Sledge As Much As You’re Willing To Take: An Article Long Overdue

While sledging does add that factor of interest towards a series, players should be able to back up all the trash talk with actual skill.

Advertisements
indiacom2
The series between India and Australia as riddled with sledging, which was the main focus before the series started. Image: india.com

Last year, I read a news article where Australian captain Steve smith was at a press conference just after his squad arrived in India prior to the test series. The headline of this article, as well as the article itself, stated that smith basically admitted that his side was going to sledge their way through the tough Indian series that was coming up.

Straight off the bat (no pun intended) every team sledges. Just to clarify, it’s a part of the game, and it’s sole purpose is to use verbal remarks to inevitably mess up a player’s mental concentration. This is done by usually the fielding side, to get the batsman out quicker. This mostly happens to batsmen at the crease, but bowlers do also get sledged by the batsmen. Sometimes, as you can expect when grown men with an overwhelming amounts of testosterone and high emotions in a match, the sledges become slightly… overbearing. The ICC, technically, does not have much of an issue with sledging, provided that there’s no swearing or defamation to one’s character (and that it is not picked up over the stump microphones). However, is that not what sledging is in a way?

As previously mentioned of the test series between the Aussies and Indians, this series was one with a massive amount of drama. This being from pitches being deemed dangerous and not suitable for play due to how much grass, or lack thereof, there was on it, to Steve Smith’s dressing room review ‘brain fade’. Many teams do not usually have much success in India when it comes to the turning tops of the wickets and the heat, so in Smith stating to the press that they were going to focus more on their sledging gave me the impression that the team were not confident in winning the series as confidently as they always claim to be on other tours. Why rely on an idea (of actively sledging) where it can get you into more trouble than you would like? Is it because you know you will get away with it, reason being that it is in the spirit of the game and it is all passion?

blogpickstarcomau
Sometimes, players need to be quiet on the field and show more skills with the bat and ball instead of the incessant sledging. Image: blogpickstar.com.au

Now we focus to more recent times. Before this series even began, there was a cloud of drama looming in the air, with the visitors requesting that the stump microphones be turned down or off. The question here is why? What is there to hide? What did the Aussies plan to say during the matches that the mics needed to be turned down? What has come out today is a spat between David Warner and Quinton de Kock that went down the personal route between them both that was caught on CCTV footage which was leaked. The situational irony here is that Australia had put on a show for the stump mics to be turned down so that they could sledge in piece, but cameras still caught them.

But where is the line drawn? There seems to be a line that is created between teams where there is space to poke and poke at another player to the point of slightly uncomfortable reactions. If certain players are only going to be known being a bully on the field where you get personal all the time, you do not deserve any respect. I think of this line and how certain teams use this line to their advantage like this: the line of sledging tactics. It’s a line so thin, it’s almost transparent. When a player from India, Australia, or England steps over this line of sledging, directing it towards another player, they will be expected to step closer and closer in retaliation. The minute the target stands so much as on the line, the instigator will jump off this line so quickly and cry wolf. This so-called line between sledging and getting personal, on or off the field does not exist. And this incident between de Kock and Warner shows it. I spoke in a previous article by which I had questioned how genuine the Aussies were in creating videos of the South African team where they speak on the respecting the opposition, but immediately go and speak so ill of their family?

I’ll conclude by saying that while sledging does add that factor of interest towards a series, players should be able to back up all the trash talk with actual skill. Saying that you will focus on sledging more than trying to combat the issue of not being able to play spin is a rubbish statement. I’m not sure what the punishment will be for Warner and de Kick, but both are guilty of taking things too far in statements. I do hope no suspension will take place, but a hefty fine may just make their way to them. But who knows? Maybe the ICC will let Warner get off scot-free. No-one knows, but one thing’s for sure is that this series and story will have many glued to their phones and televisions for the rest of the series.

 

Remaining fixtures in this series:

  • South Africa vs. Australia 2nd Test: Friday 9-13 March 2018 St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth
  • South Africa vs. Australia 3rd Test: Thursday 22-26 March 2018 PPC Newlands, Cape Town
  • South Africa vs. Australia 4th Test: Friday 30 March-3 April 2018 Bidvest Wanderers, Johannesburg

Can We Possibly Move On from the Mind-Games?

Reverse psychology? Maybe. Could there be a solution to this? Absolutely: shut up with the psychological warfare, and get on with the game!

cricketcomau4
An interesting Test series is looming come Thursday, but the forced humility is a little bit irritating. Image: cricket.com.au

It could be possible that as I’ve grown into a Westernised equivalent of an adult, I’ve also developed the slight side effect of viewing things from a cynical point of view. With a slight hint of doubt. However, I will just go with the assumption that my view is not the only one out there.

Recently, the Australian test team currently touring in South Africa decided that they needed to make a video on why they think AB de Villiers is such a great batsman. This is not the first time they have done a video like this before playing South Africa in a test series. The team spearheaded by Steve Smith had recorded four more videos in 2016, sitting in a room with a backdrop of black, having their faces be the centre of focus throughout the entire video speaking specific players in the Proteas squad who they admire, and what they think of the squad as a whole. The first video spoke about Dale Steyn, the second on Kagiso Rabada, the third on AB, and the fourth on the Proteas team as a whole.

Why do this? Why is Australia out to make themselves look like they are the most humble team of test playing nations? Why go through so much time speaking to a starting eleven asking them the same question, in which you expect the same answer? What satisfaction do they get out of speaking of how the opposition in a series of videos as opposed to just saying a one-liner in a press conference? Why do they not do these sucking-up videos with other teams like India, Pakistan, or New Zealand? The Ashes media hype does not count because it is all for a boring series, especially when things get one-sided.

If I think back to the 2016 test series between these two countries, it was a rather eventful one. The MintGate saga occurred, Dale Steyn dislocated his shoulder and South Africa was down one bowler on day two of the first test, it was the Proteas’ first Pink Ball match. It may seem that all the things that could have gone wrong for South Africa did, and that they were destined to be beaten by the Aussies. They choked in the first match and did not even try in the second. They came back in the third, but it was too little too late.

I was a first year student in 2016, studying furiously for my end of year exams when the series took place. I may have been in my psychological state of mind due to late nights cramming psychology content, but I felt after that series that all of those videos made may not have been to intimidate the Proteas into fearing for a difficult series Down Under, but they had come off a strong ODI series whitewash win and were prepared for anything: their confidence may had just been strengthened for that tour. Reverse psychology? Maybe. Could there be a solution to this? Absolutely: shut up with the psychological warfare, and get on with the game! I sometimes think that the Baggy Greens do enjoy the sounds of their own voices due to some of the things said. That is not a problem, usually, if the mind-games do not backfire and you win games convincingly. However, that takes away from how “genuine” these comments about players in the videos are just before a series takes place. Am I still being a cynic in making a comment like this?

Big Ben’s Brawl

How is punching someone almost fifteen times a mistake?

thesuncouk
Ben Stokes really stoked everyone’s anger and disappointment. Image: thesun.co.uk

As many people on Twitter do, everyone had something to say about the whole ordeal. Many people are livid about what he’s done, but some are defending him. Now, I’m about to just mention some comments (not the exact tweets, but along these lines) that had me thinking “what?” Let me know if you agree or not.

 

“Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t be so hard on him.”

– How is punching someone almost fifteen times a mistake? A mistake is buying whole-wheat bread instead of plain brown.

“Hey man, men fight.”

РIf so, then he should not be in a place in his life where  everything he does will be put on social media and ruin his reputation. For someone who has been getting into trouble for his anger, he should have known better.

“He was drunk; no wonder he acted the way he did.”

– I’ll come in his defence here and say that he can drink if he wants to. Just don’t act like someone who can’t handle their alcohol.

“It was off the field. It has nothing to do with us.”

– Would things be better if they were on the field? It does have something to do with the fans if it’s caught on camera, or even reported on with significant evidence.

“The guys he hit had a bottle. He was defending himself.”

– This may be because I am a female, but if I saw someone with a bottle coming towards me, I would not fight them. Whether it’s broken or not, it’s still a weapon. Walk away. You don’t need to prove how manly you are when a potential weapon is involved.

These were just some of the comments that I saw online. To be fair, everyone has their opinion on the matter, but sometimes common sense escapes most. From watching the video, he was being held back by the people he was with. Whatever happened, was there a reason to go for fifteen to the guy’s face?

I’ve also read through the Twitter grapevine that Stokes was drinking that night. I will not be that person to say that it was, entirely, the alcohol’s fault. I will say he is within his human right to drink if he wants to, but if he is going to act in an uncivilised fashion, then he has to be dealt with the repercussions. Personally, I am glad he and Hales have been suspended from playing, but why do they still get full pay? Unfortunately, people have to understand that children who look up to them watch and pick up more than you would think from external stimuli. So what do they see when they see two international sports stars causing a ruckus after a night out drinking while still in the middle of a series?

While I was writing this post, Piers Morgan had tweeted saying that he had word from a source that Stokes was standing up for two homosexual men being bothered. If that is true, why did the source wait so long to come forward if they knew a potential saviour was at risk of getting his reputation (or lack thereof) tarnished even further? Why tell, with all respect to him, Piers Morgan of all news people?

He will honestly be very lucky if he does get on that plane to Australia for the Ashes. Ben Stokes really could have controlled the controllables.

Jennings Didn’t Slip Through the System

All I’m saying is that quota targets can be a good thing sometimes: they help actually discover more talent than you thought you had in the cricket setup

oddreaderscom
Not an issue that Jennings had decided to pursue greener pastures in England. Image: oddreaders.com

Now before you get the idea that I’m a part of the crowd that thought that Keaton Jennings’ century was fantastic against India and that he was set for life, I actually wasn’t. Unfortunately the Corker Yorker blog did not exist at that time, so no views could have been spoken of when it happened.

I’m genuinely someone who tries to play devil’s advocate when it comes to cricket and players making their debuts or coming back into form. I definitely do not believe that because someone scored 50 off 38 balls in one match after a string of ducks and golden ducks is back to their prime state of form. If they can do that for five innings straight (depending on the format), then they are truly back on form. Feel free to disagree though.

The main focus of this short article is to focus very briefly on Keaton Jennings. As most know, he is the son of Ray Jennings who played first class cricket for South Africa. He had captained the South African U19 team in 2011 on a tour to England. He played his last Gauteng game in South Africa in March 2012. When he arrived a month later, he spent the next four years playing domestically until he got his call up. He made his debut for the England squad in 2016 in India where he scored a century in the first innings and a duck in the second.

There was a tweet by Jacques Kallis discrediting the politics in South Africa which had infiltrated into the cricket, which was draining the talent here. He had also stated that “another one had slipped through the system”. Now, Kallis is a legend, but that statement was a little… strange. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if an opening batsman who only averaged around 35 was handed a cap to play for the country, it would have been deemed more an experiment to see how they would fair internationally rather than for his talent. I would have been very surprised to see Cricket South Africa give Jennings one if he stayed. He was not doing anything spectacular here, so his migration to England is not a real loss for SA cricket. We’re still trying to figure out whether or not AB’s coming back to test cricket, and if Duminy’s test days are done.

This test series has not been an easy one for the opening batsmen – both English and South African batsmen have struggled against the new ball, barring Dean Elgar and Alistair Cook. Jennings, however, has only managed to score into double digits twice in the six innings he’s played, often getting nicked off to the slips. He had no idea where his off-stump is, which makes the bowlers, Philander especially, hungry to cash in on his wicket. It looked like Cook didn’t have any faith in him either, as he refused to rotate the strike in the beginning of the first innings in the third test. It was only when Tom Westley had come to the crease, did these two rotate the strike better.

His previous records internationally are just as poor. He’s only scored one 50 and one century in ten innings, with an average of 25.90 and a strike rate of 44.27. That’s his whole international test career! If anyone in the Proteas team, or any other team for that matter had stats like those, they would have been dropped. Many debutants underestimate the massive change from playing domestically to internationally, and their technique is getting uncovered.

He may have scored 48 in the third test match against South Africa in this series, but that means nothing if he cannot follow through in the next game. Internationally, we don’t know what an in-form Keaton Jennings is like.

So, I ask you cricket fans in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world: is Jennings really a loss in South African cricket? All I’m saying is that quota targets can be a good thing sometimes: they help actually discover more talent than you thought you had in the cricket setup. Not everyone agrees with the targets, and that’s fine, but don’t go and state that the loss of a mediocre player is someone who has “slipped through the system”.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

youtubecom thumbnail
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.

hindustantimescom
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.

cricketcountrycom
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?