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.

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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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations, Proteas. You Played Yourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look In the Past, and to the Hopeful Future

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday 24 March 2015

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

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

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

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

– MISFIELDS GALORE:

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday 11 June 2017

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

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

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

My predicting eleven for Sunday’s game:

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

It’s Only All About the Champions Trophy

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

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

Just a general wrap up of the series:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Is T20 Cricket Ruining Actual Cricket?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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