Look who’s back … Dale Steyn in Titans squad

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THE Titans on Tuesday named a decent 13 for their T20 game against the Knights in Kimberley on Wednesday, which is no surprise in a dressingroom bursting with talents the size of AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram and Lungi Ngidi.

But the second-last name on the squad list will grab the most attention. There, hiding in plain sight, were two words many South Africans have been waiting to see on a team sheet for more than a year.

One of those words was Dale. The other was Steyn.

The last Steyn’s compatriots saw of him in action was in November last year when he left the WACA in Perth in clear discomfort after bowling 12.4 overs in the first test against Australia. He had broken a bone in his shoulder and seriously injured three major muscles.

With that Steyn’s march towards the five test wickets he needs to break Shaun Pollock’s record of 421 for South Africa was put under doctors’ orders to mark time.

That time has been marked. After surgery to insert a pin and months, weeks, days and hours of rehab, Steyn is finally ready to put his best foot forward again.

If all goes well it’s difficult to imagine him not reeling in Pollock’s total this summer, and that against the illustrious Indians and Australians.

But Steyn will be the Knights’ problem on Wednesday — he will play, surely — and that means he will be Nicky Boje’s problem. Whatever might the Knights coach tell his batsmen?

“What you tell them is you play the ball; you don’t tell them to play the person,” Boje told Times Media Digital on Tuesday.

“Dale hasn’t played for a while. So he might be on song or he might not be.”

Kimberley as a comeback venue for a star fast bowler only adds to the story. The pitch is as flat as they come, and the short straight boundaries mean batsmen get away with errors more often than bowlers.

What was Boje’s advice for Steyn?

“You’ve got to stay ahead of the game,” he said. “If you commit to bowling a yorker or the bouncer you must execute it.”

Steyn, 34 and with 510 matches of all descriptions — in which he has bowled 38 758 deliveries of all descriptions — to his name since he made his first-class debut in October 2003 will know that only too well.

He will also know that nothing means more than delivery No. 38 759.

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Even the weather plays ball on successful T20 opening weekend

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SAREL Erwee’s century grabbed headlines in the first round of franchise T20 matches at the weekend, but what will stick in the memory is AB de Villiers hammering no less than Kagiso Rabada for consecutive sixes to secure victory.

Almost forgotten, already, are the hard-hit half-centuries Theunis de Bruyn and David Miller scored to win the opening game of the competition.

And there’s more good news to follow this week in the shape of Dale Steyn’s return from a year out of action because of a shoulder injury.

All of which makes exactly the kind of impact organisers would have hoped for in an event that was born as a dowdy second prize after plans to play the inaugural T20 Global League collapsed last month.

Even the weather played ball with a Highveld thunderstorm serving as a spectacular halftime show, and not getting in the way of the cricket too much, in a double-header in Centurion on Sunday.

Opener Erwee’s undefeated 103 off 58 balls and Khaya Zondo’s 67 not out — and their stand of 136 — guided the Dolphins to a tournament record total of 231/2 in the first game.

The Cobras couldn’t stop the bleeding despite their attack harbouring internationals Vernon Philander, Dane Paterson, Rory Kleinveldt and JP Duminy — who all went for more than 10 runs an over.

Hashim Amla, who saw the Cobras shamble to 20/3 inside four overs of their reply, scored a stylish 52 not out.

But that wasn’t enough to get his team to their revised target of 124 from 10 overs, and the Dolphins won by 15 runs.

De Villiers sent what became the last two balls of the Titans’ game against the Lions, which was reduced to 15 overs-a-side, arching into the still sparking night sky to seal an eight-wicket win.

One of those blows was delivered with a knee on the ground, a pose that would be suitable for the statue of De Villiers that will surely grace Centurion once De Villiers has retired.

All Rabada could do was crack a wry smile and nod his appreciation for a superb display of hitting by De Villiers, whose 50 not out flew off 19 balls, and Albie Morkel, who made his unbeaten 41 off 16 deliveries. Sixty of the 85 runs they shared were scored in sixes.

Reeza Hendricks’ 67 not out for the Lions looked pedestrian by comparison, but it had to be: opener Hendricks’ side lost their first two wickets before they had scored a single run.

That was also Morkel’s doing. He dismissed Rassie van der Dussen and Mangaliso Mosehle in the first four balls of the match and finished with 3/12.

It was all quite different from Friday’s events at St George’s Park, where the Knights needed their steeds to break into barely a canter to race past the Warriors by eight wickets.

The home side crashed to 69/5 before recovering to 153/9 with the help of Christiaan Jonker’s 61.

But De Bruyn and Miller made light of all that with an unbroken stand of 142 to clinch victory with a dozen balls to spare.

De Bruyn’s 78 not out came off 48 balls and featured three fours and six sixes.

Miller hit his unbeaten 62 off 47 balls with seven fours and three sixes.

The Knights might have a tougher job on their hands in Kimberley on Wednesday, when Steyn is expected to be part of the Titans XI.

Leading Edge: Why the Ashes still matters. Or does it? 

Folks the world over care deeply about a series in the fuddiest, duddiest format contested by the unsexiest teams imaginable.

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

EIGHTY million, nine hundred thousand. That’s more people than live in Mzansi and greater than the combined populations of Australia and England.

It’s the number of results returned when you type two seemingly ordinary words into your friendly neighbourhood search engine: The Ashes.

Clearly, cricketminded folks the world over care deeply about a series in the fuddiest, duddiest format contested by the unsexiest teams imaginable.

They will likely tell you that they and their forebears have been caring since 1882 and for 336 tests. They would be wrong: English and Australian women have contested the Ashes since 1998, but you won’t find those matches counted among the 336.

There’s a women’s Ashes on the go as we speak, but an outrageously disproportionate amount of the coverage on the most important platforms in cricket media deals instead with what might happen when the equivalent men’s sides clash at the Gabba in Brisbane in 11 days’ time.

Cricket’s unthinking cling to tradition explains some of that. The rest is misogyny, which often hides in adherence to tradition.

Those looking to keep up with events in the Ashes, you would have thought if you clicked many links this week, were expected to be exponentially more interested on the state of the ankle that a mediocre English seamer called Jake Ball twisted in a dreary tour match in Adelaide than anything that happened at the SCG — where Australia and England were playing the first ever day/night women’s test.

Some day, centuries from this benighted age, people will wonder how sports like cricket survived and prospered so successfully for so long despite their ignorance and arrogance.

But, for now, we are left to wonder why the Ashes matters to so many whose lives it will never touch.

The protagonists are ranked third and fifth, but the series does involve three of the game’s top five batsmen — Steve Smith, Joe Root and David Warner — and its No. 1 bowler, James Anderson.

And rather than all that orthodoxy, Warner excepted, wouldn’t you rather watch the magnificent madness of AB de Villiers? Or Virat Kohli’s ambition, which towers in reverse proportion to the man himself?

Or the improbably successful Rangana Herath, boep and all? Or, particularly in Asia, Ravichandran Ashwin and his fiery eyes demand, and claim, wickets?

Take the fake patriotism out of the equation and those are not difficult questions. Each to their own, of course, but the truth is the Ashes has become a behemoth because it is the product of first-world economies spending enough money on the series to make much more, many times over, in return.

And what you can sell to Poms and Aussies — the parents of test cricket, let’s not forget — you can sell to anyone who knows how to pick up a bat. Especially in places like Mzansi, where the pale, male ranks of our cricketminded folks have always taken their example from other pale males. Like Poms and Aussies.

But here’s an indicator of unstoppable change: the 2015 World Cup match between India and Pakistan was watched by 1-billion people. That’s not even how many live in India.

Remember cricket? It’s back.

The franchise T20 competition brings with it hope that South Africans can again watch, first-hand, cricket that matters — a statement sodden with irony but no less true for that.

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

REMEMBER cricket in this country? Meaningful, relevant cricket that is. The last evidence of the stuff was on October 12, 2016, the day South Africa completed a 5-0 thrashing of Australia in a one-day series.

Unless you count the two games Sri Lanka won in January to clinch a T20 rubber.

That’s not to disregard what South Africa have achieved at home in the past 14 months: played 25, won 23.

Their opponents haven’t been the best for the most part but there’s little South Africa could do about that besides beat them properly, which they’ve done.

Not that that helps the rest of us stay interested. Happily, then, the drought of meaningfulness and relevance ends at St George’s Park at 6pm on Friday*.

The franchise T20 competition brings with it hope that South Africans can again watch, first-hand, cricket that matters — a statement sodden with irony but no less true for that.

How will just another domestic competition fill the void left by the stillborn T20 Global League (T20GL)?

By bringing together the long separated worlds of domestic and international cricket. AB de Villiers, for instance, has played 232 T20s of all descriptions and for a range teams. But only 17 of them have been for the Titans, who haven’t had in their dugout in this format since August 2013.

There are several more where De Villiers comes from, and they are all worth watching.

What about the bad blood that is simmering between bumbling Cricket South Africa and the 144 players contracted for the T20GL?

After three weeks of negotiations the board and Tony Irish, chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations and the South African Cricketers’ Association, decided on Thursday to opt for mediation.

The players, then, are well-represented and are likely to get at least some of what was promised them. Besides, they weren’t skint to begin with.

Since when has any T20 cricket mattered?

Since now, with the arrival of a tournament that has kept the wheat of quality players like South Africa’s national stars and discarded the chaff of the international brigade of T20 mercenaries — who are interested in little more than how much they will be paid.

Chris Gayle, who was to have played in the T20GL, is accused No. 1 among them. Not satisfied with, on Monday, winning his defamation case against an Australian newspaper group — which claimed he had exposed himself to a masseuse and propositioned her — Gayle on Friday put up for sale his side of what, he wrote on social media, “transpired in court and behind the scenes”.

The bidding for his tale, Gayle wrote, would begin at US$420 000.

Has the man no shame? Did he learn nothing from the furore that erupted in January last year after he put the moves on a reporter who was interviewing him live on television, ending his slimy pitch with a pathetic, “Don’t blush, baby.”?

Clearly not, and the franchise T20 tournament is much the better off the fewer ill-mannered, entitled oafs it harbours. Whether they are able to hit a cricket ball a long way is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that players who pull on a shirt on Friday and until the final on December 16 understand that they are part of real teams with real followings.

And that they are central to the happy accident that has come about because of the upending of the arrogance and greed of the few who thought a T20 extravaganza that would have been all but identical to those in other countries, was what South Africans deserved.

They deserve better, and they’ve got it. It starts at St George’s Park at 6pm on Friday*.

* This piece was published on November 10 before the tournament started.

Franchise T20 scriptwriters get it right

You couldn’t buy this kind of pre-publicity no matter how much marketing money you threw at an event that, normally, is tacked on at the burnt out end of South Africa’s summer.

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

WHOEVER writes the scripts for the franchise T20 tournament knows what they’re doing.

A full slate, for the duration, of players who are rarely seen at this level …

A contingent of Kolpak heroes or villains — you choose — to add spice to the mix …

A kerfuffle over a different competition that hasn’t happened and perhaps never will …

A sponsor swooping where others might fear to tread …

And we haven’t seen a ball bowled yet. We will, weather permitting, when the Warriors host the Knights under St George’s Park’s ridiculously effective new lights on Friday.

You couldn’t buy this kind of pre-publicity no matter how much marketing money you threw at an event that, normally, is tacked on at the burnt out end of South Africa’s summer.

This time, those embarrassing television ads that sell cricket as an activity commonly found at rock concerts or, worse, as war, have been sideswiped by real news — and that translates into exponentially more interest.

Friday’s match pits a side who have no current national players against a team who bristle with David Miller, Theunis de Bruyn and Marchant de Lange.

The Knights’ De Lange is, of course, among the Kolpak kids, as are the Warriors’ Colins — Ingram and Ackermann — and Simon Harmer.

Kyle Abbott might have been an interesting part of that equation. Instead he is in Bangladesh, where he is playing for the Khulna Titans to help pay for his groceries.

All except Ackermann wore South Africa’s colours once upon a time, which is a compelling sub-plot on its own.

The Knights’ Miller, fresh from smashing the fast T20 international century off 35 balls, will hog more than his share of the spotlight. He will know that the Warriors attack is better than the Bangladeshis he smote to all parts in Potch last month.

On Sunday, in a double-header in Centurion, the Cobras taking on the Dolphins will precede the Titans playing the Lions.

Or, if you like, the Cobras’ Richard Levi and Stiaan van Zyl will see how how far they can hit the bowling of the Cobras’ Andile Phehlukwayo and Imran Tahir before AB de Villiers does a dazzling dance at the crease for the Titans.

Not that the Lions are going to allow De Villiers to foxtrot as he sees fit.

“We are very ready to head into the shortest format of the game,” Lions captain Aaron Phangiso was quoted as saying in a release on Thursday.

“My team is hungry and having the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Dwaine Pretorius and Bjorn Fortuin in your bowling arsenal is a dream for any captain.

“Add to that the batting skills of Rassie van der Dussen, Mangaliso Mosehle and we have everything we need to challenge our opponents for the silverware.”

It’s the kind of thing a skipper will say before a game, but even so there’s no arguing with him.

Just as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the truth that a tournament of undiluted integrity — that is, not involving the overpaid, overblown, over-the-hill likes of Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen, who had been signed for the stillborn T20 Global League— makes for a more compelling script.

Domestic T20 ‘perfect’ for sponsors

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THE T20 Challenge is not nearly as big a deal as the aborted T20 Global League (T20GL) it will replace was promised to be, but for the sponsors it’s “perfect”.

Ram, the courier company who returned as the Challenge’s title backers on Tuesday having withdrawn their support last September, focus their business on South Africa.

So their interest in remaining a sponsor waned when they learnt that the T20GL, which was to have started on November 3 and would have overshadowed the Challenge, would be targetted at a foreign audience. It would also have been more expensive.

“We were told the new format would be an international event and would warrant more sponsorship and more money and we couldn’t afford it,” David Lazarus, Ram Hand-to-Hand Couriers’ executive chair, told Times Media Digital.

“As a domestic tournament it’s perfect for us.”

And a domestic tournament is what the Challenge, which starts on Friday, will be in the wake of the T20GL being halted in its tracks after, Cricket South Africa (CSA) say, they realised that it would haemorrhage US$25-million in losses.

In fact Lazarus will get more bang for his buck this time than in the four other seasons his company put their logo on the tournament because, unlike in previous editions, it will feature a full complement of South Africa’s national players.

When Ram pulled out last year Times Media Digital asked Lazarus whether the company had done so because their name was being dragged, through no fault of their own, through the mud that had gathered around the fixing scandal that afflicted the 2015-16 Challenge.

“The costs just did not warrant the investment,” Lazarus said via email at the time. “The issues around the past series were dealt with efficiently by CSA.”

Seven players, among them test caps Thami Tsolekile, Alviro Petersen and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, were banned for between two and 20 years for their involvement — although CSA have said no fixing took place.

A year on, Lazarus remains satisfied that the issue was handled properly: “They hired the best legal counsel and sanctions were handed out. I do not wish to be part of anything illegal.”

Similarly, Ram have not been dissuaded from lending their name and their money to a CSA board that did failed to see soon enough that the T20GL was, as they suggest, veering off the rails and are now struggling to control the fallout  from what they say is the tournament’s postponement.

“They’ve been transparent and I believe it’s a good opportunity to promote the brand,” Lazarus said.

Knights should brace for Steyn return

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

REEZA Hendricks, Mangaliso Mosehle and any other batsmen in the visitors’ dugout in Centurion on Sunday can rest assured — they won’t be Dale Steyn’s guinea pigs.

The Titans will host the Lions in the first round of the T20 Challenge on Sunday, which on its own shouldn’t grab big headlines.

But it will because it could mark Steyn’s return from more than a year on the sidelines with a serious shoulder injury. Except that it won’t.

“I’m joining the Titans but I’ll have a couple of days in the nets first with the guys,” Steyn said. “I’ll play the second game in Kimberley for my comeback.”

That means the focus shifts to next Wednesday, when the guinea pigs will be David Miller, Theunis de Bruyn and whoever else the Knights see fit to toss into the fray.

Kimberley’s flat pitch and short straight boundaries will tilt the balance away from Steyn, but not by much.

Likewise, the fact that Steyn won’t be able to let fly for more than four overs isn’t much of a blessing for the batsmen.

He has taken four wickets in an innings four times in his 176 T20s, and he claimedhis career-best of 4/9 against West Indies on another flat pitch: St George’s Park.

Only nine times in the 631 T20 internationals yet played has a bowler claimed as many or more wickets for fewer runs.

Steyn’s success on that mad day/night in Port Elizabeth was achieved was with the help of prodigious swing and the Windies’ lack of focus in a game in which they chased only 59.

It was also almost 10 years ago; a time when Steyn seemed impervious to the kinds of injuries that have struck him in recent seasons.

But what hasn’t changed is that he is still Dale Steyn, and that will count for a lot in Kimberley next Wednesday.