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.

If Faf Was Cheating, Then So Was Steven Smith

This is a slight problem if Steve is going to listen to a player who has only played six test matches and clearly doesn’t know the rules.

Faf du Plessis: found guilty of ball tampering after video footage surfaced of him polishing a ball with saliva mixed with mint from a sweet. Fined 100 percent of his match fee. Appealed the decision. Told by David Richardson that it’s disappointing that he was appealing, even though it was well within his right. Was booed by Australians for what happened and harassed by Aussie media in between matches. The Aussie nation was basically hurt because they felt a sweet kept the Baggy Greens from winning that test series.

Steve Smith: called out by umpire Nigel Llong and Virat Kohli for using the wrong kind of DRS (Dressing-Room Review System). Accused (but no proof of the other two times) of doing this three times over three days. Said it was a brain fade. Apart from sane cricket fans and Indian players, CA board and the rest of his team believed him (on a necessary side note, remember when ‘Saint’ David Warner crucified Faf during Mint-gate saying “I would be disappointed if any of my players did that. Rules are rules”) and backed him. So much so that the ICC didn’t sanction him.

Now hey, I’m not implying that there are some shady dealings behind the closed doors of the ICC, but something doesn’t make sense. The issue was reported within five days of the match being played. There is video evidence, which has both Kohli and Nigel Llong seeing what happened. So why was this not dealt with? Because Steve Smith said it was an accident? Is that the justification we can give nowadays?

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Disagreements before the drama happened. Image: india.com

We all remember when South Africa basically obliterated the Aussies in their own backyard late last year in tests, right? Great, because we are taking a small trip down memory lane. Apart from the win, what is the one thing you remember from that series? If you thought of the Faf du Plessis mint-gate drama, you are spot on! While, maybe, it’s still a sensitive topic for heartbroken Aussie fans that their glory boys were embarrassed at home due to an alleged swing-inducing sweet, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Earlier this month, Australian captain Steve Smith was reprimanded by umpire Nigel Llong and Virat Kohli for looking up at the dressing room for assistance on whether or not to review for an lbw. Smith had gone on to say, during the press conference, that it was a brain-fade and that he did not mean to do it or that he did not know he could not do it. This may sound a bit rude, but what kind of a captain, whom has been a captain for as long as Smith has, does not know the rules of the game?

kwesesportscomPeter Handscomb tried to divert the criticism Smith was getting onto him by tweeting it was his fault stating that it was him that said Smith must ask the teammates and staff in the dressing room. Even so, his captain should have still not done it. There’s no excuse for what he’s done. As a captain, he should have said to Handscomb that was he was suggesting is not allowed. Apologising, while it’s polite, is not really going to help anything. Do you think that even if Faf apologised, he would not have gotten such heat? Why were there no newspapers slating Smith for what he had done? Were they hyping up how Kohli had reacted than Smith’s actual offence? This is a slight problem if Steve is going to listen to a player who has only played six test matches and clearly doesn’t know the rules.

Am I wrong in assuming that checking with support staff to see if you are out or not allowed is a case of common sense? As a South African fan, because of how the Mint-gate saga rocked the cricketing nation for a bit, I am mad that the ICC is not doing a single thing about this. They just closed the matter off and told everyone to move on. I feel that they should have addressed this matter, not just a peace talk, once the heat had died down. Because this did not happen, the rest of this series could turn ugly with sledges filled with pettiness and bitterness. Did the ICC actually close the matter off on purpose to get people talking about the match/series and giving it more hype? But hey, maybe these two teams are going to act like grown men, and not let a small issue like this not get in the way of play, right?

Newspaper clipping image found at kwesesports.com.

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.

 

 

World Cup Memories Destroyed?

 

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South Africa have now retained their number 1 ODI ranking. Image from http://www.icc-cricket.com

I had tweeted earlier after the first ODI match against New Zealand that they were going to be plenty of heart attacks during the series. That happened three times in this series: in the first which had SA win with a ball to spare, in the second and in the fourth ODI. One was a close victory, the other was a one-man show of pure master-class batting for the Kiwis. Now that the ODI series is done and dusted, we are all still coping from what was a thriller of a series, I’m going to go through each South African player that played during the series, favourite moment of each in the series, and something that disappointed me.

 

ANDILE PHEHLUKWAYO (4 matches. 4 wickets. Economy of 5.26)

Not a bad series from Phehlukwayo. He had a bit of a rocky start coming back from injury in the T20 series against Sri Lanka, but throughout that ODI series and this one, there has been a major gain in form. Keeping things to just under five runs an over against a formidable New Zealand batting line is a good sign for him carrying on in the Proteas squad.

Highlight? His quick 29 not out in the first ODI to win the game for the Proteas. He showed massive amounts of calmness in a pressure situation, with two sixes that took the game away from New Zealand. Disappointed moment? He had the chance to win the second ODI in a similar fashion to the first, but bunting dot-balls in the final over instead of rotating the strike proved costly for the Proteas. Overall score: 7/10

DAVID MILLER (4 matches. 77 runs. Average of 25.66)

Many middle order wobbles happened for the Proteas in this series, where big-hitter Miller could have saved a sinking middle order at times and prevented quick wickets from falling. Already, I am not a fan of Miller’s inconsistencies in matches at all: they happen once too often. By that not happening, you would have had to rely on near tail-enders to save the innings (if AB was not out either).

Highlight? His 45 not out in the 5th ODI to bring home another series win and retain the number 1 ODI ranking for the Proteas. Disappointed moment? His dismal scores in the first three matches he played, which did not contribute almost any runs to the total on the board. Overall score: 4/10

QUINTON DE KOCK (5 matches. 200 runs. Average of 40.00)

Quite a good series for the young de Kock, as he obtained three half centuries in the first three ODIs, which was a backbone for the rest of the batsmen to add more runs to the total. Unfortunate that he went out for single-digit scores in the last two matches. And unfortunate that he could not convert his half-centuries into centuries.

Highlight? His 69 in the first ODI which got him to win man of the match when middle-order batsmen (JP Duminy, Miller, and Farhaan Behardien) could not occupy the crease long enough to gain the necessary number of runs to win to not let tail-enders kill the game off. Disappointed moment? The rare sighting of de Kock going out for a golden duck. Pretty unfortunate stuff, but his tendency to go out on soft dismissals will be a problem going towards England, and the Champions Trophy, if not looked into soon. Overall score: 7/10.

JP DUMINY (5 matches. 79 runs. Average of 15.80)

A lot of people have asked exactly what is Duminy’s role in the squad. My response is “a quick fielder”. His batting has been poorly since the series, with slight exception of his 34 in the second ODI. His bowling has also been costly, going for almost 10 in an over. His number 5 spot in the starting eleven is going to slip from him soon if he does not regain for as soon as possible: constant middle-order collapses are going to hurt the Proteas going into the Champions Trophy.

Highlight? Honestly, none. His couple of direct hit run-outs are great, but nothing to really write home about if you are not contributing with the bat. Disappointed moment? His cheap dismissals throughout the series. Overall score: 3/10.

WAYNE PARNELL (3 matches. 3 wickets. Economy of 5.47. 64 runs at an average of 21.33.)

He was benched a couple of matches Phehlukwayo and Rabada. Not too bad of a bowler this series, but his problem is that after one great game, he will become very inconsistent in the next game, conceding well over 30 runs in one innings. His tendency to leak runs could hinder his place going to England for the ODI series there or even the Champions Trophy. Did okay with the bat in hand, however it was a pity that his and AB’s 63 run partnership went in vain when New Zealand won that game.

Highlight? Not many come to mind, but the one that does come to mind is his partnering with AB in the fourth match as mentioned above. Some shots that many have wanted to see from Parnell were seen in that game. If he can bat like that all the time, that would be helpful to lessen the pressure on top-order batsmen. Disappointed moment? His inconsistent moments with the ball in leaking runs, but maybe going out for a duck in the second ODI even though we lost. Overall score: 5/10.

KAGISO RABADA (4 matches. 8 wickets. Average of 4.22)

What more can you say about Rabada? He’s a freak at the age of 21. He’s been fantastic the entire series, being the leading wicket-taker, and it is also great to know that even when he doesn’t play, the other bowlers will still take wickets and win games. However, everyone’s greatest concern is why he did not play in the third ODI: a knee niggle. Rabada could be getting overworked slowly but surely with the amount of cricket he’s played. What brings in more concern is that he’s going to IPL later in April after being sold to the Delhi Daredevils for R9.8 million. But he’s stated in a press conference that he’s in knowledge of how he feels, and we can’t dispute him on that.

Highlight? Bowling out Martin Guptill in the 5th ODI for 4 runs. It was indeed a corker of a yorker (see what I did there?) which was what South Africa needed to crack the game wide open. Disappointed moment? Only not having that speed of bowling he’s known for in the 4th ODI, but that could have been because he was coming back from recovering from his knee niggle. Overall score: 8/10.

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One all-rounder to definitely look out for: Dwaine Pretorius. Image from cricinfo.com

DWAINE PRETORIUS (4 matches. 5 wickets at an average of 4.34. 71 runs at an average of 23.66)

Pretorius has that potential of being the complete all-rounder alongside Phehlukwayo  in the long run if he were to get more chances. His best bowling figures in the series is 3 wickets for 5 runs is absolutely incredible, as well as that average of around 4 runs an over, and should be kept in mind for future team selections. He will be a real asset to the team if he keeps this form up for the Champions Trophy or the England tour.

Highlight? His clinical bowling performance in the third ODI in what was a wicket fest for all Proteas bowlers. In that game, he had an economy rate of 0.66. Disappointed moment? I think he was rather unlucky to not get a wicket in the forth ODI, but his bowling was a little bit off than the previous game. I would have liked him to get more runs in the third game as well to back up a fantastic display of an all-rounder. If anything, Pretorius will get better in time. Overall score: 7/10.

HASHIM AMLA (100 runs. Average of 20.00)

Unfortunately not a great series by Amla his time, as his average is quite low and he went out by very soft dismissals throughout the series. I, by no means, think he should be dropped. He is an integral part of opening the innings with de Kock and the two work fantastically together. I absolutely loved what Rabada had to say to journalists that asked about Amla’s recent form slump. He said “Amla is not a robot. He knows what he needs to do and what he needs to improve on in order to get better. He’s not going to be perfect all the time”. Personally, I think that quote sums up any doubt of his form, as he knows what he needs to do.

Highlight? Not really many again, but maybe his 40-run contribution in the fourth game with added to a defendable (but not defended) total of 279. It was the first innings in the series where he was quite close to converting it to a half century. Disappointed moment? Similar to de Kock, there were just too many soft dismissals. The softest dismissal seen was in the fifth ODI when he hit the ball right into the hands of Mitchell Santner at cover. He looked on song to get a high total in that game. Overall score: 5/10.

FAF DU PLESSIS (5 matches. 179 runs at an average of 44.75)

Luckily for disgruntled Faf fans who want him to have the captaincy of all three formats, he will be captaining the test side against the Kiwis from the 7th of March. His batting this series was one that more consistent, with him getting two scores over 50. His 51 in the fifth ODI steered SA on course to victory with soft dismissals, excluding AB, happening around him. He is becoming one of the greats slowly but surely.

Highlight? His crucial half-century in the fifth ODI as mentioned above. Disappointed moment? A dropped catch of Martin Guptill in the fourth ODI in what would have been a fantastic catch by him which would, maybe, have given the Proteas a chance at victory. Overall score: 7/10.

IMRAN TAHIR (5 matches. 6 wickets. Economy rate of 4.78)

Not a dire series for Tahir. He was unlucky to not get more wickets against the Kiwis, but still a near squeaky clean economy rate. His best figures of 2-14 was quite a highlight. Not much to say, other than that he a fantastic bowler and has a fighting shot at winning matches for South Africa in the Champions Trophy.

Highlight? Apart from his celebrations that have him running more than his run-up, his bowling throughout the series has been absolutely brilliant. He was the second highest wicket taker, two short of Rabada’s eight. Disappointed moments? If you can think of any, do tweet me and let me know: I couldn’t really point anything out. Overall score: 7/10.

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A testing series win for the Proteas after whitewashing Sri Lanka. Image from cricketcountry.com

CHRIS MORRIS (4 matches. 5 wickets at an average of 5.94. 51 runs at an average of 17.00)

Started the series quite well with the ball in hand, as he even managed to get four wickets in the rain-reduced first ODI. However, a horrid display of death-bowling saw his economy rate go up, and 25 runs in the last over of the game being gained by two tail-end batsmen. After that game, Morris has been similar to Parnell in slight inconsistency and leaking runs where it can be controlled. His batting has been in an almost T20-style aggression. Whether he is trying to repeat his heroics of Pink Day in South Africa against the English in early 2016 could be a factor, but he is still a good batsman to have when the top order fails to contribute runs.

Highlight? His bowling figures of 4-62 in the first game was almost a deciding factor as to who would win that match. Disappointed moment? As mentioned above, his disappointing death bowling in the first ODI as he managed to concede more runs towards the backend of the innings instead of cleaning up the tail. Overall score: 6/10.

AB DE VILLIERS (5 matches. 262 runs at an average of 87.33)

The leading run-scorer in the series, winning captain in three matches, it was just a great series for de Villiers. He has batted his team out of trouble most of the time, including his 85 in the third ODI where South Africa thumped the Kiwis by 159 runs, thanks to fantastic bowling. He has also become the fastest batsmen to 9000 runs as he reached it in 208 innings. However, the number of times he had to pull the Proteas out of trouble is concerning, considering he’s pulled out the test series that starts soon. Will he be terribly missed there?

Highlight? His fantastic sixes all around the park, and his 85 in the third ODI were great, but the biggest highlight may have been when the DJ at the stadium in Seddon Park, Hamilton decided to play AB’s song Maak Jou Dromme Waar. Not a personal favourite for me, but quite hilarious to witness. Disappointed moment? It was an unfortunate way to get out the way he did in the decider: the ball brushing past his glove and it carrying through to New Zealand keeper, Luke Ronchi. Coincidentally, Ronchi went out in a similar fashion to AB off of Morris’s bowling.

A testing ODI series for the Proteas indeed. Now we commence onward to the Test series where South Africa make their quest to regaining the number one test squad in rankings.

Stop Justifying Why It’s Not a Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rain on the Proteas Side… only just!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Love-Hate Relationship Between the Proteas and ICC Events

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World Cup Heartbreak. Photo from indianexpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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