Times Media: Du Plessis says he is default No. 4

TELFORD VICE 

Faf du Plessis is under no illusion why he will inherit Jacques Kallis’ No. 4 spot in SA’s batting line-up in next month’s test series against Australia. 

His promotion, Du Plessis suggested yesterday, had less to do with technique, skill, or even good, old-fashioned talent and more to do with default.

“It was probably between me and JP (Duminy), but he’s settled at No. 6 and I’ve batted at No. 4 a lot in first-class cricket,” Du Plessis said.

“AB (de Villiers) was another possibility, but it’s too much to ask him to keep wicket and bat at No. 4.

“That doesn’t leave a lot of players to do the job. They are big shoes to step into, but I suppose it was inevitable.”

But Du Plessis’ modesty can’t hide the fact that he is already an experienced No. 4. He has batted there 43 times in his 143 first-class innings – more than in any of the other six places he has filled.

His average of 34.82 as a No. 4 is significantly lower than the 44.65 he has reached in 32 innings as a No. 5 as well as his mark of 55.29 in 20 trips to the crease at No. 6. However, in Du Plessis’ most recent innings at No. 4, in the first test against India at the Wanderers last month – when Kallis was moved to No. 5 to give him time to recover from bowling more overs than usual – he scored a fluent 134.

“Any top order batsman starts at six or seven in a test line-up and then earns his stripes and moves up the order,” Du Plessis said. “It helps that I’ve proved to myself that I can do it; it suits my style of batting. 

“My best innings for SA have come when I have had the opportunity to bat for long periods.”

The longest, so far, has been the almost eight hours Du Plessis spent defying the Australian attack on his debut in Adelaide in November to score an undefeated 110 and save the second test. It was an innings of many facets, but the biggest of them was composure. 

“I was talking to (SA coach) Russell (Domingo) about this and he said that’s my blueprint as a player – it looks like I’m in control,” Du Plessis said.

“It’s very important, when you’re batting at No. 3 or 4, not to look loose or as if you’re playing frantically. Hashim (Amla) is brilliant at doing that, and Jacques was, too.”

Du Plessis said he has had to build that quality into his game: “Two years ago, I would have said I was a more attacking player.”

What was it like batting at No. 4 at the highest level, compared to other positions?

“It’s wonderful,” Boeta Dippenaar, who did the job himself in five of his 62 test innings, said yesterday.

“Even if your team loses two wickets in the first hour, you’re probably still going to be batting against a ball around 15 overs old; so it’s not quite new. Also, you get a chance to assess the pitch and conditions properly before you bat.”

Dippenaar said Du Plessis was “the logical choice” to succeed Kallis. “Theoretically, No. 4 is the place for your best batsman. Our best batsman is AB, but he can’t bat at No. 4 if he is keeping wicket. 

“You also can’t drop Hashim down the order, not when he is batting at No. 3 and averaging more than 50, and JP hasn’t found his feet in test cricket as well as Faf has.”

Times Media: ICC meeting ends in calm before storm

TELFORD VICE

The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) board meeting in Dubai ended yesterday in the calm that will be swept away by the storm of its sequel.

Unless, of course, world cricket’s suits spend their time until the next meeting horse-trading themselves into a frenzy to get the most out of attempts to lobby their support for or against a restructuring proposal that, if passed, will change the game radically.

When will the ICC board gather again to vote on resolutions that would cement control of the game in the hands of India, England and Australia and with it a larger portion of the game’s revenue?

“There’s a date that’s still being talked about, but that’s still to be agreed,” was the closest ICC president  Alan Isaac came to committing himself at a press conference in Dubai yesterday.

That date, according to various sources, is February 8 – 10 days from today.

The press conference, a five-minute video version of which was posted on the ICC’s website, was the organisation’s only interaction with the media on the contentious proposals yesterday.

On Tuesday, the ICC claimed in a statement that there was “unanimous support for key principles”.

But, within a few hours, Cricket SA, Sri Lanka Cricket, the Pakistan Cricket Board and the Bangladesh Cricket Board had disputed that assertion, most of them saying they wanted the discussion deferred.

However, indications last night were that Bangladesh had switched allegiance after being assured that they would not be in danger of being relegated from test cricket. The original proposal called for the bottom two of the current 10 test-playing sides to be grouped in a competition called the Intercontinental Cup, along with six other non-test-playing sides. Bangladesh are ranked ninth.

If the Bangladeshis have crossed over, the camp in favour of the new deal would need just one more defection to secure the 75% majority vote required for the proposal to be accepted.

“There was no vote on the resolutions because the resolutions are still being discussed – the content of the resolutions and some of the detail behind them,” Isaac said.

“So that’s why we took an approach of not having a vote. In fact, there was nothing to vote on. But we thought it was important to make some progress around some principles.”

Among the decisions taken at the meeting was to cancel the World Test Championship (WTC), which was to have seen its inaugural edition in 2017, in favour of resurrecting the Champions Trophy, which had been scrapped after last year’s tournament.

It was left to ICC chief executive Dave Richardson, who had explained to an audience at a gala dinner in Abu Dhabi on October 12 why the WTC was a good idea despite the challenge of finding a viable format, to explain yesterday why the WTC was a bad idea.

“We were always struggling to find a format for the WTC that could be completed in a relatively short space of time, and that would not lead to more damage than good,” Richardson said.

“In the absence of having nothing in place, the WTC was quite good for cricket. However, if you look at it the way the board has looked at it now, we’ve got the rankings system which is becoming more and more prominent.

“More people are taking note of it and more teams are trying to end the year at No. 1 and earn the prizemoney that goes with that. There’s prestige in saying you’re the No. 1 (team) and the holder of the mace.”

Similarly, the Champions Trophy that was an unwanted child as recently as June was now the apple of the ICC’s eye. 

“At this point the Champions Trophy has proved a great event,” Richardson said. “It proved very popular among everybody last year, and it seemed like a sensible decision to change.”

Times Media: Du Plessis given hardest job in cricket

TELFORD VICE

The toughest assignment in cricket has been given to Faf du Plessis, who was anointed yesterday to fill the void left by the retired Jacques Kallis in SA’s batting order for next month’s test series against Australia.

“Faf is the guy we are ear-marking to bat at No. 4,” SA coach Russell Domingo said after the squad was announced. “He’s got a big hundred batting there against India to save a test and he’s scored runs for the Titans batting at No. 4 there.

“Jacques Kallis is probably the greatest player who’s ever played, but we’re not looking for another Jacques Kallis – we’re looking for another player to step up to the plate.”

Du Plessis did exactly that on his test debut in Adelaide in November, 2012, when he defied searing heat and an increasingly rabid Australian attack for almost eight hours to score a yeoman 110 not out that was all that stood between SA and defeat.

His 134 against India at the Wanderers last month put SA in a winning position. They settled for a controversial draw.

Between those two innings, Du Plessis passed 50 just twice in 10 innings. But, after 11 tests, he has marked himself out as the best man for the impossible job of stepping into Kallis’ massive boots.

“We always knew we were going to lose a great player,” selection convenor Andrew Hudson said. “We had to look at combinations and the balance of the side very carefully.”

Kallis’ role as SA’s premier allrounder will be inherited by either Ryan McLaren or Wayne Parnell, who are both in the squad.

“Wayne Parnell adds pace and the X-factor, Ryan McLaren adds consistency,” Domingo said.

Left-arm spinner Robin Peterson has been retained but not leg spinner Imran Tahir.

“We have not gone past Imran; he’s a wicket-taker on turning wickets,” Hudson said, adding that Peterson “fits in with the style of cricket we want to play”.

When the Proteas play in SA their spinner will be used primarily as a holding bowler rather than as an attacking option. Peterson, when in form, is that bowler.

Thami Tsolekile remains the reserve wicketkeeper, but it seems AB de Villiers has recovered from hand surgery.

There was no room for Quinton de Kock, who has taken international cricket by storm in the shorter formats.

“He’s a massively talented player, and the question has to be asked,” Domingo said. “But it’s a tough ask for a player to make his debut against Australia.

“He’s got a lot of development to do as a player and a person, and I don’t know if (blooding him against the Australians) would be doing him a disservice.”

Dean Elgar and Rory Kleinveldt are again the spare batsman and bowler respectively, a nod to consistency.

“The formula has worked; there is no need to make a left-field selection,” Hudson said.

Cobras fast bowler Beuran Hendricks and Warriors off-spinner Simon Harmer will help the squad prepare. “It will be nice to have an off-spinner and a left-armer to practice against,” Hudson said.

Part of that process, which starts on Monday, will be a game between what Domingo described as “probably a shadow test side” and a team drawn from the rest of the squad and available franchise players.

Unlike SA’s series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October, when the Proteas lost the first test having not played in the format for almost eight months, they have the chance to shake off what will be six weeks of inactivity as a group by the time the Australian rubber starts in Centurion on February 12.

SA are about to take their first steps into a reality they did not have to think about for the 18 years that Kallis was a test player.

“The team will have to go in a new direction,” Domingo said.

SA test squad: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile.

Times Media: Small 7 agree to pay big 3’s ransom. Or do they?

TELFORD VICE

Test cricket’s smaller seven countries, among them SA, apparently agreed yesterday to pay a large chunk of the ransom being demanded of them by the big three of India, England and Australia at the International Cricket Council (ICC) board meeting in Dubai.

That appeared to happen despite earlier indications that boards representing SA, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh opposed – or at least wanted deferred – a controversial proposal to restructure cricket that would give the haves almost all of the game’s money and power, and leave the have-nots with almost nothing by comparison.

To be accepted, the measures require the support of 75% of the 10 full members. That means the proposal would be defeated as soon as any three boards vote against it.

But, by the end of the day, the ICC put out a release claiming “unanimous support for key principles”. That would seem to approve, albeit only in principle, some of the most contentious aspects of the proposed changes.

However, other sources said the sharp end of the discussions had been postponed until next month’s board meeting. Indeed, powerful persuasion would have been needed to sway Cricket SA president Chris Nenzani from his stated view that the proposal was “fundamentally flawed as regards the process and, therefore, in breach of the ICC constitution”.

Top of the list of previously unacceptable measures which supposedly won support was the “recognition of the need for strong leadership of the ICC, involving leading members, which will involve BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) taking a central leadership responsibility”.

The ICC also reported the acceptance of a “need to recognise the varying contribution of full members to the value of ICC events through the payment of ‘contribution costs’” as well as the “establishment of an executive committee and financial and commercial affairs committee to provide leadership at an operational level, with five members, including BCCI, CA (Cricket Australia) and ECB (England Cricket Board) representatives”.

In short, cricket would in future be controlled by India, England and Australia, who would keep a larger share of the profits the game generates than currently. Their argument is that they generate most of the game’s revenue. India alone accounts for more than 70% of cricket’s global earnings.

The better news for the small seven is that the spectre of relegation from the ranks of test-playing countries, which was mooted in the original proposal, has vanished. Instead, “there will be an opportunity for all members to play all formats of cricket on merit”. There will be “no change to membership status”.

In addition, bilateral agreements made in terms of the future tours programme will be “legally binding and bankable”. For their next trick, the small seven will have to get the big three to agree to play against them.

“This is an important time for world cricket and it is extremely encouraging that the ICC board has unanimously supported a set of far-reaching principles that will underpin the long-term prosperity of the global game,” the release quoted ICC president Alan Isaac as saying.

“There is more work to be done by the members in developing their schedules of bilateral cricket while at the ICC we need to work through the detail of the manner in which these principles will be implemented.

“Extensive work will now be undertaken in advance of a follow-up board meeting next month.”

The current meeting ends today.

Times Media: SA selectors thinking revealed today

TELFORD VICE 

The first SA test squad to be named since Jacques Kallis’ retirement last month should deliver evidence of the selectors applying their minds more than they have had to do for much of the past 18 years.

The product of all that thinking will be unveiled at the Wanderers today when convenor Andrew Hudson announces the men who will take on Australia in three tests starting next month.

Who will bat at No. 4, Kallis’ old spot? Will Ryan McLaren or Wayne Parnell crack the nod for the vacant allrounder’s berth? Will Imran Tahir or Robin Peterson be the preferred spinner? Will Quinton de Kock be included, either as a batsman or as the reserve wicketkeeper, or will Thami Tsolekile still be in the mix? Will AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith make it back to full fitness in good time? Those are the key questions Hudson will answer today.

The whispers are that Faf du Plessis will be promoted to try and fill Kallis’ boots in the batting order, that both McLaren and Parnell will be in the squad but that only Parnell will make the XI, that Peterson will pip Tahir, and that De Kock will not feature but Tsolekile will.

Smith’s precautionary withdrawal from the Cobras’ T20 campaign with a tired, swollen ankle would appear to be just that – a preventative measure, what with the stress fracture he sustained last year and the surgery it took to repair the damage still fresh in the memory.

De Villiers, too, looks set to be cleared for take-off after his surgery on January 10. He is seeing a physiotherapist daily and has regained the full range of motion in his hand. 

Morne Morkel’s ankle has fully untwisted itself after he came a cropper during the first test against India last month and made what Smith called a “miracle” recovery to play in the second match.

Dale Steyn has proved his fitness by going fishing – he kissed at least one his catches on the gills in a photograph posted on social media – for much of the three weeks of “extended rest” he was given to recover from the rib fracture he sustained in the second test.

On Monday night, Steyn posted a photograph of himself, Smith and surfer Jordy Smith on a trail run. All four of the injured Proteas players have been training on an individual basis.

The squad will gather on Monday for their first group session since the Indian tour ended on December 30. Part of their preparation for what will be their toughest test since they clinched the No. 1 ranking in England in August, 2012 could be an as yet unconfirmed match next week against SA’s second string.

Most of the Australian players are due to arrive in Johannesburg this afternoon. The Aussies will, as they have on previous tours, base themselves in the distraction deprivation zone of Potchefstroom to prepare for the series.

They begin a three-day game against a SA Invitational XI in Potch next Wednesday.

The series starts in Centurion on February 12.

Times Media: Cricket sharpens knife for its own throat

TELFORD VICE

The most important meeting in cricket history starts today amid dire warnings that the game is preparing to cut its own throat.

If, at their board meeting in Dubai that ends tomorrow, the International Cricket Council (ICC) approves a proposal to restructure the game that first surfaced on at a working group meeting January 9, much of cricket’s money and power will be entrenched in the boards of just three of the ICC’s full members: India, England and Australia.

Every other country represented at the ICC, including SA, which is home to the best test team in the game, would be relegated to second-class status in terms of revenue and authority.

The BCCI generates more than 70% of cricket’s revenue but has to share a large proportion of it with other members. Now the Indians want to keep a larger percentage of the money they raise.

They are not interested in debating the rights and wrongs of the issue – if the board does not approve the proposal, the BCCI say, they will take their team out of events like the World Cup and the World T20, which would have a devastating effect on the price the ICC would be able to ask for the rights to broadcast those events on television.

“This proposal, if accepted, will create division and strife in world cricket like never seen before,” former Cricket SA managing director Ali Bacher said. “Member countries must not forget the animosity that was created when England and Australia had a veto.”

Ehsan Mani, the president of the ICC from 2003 to 2006, said in a letter to the current president, Alan Isaac, that the big three had “completely undermined the integrity and standing of the ICC, its president and the board … in promoting their own agenda without due and proper discussion by the board. Clearly, the right standard of Boardroom behaviour is not seen to be in place”.

Mani questioned the notion that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the England Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) that they would take cognisance of the other members’ best interests.

“They do not demonstrate how they will do this in any meaningful way. They do, however, plan to make significant financial gains for themselves and completely control the workings of the ICC to the exclusion of the other members.”

Countries not among the big three would earn a smaller slice of cricket’s revenue cake, have little say in decisions about tours to and from the big three countries – cricket’s lifeblood – and be subject to relegation from the top tier of eight test-playing teams.

Currently 10 teams play test cricket, none of them in danger of relegation. In terms of the new deal, India, England and Australia would be the only sides guaranteed a place among the elite eight.

In his column in the London Times yesterday, former England captain Michael Atherton took a realist approach.

“No one doubts that the status quo, as far as the ICC is concerned, is unacceptable: two full member countries are thought to be corrupt; four are essentially broke; most rely on India’s largesse to keep going, while the BCCI is disgruntled that the distribution of revenues does not reflect its provenance,” Atherton wrote.

“Politics, race and personalities interfere with decision-making at every turn. Incompetence is a given; at a recent ICC meeting, I was told of one director who took to snoring through an anti-corruption presentation.“… The best that can be said for this deal, indeed the only thing that can be said for this deal, is that India become a fully engaged and interested party to world cricket. Inside the tent and happy for the moment, rather than prowling outside and angry.”

Leading Edge: India’s second-hand jackboot would fit any board

TELFORD VICE

This country endured 296 years of racial oppression before unearned privilege for a few and brutal hardship for many was made law. Formal apartheid lasted a comparatively mere 46 years. Its aftermath will trouble us for significantly longer than that.

In those terms, cricket’s struggle to save its soul from being crushed under India’s jackboot pales into something close to insignificance. But our experience as a nation holds powerful lessons for the game. They are:

* Cricket had major political problems and inequality issues long before the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) discovered the value of gargantuan greed and bulletproof bumptiousness.

* The madness that the BCCI evidently runs on will throw itself off a cliff one day.

* When it does, everything will not be alright. Not for a long time; perhaps never.

International cricket has always been controlled by selfish people. Once, those people were England and Australia. In fact, had television not become a vehicle for delivering cricket to a large audience – and had cricket’s commercial value not exploded as a consequence – the world’s players would still be told what to do by the twin MCCs: one in Marylebone, the other in Melbourne.

So let’s not pretend that India are the only reason cricket is a mess. Without the BCCI, it would be much smaller and even less perfectly formed. And had England’s or Australia’s or Bangladesh’s or SA’s administrators – anyone but India’s – been besieged by television executives fanning them with large fronds banknotes (of course, it helped that no other country could put the best part of a billion bums on seats in front of the box) the home of cricket would have remained at Lord’s or the MCG, or upped sticks for Dhaka or the Wanderers. Bad people are bad people, whatever their race, culture or creed.

But bad people also get it wrong eventually, especially in sport – where they don’t often have access to weapons and political clout with which to entrench themselves, as they would do in the real world. Some, like Sepp Blatter or Louis Luyt, are grim survivors. But for every Blatter or Luyt there is a Bernie Ecclestone or a James Evans. Their egos, which is all they have to offer, get the better of them. So we wait.

For how long? No-one can say. And will cricket be better off for the BCCI’s demise as an obscenely monied bully? Probably not, because – as we can see from England’s and Australia’s eagerness to be part of the big three – there are plenty of pretenders to the throne. In the past, people would involve themselves in administration at high levels for the power and influence that came with the territory. They still do so for those reasons, but now they are also motivated by the money cricket has proved itself capable of generating.

Show me a sport suit of any shade and I will show you a greedy, dishonest, undeserving, deeply dodgy person. There are exceptions, but they need to prove themselves as such. Before that, they must be treated as if their default setting is mendacity. That is not cynicism talking. It is experience.

So is this: in international cricket, the glory matters much less than power and money.