Jennings Didn’t Slip Through the System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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.