Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Look on the bright side: Charl Langeveldt

South African bowling coach Charl Langeveldt feels that despite South Africa being mollywhopped from pillar to post the entire summer in Tests, there are positives and reasons for hope. It started with an absolute battering in the sub-continent at the hands of a rampant Indian side, there was a brief respite for a minute as Fortress Centurion stood tall, and then continued through three beatings of increasing severity against England.  
“When I started with Cricket SA in December‚ we had a Test series against England which did not give us a lot of time as a unit to gel as a team‚” said Langeveldt, himself a former Test cricketer"
“We had a lot of youngsters coming into the setup and that was really hard.
“In saying that I also think there were lots of positives from the Test series. I think the guys played really well in patches but as a unit we couldn’t get it together as a bowling and as a batting unit.”
Langeveldt was added to the Protea backroom staff with less than two weeks to go before the commencement of the England series. His rather late parachuting in resembled the chaotic nature of cricket in South Africa last summer as they changed CEOs, coaches (twice), backroom staff, and suspended their Director of Cricket and the CFO. It was chaos in the Fawlty towers. 

Potential Test Captains: Aiden Markram

As recently as 12 months ago, Aiden Markram would have been maybe the prohibitive favourite in the race to Test Captain of the South African national team, but the last year has seen him deal with various issues. There are three things you could argue that the captain of a team in a sport as captain-dependent as cricket cannot be:
 - Injured
 - Ill-disciplined
 - Out of form

Unfortunately for Markram, he has displayed each of these disqualifying factors to various degrees recently. It should be remembered that while Markram may indeed have been dropped anyway from the third Test vs India due to his poor form, he wasn't even considered for selection because he had broken his hand. And by that I mean he smashed his hand against an unnamed object following his dismissal in the second test vs India. Not exactly the sort of origin story which is often seen in many captain's autobiographies, Worse, still, the reason he broke his hand was out of frustration due to a run of bad form which has now gone on two years. By the time Markram laces up his gear again in Test cricket, it would have been two years without a Test century. His Test average has plummeted form over 50 to 38. Having scored exactly 1000 runs in his first ten Tests, Markram has since only scored 424 in the next ten. His productivity has basically dropped by half. In fact, a distinct line can be drawn between the two halves of Markram's early career. Up until the end of the Australia series, he looked a world-beater, the best young batsman in world cricket and a mainstay of the national team for a decade plus. Then there is literally every series since then, with specific reference to the Asian series South Africa have played since.

Aiden Markram's performance comparison

2017/18 season
Post 2017/2018
He's basically gone from one of the greatest batsmen of all time, to a handy pinch-hitter. One would think that this level of play is unsustainable and he would eventually rise back to a median somewhere in-between the giant of 2017/18 and the lower order batsman we've seen at every point since, but giving him the captain's armband would likely make that progression that much harder as he would have an elevated sense of responsibility. 

The case for Aiden Markram

This not to say that there is no case for Markram to be made captain, of course. At 26, he is the youngest of the proposed replacements, and this means he'd provide the most runway before CSA would have to go through the process of selecting a captain again, logically. He is also the only captain in South African cricket history to have won a World Cup, a not insgnificant claim to fame when the country is this starved of successful leaders. Finally, you could very well argue that while his stats have not looked particularly pleasing in recent history, he is a very competent batsman and clearly in the selectors long-term plans, which should allow him a level of job security necessary to have a voice at the job. Aiden Markram would not be ZA Cricket's choice for the job, but he does have a rather compelling argument. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Kolpaks welcome back - Graeme Smith

Cricket South Africa Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith announced this morning that South African cricketers who have taken Kolpak contracts would indeed be welcomed back should they choose to return. Smith said in a video press conference,

With Kolpak coming to an end, I guess the willingness is always to have our best players in the system," Smith told reporters via a video conference.
"It is up to the players to come back into the system and to make decisions on their careers.
"From our perspective, we want to encourage all our best players to play here domestically, and then give themselves the opportunity to be selected for the national side."

Great Britain is set to leave the European Union at the end of this year, a move which has the unintended consequence of ending the Kolpak rule. Under the Kolpak rule, players from a country which has agreements with the European Union, like South Africa, are not considered foreign players, a distinction which proves very valuable in the County set up as only one overseas player is allowed per match day XI in county cricket. This rule was adjusted a little in the proceeding years, but for the most part, it still means the same thing. Smith continued,

We don't ever want to exclude players from being part of our system and we understand that the landscape of the world game is very different now to what it was," Smith continued.
"Open minds and how we look at these things is going to be key to how we keep our best players. How we keep them motivated and in our game."

At the moment, there are over a dozen South African cricketers on Kolpak deals in the United Kingdom. Most notable among them being Simon Harmer, who was voted one of the five leading cricketers of 2019 by Wisden and former Protea prodigy Simon Harmer. Having talent at this level will most certainly be a welcome boost as the Proteas attempt to begin their ascent back to supremacy whenever cricket returns.

In the vault: David Miller goes beserker

It was just an ordinary Sunday in Potchefstroom . The kids were out having fun, then suddenly David Miller went absolute nuclear vs the hapless Bangladeshis as he tallied the fastest T20 100 of all time.

Monday, April 20, 2020

South Africa's tour to Sri Lanka postponed

Cricket South Africa (CSA) and Sri Lankan Cricket have postponed South Africa's tour of Sri Lanka due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Proteas were due to play a three One Day International series as well three T20s in the Island nation in June, but the will be set aside for another time.

"It is very sad that we have been forced to take this step and we will re-schedule the tour as soon as cricket returns to a sense of normality and our international fixture list allows," said Cricket South Africa's acting chief executive Jacques Faul. "Our Proteas would not have been able to prepare properly taking our own lockdown situation into account and, more importantly, health considerations for our players, which are always paramount, were the over-riding factor. "It would have been a particularly important tour for us with the three ODIs counting for the new ICC one-day league and the T20 programme being part of our preparation for the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled for Australia later this year. 
"It is very frustrating for the players who want to build on the good form they showed at the backend of our home summer against Australia."

Potential Test Captains: Temba Bavuma

With Quinton de Kock having been eliminated from the running to be captain of the South African national team, the remaining nominees have basically selected themselves. First up is the diminutive maestro, Temba Bavuma.

The general rule of thumb in the modern game is to pick your best XI, and then pick your captain from that best XI. This was not always the case, however, with men like Dr. Ali Bacher and Mike Brearley both having been made Test captain despite arguably not being part of the best XI players in their respective national set up. Cricket is different from other sports when it comes to captaincy. In other sports, the role of captain is a largely off-field job. How much can having Ronaldo as captain actually change your fortunes, for example? While I'm sure he's an inspirational figure, he is responsible for none of the tactical decisions made in the flow of a game. Not directly anyway. In contrast to this, the role of Test captain may be the single most important job an athlete can hold in all of sports. It's the captains role to decide who bowls when, and who fields where. Basically, to actually captain the team. In some respects, however the captain is also responsible for selecting the team. Which is where the difficulty of making Temba Bavuma the captain arises.

Of the three presumed contestants, Bavuma has the most proven track record as a captain. He guided the Lions to their 2018/19 First class competition victory, which is a higher qualification than Dean Elgar or Aiden Markram can claim. He also won the 2019 CSA T20 Challenge with the Lions as skipper. In other words, his tactical abilities seem to hold up against the light. Where things go pear-shaped at the moment, is that Bavuma is the least secure member of the batting line up by a long way. With only one century 40 Tests and an average of 30, it will be hard for Bavuma to make any definite stamps on the team when his own standing in the team, from a merit point of view anyway, is so tenuous. It would be unfair to expect a player to accept from someone 30-odd that they are not good enough to play for the team that week. Something that won't be mentioned, but that will almost certainly go against Bavuma, is that at 5'5, he would be by some distance the shortest captain in South African cricket history. Traditionally, South Africa has tended to prefer their captains to be physically imposing. Indeed, post isolation, 1.8m Faf du Plessis has been the shortest member of the Permanent Protea Captain Club. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Graeme Smith says no to "Captain Quinny"

With Graeme Smith formally announced as the permanent Cricket South Africa Director of Cricket, focus has shifted to the next most important role in the national set-up. Test captain. Smith indicated earlier today that Quinton de Kock would not be the Test captain, according to SA cricket Magazine.
"It's not going to be Quinton," he said, citing De Kock's responsibility as the country's limited-overs captain as well as being wicketkeeper and a key batsman.
"Quinton will be our white-ball captain but from a workload and mental capacity aspect we want to keep him fresh. From personal experience I know that captaining all three formats is challenging and we don't want to overburden him."
In some respects this is an understandable move. As the wicket-keeper and de facto lynchpin of the batting line-up, one could argue, quite convincingly that de Kock is stretched as is, especially considering that he is the captain of the limited overs sides.

Stating this ignores however the fact that he is definitely the most secured player in the batting line-up. By a factor. The potential suitors for the role, Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram, both have tenuous grasps on their positions at best. Neither of them have the job security needed to make the tough decisions. After all, how much weight can your voice have when you yourself are one bad score away from being dropped?

Common sense should prevail, and de Kock should take the reigns as the three-format captain. He's the only plausible nominee. And if the feeling is that the captaincy and the keeping and the batting are too much for him, in Tests at least, I suggest as a revolutionary plan that we ask him to drop the gloves and give them to Kyle Vereynne. The country has a rather large list of possible wicket-keepers, what we do not have is any other suitors to take the reigns. It can only be de Kock. After all. If not him... then who?

Graeme Smith formally announced as Director of Cricket

Cricket South Africa have formally announced that former Protea cricket captain, Graeme Smith has been appointed as Director of cricket in a permanent capacity. Smith, 39, has signed a two-year contract which will run through until the 31st of March 2022. The move will come as a relief for South Africa, who have endured a difficult 12 months on the cricketing front, having lost seven out of their last eight Tests, and enduring an embarrassing group stage World Cup elimination.

"Graeme has made a huge impact with his energy, expertise, hard work ethic and characteristic determination and passion he has brought to the position during the six months he has served in an acting capacity," CSA Acting Chief Executive Jacques Faul said on Friday. 
"Although there is certainly a great deal of work to be done, as reflected by the performances of our various national teams, he has certainly put our cricket on an upward trajectory that provides light at the end of the tunnel. 
"He has bought into all the overall pillars of our strategy and that includes the important one of transformation. As far as the technical and support teams he has put together are concerned, the black generic component amounted to more than 70 percent across the board and the black African component varied between 30 and 60 percent for the Proteas for the home international season, for the Proteas for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup and for the ICC under-19 World Cup, which we were privileged and proud to host. 
"He also made a number of strategic temporary appointments with Linda Zondi appointed interim independent national selector, Ashwell Prince taking charge of South Africa A and Malibongwe Maketa joining the under-19 squad as a coaching consultant." 

Smith said he was delighted to stay on board as part of the team to take South African cricket forward. “My appointment brings a degree of permanency to my position which makes planning the road ahead a lot easier.
“As Dr. Faul has said, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done, not just at international level but throughout our pipeline development pathways as well but I am determined to get South African cricket back to where it belongs as one of the world leaders at international level,” he concluded.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Greatest South African cricketers: Graeme Smith

Cricinfo once described Graeme Smith as "Meaty, Mighty and Muscular", quite fitting given the fact that he is 6'4. His nickname, "Biff" is born from the way he muscles a cricket ball. Basically, Graeme Smith is if "Power and Aggression" was a person. But there's a little more to Smith than just sheer force. There's also an almost reckless sense of bravery. Much like the good Lord, this bravery giveth (after all, you need to be quite brave to accept the job of national team captain at the humble age of 22). It has also most definitely taketh (South Africa found themselves 27/5 in a World Cup Semi-Final while playing "Brave cricket"). There was obviously a high level of Cricket and general intelligence, and there was definitely a sense of ambition.

Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa to Graham (yep) and Jane Smith, Smith showed early leadership qualities from a young age while attending King Edward VII. Having moved down to Western Province after high school, Smith scored 1365 runs at an average of 46.55 for Western Province in the domestic First Class set-up. This early start led to a 2002 call-up in what was a disastrous home Test series vs Australia. Smith made an immediate impact, scoring 68 runs in the second innings of his debut. Two Tests later, Smith scored an unbeaten double hundred as the opening batsman against Bangladesh. Smith would follow this up with a 151 at his home ground (Newlands) as he and Herschelle Gibbs would set the national record for an opening partnership with a 368-run stand vs Pakistan. Despite averaging 41 in ODIs in 2002, Smith was left out of the original squad for the 2003 World Cup. AN unfortunate hand injury to Jonty Rhodes would allow him to make his tournament bow in what would be a disastrous home tournament for South Africa. So disastrous, in fact, that it was decided that South Africa would need a scorched earth policy moving forward, and with that Smith was elected as captain of the national team because he was the "least damaged" player in the squad.

His first assignment as captain of the national team was a Test series against England in England. The youth and relative anonymity of the skipper was highlighted in the first Test when Nasser Hussain, the English captain referred to him as "Greg Smith", and "Whotsisname". This attempt at gamesmanship would backfire horrifically as Smith would score back-to-back double hundreds in the first two Tests, helping South Africa jump to a 2-0 lead, and a retirement from Hussain. This would not be the only English captain Smith would cause to lose his job, with Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss all falling from his sword in the future. England would go on to tie the series 2-2, with new captain Michael Vaughan.

Smith would go on to have much success at Test level. He may well be the only captain in Test history to have back to back series wins in England and Australia. South Africa, under his tutelage, went 9 years without a foreign series defeat. Smith himself would score over 9000 Test runs in his career and his 2008 haul of 1656 is the third most runs in Test cricket history.

In ODIs, though, the numbers were not quite as gaudy. Somewhat stuck between eras, Smith found himself playing when everyone was a big hitter, and even opening batsmen were expected to be able to explode later on. As captain, he he became the first man to win 50 Test matches. But he would not go on to be the man to lead the Proteas to their first ICC trophy. The 2007 World Cup was the nadir, as South Africa lost to Bangladesh for the first time, and found themselves 27/5 in the Semi-finals against the Australians. Having found himself unable to elevate the team to the required level as a captain, he now will try lift the side as the Director of Cricket for Cricket South Africa

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

David Miller: The Hero who (Almost) Saves the Day

It's not easy being the chairperson of the David Miller fan club. For whatever reason, he seems to have less latitude than similar players. Maybe it is because his destructiveness is never quite enough, although this is hardly ever his fault. In the 2015 World Cup, South Africa's efforts at securing a berth into the showpiece game was not enough, but Miller himself scored 49 runs off 18 balls in a whirlwind final assault. Crucially though, he got out in the final over. His dismissal cost South Africa a handful of runs in a game which went down to the penultimate ball.

Similarly, in the 2013 Champions Trophy, as the entire Protea batting squad elected to commit hara kiri, Miller, who had come in at seven scored a defiant 56 to help South Africa score a less embarrassing 175. It was never going to be enough, but considering they were 80/8 at some point, 175 could be considered blushes spared. Regardless, though. South Africa lost. Add to that the fact that Faf du Plessis picked a must-win match against India in the 2017 Champions Trophy to re-open the Faf du Plessis Run Out Academy - he ran out AB de Villiers and Miller within five balls - which prevented Miller from even attempting in game heroics during that match. While we are on that topic, though, never forget that Faf du Plessis ran out AB de Villiers and David Miller within five balls of each other. Regardless, Miller was defiant, and the Proteas lost. This has generally been the issue, and likely the reason why the people tend to underrate him. On the biggest stages, Miller's heroics have not been enough to save the Proteas from the burning building. You don't watch Superman to see him almost save Lois Lane. To continue this metaphor, largely through no fault of his own, David Miller has almost saved us without ever getting the help required to save us. It's not his failings, but rather those of his teammates which Miller wears for some reason. And it is those failings that fans hate

Watch: South Africa win a classic at Lord's to become #1

Heading into the final Test at Lord's in 2012, South Africa would have known that all they needed was a draw to seal the series. England was in disarray after Kevin Pietersen had decided that the middle of the series was the right time to give an interview regarding how difficult the task of being Kevin Pietersen was. Oh, he'd also been caught disparaging his captain at the time, Andrew Strauss to members of the Protea set up via text (somehow). Already one down in the series, with half the batting line-up horribly out of form, and a PR nightmare on the horizon, England were reeling. But they were the #1 team in the world for some or other reason, and like a weary, battle-hardened fighter about to lose his crown, this English side fashioned a final stand at the home of cricket using a mix of the old (incumbent wicket keeper Matt Prior) and the new (future wicket-keeper Johnny Bairstow). It was not to be though as the genius of Hashim Amla, and the metronome that is Vernon Philander proved to much, and the Proteas defeated the once Kings. .


Monday, April 6, 2020

Theunis de Bruyn still has Protea dreams

It was a long and at times torturous season for Theunis de Bruyn as he lost his national contract, got dropped from the national team and had his future Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith basically undress him on global television for his dismissal on the fifth day against India. His domestic form was not poor, it just wasn't very long. Injury reduced his participation to three First-Class games were he scored 183 runs at an average of 36.7. Still, despite this he was still very upbeat about his chances for representing the national team in the future. as he told The Citizen 
It was just one of those seasons and I have no answers to the questions why? But we need to put the situation in perspective with what is currently going on: we can’t even play cricket now, businesses are closing and it’s a crazy time. We can only hope this pandemic unites the nation and then we can stand up and rebuild. So, we need to take all that on board for perspective,’ De Bruyn told the Citizen.
‘But this last season was completely not what I expected, not what I put in all the hard work towards. The current situation is a bit like my season, all questions and no answers. I’ve hardly played this season, it feels like the season never really started for me. I feel a bit forgotten but I just have to take it on the chin because I failed in international cricket.
‘I believe I still have a role to play in South African cricket; I still have eight to 10 years left in my career so there’s still a lot of time. I’m just going to take all the lessons I can from this season. In the few innings I had, I actually felt good and what I have been working on was coming through.’

Choked Up: The 1992 World Cup

If there is anything we can learn from every World Cup since the 1992 World Cup, it is that it is ridiculous that South Africa managed to get to a Semi-Final in the first place. Kenya, Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan won five of the twenty-nine games between them in debut World Cups from 1996 on-wards. South Africa, who at the time had played all of three One-Day games before the World Cup, had absolutely no business making the Semi-Finals. From that perspective, it could be argued that they over-performed massively during that World Cup. In an interview, Meyrick Pringle, South Africa's ODI fast bowler said members of the squad were not even sure as to whether or not the team would be going to the World Cup. Unlike other teams, South Africa also had to deal with a political twist to their mere participation. It had only been two years since Nelson Mandela had been released and, it was probably not a good look for a largely lily-white national team to land in Australia, ostensibly representing a new Rainbow Nation. Indeed, upon landing, the first thing the team saw was apartheid banners, and they were advised to not answer any questions from the media. While the new South Africa were the darlings of the cricket world, they were certainly an affront to the sensibilities of the anti-apartheid world.

The 1992 Cricket World Cup was in many ways the coming-out party for One-day cricket. Firstly, the teams would now wear colour kit, which had never been the case. This fashion choice allowed for some horror colour and tone selections. I'm not even looking at a specific team. Everyone had an ugly kit on. It was also the first international cricket tournament to feature day/night games. A handy little gimmick which would allow people to catch the game after work and boost those attendance and TV figures, which in turn of course... boost the coffers. To play day/night cricket though, you could not use a red-ball, which basically became invisible in the night sky. So this also became the first international tournament to use a white ball, which then necessitated the first use of a black sightscreen. It could be argued that never before, and never again has a cricket tournament seen the addition of so many new and innovative features to the game in one tournament. Hell, even the tournament structure changed. Having previously had two groups, it developed a round-robin format where everyone faced everyone. Crucially though, it was also the first to feature a new way of calculating the amount of runs a team needed to win rain-affected matches.

The New Way is not like The Old Way 

 Under the previous dispensation, the way to re-vise targets in rain-affected games was called the Average Run-Rate Method, which had been used since the beginning of One Day cricket. It worked the way it intuitively sounds if a team lost overs in a chase, they would simply have to match the run rate of the original target they were chasing in their available overs. The way to calculate the total looked like this:

Say a team was chasing 201 in 50 overs and rain wiped out 30 overs they would need to get 81 runs in 20 overs to win. Not a particularly difficult equation, but one which it could be argued favoured the side batting second since they had to keep up with an average run-rate for a shorter period of time. This led to the development of the Most Productive Overs Method (MPO). Where ARR probably did favour the side batting second, this method definitely favoured the side batting first. Essentially, if overs started to get lost in a game, they took away the least productive overs in the team batting first's total. For example, if a team scored 300 in 50 overs, and that innings had seven maidens, the first over lost in a rain delay would be a maiden. Same with the second over lost until the seventh over. Meaning a team could very well lose seven overs of batting due to a delay and have their new target be 301 off 43 overs. Daylight robbery. The formula to work out the chase would be as follows

{\displaystyle {\text{Team 2's new target from their total of X overs }}={\text{ Runs scored by Team 1 in their highest-scoring X overs }}+1.}

It should be noted that South Africa was in very real trouble in their semi-final, to the degree that it would have been nigh on impossible for them to win no matter what system of calculation was used, but more on that later. Hell, even if the game was washed out and there could be no further play at all, England would have advanced by virtue of placing higher in the tournament proper. 

A Promising Start

Imagine for a moment Afghanistan's opener in last year's World Cup being against England. Now imagine Rashid Khan taking a wicket with his first ball. Except the umpire does not give it out. One would almost expect such a robbery would deflate the first-time nation on such a large scale. Not South Africa. They took that first ball (Donald to Geoff Marsh, caught behind. Given not out) right on the chin, and proceeded to roll the Australian hosts for 170. They then cruised home for the loss of one-wicket against the defending champions in maybe the most stunning coming-out party since all the way back in 1990 when Cameroon upset the defending champions Argentina in the FIFA World Cup. Not bad for a team playing in their fourth ODI match. Especially considering that they had a new captain. Their previous captain, Clive Rice had controversially been left out of the squad altogether (in their defence, the man was 43 years old), and the new captain was Kepler Wessels. Who had previously worn the Australian baggy green. For Australia. The team South Africa was facing. This victory no doubt provided the catalyst to a fantastic round-robin which saw South Africa qualify for the semi-finals. With only two matches to go, the boys in green and gold began to believe. 

A most Karmic Robbery

We'll start the tale of the Semi-Final at the end. South Africa had been set a chase of 253 off 45 overs, and South Africa were at least in with a shout at 231/6 after 42.5 overs. They needed 22 of 13 balls when the skies opened. A cruise by modern standards, but back in 1992, especially with four wickets in hand, it was more of a 50/50 battle. Unfortunately for South Africa, the rain made the equation a little bit more complex. First over to go was a maiden, due to the aforementioned MPO. 22 off 7. Not ideal, but somewhat still plausible. But it kept raining. Another over was lost. 21 off 1. This target was mathematically impossible. Defeat. Sadness, Poor South Africa. Victims of a most unfair result. Yeah, about that. Firstly let's address the defeat. Even under the old method (Average Run Rate), South Africa would have needed 11 from the final ball. And that method favoured the side batting second! If we modernised it all the way and made it a Duckworth/Lewis-style chase, South Africa would still have needed 12 off the final ball to win. In other words, even if we used methods favouring batting second, South Africa were in trouble. 

Now we address the game proper. The first line of the previous paragraph has an interesting quirk if you know what you are looking for. Forty-Five Overs. Why on Earth was South Africa chasing in forty-five overs in a Fifty-Over World Cup? Well, it starts off at the toss. South Africa won the toss and elected to bowl first With rain about. Not the greatest move when the method of calculation favours the side batting first. So why bowl first Kepler? 

"Yeah it is a calculated risk," Wessels said. "… If it rains [and] we are bowling, it is not too bad. The problem comes if you are batting tonight and it rains, but that is a risk we are prepared to take" 
So we had to chase. But that still doesn't explain why we only have forty-five overs to chase down the total. Did rain play a part? Well, yes. But it was only a ten minute delay, which did not reduce England's overs. What did reduce England's overs though was another rule

 The "Other" Rain Rule  

On top of all the other rules which had been made, there was an interesting, and frankly strange, rain rule. Basically, it said that the first innings had to be done by a certain time, and if it was not, then the innings would stop at that exact time. So for instance, if your 50-over game started at 16:00 and the first inning innings was supposed to be finished at 19:00, the innings would stop at 19:00, even if you'd only batted 44 overs. This rule obviously favours the side batting second, as the side batting first is pacing for a 50-over innings, and instead, they get whatever over tally the bowling side decides they deserve. It was probably with this rule in mind that the Proteas slowed down proceedings. A most cynical ploy, although the Proteas would point to the amount of extras they had bowled (six no-balls and 9 wides make up 2 and a half overs after all) as well as the fact that they had to bowl in rather wet conditions as the reasons for the rather laboured bowling effort. No matter, though, whether due to ill-disciple or cynicism, South Africa were five overs short.

Events, of course, do not occur in a vacuum, and who knows what would have happened otherwise, but it should be remembered that England were 235/6 at the beginning of the 45th over. Dermot Reeve was on strike, and he'd scored seven off eight balls before this over. Facing up against Allan Donald, at the time, maybe the best bowler in the world, but certainly one of them, he smashed Donald for 18 runs off what would go on to be the final over of the innings. It should also be remembered that it was only the final over because the Proteas made it so. Donald was very slow to get back to his mark, as Bill Lawry noted, 

"Donald certainly taking his time walking back to the mark. They have slowed the game down, South Africa. Prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to bat 50 overs themselves."

All things being equal, If Donald goes for, say three off that final over (keep in mind he is bowling to a number 8), South Africa need 7 off the last 13 balls before the rain falls. And six off the final ball in a possible grandstand finish. 

South Africa were not unlucky in the 1992 World Cup, they were tardy on the field, cynical with their tactics and with the fate of the universe on the line, in a final over Donald absolutely needed to get right, their best player choked. This will not be the final time I'll write that final line. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

South African players symptom-free for COVID-19

All players and staff in the Protea national team set up have emerged from their 14-day period of isolation symptom-free, with those who have been tested for the novel Coronavirus have all tested negative, according to Proteas' chief medical officer Shuaib Manjra.
"All the players were symptom-free and those who opted to perform the tests returned negative results," Manjra told ESPNcricinfo
The Proteas were in India for a three-match ODI series against which was postponed due to fears of a possible Coronavirus outbreak. Both sides have agreed that it will be rescheduled to a more mutually beneficial date in the future, presumably once the end of the world has stopped happening.

In the meanwhile, with South Africa being in the midst of a 21-day lockdown, the players have resorted to home gym and home exercises, with the team trainer Tumi Masekela telling the media,
"We've got time now to work with players in terms of addressing the small niggles that they may have. They have got time to rest and also to do the strength work," he said.
"But the one big thing is the running volume, the aerobic capacity base, which I am going to try and build up in the next two weeks, so that means lot of running, or a lot of cardio work, cycling or swimming." 

Greatest South African cricketers: Vernon Philander

It says something about the proceeding years that most people couldn't tell you that a 21-year old Vernon Philander was a member of the 2007 World T20 team. I don't blame you if you do not remember. Even Gulam Bodi was probably slightly more memorable, given his spat with Kevin Pietersen. The birth of Vernon Philander the international cricketer is instead viewed as having been at Newlands 2011. Full disclosure, people. This might be my single favourite Test of all time. It all starts with Michael Clarke scoring maybe the finest hundred by a visiting batsman in the last ten years. Coming in at 40-3, with a rampant bowling attack in top form, Clarke scored 151 of the most incredible runs you could see. From the moment Clarke walked in to to the moment Australia lost their tenth wicket, 244 runs were scored. Of those, Clarke scored 151 of them. Australia were thus all out for 284, and South Africa would have been feeling reasonably confident of getting a lead here.
The Proteas were bundled out for 96, just about avoiding the follow-on. Heading into the third innings, South Africa needed something special from someone. Anyone. What happened next is one of the most incredible introductions to the world ever.

The best way to describe Australia's innings is that one minute I was making two-minute noodles, and by the time I'd finished frying my eggs (because egg noodle is the bee's knees okay) Vernon Philander had ransacked the Aussie top, middle and lower order to the tune of 21/9. TWENTY-ONE FOR NINE. Australia were suddenly one bad shot away form the worst team total of all time. EVER. In history. 
The rest of the game was relatively normal and South Afric basically cruised to a straight forward eight-wicket victory. What followed next was the most dominant stretch of fast bowling in the last 100 years. Philander followed that five-wicket haul with another one. And then another one. Next thing we knew, he was the fastest bowler to 50 wickets in the modern era. A trip to England followed and Philander won the series in the fourth innings of the final Test with a magnificent five-for. Then New Zealand pitched up in the middle of a rather dark phase in their cricket and Vernon rolled them for 45 runs before Dale Steyn took 6/8 against Pakistan in the best summer in South African cricket history.

He would go on to tail off if we are honest. He averaged over 40 in 2014 and 2015. He got hurt often. He was the subject of the controversial 2015 World Cup selection. There are many things that can be brought up and critiqued and noted. Yes, he was not as good when the ball stopped moving. Yes, he was not quite fast enough to really trouble batsmen with an older ball. But for two brilliant years during the beginning, batsmen were packing their things as soon as they took guard.

Thank you Vernon.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Greatest South African cricketers: Hashim Amla

In the wonderfully entertaining Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt's title character notes that "In the end, you start to think about the beginning". Philosophically, this tends to be the case. As the end of anything draws nearer, we tend to remember the spring of that thing, be it a relationship or a life.

In sport though, in the end, we tend to think about the end. This can be seen no clearer than in the case of Hashim Amla. A career which had over 18 000 runs and 55 centuries - both marks good for #2 on the all-time list in South African terms - seemed to really drag on by the end, with many calling for Zubayr Hamza to become his successor as it became clear that the well had run dry. Very few people, if any, called for him to stay once he did retire, and there has been no clamoring for his return in the way there was and continues to be for his 2004 debut alumni, AB de Villiers. Some of this obviously is because AB de Villiers was a superstar in global terms, and as such has a wider fan-base mourning his retirement. Indeed, while Amla has less than 100 000 followers on Instagram, his former team-mate has nearly 10 million.

The jewel in the Test crown

But there's more to it than that. Quite simply, the end of Hashim Amla's career just wasn't pretty. Averages of 46 in Tests and 49 in ODI mask the fact that for the longest time, he comfortably averaged over 50 in both formats. His last two years in Test cricket saw him fail to average over 28, and he failed to cross an average of over 30 in three of his final five years. His Test average for a calendar year had not crossed 50 since 2014. It was better in ODI, but not by much. His average only crossed 50 once in the final four years. Basically, it was not pretty. A man who was the fastest batsman to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000, and 8000 runs in ODI history, seemed mortal. At times he seemed below par. But don't let that confuse you. Prime Hashim Amla was a beast. He was possibly the single most vital wicket in the entire Protea set-up for almost half a decade. When South Africa went to Nagpur and dismantled India by an innings, he scored a magnificent double hundred to set it up. With a chance for a rare series victory in India on the line the next Test, Amla was the lone resistance, scoring twin hundreds in the Test. When South Africa walked to England in 2012 in arguably the definitive Test series of the era, it was Amla who set the tone in the first Test with a magnificent triple Century. A few months later, with the teams' scores essentially level, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers put together maybe the single most incredible session in Test Cricket in the last ten years of Test cricket in Australia to push South Africa from an advantageous position to one of complete dominance.

When the most iconic victories in a nation's most golden age generally come from one man, it is hard to argue against him being the centrepiece of the artwork

Between 2008 and 2013, which are generally regarded as the golden years of South Africa's golden era, no man scored more runs or more hundreds in South African colours than Hashim Amla. Of course, AB de Villiers had a higher average, but this is largely down to a rather large amount of not outs, as Amla scored more runs per game.

South Africa's Test middle-order 2008-2013

Hashim Amla
Jacques Kallis
AB de Villiers

An Inconvenient Truth

You could argue that for five golden years, Amla was the jewel in a studded crown, and maybe because of that, he was made the successor to Graeme Smith when Smith retired, rather young, following the 2014 series vs Australia. It was something of a surprise that Amla was made skipper over AB de Villiers. Some said he was not quite built for the leadership role, and he had not done much to negate these conceptions in the preceding years. After all, he was the man who stood down as vice-captain of the ODI team when he was expected to captain the ODI team for a series due to AB de Villiers being suspended. Not exactly the actions of a man itching for a leadership post. The counter to this, though was that Amla did win the First Class competition as captain at only 21-years old. Had Graeme Smith not been the incumbent at the time, that sort of achievement would have set him up to be the captain of the future. Also, outside of Aiden Markram, Amla is still the only man (or woman) to captain South Africa to a World Cup final at any level, leading the Under 19 outfit to the finals in 2002. There was an argument to be made that he was not only a viable candidate for captain but even that he was the correct choice. Of course, the last six months were disastrous, with a rather embarrassing 3-0 loss to India being compounded by a home loss to England. The ending was awful but it worth remembering that AB de Villiers was in charge for half of that England series and that Amla lost the toss in every single Test in India. Outside of the England tour in 2012, India went the entire decade without a single defeat at home in Test cricket when they won the toss.  I submit to the court that disaster which was the end of the Amla was no fault of his own, but rather a confluence of factors beyond his control. Moreover, the idea that relieving him of the captaincy would elevate his game was proven to have been a wildly incorrect assertion. A player who at the time averaged roughly a century every four games suddenly averaged a Ton every nine Tests. A man who while being weighed down by captaincy still managed to average almost 50 with the bat suddenly averaged 36.23 post-captaincy. Some would argue that Amla was never going to age gracefully, given how much his game relied on otherworldly hand-eye co-ordination. This is a fair summation, certainly his whole career he looked like he should be an LBW/bowled candidate, given his propensity to walk across the crease.

Captaincy Amla
Post-captaincy Amla

In the end, we can all bemoan the lack of runs his last 34 Tests. It is more than fair. But that's a short-sighted view. Arguably, South Africa has never had a more aesthetically pleasing batsman, and for five golden years, the form and the function aligned in a way that allowed the entire batting line-up to click and dominate. Thank you, Hash.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

No Protea Pay Cuts... for now

Like the rest of the sports world, the South African cricket team has not been spared from the financial impact of the Coronavirus outbreak. On the 16th of March, all cricket in South Africa was cancelled for the next 60 days, which saw the cancellation of the One Day Cup as well as the Four Day Cup. On an international level, the men's tour to India was called off without a single ball being bowled, while the women's inbound tour of Australia has already been cancelled. Sri Lanka are the second nation due to tour the country for the women's tour and even that series is on the line, with a final decision only to be taken six weeks before the tour.

Fortunately, however, Cricket South Africa president, Jacques Faul has announced that as of now there are no plans in place to cut the players' salaries, at any level of the game. He warned that this could change in future, but at the moment, the players can rest easy.

"For now we've budgeted for the amount. It's a centralised system so both the Proteas and the franchise players have been budgeted for and we have enough to see through next season," Faul said on a conference call.

"The players will lose out on match fees and win bonuses. If these tours are rescheduled, they'll get the money. In the long term, even if we cover this season we have to what it's going to be post this season and the financial impact of that and how much will be available to contract the players.

"We've got to crunch the numbers first and experience the total effect of COVID-19, but it is a possibility the players will be receiving less of a player payment pool. 

"I cannot see anyone for now getting less money than they are contracted for, but in future the allocation going to players I can see being less."

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 ...