will hit soon.

If Faf Was Cheating, Then So Was Steven Smith

This is a slight problem if Steve is going to listen to a player who has only played six test matches and clearly doesn’t know the rules.

Faf du Plessis: found guilty of ball tampering after video footage surfaced of him polishing a ball with saliva mixed with mint from a sweet. Fined 100 percent of his match fee. Appealed the decision. Told by David Richardson that it’s disappointing that he was appealing, even though it was well within his right. Was booed by Australians for what happened and harassed by Aussie media in between matches. The Aussie nation was basically hurt because they felt a sweet kept the Baggy Greens from winning that test series.

Steve Smith: called out by umpire Nigel Llong and Virat Kohli for using the wrong kind of DRS (Dressing-Room Review System). Accused (but no proof of the other two times) of doing this three times over three days. Said it was a brain fade. Apart from sane cricket fans and Indian players, CA board and the rest of his team believed him (on a necessary side note, remember when ‘Saint’ David Warner crucified Faf during Mint-gate saying “I would be disappointed if any of my players did that. Rules are rules”) and backed him. So much so that the ICC didn’t sanction him.

Now hey, I’m not implying that there are some shady dealings behind the closed doors of the ICC, but something doesn’t make sense. The issue was reported within five days of the match being played. There is video evidence, which has both Kohli and Nigel Llong seeing what happened. So why was this not dealt with? Because Steve Smith said it was an accident? Is that the justification we can give nowadays?

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Disagreements before the drama happened. Image: india.com

We all remember when South Africa basically obliterated the Aussies in their own backyard late last year in tests, right? Great, because we are taking a small trip down memory lane. Apart from the win, what is the one thing you remember from that series? If you thought of the Faf du Plessis mint-gate drama, you are spot on! While, maybe, it’s still a sensitive topic for heartbroken Aussie fans that their glory boys were embarrassed at home due to an alleged swing-inducing sweet, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Earlier this month, Australian captain Steve Smith was reprimanded by umpire Nigel Llong and Virat Kohli for looking up at the dressing room for assistance on whether or not to review for an lbw. Smith had gone on to say, during the press conference, that it was a brain-fade and that he did not mean to do it or that he did not know he could not do it. This may sound a bit rude, but what kind of a captain, whom has been a captain for as long as Smith has, does not know the rules of the game?

kwesesportscomPeter Handscomb tried to divert the criticism Smith was getting onto him by tweeting it was his fault stating that it was him that said Smith must ask the teammates and staff in the dressing room. Even so, his captain should have still not done it. There’s no excuse for what he’s done. As a captain, he should have said to Handscomb that was he was suggesting is not allowed. Apologising, while it’s polite, is not really going to help anything. Do you think that even if Faf apologised, he would not have gotten such heat? Why were there no newspapers slating Smith for what he had done? Were they hyping up how Kohli had reacted than Smith’s actual offence? This is a slight problem if Steve is going to listen to a player who has only played six test matches and clearly doesn’t know the rules.

Am I wrong in assuming that checking with support staff to see if you are out or not allowed is a case of common sense? As a South African fan, because of how the Mint-gate saga rocked the cricketing nation for a bit, I am mad that the ICC is not doing a single thing about this. They just closed the matter off and told everyone to move on. I feel that they should have addressed this matter, not just a peace talk, once the heat had died down. Because this did not happen, the rest of this series could turn ugly with sledges filled with pettiness and bitterness. Did the ICC actually close the matter off on purpose to get people talking about the match/series and giving it more hype? But hey, maybe these two teams are going to act like grown men, and not let a small issue like this not get in the way of play, right?

Newspaper clipping image found at kwesesports.com.

Are We Always Relying on AB?

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A fantastic batsman though, no doubt. Image from news18.com

“Are we always relying on AB?” After watching the ODI series against New Zealand, this was the one question that really ran in circuits in my mind when video footage showed the Proteas lifting that series trophy after the  deciding game. Elation coming through on my face, and the players, at another series win. This win felt more special: an actual challenge, with respect to Sri Lanka, that gave fans a feeling that this tour would be one filled with blood-pressure inducing, heart attack enduring nerves and excitement of what was to come. That’s what I got, at least, and other fans did too. But when I looked at the score cards of each of the five games, and remembering the few minutes I actually got to watch the matches, this was the question that sprung up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad AB came through when we needed him to, but it was nearly like it was expected that he is to come through, as he did majority of the time, to save us and not bat freely. Anyone would be so happy to have him in their starting line-up, and when thinking of your dream team in world cricket, he’s one of the first names to be put down. Of course, many people who enjoy watching AB play were gutted when he was out for a couple of months because of his elbow injury. Naturally, articles were written, stating that we should be very worried now that he was out injured and recovery. But was that thought not a cause for concern in the first place?

Let me put it like this: I think that the team may have been relying on AB more when there is a slight batting collapse than having to put up an actual score in recent times. Now that’s okay, but how often has a middle order collapse happened, especially in the recent ODI series against New Zealand? There were slight order collapses in all five games which had AB trying to save the innings with a lower order batsman in either Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius or Wayne Parnell. It’s almost as if sometimes the top order guys, excluding AB and Faf, are sure that if they go out, AB will save the innings. And if not AB, then Morris or Phehlukwayo. AB’s known for that, great, but it can’t happen all the time. Why always rely on one batsman and make things harder for yourself when this could have been avoided if you just took your time and played the right shots?

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We cannot always rely on tail-enders to save the innings. Image from cricket.com.au

I want to touch on the batting averages of Miller, Behardien, Duminy and Faf. During the ODI series against Australia last September/October, AB was not available meaning Faf was the stand in captain, also meaning the top six had to work harder. Not really scrutinising Faf, but he is still worth mentioning as he maintained his average from 50.00 then to 44.75 recently. Duminy averaged 41.80 in September, last month he averaged 15.80. For someone who hardly plays great international knocks, Behardien averaged 30.00 last year and in the past series averaged 0 (he played one match and went out for a golden duck). Even though Miller saved SA in the third ODI last year, he averaged 96.50 and then recently went on to average 25.66. In the recently concluded stint, these are the guys that should have stepped up to keeping the scoreboard ticking even when your top-order fails. Obviously with higher averages like this against Australia, the guys could (and should) be playing like this all the time right?

It’s almost like when AB is in the squad, it’s almost fair game to slack off a little bit. I am not saying that he only does well when the demise of his fellow batsmen’s wickets occur, but that they have the power and batting ability to chase down a total quicker with everyone putting in an effort, even if you have one batman go out for a single digit score. They have the ability to score a massive number of runs if batting first. And if AB keeps saying that we are ready for Champions Trophy soon, people are going to believe that based on win/loss results rather than scorecards.

Irrespective of the number of runs put up on the board, it is always great to have all-rounders and bowlers that can bat decently or score a blitz half-century. My only concern is when we have to rely on them to take the team home when the top four or six should have done that earlier in the innings. A similar instance was in the first ODI where Phehlukwayo partnered AB to win that game with one ball remaining, and in the process have Phehlukwayo score two fantastic sixes in the last two overs. Now my problem is that when we lost the second ODI, Pretorius and Phehlukwayo were batting to try to save the game. Pretorius was later bowled after achieving his maiden 50, leaving Phehlukwayo to bat with Tahir. He got a lot of heat from fans for not repeating his heroics from the previous game, but that actually was not his job; the top six should have stepped up.

So to conclude, I do think that we rely on AB’s brilliance to an extent. Our openers in Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla do a great job at building pressure onto the bowlers  with aggressive batting and partnerships that build a foundation at times. However, when openers go out, Faf comes in to bat and does relatively well, and then AB comes on and he bats fantastically. Then it’s from Duminy until, depending on who is in the squad, Parnell or Morris that not many people see batting because of that chunk in the line-up not occupying the crease. If SA want a shot at winning the Champions Trophy, this is another issue that needs to be sorted out. Let’s also hope that these problems do not go on into the test series against New Zealand just because AB is not there. This will be a real test, excuse the pun, to see if the middle-order can cope without him like they did against Australia in their home ground.