‘Crazy’ series showdown looms for SA, Australia

Times Media – February 28 2014

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

The small picture is that SA and Australia are squabbling over ball-tampering. The big picture is that they are engaged in an enthralling test series that will be decided in Cape Town starting tomorrow.

Australia won by 281 runs in Centurion. SA won by 231 runs at St George’s Park. The contests were as contrasting as the pitches they were played on – fast and unpredictable followed by slow and true.

Both teams have played visceral cricket shot through with confidence and both have played as if they had 11 teenagers on debut. Nothing the marketing suits could have dreamt up would have been nearly as arresting as what reality has delivered.

The magnificent madness of Mitchell Johnson’s 12/127 in Centurion was followed by Dale Steyn’s 4/55 reaping the whirlwind in Port Elizabeth.

It has been a series as epic as it has been enterprising. Now, it all comes down to Newlands. 

“It’s crazy,” Steyn said yesterday. “It’s against Australia, too – one of the best and biggest teams that you want to play against.

“We’ve got a World T20 around the corner, we’ve got tours coming up, there’s the Indian Premier League, there’s this, there’s that, and here in the middle of it, we’ve played two tests and we are 1-1 and we are here to fight it all out in one test.

“It’s pretty crazy and it’s exciting all at the same time, but it goes too quickly. PE has come and gone. It’s just something I can write about or remember. Those feelings are finished. But they are great feelings.

“When you win, it’s amazing. That inspires you to try and have that feeling again. All these things add up. When that last ball is bowled, when you get that last wicket, that’s what counts.”

“Hopefully, in a couple of days time when the last ball is bowled here at Newlands we can have those feelings all over again because that is what we live for and play cricket for.” 

So much for the big picture. Warner was docked 15 percent of his match fee yesterday for insinuating that SA had used underhanded tactics to obtain reverse swing in PE. He singled out AB de Villiers for rubbing the ball on the ground at every opportunity.

Steyn bristled at that: “When we were beaten (in the first test), we went back to the drawingboard and looked at how we could improve our game. When you lose a game maybe that’s what you should be doing.” 

Ryan Harris set the record straight: “David’s comments were wrong and that’s been dealt with. SA handled the ball better; they did something we didn’t do.

“(AB) has been doing something with his gloves. Obviously, it’s not illegal or the umpires would have got involved and he hasn’t been charged.”

This time, Harris said, the Aussies had done their homework.

“We were cheating today by scraping the ball on the concrete. If our batsmen can hit that they can hit it in a game.”

That was given short shrift by Steyn: “They probably should have done that before the game in PE.”

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Could we get on with the game, please?

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Warner’s words will ‘motivate’ SA

Times Media – February 27 2014

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

If the Australians come up against a more inspired SA team in the third test at Newlands on Saturday, they can blame David Warner.

Warner’s implication that the South Africans used underhanded tactics to make the ball reverse swing in the second test at St George’s Park, where the home side won by 231 runs on Sunday to square the series going into the decider at Newlands on Saturday, is set to galvanise Graeme Smith’s men.

“It’s always disappointing to hear comments like that,” Russell Domingo said yesterday. “We are a very motivated team and this has probably added 10 percent to our motivation levels to show David Warner and the Australians that we don’t play our cricket like that. 

“We pride ourselves on playing cricket honestly. It’s not a nice comment to make. It’s not nice when one team accuses another of whatever.”

In an interview with Sky Sports Radio, Warner had said, “I think it comes down to the umpires warning both teams not to throw the ball into the wicket, which you generally try and do.

“We were questioning whether or not, with every delivery, AB de Villiers would get the ball in his hand and, with his glove, wipe the rough side.”

Once the third test starts, the Australians will no doubt remind the South Africans that, four months ago, Faf du Plessis was done for ball-tampering in the second test against Pakistan in Dubai.

The umpires changed the ball and awarded Pakistan five penalty runs – the standard on-field procedure when officials spot illegal alterations to the condition of the ball.

At a disciplinary hearing, Du Plessis chose not to contest the charge. He was thus found guilty and fined 50 percent of his match fee.

SA team manager Mohammed Moosajee seemed to confirm Du Plessis’ guilt when he said that, “a full hearing could lead to more severe punitive measure which could include a heftier fine or even a match ban”.

Du Plessis had rubbed the ball over a zip in his trousers. He was seen shining the ball again in Port Elizabeth, but away from the zip.

At least twice at St George’s Park, Dale Steyn chose to kick the ball towards fielders rather than pick it up, an action that could have roughened the surface.

Elgar a metaphor for SA’s comeback

Times Media – February 27 2014

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

South Africans will not remember Dean Elgar’s performance in the first test against Australia in Centurion for the right reasons.

David Warner slashed a delivery from Vernon Philander to fine leg, where Elgar put himself under the ball in good time, cupped his hands immaculately, leaned into a controlled dive – and dropped the catch.

Warner was 26 not out. He went on to score 115. Elgar was not even in the XI: he was fielding for an indisposed Dale Steyn. Cricket could not be more underwhelming.

Nine days later, after the first day’s play in the second test at St George’s Park, Elgar went from zero to hero by scoring 83 in the first innings.

Two days earlier, a perhaps prescient Morne Morkel had described Elgar as a “staffie”, as in stocky and tenacious, at a press conference

Now sat in the same chair, Elgar called himself a “pie-chucker”. Three days after that, in fading light and in front of a crowd frenzied by the imminence of victory, Elgar chucked one of his pies at Nathan Lyon – who edged it high onto his pad. Umpire Richard Illingworth said – or would have said – what the hell and gave Lyon out leg-before regardless.

Thanks to that, SA, smacked upside the head by Mitchell Johnson’s 12/127 and smashed by 281 runs in Centurion, won by 231 runs in a scarcely believable reversal of fortunes.

Elgar had not, as AB de Villiers, JP Duminy or Hashim Amla had done, scored a century, and his left-arm slows were indeed more steak-and-kidney than turn-and-bounce.

But when it mattered – when Alviro Petersen was downed by a virus and SA wobbled to 11/2 less than six overs into the match, and when one more wicket was required to beat the next day’s rain and with that Australia – the staffie proved that his bite was at least as bad as his bark.

As a walking, talking, performing metaphor for SA’s comeback in the series, Elgar fits the bill perfectly. After Centurion, he said little, pulled his game towards itself, and took the opportunity he was given. This time, he held on with both hands.

And he did so despite having being axed, with Cricket SA’s customary comical clumsiness, from the list of nationally contracted players on the same day that he learnt he would replace Petersen in the side.

Not that Elgar can expect any special treatment for the crucial role he played in the second test. Petersen seems set to regain his place, which means Elgar would be shunted back down the order if he is to keep his place.

“He has a hundred batting in the middle order,” Russell Domingo said yesterday with reference to the 103 not out Elgar made against New Zealand at St George’s Park in January, 2013.

“When you bat at No. 6 you are likely to face the second new ball so it makes sense to have someone like him there as well. But those things will be decided later.”

Domingo also pronounced himself “very happy with the job Dean and JP (Duminy, SA other part-time spinner) did with the ball”.

Whatever. SA and Elgar know how to bounce back, regardless of what they’re asked to do.

Snakes ‘n ladders in Centurion, a clay court at St Georges. What does Newlands hold?

Times Media – February 26, 2014

TELFORD VICE, Knysna

Snakes ’n ladders in Centurion and a clay court at St George’s Park have added richly to the intrigue in the test series between SA and Australia. What will Newlands bring to the pitch party when hostilities resume in the deciding showdown on Saturday?

But David Warner’s suggestion that SA used questionable tactics to obtain reverse swing in Port Elizabeth could focus attention on what happens to the ball when it is in the home side’s hands, rather than what it does off the pitch.

The last time Australia played a test in Cape Town, in November, 2011, they were shot out for 47 in 18 overs in their second innings. At least one South African does not want to see that happen again.

“I hope it doesn’t – that could be the end of me,” Newlands groundsman Evan Flint said yesterday.

Twenty-three wickets fell on a second day that, for only the third time in test history, involved all four innings.

The carnage had less to do with Flint than the fact that the water table was high, as it often is in Cape Town in November. The excess moisture in the surface and in the air produced pronounced seam movement and swing. Superb bowling by Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel did the rest. Those conditions are unlikely to prevail this time.

“It’s been hot and humid for days and we’ve had a strong south-easter, which is the drying wind,” Flint said. “That tends to mean the pitch is crusty on top with moisture on the bottom.

“But the wind should be gone tomorrow (today), which means we’ll have baking heat that will dry it out.”

“In terms of grass coverage it still has a green tinge, which is to be expected at this stage.”

Although Centurion yielded three centuries, two scores above 80, and a total of 1093 runs in four days – or 3.47 runs an over – players on both sides complained of variable bounce in the pitch. One Australian journalist labelled the pitch the “deck of death”. 

Onto slower, lower, truer St George’s, where four centuries and four half-centuries were seen in four days adding up to 1155 runs at 3.55 to the over. This surface was rubbished as the “pitch of poop” in the Aussie press. 

Both pitches also allowed bowlers to shine. In Centurion, Mitchell Johnson spearheaded Australia to an emphatic 281-run win by taking 12/127. Steyn’s wonderful display of reverse swing in the second innings in Port Elizabeth earned him figures of 4/55 – an important subplot in the drama of SA’s 231-run victory.

But, according to Warner, SA could find themselves under scrutiny at Newlands should their bowlers make the ball behave similarly.

“I think it comes down to the umpires warning both teams not to throw the ball into the wicket, which you generally try and do,” Warner told Sky Sports Radio. “We were questioning whether or not, with every delivery, AB de Villiers would get the ball in his hand and, with his glove, wipe the rough side.”

Warner said the Australians would take up their issues with the umpires.

Jacques Kallis: The Fountainhead

Masterly Batting: 100 Great Test Centuries – compiled and edited by Patrick Ferriday & Dave Wilson (Von Krumm Publishing, October, 2013)

Jacques Kallis: 161 v India (Newlands, January 2011)

TELFORD VICE

Jacques Kallis and most of his accomplishments can be distilled into one short word: cold. It’s in the pulseless precision he brings to even his most flamboyant strokes, the world’s neither stirred nor shaken reaction to him, and the feeling the more mortal among us have when we enter his icy presence.

There is more discernible humanity in Shivnarine Chanderpaul taking a moment to mark his guard with a bail than there is in a day of Kallis at the crease, even though the former is a temporary scratch in the earth and the second is often chiselled into the annals.

Even Kallis’ fake hair looks frozen, as unthawable as his perfectly perpendicular bat in the long moment after a lofted drive. He has fashioned one of the great careers with the passion he might have brought to mowing the lawn. 

This is not to paint Kallis as some bloodless run machine. But it is difficult for those of us who will never finish our lofted drives with perpendicular bats not to think of him as such – as an organism not fully formed unless there are runs to score, creases to occupy, or wickets and catches to take. It’s not him. It’s us.

Without cricket there would no Kallis as we know, respect and are befuddled by him. Without Kallis cricket – in particular South African cricket – would not be half the game it is.

These truths and half-truths had been self-evident for so long that there was no questioning them when India arrived in South Africa in the first week of December, 2010 to play three Tests.

Even when Kallis walked to the wicket an hour before tea on the second day of the first Test at Centurion, that everything we thought we knew about him was to change was not apparent. How could it be when that change was, in its own context, evolutionary.

It took almost six-and-a-half hours to be effected; 389 minutes, in fact, involving 270 deliveries, 15 fours, five sixes, a sacred look at the heavens in dedication to his father and a profane drive off an imaginary golf tee in giddy celebration of the prize of lifetime membership of an exclusive country club that his feat had secured.

It was what Kallis had not achieved in his 50 series, 142 matches and 241 innings that had come and gone before – many lesser players had reached this milestone earlier. It was a Test double century and it was, as much as any other single event in his life, the making of Jacques Henry Kallis.

It was the moment of his global warming, the long and winding instant he became more human than he had ever been, as well as one of three centuries scored by South Africans in reply to India’s first innings of 136. They had been roughed up on a pitch designed to accomplish exactly that, and they started their second innings in a hole 484 runs deep.

Sachin Tendulkar dug them some way out of it with an unbeaten 111, not just a fine performance but also his 50th Test century. The eruption was heard, felt and seen around the world. How Tendulkar must have envied Kallis: one day, with luck, he will also be allowed to achieve his humanity.

Kallis’ confirmed his new, merely human, status in his innings of 10 – run out at the non-striker’s end after backing up to far – and 17 – dropped on nought but out soon enough fending a brute of a Sreesanth delivery to gully – at Kingsmead, where India, humbled by an innings in the first Test, levelled the series.

It was only their second win in 14 Tests in South Africa, and the fact that it was achieved in the wake of a drubbing told the South Africans that they were not dealing with the tabbies the Indians had been on previous tours: this time they were tigers.

And so to Cape Town, where the world’s two best teams would try, one more time with feeling, to decide which of them was the best.

It is at Newlands that this story begins as well as ends, but the layers of meaning added by the events that preceded it are crucial to its understanding – and to fully appreciating the role that Kallis played in its making.

India had come to South Africa with the No. 1 ranking in their hearts and Gary Kirsten in their minds. No-one was surprised when they failed abjectly to come to terms with the conditions at Centurion, and South Africans who had seen their side go down to Sri Lanka at Kingsmead the season before knew another defeat in Durban – which seems to have become the last place their national team wants to play – was feasible.

But if the Indians had their haughtiness dented by being treated like any other opponents in the first test, the South Africans seemed offended to have been beaten in the second. Cape Town, then, would offer a cure for both ills. Or would it be for just one, or even none?

MS Dhoni looked up, saw clouds over Newlands, called correctly for only the second time in 15 Tests, and declined to bat. That was India’s first mistake, especially as rain and bad light meant just 37 overs were bowled before tea. Their second error was to fail to exploit the limited opportunities they had to apply pressure. But they did manage to remove Graeme Smith before the first rain delay and Alviro Petersen shortly after the resumption.

It was not quite half-past-one on a dreary Sunday afternoon when Kallis walked his imperious walk down the stairs, over the boundary and to the middle. The first delivery he faced, bowled by Ishant Sharma, curled away and was left well alone. Kallis shouldered-arms to Sharma’s next delivery, an inswinger that found the thigh pad and moved sharply enough to prompt Hashim Amla to make the journey from the other end of the pitch for a chat.

Kallis took nine balls, eight of them Sharma’s, to get off the mark, which he did with a nudge to cover point off Zaheer Khan. Two deliveries later he unleashed a stroke of savage power to put Sreesanth through the covers for his first boundary – back, across, forward, bang. He was 12 when he edged Khan onto his back leg and was almost bowled.

Amla, meanwhile, rose above all that to play what for him was an out-of-body innings, a display of flash and dash that looked doomed to be ended sooner than it was – with a miscued pull to a bouncer from Sreesanth.

At the other end of the pitch Kallis, who had faced 35 balls for his 16 when Amla got out for 59, showed no flicker of alarm or anything else. Anxious, fidgety AB de Villiers took charge of the next seven deliveries. Kallis kept calm as he did so, then faced four more without scoring or worrying about not scoring.

Not so De Villiers, who found a way to drive a swinging ball from Khan down the ground for four. Kallis’ response was to block three of Sreesanth’s efforts and steer the fourth – tossed up invitingly – into the covers for a single.

Tea came with South Africa steady on 125/3. In the moments before play resumed, the Indians buzzed in their huddle and De Villiers was down the pitch, looking to disguise imperfections in the surface.

None of that for Kallis, who kept stoic counsel with himself at his end. Not for the first time in his storied career and surely not the last, he was the centre of the game – he waited for it to come to him, not the other way around. This is easily mistaken for arrogance: does Kallis fancy himself bigger than all of cricket? More important than its other protagonists? No. He knows his place, but he also knows that there are few who can share that place with him.

A run accrued to each of Kallis and De Villiers in that first over of the session, which was delivered by Harbhajan Singh. Sharma took charge of the second over and beat Kallis both with outswing and inswing. Then De Villiers took two singles off Harbhajan. Sharma returned, eager to build on his work of an over before. His first ball swung in. Kallis defended. The next delivery splayed full towards the leg side. Kallis dismissed this ordinariness from his presence and to the midwicket ropes for four. Whatever pressure Sharma had managed to muster went with it.

Kallis also took a single off that over, and three runs off the next – which culminated in De Villiers turning on the style to drive a perfectly pitched, turning delivery from Harbhajan through the covers for four.

Runs did not flow, but they were also not rare. They were coming as and when the batsmen saw fit to take them; a mode of batting that suited the patient, assured Kallis more than it did the urgent nature of De Villiers.  

Kallis’ next boundary was nothing so ostentatious, just a nudge of an angled bat to put Sharma through fine leg. Three balls later a similarly veering delivery was met with more bat and stabbed between short leg’s planted feet for two. Sharma’s next effort was too full, and Kallis squeezed the trigger on a handsome on-drive only for Harbhajan to tumble into a fine stop.

This slow but sure rhythm was maintained without significant interruption – save for De Villiers drilling a wayward offering from Sharma into Cheteshwar Pujara’s thankfully protected shin at short leg – until, in the over after the drinks break, Sreesanth produced a sublime outswinger that took the edge of De Villiers’ bat and flew to MS Dhoni.

The partnership was thus ended at 58, South Africa were 164 for four, and India thought they saw a chink in the home side’s armour. Kallis disabuses them of that notion with the next delivery, from Harbhajan, which he leaned into and steered to midwicket for the single that took him to 50.

The milestone had taken 98 balls to arrive and it was mildly spiced with four boundaries. In other words, exactly to Kallis’ and South Africa’s tastes.

Criticism of Kallis over the years has tended to label him as selfish; not a team man; more interested in his maintaining his average than doing what needs to be done to win or save a match.

The truth in this is that Kallis is selfish in the Ayn Rand sense, as in, “the man who does not value himself cannot value anything or anyone”.

And, “In a free society one does not have to deal with those who are irrational. One is free to avoid them.”

And, “In order to deal with reality successfully – to pursue and achieve the values which his life requires – man needs self-esteem; he needs to be confident of his efficacy and worth.”

Or even, “Man’s basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know.”

These are dangerous ideas that go to the extremes of what it means to be human in a world that has to make room for other humans, and are sometimes used as excuses to commit societal brutality by those who refuse to make that room.

They are ideas that Kallis – who is entirely likely to wonder “batsman or bowler?” when asked if he knows who Ayn Rand might be – has probably never entertained.

But he is no less Randian for that. In fact, more so: it is his bedrock nature to be rational and confident of his efficacy and worth, and to focus his mind to the exclusion of any and all else he does not want to think about. He is, in the most worthy way, selfish. He is this way not because he read a couple of fat books called “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. He is this way because he is this way.

As Kallis stood there, bat raised to accept the gratitude of his home crowd for scoring another sturdy half-century, his selfishness was celebrated as it had been many times before.

But proof that Rand didn’t have all the answers came with the next ball Kallis faced. It was delivered by Sreesanth, and pitched on a length and leapt up and away. Even Kallis’ cold steel instincts could not prevent him from being drawn towards its line. The edge fell short of the cordon and streaked away for four.

Four balls later Sreesanth was roaring for Kallis to be given out lbw. Simon Taufel shook his head. Hawkeye said Sreesanth had the stronger argument.

By then, Kallis had been joined by Ashwell Prince – a left-handed version of himself in terms of grit and powers of concentration, though not in talent and skill.

Well might the Indians have groaned. The same two men, playing on the same ground in 2007, had eroded the visitors’ resolve with batting so dour it made manila envelopes look pornographic by comparison. At times in their stands of 77 and 83 off 167 and 229 balls respectively, the earth stopped turning just to see how long they could treat Newlands like their personal Zen garden.

This time, Kallis and Prince kept their opponents and all who watched them more entertained. Their partnership yielded 98 and came off 197 deliveries. Dour it was not. It was a product of intense focus and superb application to the task.

An edge by Prince off Zaheer that looped over where a fourth slip would have stood, a direct hit on the non-striker’s stumps that found Kallis within his ground, two fours four balls apart – languidly lapped and struck straight – by Prince off Harbhajan, another off the spinner by Kallis, technically driven to fine leg with the help of a radically altered stance, were the most important events of the rest of the first day’s play.

Kallis was 81 not out at stumps, just 24 of his runs having come in boundaries. And this from a man whose 17 sixes in 2011 was just one fewer than the number hit by De Villiers.

But it was that sort of day on that sort of pitch against that sort of opposition, and when South Africa resumed the next day on 232/4 Kallis was in the same sort of mood.

Prince rattled the status quo in the morning’s third over by driving Harbhajan through the covers for four twice in three balls, first off the front foot then the back.

Kallis did unfurl a sumptuous cover drive off Sharma the over after that, but once he reached 90 he faced 15 balls without adding to his score.

In that time, he saw Sreesanth use the second new ball to dismiss Prince and Mark Boucher with consecutive deliveries.

The previous ball had left Prince. The next one cut a wicked curve through the air and demanded a drive. Prince obliged, and the inswinger bowled him though the gate for 47. Boucher, ham-fisted and flat-footed and in the throes of poor form, could only edge to Dhoni.

South Africa had crashed from 262/4 to 262/6 in an eyeblink. Not that Kallis blinked. Instead, he drove Sreesanth through a clumsy Tendulkar at mid-on and smeared him imperiously through midwicket for boundaries to move to 99.

The look on Kallis’ face when he is one run shy of a century is the same as the look on his face when he is 99 runs away. It’s the same look as when he is at the top of his run or awaiting a bowler as he stands in the slips.

He wore this look when Dale Steyn did the sensible thing and stuck his bat between his throat and a vicious delivery from Khan. The catch was taken at gully and South Africa were 272/7. Kallis was still 99 not out.

Despite almost getting himself out twice in the five balls of the over that remained, Morne Morkel survived.

Sreesanth began the next over with a full delivery that hooked away from Kallis just as he offered at it: beaten, bowed, but not out.

Looking like he was late on his way to commit a crime, Sreesanth came storming in again. His effort strayed too far onto the pads and Kallis waited long enough to dab it demurely past square leg.

Newlands rose to salute the 39th Test century of the finest player of the age, bar bloody none. Off came his helmet. Out came his smile. Up went his arms. Away went any semblance of inhibition.

There is a school of thought that, in his pomp, Kallis was good enough to hit a six whenever he felt like it. He hit none during this innings, but after reaching his century he hit 10 fours – one of them edged – from 82 balls. Thus, of the 61 runs he scored after bringing up three figures, only 21 of them required something so inelegant as running to the other end of the pitch.

In doing so Kallis had to put up with a hip strain and with partners, Paul Harris and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who were entirely likely to do something that deserved a kick up the backside.

They duly did those things but not until Kallis had ensured South Africa squeezed 79 runs out of their last two wickets before he cut too thinly at Zaheer and was caught behind.

As an individual performance it was of the highest quality. As an intervention in a self-destructing innings it was vital. As an example of what Kallis does best it was even better than the undefeated 109 he would score in the second innings to secure the draw.

Ayn Rand would have understood as much about all that as Kallis would of her writing, but she should be proud that her philosophy was padded up and at the crease in Cape Town in January, 2011.

Abbott in squad, and in queue

Times Media – February 25, 2014

TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth

The quality of SA’s fast bowling will not dip should Kyle Abbott crack the nod for the deciding third test against Australia that starts at Newlands on Saturday.

Abbott, who replaced the injured Wayne Parnell in the SA squad yesterday, owns a sparkling record in Cape Town and is the leading wicket-taker in franchise first-class cricket this season. But he is probably third in the queue to fill the vacancy.

In five first-class games this season, the Dolphins quick has taken 22 wickets at an average of 13.09. He claimed match figures of 12/125 against the Cobras in Paarl at the weekend on a pitch that yielded more than 300 runs in both first innings. At Newlands, Abbott has a career record of 16 wickets at 12.43.

“It’s a similar wicket to Kingsmead in that, like most coastal wickets, it’s got a bit in it for the bowlers,” Abbott said yesterday about the Cape Town surface.

“If I do play, I will be patient and make bloody sure batsmen will have to work hard to get a run off me. Whatever movement there is through the air, I will find it. That’s my role, that’s my skill and that’s what I can do.”

How did he feel about taking the lift to the top-floor penthouse that the SA dressingroom will be in the wake of their stirring performance in the second test at St George’s Park, where they won by 231 runs with a day to spare on Sunday to square the series? Was that a daunting prospect considering he would come in cold?

“The guys are incredibly welcoming,” Abbott said. “It’s a very tight-knit culture, a family, and I’ve got no doubt that I will be welcomed.”

He knows that from his experience with the SA squad last February, when he came in for an injured Jacques Kallis against Pakistan in Centurion. Abbott took 7/29 in the first innings, second only to Lance Klusener’s 8/64 against India in Kolkata in 1996 as the best figures by a SA debutant.

Despite that stunning performance, Abbott has not donned a test shirt since. Not that that has bothered him.

“I’ve had very good contact with (SA coach) Russell Domingo and (selection convenor) Andrew Hudson about where I stand and the balance of the side,” Abbott said. “They could have left me in the dark, but they haven’t and the communication has been very good.”

If that is the case, Abbott probably knows that he will struggle to leapfrog Ryan McLaren and Rory Kleinveldt to get a game on Saturday.

McLaren, who was concussed by Michael Johnson in the first test at Centurion, has returned to fitness. In terms of the SA squad’s policy he is thus entitled to reclaim his place in the XI. Kleinveldt, meanwhile, was an original selection in the squad.

But both McLaren and Kleinveldt are better batsmen than Abbott, an important factor given the strength of Australia’s attack.

However, the twist in this tale is that Abbott has a better average at Newlands than either McLaren or Kleinveldt – who weigh in at 33.33 and 27.45 respectively.

Parnell has been ruled out with a groin strain.

St George’s wins on swings, Kingsmead and Wanderers lose on roundabouts

Times Media – February 25, 2013

TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth

St George’s Park’s gain was Kingsmead’s loss when Cricket SA (CSA) announced the national team’s fixtures until next January.

Graeme Smith’s team will play this year’s Boxing Day test, which was back in Durban this season after its absence from the KwaZulu-Natal city last summer following grumbling over the loss of a “tradition” that is only 16 matches old, in Port Elizabeth.

Like Kingsmead, the Wanderers is also out in the cold as a test venue next summer. 

“I’m pleased for PE and pleased for EP cricket that, after a long time of trying to get recognition and trying to convince people that we can stage test matches here, it’s finally happening,” former Eastern Province Cricket Board chief executive Dave Emslie said yesterday.

Emslie spoke a day after SA surged to a rousing 231-run win in Port Elizabeth to level their series against Australia heading into the third test at Newlands, starting on Saturday.

More than 37000 spectators clicked through the Kingsmead turnstiles over five days to see SA play India in December. At St George’s Park, 25800 turned up in the four days last week’s match lasted.

However, Emslie said numbers weren’t everything: “Even with a crowd of only 6000 (at St George’s Park), with the band playing and the atmosphere at the ground, you can mask the effect of not having that many people there in a way that bigger grounds that have more concrete can’t do.”

For KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union chief executive Jesse Chellan, the news was “a disappointment”.

“From all accounts, the last test at Kingsmead was a success,” Chellan said. “We are going to be engaging with CSA to unpack the issues and understand the reasons for this decision.”

The Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB) would also be knocking on CSA’s door.

“We are not happy and our board will be sending a response to CSA,” GCB president Thabang Moroe said. “The Wanderers needs tests.”

On top of the lack of a test, the GCB is staring at a massive loss for hosting the second T20 on January 11 and the second one-day international a week later.

January is the toughest month for consumers, and Johannesburgers are likely to choose which of those matches to attend rather than budget for both – which they would have been more inclined to do had they been scheduled further apart. 

SA played India in the first ODI at the Wanderers on December 5, and the teams were back there for the first test on December 18. The GCB incurred losses of more than R1-million for the two games.

Newlands is in the same boat, what with the third test ending on January 6 and the first T20 slated three days later.   

CSA said SA would play two tests in Sri Lanka in July and another in Zimbabwe in August.

A schedule featuring up to 24 ODIs – including a triangular tournament involving Australia and Zimbabwe, and games in New Zealand and Australia – will give SA ample opportunity to ensure their readiness for next year’s World Cup in Australasia.

SA’s away fixtures have yet to be finalised. 

Fixtures:

West Indies tour:

December 10-12: v SA Invitation XI, Benoni

December 17-21: First test, Centurion

December 26-30: Second test, St George’s Park

January 2-6: Third test, Newlands

January 9: First T20, Newlands

January 11: Second T20, Wanderers

January 16: First ODI, Kingsmead

January 18: Second ODI, Wanderers

January 21: Third ODI, Buffalo Park

January 25: Fourth ODI, St George’s Park

January 28: Fifth ODI, Centurion

SA 2015 World Cup fixtures:

February 15: v Zimbabwe, Hamilton

February 22: v India, Melbourne

February 27: v West Indies, Sydney

March 3: v Ireland, Canberra

March 7: v Pakistan, Auckland

March 12: v United Arab Emirates, Wellington