Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mzansi Super League profiles: Tshwane Spartans

Team: Tshwane Spartans
Protea Marquee: AB de VIlliers
International Marquee: Eoin Morgan
Coach: Mark Boucher
Cool Factor: A
SquadAB de Villiers, Eoin Morgan*, Lungi Ngidi, Robbie Frylinck, Jeewan Mendis*, Theunis de Bruyn, Rory Kleinveldt, Sean Williams*, Gihahn Cloete, Lutho Sipamla, Tony de Zorzi, Dean Elgar, Andrew Birch, Sikander Raza, Shaun von Berg, Eldred Hawken.

The good people of Centurion and Pretoria will probably be the most disappointed in the entire country to have the new-look Mzansi Super League. In the good old days of the Ram Slam T20, they had as firm a vice grip on the T20 tournament as any team in the history of T20 tournaments. They had won three in a row heading into this uncertain season, an uncertainty to the tune of Cricket South Africa technically not actually having an official T20 competition four weeks ago. As one would expect in a tournament where the players were selected via a draft, they have lost a lot of the talent which led them to their hat-trick of wins. For one, they still have Mark Boucher, the legendary former Protea wicketkeeper. For two, they have definitely the showpiece of the tournament, and arguably the best player in the event, AB de Villiers. Throw in the fact that Lungi Ngidi is also arguably the best fast-bowler of the tournament and I believe we have the likely champions of this event. The Spartans have somehow managed to retain seven members of the essentially invincible Titans team, which  should help ensure good continuity.

Player to watch out for: AB de Villiers.
Player not named AB de Villiers to watch out for:  Theunis de Bruyn

Prediction: Champions.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Mzanzi Super League profiles: Paarl Rocks

Paarl Rocks
Home ground: Boland Park
Home City: Paarl
Cool factor: B-
Established: Like one day ago

Squad: Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dane Paterson, Aiden Markram, Mangaliso Mosehle, Bjorn Fortuin, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Grant Thomson, Paul Stirling, Tshepo Moreki, Henry Davids, Cameron Delport, Eathan Bosch, Patrick Kruger, Kerwin Mungroo
First things first: It should really be noted that Paarl Rocks is quite possibly the worst name in the history of cricket franchises. Yes, even worse than Rising Pune Super Giants, which was literally only so named as a marketing ploy for its owners, RP-Sanjiv Goenka group, aka RPSG. But no, the team is not named Paarl Rocks as an ode to the idea that Paarl is a nice place to be. Paarl sleeps, yes. Paarl makes wine, yes. But Paarl most definitely does not rock. It is in fact so named after the Paarl Rock,  a rock- climbing mecca of some sort for rock climbers. Apparently on a clear day, one can see Table Mountain from Paarl Rock. Cool.

Yep. That's Paarl Rock. Not exactly the greatest thing I've ever seen, but that's Paarl.

Onto the squad itself, well a squad which includes Faf du Plessis, Cameron Delport, Dwyane Bravo and Aiden Markram, certainly looks like it will be able to contend strongly with the bat. Questions will be raised about their abilities with the ball, with Dane Paterson being the only express pace bowler. In this case, express pace is a rather kind term. Dwayne Bravo is of course one of the great T20 franchise players of all time, but, I’m not sure this will be enough, especially up north where the pitches are faster and firmer. More especially when their spinner is Tabraiz Shamsi, and he is in, to put it mildly, horrid form.  On the bright side, they do have two all-rounders in Cameron Delport and Dwayne Bravo who are likely to fill the stat sheet with both bat and ball. Given that this is the first edition of this  tournament, all teams should expect to do well, but given a not particularly intimidating stadium (Boland Park seats 10 000), a light pace attack, and the absence of a true master blaster, it would not surprise us to see them near the bottom of the standings.

Captain: Faf du Plessis.
International Marquee: Dwayne Bravo
Foreign player: Paul Stirling
Kolpak player: Cameron Delport
Rookie: Eathan Bosch.
Age: 20 years. T20 record: 5 games.  60 runs. Strike rate 157.89. Highest score: 50. 6 wickets. Economy rate 8.75.
Likely XI
Du Plessis*
Van Jaarsveld

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Imran Tahir: So right even when it's wrung'un

In the history of South African cricket, no spinner has taken more One Day International wickets than Imran Tahir. It isn't particularly close to be honest. He has 149 wickets, no other spinner has 100. He is also currently the leading T20 international wicket-taker in South African history. In other words, in international cricket, he's our greatest ever white ball spinner. He is also, with the ball at least, the most likely reason we will leave England with a world cup, or at the very least our pride intact. See for a bowler to lead a team to a world cup, they need to commit the perfect crime. If 15 years of watching CSI has taught me nothing else, its that to commit the perfect crime, one needs three things. Motive, means and opportunity.

Motive. That's the want to. The desire to achieve something improbable. Tahir doesn't just just have the motive to win a world cup. He has the motive to take tail-end wickets against Zimbabwe in a meaningless ODI. The man plays with a passion very rarely before seen. He loves the game and you can bet your last dollar that he will want to drop his mark as an international cricketer, on the biggest stage in ODI cricket. Certainly, for cricketers who never distinguished themselves as Test cricketers (Tahir had an okay, but not great career), a cricket World Cup presents the most realistic shot at immortality. It is a consequence of the fact that the World Cup is the Sun around which  the white ball cricket world revolves that games against Zimbabwe, where you take a brilliant fiver, or even against Australia, where you go head to head with a rampant David Warner and just about get over the line, simply have no consequence. It would be harsh to call them meaningless, but they aren't events which a person harkens back to, in the way every single AB de Villiers tribute seemed to mention thast he once batted 200 balls without a fifty. The World Cup is where immortals are made, for ODI cricket, and you can bet that Imran Tahir wants that shot at immortality.

Means. Its no good to just want to be an immortal. You have to have the ability.It's like a crime. No matter how much you may want to be a mastermind criminal, it helps nothing without the skill to achieve. Boy oh boy, does that Imran Tahir chap have skill. There is absolutely no difference between his googly and his stock ball. They come out the exact way, and then you just gotta play a game of dice with your wicket as you play for turn and hope you guessed correctly the side it will turn. As with everything in international cricket, it does get better the longer you are facing him, but initially anyway, it really is like facing a genius toying with you. The guy goes at less than five in an era where England have reset the record total twice, and you'd certainly back them to reset it again in the next twelve months. The best part is, you know that Imran will show up in the world cup. After all, the man averages 16.11 in ICC tournaments. Even if you minimise that to exclude teams not in the next world cup (the so-called minnows), that average actually drops to a scarcely believable 15. He does average an above-his-average 29 in England, but that's off a small sample size, and I can assure that if South Africa are in the business end of that tournament.. well, Tahir will be worth his weight in gold.

Opportunity. Well, this is his last world cup. This is the last chapter for the great man, much like it is for so many of our cricketers who are essentially modern day legends. He better use it

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lord of the Swing: The return of the King

The best ability, they say is availability. This intuitively feels true. Largely because it clearly is true. What good does being good, or even historically great do, when you aren't even on the park? Or, to steal another adage, what god is a Ferrari when it's in the garage? In Dale Steyn, arguably the greatest matchwinner in South African cricketing history, the national team has had a Ferrari Enzo, the flagship in the garage. But that is all gone now. Having once gone 48 straight Tests without concern, the former iron man began to show some weakness. A hamstring injury  in the first morning of the  deciding test vs Australia not only all but sealed South Africa's fate at Newlands, but it also started a string of injuries and niggles which have seen a man who seemed destined to cross the 500 Test scalp threshold, stuck. Well, as stuck as any man on 421 Test wickets at nearly five wickets a game and the second greatest strike rate in cricket history can be. To Cricket South Africa's relief no doubt, the man who has the best Strike rate in Test cricket history just happens to be Steyn's heir apparent, and has held the fort as well as anyone could realistically expect. If anything, he's basically reinforced the fort and added a moat and then added a crocodile to that moat and then fed the crocodiles Captain America's super soldier serum. Kagiso Rabada is really good is what I am trying to say. That, though is a story for another day. This day is about one Dale Steyn. And ladies and gentlemen, he is back. He is available. Better than that, after a slightly mediocre return to the Test set-up, he seems to be back to something approaching his best. The veins are pumping. The eyes seem to change colours and the speed gun is reading some terrifying numbers. In one over vs Zimbabwe on Sunday, he averaged 148kph. That is 92 miles per hour in imperial talk. That's not just fast, that;s historically fast .He seems to have maintained his ability to swing it away from the right hander, while he developed the ability to seem it both way against the left-hander later in his career, and like most learned skills, it seems to have survived any sign of physical decline.

So if we are to accept that the Steyn Gun is back, and we are to believe that he is back to his best abilities; the real question is whether CSA are willing to go all in on the pace trio of Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn, and Kagiso Rabada? Could a bowling attack win what is by consensus expected to be a batting world cup?

We can bowl, but can we bat?

They made heavy weather of it, but the Proteas as expected defeated Zimbabwe 3-0 in the ODI series. The bowling was imperious. Whoever was asked to bowl bowled well. Dale Steyn was ramping it up at 150 kph. Kagiso Rabada was Rabada. Lungi Ngidi was who we are beginning to acknowledge he is. Imran Tahir took a hat-trick and Tabraiz Shamsi showed he is a competent back up to the great man. Andile Phehlukwayo continued to take wickets and go at around six to the over. Which is generally what you ask of your fifth bowler. That is the bowling. The batting wasn't a disaster, but it was not encouraging. It took until the third ODI for a top six batsman to get to fifty. There were mitigating circumstances. The first ODI, the chase was less than 150, and in the second, the pitch was not, shall we say, ideal. But there are always mitigating circumstances. This was a show out series. A chance to strengthen your claim for a world cup spot, with the event proper less than a year away.

No one showed up with the bat. Aiden Markram has had a start in basically every ODI he's played in but no fifties. Heinrich Klaasen showed in the first and the third ODI that he is indeed the muscle of the team. A bruiser in the middle order. But his failure in the second game, combined with his lack of shine in Sri Lanka on turning pitches do leave questions bout his ability when there is a little bit more finesse required unanswered. As a back-up wicket keeper, he will without doubt go to the world cup. But it is getting harder to believe he is the answer to any question which South Africans have been asking. With the retirement of AB de Villiers, there is indeed a spot basically up for grabs in the top six, and it seems everyone has developed butter fingers., unable to catch the chance to become that final cog in the wheel. With that in mind, can anyone explain what the thinking behind letting Faf du Plessis bat in the final ODI was? Admittedly, he is coming back from a lay-off, but it's a six week layoff, Not a six month one. This series should have been about providing opportunities to less experienced players to stake their claim. We finish this series with serious questions about our batting depth. Questions which I fear, in a year's time, we aren't going to like the answers to.

To the couch for Bouch

There is an old saying in Tennessee, I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, we will tolerate you until we can replace ...