T20 semis ask big questions

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

DOES Malibongwe Maketa have one or two games left as the Warriors’ coach? And what’s the weather doing in Durban?

The T20 semi-finals, between the Titans and the Warriors in Centurion on Wednesday and the Dolphins and the Cobras at Kingsmead on Thursday, throw up some intriguing questions.

But here’s one that has already been answered: AB de Villiers is part of the squad the Titans named on Tuesday.

That might seem obvious considering who we’re dealing with, but De Villiers did not feature in the games against the Cobras at Newlands on Friday and the Dolphins at Kingsmead on Sunday.

And the Titans lost both to record their only defeats in 10 matches in the competition this season.

The other side of that equation is that the Centurion side reeled off six wins in their first eight games — the remaining two were washed out — and so were assured of a home semi before the last two league rounds.

That showed in their selection of what amounted to a B side at Kingsmead on Sunday, when they were sent packing for 79 and lost by 89 runs.

Which has caused unhappiness in the Cobras’ camp because the bonus point the Dolphins earned on Sunday put them ahead of the Capetonians by a single point and thereby denied the latter the right to play their semi at home.

As for Maketa, the Warriors coach, he will take his leave of the team after the tournament to assume a new role as Ottis Gibson’s assistant with South Africa.

That could add to the pressure on the Warriors to win on Wednesday or inspire them to keep their popular coach around for a few more days and one more game. Or both.

If you’re among Durban’s cricketminded folks you probably have a crick in your neck from gazing skywards too much in the past few weeks.

All but one of the Dolphins’ five matches at Kingsmead have been washed out, and they suffered a fifth weather bomb against the Titans in Benoni.

But all that rain likely helped them not slip to defeat more often than they might have.

Like the Titans they were downed only twice to finish second in the standings even though they won only four games — fewer than the Cobras and the Warriors.

And, yes, rain has been forecast for Thursday. As well as for Tuesday and Wednesday …

Should Thursday’s game not reach a conclusion the Dolphins will advance to Saturday’s final by future of their log position.

There would be something poetic about that, should it come to pass.

For KwaZulu-Natalians, at least.

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Zim axe Williams, India scrap tour match

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

ALLROUNDER Sean Williams has been left out of Zimbabwe’s squad for the four-day test against South Africa at St George’s Park this month.

The nuggety left-arm spinner and gritty middle order batsman missed Zimbabwe’s last test, against West Indies in Bulawayo at the end of October, through illness.

But he has since regained fitness and has taken seven wickets in his last two first-class matches and scored 96 in his most recent innings.

Williams’ skills wouldn’t go amiss on Port Elizabeth’s surface even though leg spinner Graeme Cremer is Zimbabwe’s premier slow bowler.

Perhaps the selectors decided they could do without Williams on the strength of batsman Sikandar Raza taking 5/99 in the first innings against the Windies. Raza scored 80 and 89 in the same match.

Batsman Malcolm Waller, fast bowler Michael Chinouya and wicketkeeper Nyasha Mayovo were also left out.

The squad of 15 includes uncapped fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani — only 21 and with five first-class caps to his credit — and left-handed batsman Ryan Burl, who has played nine one-day internationals but no tests.

“While Malcolm Waller needs time to regain his test form, the other changes have been necessitated by our desire to give youngsters Blessing Muzarabani and Ryan Burl a chance,” a Zimbabwe Cricket spokesperson told TMG Digital.

“Nyasha Mayavo was left out because we will be travelling to South Africa with 15 players, not the 16 we had at home to the Windies.”

Aside from being the first test scheduled for four days since five-day matches became the norm in the format, the game, which starts on December 26, will be Zimbabwe’s first day/night test.

The match could be a useful part of South Africa’s preparations for their next opponents this summer, India.

But questions will be asked about the likely readiness of Virat Kohli’s team for South African conditions in the wake of them scrapping a scheduled two-day tour match ahead of the first test at Newlands on January 5.

The decision is made stranger still by Kohli’s complaining last month that “ … unfortunately we get only two days before we fly to South Africa after this series [against Sri Lanka] gets over.

“So we have no choice but try to be in a game situation and think of what’s coming ahead of us.

“Had we got a month off ideally we would have done a proper preparation in a camp sort of scenario but we have to sort of make do with what we have.”

Word from the subcontinent is that the Indians think they could do a better job acclimatising to the conditions by simulating match conditions rather than playing an actual match.

Not for the first time, the way India prefer to do things doesn’t make sense.

Zimbabwe test squad: Graeme Cremer (captain), Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine, Brendan Taylor, Chamu Chibhabha, Regis Chakabva, Sikandar Raza, Ryan Burl, Tendai Chatara, Blessing Muzarabani, Tendai Chisoro, Peter Moor, Solomon Mire, Kyle Jarvis, Chris Mpofu.

Accidental tourist: Pastéis will never be the same

A pastéis rested in my hand, heavy with promise. Perky pastry covered like lingerie what lay within, waiting.

Sunday Times Lifestyle

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

The queue to No. 84 Rua de Belém loomed as long as the ooze of a Lisbon summer’s day into evening and was as thick as custard with tourists and locals alike.

All squinted and sweated in the 30-whatever-degree heat. None complained, not with our minds’ eyes on this particular prize.

You could call Fábrica Pastéis de Belém — which is at No. 84 — a bakery. You could call the pastéis de nata they’ve been making, in ever increasing numbers but of utterly consistent quality since 1837, custard tarts.

You could also be stupid. Or, at best, tongue deaf.

Religious orders fell on hard times after the Liberal Revolution of 1820, and to raise funds pastéis de nata were baked by monks in the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and sold at a handily close sugar refinery. The monks were French, and thus knew only too well the wonder that was the custard tart. The Portuguese version was set apart by the addition of egg yolks that were left over after the whites had been used to starch nuns’ habits and the like.

In 1834 the mosteiro was shuttered and the inmates driven out. Happily, the secret recipe survived because those mercenary monks sold it to the sugar refinery, who established the fábrica, and the fruits of all that history awaited us at the end of this damn queue.

It moved quickly in random squirts, and 12 minutes after we joined the line we had, in our hot little hands, a box in which nestled four of the gooey gorgeousnesses.

Others scoffed theirs in the unspeakable squalor of a neighbouring Starbucks. We, of course, did not. Instead, we walked purposefully to the Jardim Vasco da Gama and settled under an olive tree.

With a sprinkling of cinnamon and a dusting of icing sugar, we were good to go. Which was when a blasphemous blip hit at least one of us: would they live up to the hype?

A pastéis rested in my hand, heavy with promise. Perky pastry covered like lingerie what lay within, waiting. Partly covered, that is. From the centre peeped a circle, concave like a sacral dimple, of yellow freckled with black.

The whole quivered in anticipation. Or was that my hand? Either way, there was no slip twixt pastéis and lip. And teeth … And tongue … And mouth …

And?

Comes a point in these things when you want to leave the rest of the thinking to Lester Bangs or Hunter S. Thompson or Rian Malan and soak up, wordlessly, the bliss of it all. But Bangs and Thompson are dead, and if Malan is alive he has far more existentially important stuff to agonise over than the quality of a pastéis de nata. Even if the pastéis de nata concerned is the original and the finest yet baked on God’s earth. Sorry, Mr Malan — the finest yet baked on this cursed, crisis-crippled excuse for a planet that doesn’t deserve the benevolent attentions of any self-respecting god. My traitor’s tart, indeed.

Yes, it was that good. Good enough to make you want to sue other bakeries on Fábrica Pastéis de Belém’s behalf for passing their stodgy, sickly sweet offerings off as something that deserve to be called pastéis de nata.

A cloud perfectly balanced between sweetness, richness and molten irresistibility filled my mouth. It was like eating satisfaction itself.

Thing is, there are at best two decent bites to be had from a pastéis. Too soon, it was over.

Thoughts of re-joining the queue were quelled by the fact that we had to get the metro back to Alfama in the city centre for an already booked and paid for fado show.

We walked to the station with the angelic alchemy of egg yolks, sugar and milk still aswirl in our senses. Nothing could ever be the same.

Leading Edge: SA’s complicated relationship with India

Kohli makes an easy and obvious lightning rod for the reality that India have colonised the modern game.

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

AGAINST England it’s the legacy of colonialism and the importance of being better than those who taught you the game.

Against Australia it’s the ongoing arrogance and the sure-fire truth that beating — or trying to beat — a bloody good team is always going to raise emotional temperatures far beyond the boundary.

Against India it’s complicated.

South Africans’ ire is raised when their team’s opponents are India in ways different from when the poms or the Aussies are in the other dressingroom.

Or anyone else.

Pakistan have been better entertainers than India over the years, and they continue to be popular and respected as explosive players who struggle to perform as a team consistently.

New Zealand’s cricketers are clever little okes who are, mercifully, a long way off the pace set by their rugby siblings.

Sri Lankans are good natured but lack confidence away, just like Bangladesh.

West Indies and Zimbabwe? Hopeless as teams, wonderful as people.

None of the above applies to the Indians, particularly to the current generation of players.

Sachin Tendulkar remains as revered in South Africa as he is anywhere else that isn’t India.

The same cannot be said of Virat Kohli, who is respected as a captain, admired as a batsman, and despised as an annoying, entitled brat.

Kohli does himself no favours when he falls victim to an almost cartoon haughtiness, which is most often seen at his media conferences. Then again, who wouldn’t lose their rag having to deal, regularly, with too many Indian reporters — and there are always too many — who’s idea of a question is to quote a string of your stats at you and then ask what your girlfriend had for breakfast and with whom.

We do not see or hear from Kohli when he is not putting up with such silliness, and so we don’t know if he is indeed the annoying, entitled brat he appears to be.

But that would seem the widely held view of India’s captain among South Africans.

That’s at least because Kohli makes an easy and obvious lightning rod for the reaction in countries like ours — where cricket is neither a religion nor outrageously profitable — to the bigger reality that India have colonised the modern game.

They have done so through the alchemy of exactly those factors in their society: the religion and profitability of cricket.

The Indian Premier League involves, largely, a bunch of mediocre cricketers playing on ramshackle grounds. It is saved from being a joke by a sprinkling of world class talents, made mercenaries at great expense, and a massive media presence.

As a test team, India have made a mockery of the rankings by all but refusing to play outside of Asia. How is that not cheating? Accepting India as the world’s best side is like accepting that fish are the height of evolution. Water? What’s that got to do with anything?

Money is the problem, of course. The Board of Control for Cricket in India have, thanks to all that religion and all that profit, been able to make too much of the stuff for everyone else’s good.

But before we paint India’s suits as the great Satan in all this, be assured that any other sorry slew of suits, South Africa’s included, would have been as greedy had they the chance. It’s the nature of the beast.

Not that those are the only complications of our relationship with India. South Africans of Indian descent were both victims and, on the black side of that brutal equation, beneficiaries of apartheid. So it’s not stretching the point to wonder whether the arrival of India’s team in our midst doesn’t bring residual racism and prejudice to the surface.

Particularly a confident Indian team, No. 1 in the world if you believe that gumph, who are stridently led and backed by a bumptious board.

Seen in certain lights, they make British colonialists look like democracy-touting philanthropists and turn Australians into self-effacing Kumbaya singers.

The Indians? It’s complicated.

Will India’s quicks be up to scratch in SA?

“Whether those guys can actually stand up and deliver, time and time again, is going to be a big ask for them.” – Dale Steyn

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

INJURY relegated Dale Steyn from the leader of South Africa’s attack to a spectator for most of the first test he played against India, and he kept a keen eye.

“Our bowlers are a lot more experienced now and if we play on a similar wicket I don’t give India much of a chance,” he said.

It was December 2006 on an all-swinging, all-seaming Wanderers pitch, and India found a way to beat South Africa by 123 runs well inside four days.

Ashwell Prince’s five-and-a-half hour, 223-ball 97, one of only three scores bigger than 50, was the closest anyone got to a century.

The way the Indians found went through the slinging right arm of a mad-haired fast bowler who had come to cricket from breakdancing and would be drummed out of the game as a matchfixer: Shanthakumaran Sreesanth took match figures of 8/99 and smashed Andre Nel over his head for six. The visitors’ other proper quick also wasn’t half bad: Zaheer Khan claimed 5/111.

They earned India their first win in the 10 tests they had played in South Africa. Eleven years and seven matches later   they have added only one more success — at Kingsmead in December 2010, when Zaheer and Harbhajan Singh took a half-dozen wickets each and Sreesanth grabbed four.

No-one needs reminding that fast bowling rules in South Africa. Steyn did so anyway with a shot across the bows of the Indian squad who will be here in the new year.

“India being one of those places where spin dominates, they tend to turn to their spinners all the time,” he said.

“Here, they’re going to have to turn to their seamers. It’s the guys who consistently put the ball in the right area who are going to ask questions the whole time.

“Whether those guys can actually stand up and deliver, time and time again, is going to be a big ask for them.”

This time “those guys” are no-one of Zaheer’s quality nor Sreesanth’s chutzpah. Instead they are Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah along with allrounder Hardik Pandya.

Between them they have played 164 tests, 99 of them in the subcontinent. Only Ishant and Shami have earned test caps in South Africa, where they average 54.16 and 43.83.

What were Steyn’s thoughts on that little lot?

“I think ‘Bhuvi’ is the one guy who can land the ball consistently in an area,” he said.

“In South Africa you can be all over the place and then bowl one good ball and get a wicket, but I think our batsmen are good enough to combat that whereas I don’t think their batsmen have been put under consistent pressure, especially of late.

“Our seam attack consistently puts guys under pressure. I don’t think India have been put under pressure for long enough, so they might struggle.”

India have played 27 of their last 31 tests in Asia, and the other four on the similar surfaces of the Caribbean.

Not since January 2015 have they seen a faster pitch, in Sydney, and the last time they won on a genuinely away pitch was at Lord’s in July 2014.

All of which are a long way from Newlands, where the series starts on January 5, and even further from Centurion and the Wanderers, where it is set to end on January 28

“The idea is to prepare pitches naturally but to give South Africa every advantage,” one groundsman said this week.

India, you have been warned.

Steyn, happy as the day is long, keeps eyes on two prizes

“You still feel like you’re part of a team but I’m sitting on my couch sending messages saying well done or hard luck.” – Dale Steyn

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

A familiar voice bubbled, burbled and just plain boomed out of the wide open windows of the bustling players’ enclosure at an otherwise all but empty Newlands on Thursday.

The sound was of enthusiasm itself, and it skipped across the outfield like a stone across a pond and might have leapt Table Mountain itself.

Whoever that man was, he was as happy as the sun was high in the blindingly blue early afternoon sky.

That man was Dale Steyn.

“I kind of forgot what it was like to be with the guys,” Steyn told TMG Digital as he stood in a welcome pool of shade after clattering down the stairs in his spikes, kitbag on his back, sunblock everywhere.

“Last night we had a Titans team thing. Everyone was at ‘Forries’ [Foresters Arms, a beloved old school Newlands pub] and then we had dinner and went out and had one or two drinks and enjoyed each other’s company.

“Which was different, because for a year I’ve been sitting around watching guys on TV.

“You still feel like you’re part of a team but I’m sitting on my couch sending messages saying well done or hard luck.

“Now I’m here and we’re talking, sometimes about the guys’ personal lives, and you don’t get that when you’re on the couch in the evening watching cricket.

“And the next morning I go train by myself …”

Steyn is selling himself short. Far from “sitting on my couch” he’s been battling his way back from the broken shoulder and ripped muscles he suffered while bowling against Australia at the WACA in Perth last November.

Four T20s into his comeback, “I’m fine. I’ve just got to play — just more games, more games. That’s what’s going to help.

“I can train as much as possible but gametime is going to be the most important thing for me right now.

“But you can only play one game at a time and T20 is the best I can do right now.”

Steyn will pull on his whites for the first time since that awful day in Perth in Paarl on December 20, when he will be part of a South Africa Invitation XI squad for a three-day match against Zimbabwe.

“Hopefully, if I get through there fine, I can’t see any reason why I can’t play the test match — obviously selection permitting. But my body will be fine.”

That’s the Boxing Day test against Zimbabwe at St George’s Park, a four-day, day/night, pink-ball affair.

But Steyn, juicily human as he is, sounded a touch torn between setting playing in that match as his goal and helping the Titans, the dominant T20 franchise, shoot for the stars.

“Coming into this I thought I’d play a couple of games and prepare myself to play for the Proteas,” he said. “But now I’m in it.

“There’s a semi-final coming up [next Wednesday or Thursday] and I want to play. Whether I can play is another story with the three-day game coming up. And then there could be a final [next Saturday].

“‘Bouch’ [Titans coach Mark Boucher] might be, like, ‘Where do you want to be?’.

“But I’m genuinely in it to hopefully go through and win it. I feel like I want to be put under pressure, and I feel like the Cobras are the one line-up who can do that from a batting perspective.

“But the Knights seem like they’re up for the fight — they were keen to come at us and to come at me.”

Again, Steyn was being hard on himself. In his first two overs at St George’s Park on Sunday he trapped the Knights’ Rudi Second in front with his first delivery and had Keegan Petersen caught behind with his third for spell figures of 2/4.

Steyn strayed once down leg and once outside off in the 12th over, and Ryan McLaren took advantage both times to hit the only boundaries in a return of 4-0-20-2.

But, when you’re as brimming with the joy of being alive and well as the newly repaired Steyn plainly is, all you can see is the next step forward.

And with that he took that step: out of the shade and into the blazing sun to join his teammates for what promised to be a brutal training session ahead of the Titans’ encounter with the Cobras on Friday.

The sunlight lit his face as he skipped over the boundary, but not as brightly as his smile.

Traditionalists will see red, but pink ball is set to stay

“There are subtle differences but it’s not a completely different format of the game.” – Stephen Cook

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

WITH Zimbabwe set to join the day/night test club against South Africa at St George’s Park on December 26, how long before pink balls outnumber red in proper cricket?

A long time yet, hopes Stephen Cook.

“It’s good that we’re playing [a day/night test in South Africa] because we’re staying up with the curve and being proactive rather than falling behind,” the opening batsman said on Wednesday.

“But it should be an every-now-and-then test match — one in the summer. Then it can keep being special and different. “If you start playing too much of it I think it will lose its sparkle quickly.”

That’s not to say Cook isn’t a fan of the pink ball. Why wouldn’t he be having seen and hit it well enough to score 104 in the third test against Australia at Adelaide Oval in November last year?

“These days not many people can sit through a whole day of test cricket,” Cook said.

“So if people can come after work and watch one or two sessions maybe we can grow the popularity.”

Australia and New Zealand contested the first day/night test in Adelaide in November 2015, and the Ashes test at the same venue that ended on Wednesday was the seventh.

None have been drawn, two have been decided inside three days, and four have gone to five days — three times in the last four day/nighters.

That progression wouldn’t surprise Cook, who said: “We went on an A tour [to Australia in August 2016] and I found it very difficult to pick up the ball.”

In four innings facing the pink ball on South Africa A’s visit, Cook eked out 58 runs in four innings. Two ended in ducks, the others in scored of five and 53.

“After that they changed the colour of the stitching [from green to black] and a couple of other details,” he said.

“By the time the test squad got to Australia we were playing with a ball that behaved more like the traditional one.

“I think, because of the research and development, the ball’s quality is getting better and better.

“It doesn’t get as soft and you can see it better. Yes, it swings. But not all the time like it did at first.

“At first I was very sceptical. But the more [pink-ball cricket] gets played and the more the same sort of results happen and no type of bowler or type of batsman has an unfair advantage, and if you’re good with the red ball you’ll probably be good with the pink ball, the more people are going to be open to it.

“The scenario of the new ball under the lights does affect the tactics. But it’s similar to bowling in the morning at Newlands, when it’s still damp and there’s cloud around. It’s just at a different time of the day.

“There are subtle differences but it’s not a completely different format of the game. But the fact that the ball has come a long way has made a big difference.

“When it had a green seam, if you bowled any sort of decent leg spin it was next to impossible to pick up which way the ball was turning.”

Dilip Jajodia, who owns the company that produces balls used in major matches in England, said in a video interview with the website of London’s Evening Standard newspaper in August that the concept was not the finished article.

“There’s not enough [pink-ball] cricket being played around the world to make large quantities to be able to fine tune it,” Jajodia said. “We’re still sort of developing on the hoof.”

Pink and orange, he said, were good options.

“We have tried yellow. When the ball goes up in the air, under lights, it’s very good.

“But when the … pitch is a grey, slightly beige colour, the yellow doesn’t stand out enough.”

Traditionalists who brand Jajodia as Frankenstein bent on creating monsters in many colours, they should know that a smartly knotted tie hung around his neck as he spoke.

It was a Marylebone Cricket Club member’s tie.