Devil’s Advocate on Player Selection

With the contrasting conditions in international cricket and domestic cricket, it’s easy to perform well in the latter.

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Let’s take time to think of something before discussing nothing. Image: indianexpress.com

As the strangely open-minded person that I am, I’m always having scenarios play in my head about things that could happen if they went which-ever way. That means that I’ll hear someone’s argument to something I totally disagree on and see that their way of thinking can make sense, in a weird way. Sometimes, this can be a disadvantage in having an opinion and not changing it.

Recently, I was having a discussion on Twitter with two people on where Quinton de Kock should bat in the test format. His attacking nature and ability to score runs when needed is one that is extremely valued and appreciated in the Proteas team. Now these tweeps I was conversing with were sure that he should bat at 4 because of his runs-churning way of playing, but I disagreed. He is too valuable of a player to have higher than 6 if the top order has a collapse, and then has no time to rest before going to keep wicket. Who bats, if Quinny is at 7, after him? Philander? If the top six only manages to get 175-6 in the first innings to put up a total, it will be QdK and Vernon trying to rescue the innings, for sure. But what if QdK was batting higher up and Bavuma went out slightly cheaply? Vernon would end up batting with the tail. I was convinced that he should bat higher up, up until this third test match against England. If we are to place him any higher, the highest should be 5 or 6. Him being an attacking player in a spot where you need to grind it out if the opening pair go out is a little too risky, in my opinion. If a collapse happens and he’s part of the top 4, there is a valuable player gone out.

Another thing I’ve seen amongst Twitter fans is how we (yes, I do it too, but I’ve tried not to) say one thing when things are going well about a certain player/players, but call for his/their head when they play appallingly. Now, I will say that I often eat slices of humble pie to feed a family of sextuplets, hence now I try look at things more objectively. One thing I’ve realised, clearer that ever, is that Sunfoil Series (four-day domestic cricket in South Africa) and international cricket are EXTREMELY difficult. And the reason a lot of the players do well there is because the players in that set up are, with all possible respect, are not international level yet which makes them a lot easier to face… especially if they have been playing for a club for a number of years. Hence the problem we face with Heino Kuhn now. He is extremely talented, and many people were calling for him to play in the test squad as far as last year August against New Zealand for the misplaced two-test series in South Africa. Now that he’s in the squad, he isn’t really making an overly amazing impression; there are calls for the young Aiden Markram to replace him. But, what if he too does not live up to our expectations of him and goes out for less than ten if he debuts in the last match of this series? Should he also get dropped because he’s not good enough? If not, should we not take the same approach when looking at Kuhn and be more patient?

The CSA selectors, bless them, are also now in the firing line for the performances of the team. For example; the selection of Chris Morris over Dwaine Pretorius is one that is being talked about often. Personally, I didn’t have any expectation of him in this series because I know how erratic and expensive he can be. Don’t get me wrong; the guy’s got pace and skill and bowls a mean yorker, good with the bat at the back-end of an innings, but he’s too all over the place when bowling, and expensive. And he also selected because of his ability to bat with the tail. In this series, he’s yet to prove it. What the sad thing is, I had a feeling he would perform like this in the series. So I was secretly hoping de Bruyn would come back in the side, as it wasn’t really fair for him to get the chop in that game or this one. It would have been extremely great for Pretorius to play in this tour, but one cannot guarantee for sure that he would have made many dents in the England batting line-up. We’ll never know, sure, but it’s pretty unfair to assume he would and then fans become disappointed with him and say he’s not international standard if he performs below-par. I am a very big fan of Pretorius, but we cannot be sure he would have been selected in the first eleven, let alone a key player in the line up.

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Good in patches, but Morris is not really good for tests. Image: cricbuzz.com

I can understand why CSA would not field more than one debutant in the eleven as opposed to Australia and England. However, what may work for other countries may not work us, too. You want to field your best eleven with players that have faced against tough opposition. With that being said, I get that you would want to see how new players fair in the international circuit, but when I think of that, I think immediately back to the Sri Lanka 3-match T20 series. We gave more than four guys a debut in each team, with Lungi Ngidi being the only permanent prospect to play for South Africa. We lost that series 2-1, and deservedly so. In those games, we had players pay poor shot selection, dropped catches, and missed run-outs. It may not seem like a valid example because of the cries for international T20 series to be scrapped, but it’s still something to think about in terms of selecting many debutants in a match/series. CSA should think a little more in terms of what they want from the team when selecting one, apart from just winning. Do they want to just win to heighten our chances at moving to number 1 in rankings, or do they want that to happen while given guys the experience they need for the future?

This article is not meant to pick and choose a side in the way things are being discussed, but more to say let’s look at both sides of the story before we cast major judgement. If the pros out-weight the cons, then great; if not, then okay.

Get Over Those Players Who Have Taken Kolpak Deals

We need to move on from this, and forget about these players that have left us like a selfish boyfriend in a relationship.

Cricket - Sunfoil Test Series - 2nd Test - South Africa v Sri Lanka - Day 4 - Newlands Cricket Ground
Can we please stop using Kolpak as an excuse. Image: iol.co.za

This is a subject I have been avoiding with all my might when Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw took their deals with Hampshire earlier this year because it made me absolutely livid as to how these guys just gave up their pride in playing for their country. But personally, these players are dead to me; undeserving of their segment in SA Cricket Magazine’s Saffas Abroad, so this is my saying that I do not like or follow these players anymore. As well as others who have gone the Kolpak route.

One thing that I have noticed with many people who follow South African cricket is that every time the Proteas lose, all blame goes towards the transformation targets as the infamous Kolpak players who are doing well in England. Bar Rossouw (to an extent) and Abbott, the rest of the players who have taken these deals had not been as explosive as they were before their Proteas call-up. First class cricket and international test cricket are two completely different formats in the skill and mentality that is needed to play it. That is something a lot of players, and fans sometimes, do not understand.

Stiaan van Zyl was a specialist opener for South Africa in late 2015 but had scored only one century which was against the West Indies, and ever since then had been not a great batsman internationally, only averaging 26.33. He signed his Kolpak deal late 2016 to play for Sussex for three years. The opener position therefore opened and Stephen Cook took that position… but not for long as his form also dropped. David Wiese: another player who when playing for the Proteas didn’t really make his presence felt like at domestic level. These are just some of the players that have signed Kolpak, but I feel like we’re not really missing these guys in the international setup. Domestically? Maybe. However internationally? It’s questionable. When these players had their shot for the Proteas (I understand you cannot fire from day one, and that is great) but over a period of time, you cannot be having below average performances for the team.

As I said previously, one thing I have noticed particularly amongst SA fans, past players etc is that whenever South Africa performs well in games, there is not one word muttered about transformation or Kolpak players and how they are missed in the winning team. But the minute things go pear-shaped for the Proteas, the obvious blame (not JP or Behardien) goes towards how transformation targets are enabling players to go Kolpak, and that the players in said match that are in the squad are not picked based on merit, and therefore sending SA cricket to the dogs. We know transformation targets and Kolpak signings are a thing, but do not use it as a scapegoat for a team that is in transition with captain debates and possible coach changes.

Kolpak deals have happened, and may still happen. If we keep using this excuse for our lacklustre performances, we will not move forward with the players we have now. If we keep on going on about how we miss Rossouw and Abbott in whatever squad, are we not giving the indication that the squad is extremely incomplete without them in squad? We have played well without both. A squad’s performance should not ever be based off only two players. The deals and targets never get spoken about when we win, so why bring it up when we lose? It’s a similar thing I had said in a previous article, coincidentally about current-Kolpaker Kyle Abbott, that if he was in the squad for SA vs New Zealand in the semi final of the Cricket World Cup in 2015 we would have won. No one knows if we would have won, and there is nothing we can do. And I really do understand that these two were extremely talented prospects for our team, but they’ve made their decision, and are gone forever. We need to move on from this, and forget about these players that have left us like a selfish boyfriend in a relationship. Let’s focus on what we still have.