Stop Justifying Why It’s Not a Win

“It doesn’t count as a win, because the best players aren’t there.”

“How do you expect not to beat a Z-grade team like this one?”

“Well, for sure if Tom, Dick and Harry were in the squad, they would have won.”

“It doesn’t matter because for a fact we would win if we had these players here.”

Unfortunately though, scorecards and record books don’t really state who was in that playing XI, but that the collective playing XI, whichever country it is, lost to another team by however how many wickets or runs. We just need to accept that reality that whether it’s for or against us, a win is a win. If anything, a bitter supporter would just try to cover up that the favoured team played poorly.

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South Africa on their way to whitewash Australia 5-0. Image from cricketcountry.com

I’ll give a prime example of the ODI whitewash Australia were dealt when they came to South Africa in late September. It was more or less common knowledge that a number of their players, including Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood, and James Faulkner were not going to be in that ODI series due to being rested for their upcoming test series against South Africa. In Starc’s case though, he fell during a training session and sustained a really nasty cut on his leg, he needed stitches and a leg brace – the lot. So even if Starc was chosen in the squad, he was not going to be able to play anyway. Faulkner, to my knowledge, was also injured. So when that ODI series came around, Australia arrived with a slightly undercooked bowling line up.

 

While they did have a below par bowling attack, you would expect that the rest of the players that were selected (Steve Smith, David Warner, Usman Khawaja who didn’t even play a single game, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Aaron Finch, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Marsh, and John Hastings) would have stepped up. There are already a few players whom have had their fair share of international experience to guide and lead three inexperienced bowlers in the side. This did not happen, and the bowling suffered, and as well as the batting for some reason. My real response to those that were discrediting South Africa of the 5-0 whitewash is that you should be worried when a whole team’s all-round performance is dependent on two people. That if these two players in Starc and Hazelwood are not there, the team should soldier on with players that are there. It is not anyone’s fault that Australia chose to rest these players at that time.

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A sweet third test series win in Australia for South Africa. Image from cricketcountry.com

Bear in mind as well that the very same South African team dismantled Australia in their backyard by winning that test series 2-1 even with Starc and Hazelwood in the team. South Africa themselves were missing key contributions from Temba Bavuma, Hashim Amla whom lacked form, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and AB due to injury. Does this mean that South Africa was just outstanding throughout that tour? People tried to justify this series win on a sweet.

Another example is the T20 series between South Africa and Sri Lanka. I’m also calling out to South African fans here. Sri Lanka brought in their national squad against a very young South African T20 squad with key players rested for the upcoming ODI series that ended in a whitewash for South Africa. The only players who were not rested were Imran Tahir, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien who also was named captain, Wayne Parnell, and AB de Villiers in the third match. Up to six debutants played in that T20 series with one win coming from it for the Proteas. If anything, Sri Lanka could have won 3-0 if it weren’t for the quick wickets taken in that match by the Proteas. A lot of people were saying that even though Sri Lanka won, it didn’t really count or matter because of the number of debutants in the squad, but is that not an insult to Sri Lanka that you will send a team of inexperienced players and still expect to win?

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Did it really matter whether the Proteas won or lost the series? Image from hindustantimes.com

It showed that the South African coaching staff kind of did because Coach Russell Domingo walked into the press conference after the third game smiling. Did anyone except the Sri Lankans not take that series seriously? While I may be slating the fact that not many people took this win seriously and didn’t give the respect towards Sri Lanka that was deserved, when else can you really rest your top performers especially with the England tour and Champions Trophy coming up? But Sri Lanka’s series win should not have been stated as “Sri Lanka won against a C-grade SA team.” They won the series. Full stop.

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Niroshan Dickwella is also disappointed in people’s comments about the series win. Image from cricinfo.com

My last example is the recently concluded T20 series between Sri Lanka and Australia. Understandably, Australia’s best men were sent to India for an upcoming test series there, and this T20 series was scheduled to conclude the day before the team had to leave for India. Poor scheduling already on Cricket Australia’s part. But Sri Lanka, again, dominated the series to win 2-1. A historical series win was overshadowed by comments stating that the series win was because of a very inexperienced Australian squad. It is common knowledge that Australia have devastatingly great players, young and old, in the ranks to be in the national squad so it was initially a shock to me, at least, that they still got thumped in the T20s against Sri Lanka. While T20 series wins are not really important right now because there is no T20 World Cup coming up and more focus is on Tests and ODIs this year, credit still needs to be given where it’s due. And the sooner we learn and understand that, the less we will have to congratulate with an insult on the side.

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Rain on the Proteas Side… only just!

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Man of the Match: Quinton de Kock, for his 69 off 64 balls. Image from ©Getty Images

 

This is just a short match analysis, seeing as time zones are a little bit hazy currently as South Africa is about eleven hours behind New Zealand in time zones.

South African captain, AB de Villiers, won the toss and chose to bowl first. The team consisted of Amla, de Kock, du Plessis, de Villiers, Duminy, Behardien, Morris, Phehlukwayo, Rabada, Shamsi and Tahir. Only one change to the squad from Friday’s only T20 which ended in a victory for South Africa by 78 runs. Kane Williamson’s team had some changes, in Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, and Tom Latham with keeping the wicket.

The match had been reduced to 34 overs due to a rain delay that occurred earlier on in the day. New Zealand were in the third over when Tom Latham was trapped lbw off Morris, leaving the hosts at 19-1. Brownlie went out a couple of overs later, with Captain Kane on the crease to grind out the innings with Taylor… or so he thought, because he went out in the same over for 1. Neil Broom also came and went on the crease for 1 run off Morris, caught by Behardien. Williamson had hit a magnificent half-century while batting with Neesham to put another 26 runs on the board. Williamson was later bowled for 59 off Shamsi. Mitchell Santner came on and contributed 17 more runs, but was caught behind off Rabada. After a good bowling and fielding performance by South Africa, Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme put up a 50-run partnership towards to end of the innings, which in turn had New Zealand ending with 207-7. Should be more or less easy to chase, right?

The start of the South African innings went more or less according to plan, Amla and de Kock putting up 88 runs for the first wicket partnership. Amla was unfortunately bowled and caught by Captain Kane for 35, and he looked on song for a decent half century. Speaking of half-centuries, de Kock played a great innings to reach his 10th ODI 50 off 47 balls, but was later dismissed off Trent Boult for 69. De Villiers was next, and overdue for a captain’s knock. A mini collapse ensued when Duminy came onto the crease before du Plessis was trapped lbw off Sodhi for 14 runs. Duminy, however only managed to score one run and Southee had caught a wicket off his own delivery. Fan-favourite, Behardien, came next to try salvage the innings and silence his critics. He was clean bowled off Southee for a golden duck and Southee was now on a hat-trick. Morris came next and put in a partnership with his captain for 30 runs. He was trying to go big with another boundary ball, but was caught by Boult near the boundary rope.

A partnership, almost like the innings played when the Proteas played against Australia last year in Durban which defined the series for them, between Andile Phehlukwayo and de Villiers went unbroken for 56 runs. The required run-rate kept creeping up to nearly 10 runs needed in the overs remaining. Going into the 32nd over, SA needed around 22 runs off 12 balls to win. Quick singles between the two batsmen kept the scoreboard moving, then Phehlukwayo let a little bit loose and slammed a ball off Boult for six, getting SA closer to the score needed. In the last over, 12 runs were needed. A single and two extras brought the Proteas to 9 needed off 4 balls. Phehlukwayo creamed a delivery off Southee for another six. With one ball to spare, de Villiers hit the remaining runs for four to lead the ODI series 1-0. Man of the Match went to Quinton de Kock for his contribution of 69 runs.

A great performance to win the game by a nail-biter, but I do have some concerns. We may be in for more heart-attacks during this series if it’s going to be anything like today’s game. The death-bowling by South Africa in the last three overs of the New Zealand innings was a little bit concerning, due to the number of runs scored between two tail-end batsmen. While de Grandhomme may have a slight reputation of being a hard-hitting low-order batsman, he should be relatively easier to get out than a top-order batsman. The last over of that innings went for 22 runs. Southee and de Grandhomme shared an unbroken partnership of 51 runs. Our death bowling, for the importance of this team keeping their number 1 ranking if it’s any importance to them, needs to improve soon!

The Love-Hate Relationship Between the Proteas and ICC Events

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World Cup Heartbreak. Photo from indianexpress.com

1992: South Africa vs England (ODI) Semi-finals – loss by 19 runs

1996: South Africa vs West Indies (ODI) Quarter-finals – loss by 19 runs (Brian Lara’s one man show to help his side go to semi-finals)

1999: South Africa vs Australia (ODI) Semi-final – match tied but Australia advanced to finals

2007: South Africa vs Australia (ODI) Semi-final – loss by 7 wickets

2011: South Africa vs New Zealand (ODI) Quarter-final – loss by 49 runs

2015: (Most controversial) South Africa vs New Zealand (ODI) Semi-final – loss by 4 wickets (I’m still hurt from this loss almost two years on)

2016: South Africa vs West Indies (T20) Group stages – loss by 3 wickets

Ahh, that love story. That one love story that just never ends well for the protagonist. A twist in the fairy-tale. Like a volta in a poem. Always letting the antagonist get its way and leaving the main character heartbroken. The love story, in this case, is any ICC event where the Proteas have come agonisingly close to reaching the final; the protagonist is the Proteas; and the antagonist is the building pressure in knockout games.

If you look closely at these summarised results above, you will notice that majority of the matches lost were either in quarter-finals or in semi-finals; the most recent, and most controversial, being the Cricket World Cup in 2015. If there was one thing I noticed while looking for these results, is that majority of these group stage matches were fairly simple for the Proteas. Looking through the results of group stages in the various tournaments, with exception of two to three teams, most teams South Africa played against were, with all due respect, not ones that measured up to the standard of play and test of temperament and skill that Australia, England or India teams possess in their matches.

It was more or less quite simple for the Proteas to get to the Super Sixes or semi-finals due to them playing teams like Kenya, Zimbabwe, West Indies, or even the Netherlands in the beginning. No wonder it’s a slight challenge when they face Australia or New Zealand in a do-or-die game and feel the immense amount of pressure. They know: one mistake, and you’re out and called “chokers” until the next ICC event. So should we really blame the Proteas here? If they are used to playing near minnow teams in group stages, with all due respect to them, would it be natural for them to have a slight sense of complacency going into knockout rounds? Is that when the Proteas crack? Truth be told though, the Proteas should be able to play against any team they face, especially in an ICC event.

It’s almost similar to an unloving relationship that the Proteas have placed us fans in. Showing promise of finally getting that glistening piece of silverware to add to the cupboard that still holds the trophy from the ICC Champions Trophy in 1998 by doing so well in bilateral series against different countries in a season. However every time a test of commitment comes around, our beloved protagonist “chokes” under pressure. Like a lover promising to take you to your favourite restaurant for your anniversary every year, but never following through with that plan when the date actually comes around. Every date beforehand is perfect, and nothing goes wrong. It is only when the big day arrives of your anniversary when everything goes awry.

As a fan of the protagonist here, I would like for them to be that one protagonist that seizes the day like in the romantic comedies, and get what exactly the fans want: the Champions Trophy winners title, and eventually become Cricket World Cup winners in 2019. Everyone wants this so badly, so badly that AB de Villiers himself has opted out of a few test series this year, and could probably miss some matches in any given format against teams next year. He is showing a near unhealthy, but needed dedication to making sure he and his team is ready for the World Cup in 2019. This love-hate affair with pressure situations in knockout games must come to an end, once and for all. Everyone knows they can do it, but they must just prove it. You can be number one in rankings, but how your match temperament is in pressure situations, like a World Cup, is where the real test lies.

If We Cannot Take Two Tail-End Wickets, We’re Kinda Screwed

How South Africa managed to concede almost 100 runs towards the end of the Sri Lanka innings, let a Sri Lankan batsman sail to his maiden half century and century, and only take two more wickets of the middle-order to have them batting through with two wickets remaining, could be a slight cause for concern in terms of the Proteas’ bowling attack for the future.

A short summary of South Africa’s batting scorecard: Hashim Amla score 154 runs, him and our beloved wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock put on a first-wicket partnership of 189 runs in which de Kock scored his 12th ODI century. He later went out for 109, giving Sri Lanka the breakthrough they desperately needed. Another 50-run partnership brought South Africa closer to 250 runs as Faf du Plessis, whom had partnered Amla at the crease went out for 41. AB de Villiers came on next, but only managed to put on 14 runs from the 9 bowled to him. JP Duminy was next up, but also did not occupy the crease long enough, and scored 10 runs, including a boundary.

Amla, and fan-favourite, Farhaan Behardien, occupied the middle to put on 62 runs just before Amla was caught out, his 154 runs now being one of his best individual scores at Supersport Park in Centurion. Both batsmen had done a fantastic job in piling on more runs in the third powerplay, with Amla scoring sixes as freely as we have ever seen. A truly fantastic knock by him after going out cheaply in the fourth ODI in Cape Town for 1 run only. South Africa ended their 50 overs with 384-6. Many had speculated, after the pitch analysis done by Supersport commentators, that the team batting first would go on to around 400 runs due to the dry conditions. Upul Tharanga passed up that opportunity to have his bowlers concede more than almost 45 runs each, and six wickets shared between the seven bowlers; Suranga Lakmal taking three of the six.

I personally do not know what happened in the fourth ODI with AB constantly changing the bowlers, having Wayne Parnell open the bowling and going for almost 15 runs in the opening over, and not starting with Kagiso Rabada. However, speaking to a fellow cricket friend of mine, she had suggested that he may want experiment with different bowling partners for Rabada, bearing in mind that Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris did not play in that match. There was a lot more inexperience in that side compared to today’s game as Morris and Phehlukwayo were back in the squad, and Dwaine Pretorius and Tabraiz Shamsi were substituted out.

The bowling started off not too badly, with Rabada being slightly more expensive than usual. However, things turned around for the Proteas when Tharanga was caught out by Rabada off Morris for 7, which gave the Sri Lankan’s a slight wobble as Kusal Mendis was caught by de Villiers for one run, and Niroshan Dickwella was caught for 39. Sri Lanka had lost their top order and half their middle-order batsmen for 85 runs. A rebuilding partnership by Sachith Pathirana and Asela Gunaratne of 93 runs brought them slowly, but not enough, back into the match. Now, here is where things get interesting…

Phehlukwayo, at this point if I am not mistaken, had bowled one over, which was a maiden over. A couple of overs later, he bowls again and has now, going towards the third powerplay of the match, has bowled three overs and gone for six runs. Sri Lanka now go into the 42nd over of the match, with Parnell bowling the previous over and going for only three runs. You would want to keep things tight and build more pressure, right? Not quite possibly what AB was thinking: he brings in part-time bowler and occasional all-rounder Behardien to bowl the next over. What the actual reason was will be left to the Mythbusters of cricket researchers, because that was one interesting decision by AB.

This bowling change was so interesting, yet shocking, that during the over, du Plessis was looking around and probably thinking: “Really, best friend? You want to try and finish this match off like this? Seriously, best friend?” Do not worry, Faf, South African fans were kind of thinking the same thing. Behardien managed to concede 17 runs in his over, including four boundaries in a row. A question that I thought of out-loud was: is AB trying to make sure Behardien never refers to himself as an all-rounder again by making him bowl so that he can only be classified as a batsman? I may be just stirring the pot here, just could be a valid question.

It was slightly worrying that the SA bowlers could not bowl a hard enough length to get the remaining wickets to end the game much quicker than it should have. There was no need for the Sri Lankan innings to go to the full 50 overs. With that being said, should this be an ongoing problem for our bowlers now against a team like Sri Lanka, with due respect to them, there are going to be some interesting times ahead during the New Zealand tour coming up later in the week.

To conclude this match report, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to Hashim Amla for winning a Man-of-the-Match award for his 154 runs in this game, and Faf du Plessis for winning Man-of-the-Series for his fantastic form throughout the ODI matches and surpassing 400 runs in a series.Congratulations goes to Quinton de Kock for surpassing 3000 ODI runs in 74 ODI matches which is the third fastest by a wicketkeeper, and Farhaan Behardien for surpassing 1000 ODI runs.

But the biggest congratulations must definitely go to the whole Proteas team for winning the ODI series 5-0 and moving to number 1 of the ICC ODI Rankings, passing Australia by one point to take top spot. May the upcoming matches be as prosperous and successful as this series of matches were.

Is Newlands Really Cursed?

I felt it was only necessary to write this piece tonight because some things had bothered me about tonight’s game against Sri Lanka. While the Proteas batting was astounding, there was just something in their bowling line-up.

South Africa started the match off by batting first earlier this afternoon, and many argue that this was what they were supposed to choose in the Pink ODI three days before. After losing Hashim Amla for 1 early in the match, a rebuilding phase between Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis took place. de Kock reached his half century, but went out for 55 after him and du Plessis reached their 100-run partnership. du Plessis and AB de Villiers batted on, making a 137-run partnership as AB made his 50th half century in ODIs but was later bowled out for 64. du Plessis broke a record of reaching the highest runs scored by an individual batsman at the PPC Newlands stadium in Cape Town. David Warner of Australia is now second place for his 172 against the Proteas in an ODI series which South Africa won 5-0 last year. du Plessis was three runs short of matching, and possibly surpassing, Gary Kirsten’s record of 188 runs before he was caught out for 185. Kirsten’s 188 is the highest individual score by a South African in an ODI innings. The Proteas, today, posted a high total of 367-5 after 50 overs.

Niroshan Dickwella and captain Upul Tharanga put up a 139 run partnership before Dickwella went out for 58. A captain’s knock from Tharanga of 119 steady Sri Lanka’s ship on course for what was to be a stressful and interesting game for the ever quiet fans at Newlands stadium. As expected, once the two openers, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, and slight surprise threat Sandun Weerakkody were out, the infamous Sri Lankan collapse would occur. However, this match was turned on its head with that strong opening partnership, as well as useful contributions from Weerakkody  (58 off 51) and Asela Gunaratne (38 off 31) made it hard for Proteas bowlers to get the wickets needed quickly. But that is not what makes me a bit angry.

Yes, we won the game, but one cannot deny that the fielding woes from the third T20 against Sri Lanka, which won them the series, sort of came back to haunt us. An estimated total of four dropped catches proves that it does not matter your experience level, whether transformation targets are put in place or not, or your race: catches are the basic skill every cricketer should have perfected by now; especially with an ICC event coming around the corner. If I am not mistaken, in the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, there was a costly dropped catch by either Farhaan Behardien or JP Duminy (I think both were going for the catch) off Grant Elliott’s bat at a chance to get him out. Of course, no one really knows whether or not we would have won the game if he was caught, but we would like to think so. Elliott in the last over, last ball of that semi final game needed to smack the ball for four and assure his team a place in the final. He slammed it for six. Millions of South African fans were heartbroken. Catches win matches. The T20 team, about a month ago, managed to drop a near total of 7 catches in that innings. Funnily enough, at PPC Newlands.

So I guess the real question at hand is, while many great cricket moments happen at Newlands, is it really cursed in terms of not being able to catch? Or, are the Proteas not really able to play well and logically under pressure? All of our bowlers were horrifically expensive. None of the bowlers really managed to keep things tight, and not leak runs or boundaries. Just earlier in the match, commentators were gushing at how Imran Tahir only managed to concede two boundaries in the whole ODI series. He’s quadrupled that figure now. Another question is why Kagiso Rabada did not open the bowling. South Africa cannot be having lob-sided match performances leading up to an ICC event. Batting and bowling need to be in sync with each other from here on out. Please can the Proteas work on this before their last match of the series which will be in Centurion at Supersport Park, as well as before they fly out to New Zealand for a tour there.

But seriously: they have done well in other matches around the country. What is happening once they get to Newlands? Is it seriously cursed?

Tickled Pink Proteas Buzz Past Sri Lanka

The Pink Proteas clinched a series win in their third win in the ODI series at Wanderers last night. While Pink Day is known for the theatrics of AB de Villiers with his explosive batting, and of hitting breast cancer for a six, the day was certainly one that was buzzing with excitement from fans. It was also Faf du Plessis’ 100th ODI for South Africa. What better way to celebrate it by raising funds for breast cancer and raising awareness of the disease?

The Pink Proteas opted to bowl first against the Sri Lankans with changes of Wayne Parnell being rested bringing in all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius and Farhaan Behardien replacing the injured David Miller (much to everyone’s displeasure) after he sustained a cut to his finger during the second ODI in Durban. The Proteas won the third ODI by 7 wickets with thanks to AB and JP Duminy grinding it out to put up a vital partnership of 72 runs to win the match and, essentially, the series. Man of the Match was presented to Dwaine Pretorius for his fantastic bowling figures, which are now his career best in ODIs, of 3-19 from 7 overs.

While Sri Lanka were batting, Niroshan Dickwella and stand-in captain Upul Tharanga put up a 1st wicket partnership of 60 runs before Tharanga was caught out off Kagiso Rabada by Pretorius. Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal fell one after the other, both only scoring 4 runs, when Andile Phehlukwayo struck within his allotted overs. This led to their batting order going into a slight collapse, only managing to put 162 runs when they were bowled out in the 39th over. This then left the Proteas with a total of 163 runs to chase.

Quinton de Kock was given a lifeline when Lahiru Kumara had bowled within the powerplay to trap him for lbw, only to find that it was pitching outside leg to keep him on the crease. He was unfortunate to be clean-bowled in the next delivery for 8. Hashim Amla was run out for 34 while trying to hold the innings together after du Plessis was caught for 24 off Lahiru Madushanka who made his debut. It was de Villiers and Duminy who carried South Africa home with 18 overs to spare. This win made it a fifth win out of five Pink Day One Day Internationals for South Africa.

A highlight of the Sri Lankan innings, or rather the whole match, was when the players were in the middle of their 25th over at 117-5 a swarm of bees had made their way onto the field, which forced players and umpires to take evasive action by lying on the ground for a couple of minutes, to the point where they had to be taken off the field for almost more than an hour. Groundsmen tried to lure the bees with a fire extinguisher, an open Coca-Cola can, and a bucket, but all failed as the bees still stayed on the field. A professional bee-keeper was called and came onto the field. He was welcomed with a roaring applause from the fans as once he sorted things out, play would resume which would lessen the chance of reduced overs for each team.

As a first time going to Pink Day, it did not really have that element of entertainment with many boundaries and sixes scored, as AB had admitted wishing he had batted first, it was still a relatively great day for the whole family and an awesome initiative by the Pink Drive where donations were given, hair was spray-painted pink, and stunning Pink Drive bracelets were on sale.

The Proteas upheld their special motto of never losing in pink to win the series, and if all goes according to plan with the rest of the matches in the series, South Africa will be number one in ICC ODI rankings as Australia are currently barely holding onto the number one spot since they lost the recent Chappell-Hadlee series to New Zealand 2-0 with the second match being rained out. New Zealand now have moved to third, a point ahead of India.

The fourth game between South Africa and Sri Lanka is in PPC Newlands in Cape Town and 13:30 South African time.