Leading Edge: Biryanigate spices SA’s race debate

As good as Lungi Ngidi is, as a Hilton College alumnus he is a product of an outdated delivery mechanism.

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

“OF course it isn’t true,” was among the first things Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) media officer told this reporter on April 7, 2000 — the day Hansie Cronje was charged by the Delhi police for his dealings with cricket’s gambling underworld.

Of course all who heard Kyle Abbott profess his commitment to South Africa’s cause on December 23, 2016 believed him — until January 5 last year, when he confirmed he had signed a Kolpak deal with Hampshire.

Of course a report in the Mumbai Mirror this week quoting Albert Morkel — father of Albie and Morne — as saying, in essence, that white players were being worked out of the game in South Africa was rubbished.

Anything else would challenge what has become cricket’s dominant narrative in this country: that it must be darkened at all costs if it is to have a future of any significance.

That is, of course, true. From junior to test level, cricket needs more black players if it is to survive as part of South Africa’s culture and prosper in the international arena.

But keeping those black players in the system, while doing right by everyone else, is made fiendishly difficult by the hard truth that teams are limited to 11 players and by the intense competition for black talent in other sport and business spheres.

One black administrator nailed the dilemma this week: “We can’t have players in the national team who are not good enough, which is not fair to anyone especially those players. And we can’t not have black players coming into the national team.”

Another black administrator described the decline of cricket in schools that aren’t among the handful from which South Africa’s best players have, once because of their race and affluence, always emerged: “We’re losing so many kids to basketball.”

Part of the answer to all this angst, you would think in this week of all weeks, is two short but powerful words: Lungi! Ngidi!

But Ngidi is but one fine, young, black player. How many others who might also have been in South Africa’s test team are instead becoming associates in law firms? And as good as Ngidi is, as a Hilton College alumnus he is a product of an outdated delivery mechanism.

Cricket must tap the huge reservoir of talent that lay beyond the walls of a few elite schools — which means more than plucking prospects from other places and sending them to those schools.

Both of those black administrators work at the game’s coalface, where things actually have to get done, often under the unfair gaze of embittered, obstructionist whites, and not in CSA’s weird bubble of unreality.

For instance, the reporter who wrote the Mumbai Mirror story was confronted by CSA — who were out of order to do so — and told he had misquoted his source.

All because Albert Morkel visited the suite housing the Indian players’ partners during the second test in Centurion in search of biryani.

That he was duly given along with the ear of an observer from a country that has its own struggles with identity politics but hasn’t a clue how South Africa functions. Or dysfunctions.

The truth is Morne Morkel cannot be sure about his place in the team. No-one can, but he has a right to wonder about his future in a set-up in which black players’ currency is valued highly — and which produces more black fast bowlers than any other type of black player.

The interview was not recorded. But the reporter maintains he identified himself to Albert Morkel and asked, and was given, permission to quote him.

The quotes, which the reporter stands by, are nothing South Africans wouldn’t have heard if they are the right colour — white — and around the right braai at the right time of the right kind of evening.

And here we are, in the throes of Biryanigate. Are we surprised?

Of course not.

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Bavuma out with broken finger

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

TEMBA Bavuma’s chances of featuring in the test series against India have been given the finger.

Bavuma, who is part of the test squad but was not picked for the first two tests, broke a finger playing a one-day match for the Cobras on Wednesday and has — South Africa team management said on Sunday — been ruled out for up to four weeks.

What with opener Aiden Markram facing a fitness test on Tuesday on a thigh injury he sustained during the second test in Centurion last week, Bavuma could have been in the frame for the third test at the Wanderers on Wednesday.

If Markram doesn’t make it the other unused batsman in the squad, Theunis de Bruyn, seems set to earn his fourth cap.

De Bruyn made his debut at the top of the order against New Zealand in Hamilton in March but is better suited to the middle order, where he has batted in his other tests.

Bavuma has opened the batting twice in his 42 test innings and, given his disciplined approach, might have been favoured over De Bruyn for the job.

South Africa have won the series with victories, by 72 runs, at Newlands and, by 135 runs, in Centurion.

But they need another success to retain a chance of usurping the Indians at the top of the rankings.

To go to No. 1 South Africa must win 3-0 and beat Australia 2-0 or 3-1 in their home series in March.

Do SA need to change anything for Wanderers (besides not moan about the pitch)?

“There’s going to be pace and bounce and maybe some lateral movement.” – Greg Fredericks, GCB chief executive

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

YOU beat the world’s No. 1 test team in what amounts to their own backyard to clinch the series with a game in hand, and what do you do?

Whinge about the pitch.

South Africa seem to have forgotten that they won the second test against India by 135 runs in Centurion on Tuesday.

That’s hardly surprising given their pre-occupation with slamming a surface that veered towards the visitors’ strengths and away from their own.

How is that not a reason to be even more satisfied with their performance than they were after winning the Newlands test by 72 runs?

The way the South Africans are going on you’d think they were 0-2 down and not, as they are, 2-0 up.

Worse, they can’t afford to be dangerously distracted by the state of the pitch for the third test at the Wanderers, which starts on Wednesday.

Not if they want to reclaim the No. 1 ranking.

A 3-0 drubbing by South Africa, who are currently in second place, would put them level with India on 118 points each.

India’s next test series is in England in August, by which time the South Africans would have hosted Australia.

Should South Africa beat the Aussies 2-0 or 3-1 they will be back on top of the pile, a perch they last occupied in January 2016.

But first they need to win at the Wanderers, where the howls of outrage coming down the highway from Centurion have been heard.

“I’ve taken a lot of notice,” Gauteng Cricket Board chief executive Greg Fredericks said on Friday.

“Even if I didn’t want to take notice I’ve got lots of WhatsApps and SMSs and messages about it.”

So, what are groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi and consultant Chris Scott going to come up with?

“If Bethuel and Chris can’t get it right then I wouldn’t know who could,” Fredericks said. “They’ve assured me there’s going to be pace and bounce and maybe some lateral movement.

“I had a discussion with Chris and Bethuel this morning, and they said they don’t want to prepare a snakepit.

“But it’s going to be a typical Wanderers wicket.”

That means hard work for batsmen, who average 30.05 runs per partnership at the stadium. Of South Africa’s other regular test venues only St George’s Park’s 26.89 is lower.

But the Wanderers features higher on that list than the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Headingley, so application will be rewarded.

Who might need to apply themselves for South Africa considering squad members Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn have missed both matches, and that Aiden Markram strained a thigh in Centurion and is due for a fitness test on Tuesday?

“You don’t always get in a position where you win series and can give someone a crack,” Faf du Plessis said after the second test.

“But then as soon as I ask myself that question I think, ‘When do you get in a position to beat teams 3-0?’.

“It doesn’t happen a lot, so I’d favour being ruthless.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to beat India 3-0 for a while.

“For me it’s about keeping your foot on the gas.”

South Africa have never beaten India 3-0. The closest they came was in 1996-97, when they won two and drew the other — at the Wanderers, where India made 410 in the first innings and rain got in the way.

The Wanderers was also where, in December 2006, India earned the first of only two victories in the 19 tests they have played in South Africa.

And it’s where, against India in December 2013, South Africa infuriated their supporters by, to borrow Du Plessis’ phrase, taking their foot off the gas when their seventh wicket fell at 442. The damn fools were in search of a target of 458.

That match was drawn, a result that seems unlikely next week even if Fredericks’ prayer to the weather gods is heard.

“I won’t mind if there’s a bit of rain,” he said in the hope of having play on the weekend.

“I saw a forecast for late afternoon storms on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday …”

Not quite. If you’re a batsman, particularly an Indian batsman, the lightning bolts will come red, thick and, especially, fast from the moment you take guard.

You can see the future in SA’s test triumph

Morkel uppercutted the air with emphatic swoops of his long arms, like John Cleese trying to eject a guest from Fawlty Towers.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOMETIMES it’s difficult to see the trees of drama for the forest of going through the motions in a match as nuanced with both as the second test between South Africa and India in Centurion.

But not on Wednesday, the last day — or the single, albeit lengthened, session South Africa needed to take seven wickets and surge to victory by 135 runs and clinch the series with a game to spare.

Stay with us, sportslovers, because at this point this needs to become a riff on rugby starring Morne Morkel as David Campese, AB de Villiers as Henry Honiball, and Lungi Ngidi as Jonah Lomu.

Morkel, who claimed four scalps in the first innings but was wicketless in the second despite his disciplined bowling, provided the first of the Tri-Nations treasures in the seventh over of the day, when Parthiv Patel hoisted Kagiso Rabada towards deep fine leg.

Morkel, galumphing for all his worth to his right to make many metres of ground, untangled his gangly spangle of arms and legs adeptly enough to dive and take a superb catch millimetres above the turf.

He also speared his arms straight into the sky to prevent the ball being dislodged from his hands as his long, lean body crashed to earth.

Then the fun started.

Morkel, justifiably ecstatic, sprinted towards his equally ecstatic teammates, who sprinted towards him in a scene straight out of a Bollywood B-movie.

As he went, Morkel uppercutted the air in triumph with emphatic swoops of those long arms of his and roared his delight, which made him look like John Cleese trying to eject a guest from Fawlty Towers.

Then, with his last few steps before he was enveloped in the happy madness of his comrades, Morkel broke into a goose step that would have done Campese proud.

Rabada was again the bowler when Rohit Sharma hooked towards fine leg, where De Villiers made a 20-metre glide over the grass look like a few simple steps.

That done, he leapt forward at exactly the right moment and made another stunning, low grab.

De Villiers threw the ball up in joy, box-kicked it like the flyhalf he used to be, caught it again — and dotted it just so on the outfield before speeding away to celebrate his try. A touch flashy for Honiball, but what the hell.

Like Lomu, Ngidi was an ominous presence regardless of whether he had the ball in hand.

Men that tall and blessed with shoulders to match — as well as a silent, latent growl of violence to be visited on the suspecting and the unsuspecting alike — need merely to be seen to work their magic.

Just like the spectre of Lomu looming on the wing scared the bejaysus out of the unfortunates who had been cursed with the impossibility of stopping him, so Ngidi looked like he was about to take someone’s head off whether he was thundering into his delivery stride or walking in from mid-on.

After he claimed the fifth of his six wickets, when Mohammed Shami, in full, shameless retreat from a rising short delivery, spooned a far simpler catch to Morkel at mid-on, something spiritual, happened.

Once the South Africans had got the instinctive yelping and yawping out of their system, they gathered around their tower of smiling, beautiful blackness and a curious calm settled on the scene.

It looked, from the distance of the boundary, like a prayer was being said and given due reverence.

Not a man seemed to move and not a sound was heard for a long, poignant moment as, perhaps, the collective gave thanks for what the individual had wrought, and on debut on his home ground, nogal.

You could, in those precious seconds, see what South Africa’s team could become.

You could see the future. And it’s here.

Why South Africans should thank Centurion’s groundsman

Newlands was a memorable one-night stand. Centurion has blossomed into a torrid love affair.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Centurion

IF all goes well Bryan Bloy will be handed back his belt and shoelaces by sunset on Wednesday. As things stand he remains on suicide watch.

Bloy is Centurion’s groundsman, and as such responsible — if you believe the prevailing narrative — for the apparently appalling, shocking, shouldn’t-be-allowed fact that the second test between South Africa and India has reached a fifth day.

That makes him, in ever expanding circles, a traitor to the cause of keeping South Africa’s foot on India’s throat. How dare the bloody man gift the visitors the advantage by preparing a pitch that is more Hyderabad than Highveld?

But Bloy, who is undertaking his first test, would be within his rights to demand explanations for how, if the pitch is the cadaver it has been condemned as, 11 wickets fell on Tuesday — all but one of them to fast bowlers.

For a start he should bang on South Africa’s dressingroom door and stick a finger in the faces of Faf du Plessis, who called the surface “unknown” even before the match started, Morne Morkel, who said he felt as if he was bowling in the subcontinent, and Dean Elgar, who was bitterly “disappointed”.

Mohammed Shami waded in on Tuesday: “I don’t know what they were thinking when they made this wicket.”

Get over yourselves already.

Closer to what matters is that India go into the fifth day needing 252 more runs to win, and that they have seven wickets standing with which to get them.

Crucially, their talismanic captain has been dealt with. Virat Kohli, scorer of 153 in the first innings — a monumental performance in every sense — was sent back to think again for only five by Lungi Ngidi, a young man with pace and gees to burn, who pinned Kohli leg-before like a butterfly to a wheel.

No doubt Bloy breathed a special sigh of relief at that strike, which came in the ninth over before stumps.

But the story less told is that we need to thank Bloy for ensuring the match has boiled up into a proper contest between bat and ball and everything else that makes test cricket infinitely more enthralling than, say, those 90 minutes of nothing called football.

South Africans should be thrilled that their team have found a way to earn the advantage in conditions that do not, or so they feel, suit their gun pace attack.

If they had played this kind of cricket in India in November 2015 they wouldn’t have been thrashed quite so badly.

It is undeniable that the conditions at Centurion this time aren’t tailored as tightly to South Africa’s strengths as the booming pitch that helped the home side win the first test at Newlands in, effectively, three days.

That was a superb surface, a stage for visceral cricket played at a scarcely believable tempo by teams who were scared of nothing.

In fact, it was too good a pitch. So much so that almost anything that followed was going to fall short of expectations.

But a series, if it is to have context, must ebb and flow and offer contrast and counterpoint. Only then can it cement its slow-burning character. Bloy has provided for exactly that, and hats off to him.

Newlands was a memorable one-night stand. Centurion has blossomed into a torrid love affair.

It will end in screams, tears and thrown crockery sometime on Thursday, and when it does many should seek Bloy out to tell him, “It’s not you, it’s us.”

Kohli dark as a storm after weather waylays play

You could see forever but you couldn’t see any cricket.

TELFORD VICE in Centurion

CAPETONIANS in Centurion at 3.19pm on Monday could have cried: a sky that had been heavy with heat and lumpen with clouds was leaking rain.

It came down with — to borrow Virat Kohli’s new favourite word — intent. Stray bolts cracking the big blue dome with lurid lightning quickly morphed into an enveloping shroud of hard-driven silvery wetness.

One of the first drops of the stuff hit AB de Villiers smack in the eye as he awaited the approaching Mohammed Shami, which led the umpires to call a halt.

An hour passed before another ball was bowled. But only 31 had been sent down when, at 4.46pm, almost two hours before the rescheduled close, with the floodlights burning bright and turning to neon the colours all around, the umpires decided it was too dark to play cricket.

Dean Elgar and De Villiers, who had taken South Africa from 3/2 to 90/2 and the lead to 118, seemed satisfied as they strolled towards the dressingroom.

The Indians were unamused. Kohli stalked off the field in a dark cloud all of his own, bounded up the stairs and darted daggerishly into the match referee’s room. With intent indeed. Oh captain, India’s captain was quickly followed there, like a tracer bullet, by Ravi Shastri.

Almost an hour passed, in which time what was left of the crowd was treated to Desmond and the Tutus’ “Pretoria Girls” with its #MeToo lyrics: “Put some shoes on Pretoria girl/’Cause I’m taking you out on the town tonight”, before the umpires reappeared and sauntered to the middle.

Paul Reiffel flipped the bails off the stumps at the West Lane end, walked to the Hennops River end and placed a light meter just so on top of those stumps.

Then the umpires stood and looked for all the world as if they were waiting for the next Gautrain back to Joburg.

On the further reaches of the outfield television crews set up lights and cameras and wheeled out their pundits; vultures waiting for the day’s play to be declared dead.

Presently Kohli materialised on the boundary and set off on a march, arms slicing the dull air, legs thrusting forward, towards the pitch.

Halfway there he seemed to tweak his intent, softening his stride and shoving his hands into his pockets.

Once arrived, Kohli spoke with the umpires, apparently calmly, and alternated between looking at the light meter and at the sky above as if trying to connect dots between them.

Not long after that, and with the sky ever more soupy, the announcement that play had been abandoned echoed gloomily.

Five minutes later the sun was pushing through the clouds and six minutes after that — 24 minutes before what would have been the close — the ground dripped with the golden gorgeousness of a Highveld evening in the afterglow of a thunderstorm.

You could see forever but you couldn’t see any cricket.

Being Lungi Ngidi

Ngidi’s wide smile shone out of the giddiness that bathed the thicket of high fives.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Centurion

THE circumstances of Lungi Ngidi’s first appearance on a test scorecard won’t be remembered by many: faced four balls, scored one run, was not out. The reason for his second entry is destined to remain vivid for a long time.

Cheteshwar Pujara thought there was a single to be had from the only ball he faced on day two of the second test in Centurion on Sunday.

Ngidi, at mid-on, knew otherwise.

His slide, pick-up-throw and direct hit on the stumps at the non-striker’s end, with neither Pujara nor his bat anywhere near safety, proved it.

Ngidi’s wide smile shone out of the giddiness that bathed the resultant thicket of high fives.

Not that he had earned his debut as a fielder, nevermind as a No. 11. He was in the side to bowl, and he got that chance in the 14th over of India’s first innings.

In his third over Ngidi let fly at 143 kilometres per hour at Murali Vijay, who sent an edge screaming groundward through gully.

At other levels of cricket the ball would have beaten the field and sped away for four.

Not at this level: AB de Villiers swooped and stopped it.

Ngidi stood watching at the bowling crease, allowed his eyes to widen with the wonder of it all, applauded, and smiled.

He thought he had his first wicket in his fifth over when Virat Kohli, no less, shuffled across his stumps and was rapped on the pads bang in front.

But, instead of a scalp, three runs were added to Ngidi’s figures. India’s captain had managed to get a smidgen of his bat onto the ball before he was struck.

Ngidi must have been disappointed. It didn’t show: he stood and smiled.

Four overs later, there it was — a delivery to a defending Parthiv Patel that left the left-hander off the pitch, took a healthy outside edge and smacked into Quinton de Kock’s gloves.

De Kock pointed one of those gloved hands at Ngidi and set off towards him with a yawp to celebrate with the fast bowler, who was duly mobbed by the rest of the South Africans.

The man himself seemed happy to stay trapped in the moment. As emotion erupted all around him he stood tall — 1.95 metres tall, mind — and smiled.

By stumps, which India reached on 183/5, still 152 behind, Ngidi had bowled nine overs, two of them maidens, for his return of 1/26.

He will bowl better for less reward and worse for more, but he will never again have to wonder what it feels like to bowl in a test.

Not many are able to let go of that feeling after only 21 years and 291 days, and still fewer in just their 10th first-class match.

But not many are Ngidi, whose second name is True-man.

Who is the 99th man to be awarded a test cap by South Africa since readmission.

Whose parents are domestic workers.

Who earned his bursaries the hard way.

Who has beaten stymieing injuries to be where he is.

Who was halted, politely, on his way to his press conference on Sunday by an old, proud woman, a stalwart of being black in this country, who wanted — and was warmly given — a hug.

Because being Lungi Ngidi means you have a lot to think about, and even more to smile about.