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.

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?

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

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.

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.

 

 

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?

hindustantimes
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.

CRICKET-AUS-SRI
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.

Captain Behardien?

A topic that, with all due respect to Farhaan Behardien, made me laugh out loud. Really loud. Is he necessarily the right captain for a squad of young players?

While there are six new players brought in to enhance the depth of our T20 International squad for future matches and selections, it was a slight experiment bringing in a player with a high strike-rate but has not even captained a national or domestic squad since starting for the Proteas. I am a Behardien fan. I do believe that he can do very well for South Africa like he has in the domestic scene. For some reason, it may be due to pressure or nerves, some players do much better domestically than they do at international level, and he unfortunately happens to be one of those players. While I am not criticising the selectors on his appointment of captaincy, it would just be better understood as to why he was giving this form of leadership, as it seems it is only justified with his fantastic form in the recent T20 Challenge where he reached a new record in T20 scores of 55 runs coming from 15 balls in early December. Impressive play? Definitely. Captain material? I don’t really think so.

This may be deemed common knowledge, but most great cricket players, or even players in any sport, do not always make as great leaders. Some are natural-born leaders but are slightly below average in their actual sport-playing. This sparked a debate among cricket fans in South Africa mostly on whether AB de Villiers, who recently stepped down as Test captain for the Proteas after two matches in early January 2016, was better suited to play without the burden of captaining the team and scoring big runs, for which he is known. A similar incident occurred in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2016 where David Miller was released from his captaincy of the bottom-of-the-log team Kings XI Punjab. Even while captaincy was passed on to fellow teammate and Indian batsman, Murali Vijay, his form in the shorter format still suffered.

When now discussing the most recent T20 that was on Sunday, the one thing that stood out for me, apart from the terrible shots played by our batsmen and many dropped catches, was the death over bowler. Lungi Ngidi, the young up-and-coming quick, had bowled out his overs and reached his career best of 4-19. He, Imran Tahir, and Wayne Parnell managed at times to keep things tight and not leak too many runs. My only criticism of how Ngidi was used is that he could have been kept for an over getting closer to the death seeing that Andile Phehlukwayo had been more expensive than usual, conceding three boundaries in his second over and going for 11 runs in his first.

Bringing in a spinner to bowl the last over of the game to defend seven runs on a deck that was favouring a batsman willing to grind it out was a slightly naive idea, but one that may have been done in desperation. It would have been ideal to bring Phehlukwayo to bowl at death, but considering his last two overs, it would have been risky. Had catches been held onto, the last over could have required more runs to defend, which would have been better if Ngidi had been saved for the 15th or even the 16th over as he was the second most economical bowler or the Proteas.

This young squad of players needed a leader that was experienced in captaincy and had an idea as to how he wanted his troops to play in the match when it came to both batting a bowling. As majority of the players who were involved in the Test series clean-sweep were rested, including T20I and newly-appointed Test captain Faf du Plessis, there seems as if there was no other option for the interim captaincy. This T20 series is no place to place a trial-and-error on potential captains especially when the squad had a few young players making their debut on the international front.

The decider of this now-interesting T20I series is tomorrow. With the inclusion of de Villiers in the squad, he now adds an element of experience and leadership to the very young squad. Seeing that Behardien is only supposed to captain the first two T20 matches, will de Villiers takeover Fudgie’s captaincy, or will Fudgie try and end the series off sweetly for South Africa?