Staffie to follow Irish wolfhound at top of SA’s order. Or will boxer puppy be picked?

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

If Andrew Hudson and his selectors share Morne Morkel’s take on things, they might want to fetch SA’s next opening batsman from the SPCA.

“He’s a staffie,” was how Morkel described Elgar before the second test against Australia at St George’s Park last season.

Elgar promptly added bite to that bark by scoring an important 83, then dismissed Nathan Lyon to level the series in the wake of Australia’s thumping victory in Centurion.

Although he was not selected for the first test, Elgar will remember the match for coming on as a substitute fielder and dropping David Warner on 26. Warner went on to score 115.

So Morkel’s canine compliment conveyed Elgar’s bouncebackability, a valuable quality if he is to take on the hardest job in test cricket.

Elgar is the leading candidate to inherit the retired Graeme Smith’s spot at the top of SA’s test order. Besides his captaincy duties, Smith gave SA a rock solid start to their innings for the best part of 14 years. No opener was more respected, and accepted his responsibility more resolutely. 

If Elgar is a staffie, Smith is an Irish wolfhound; a galumpher who brought more muscle and determination to the crease than he did seamless technique. He also brought success: 9265 runs at an average of 48.25 with 27 centuries; 14 of them made in the second innings and 12 of those in a winning cause. SA never lost a test in which Smith scored a hundred.

Elgar doubtless has smaller feet than SA’s former captain – he is 18cm shorter – and if Hudson pulls his name out of the hat when the squad to play two tests in Sri Lanka in July is announced next week, he could not have bigger boots to fill.

In the same way that all Alex Ferguson and David Moyes have in common is that they both managed Manchester United, all that would seem to connect Smith and Elgar – at this stage of the latter’s career – is that they both bat left-handed.

But Elgar has the vote of someone who has been there, done that as an opening batsman.

“He’s got a good technique, he scored 83 against a pretty good Aussie attack opening the batting and he has scored a hundred (batting at No. 7 against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth in January last year),” Jimmy Cook said yesterday.

“Just as you’re not going to replace Jacques Kallis overnight, you’re not going to replace Graeme Smith overnight. But Elgar deserves to have the first bite of the cherry.”  

What did Cook think of the selectors’ going to the SPCA in search of an opener and having their hearts and minds stolen not by a staffie but by a boisterous boxer puppy? What price Quinton de Kock, who opens in the shorter formats, cracking the nod?

“Right now, Quinton is a candidate to play in the test side only if AB de Villiers takes over the captaincy and gives up the gloves,” Cook said. “If Hashim Amla becomes the captain, I don’t think Quinton will be in the side.”

Cook also gave a thought to Stiaan van Zyl’s claims, but “whether he could open, I’m not sure”. Van Zyl, the leading runscorer in domestic first-class cricket last season and a hot tip for the test squad, bats at No. 3 for the Cobras. 

“Otherwise, you might have to go with someone like Andrew Puttick or maybe even Stephen (Cook, Jimmy’s son) as a more experienced guy with a record behind him,” Cook said.

Then again, everybody likes a staffie.


Titans strike blow for gender equality

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

The Titans continued to strike blows for women in the mostly male world of cricket yesterday when they named Patricia Kambarami as their chief operating officer.

Kambarami, who has served as the franchise’s marketing and events manager since October, 2003, which followed her work on that year’s World Cup, follows in the footsteps of Elise Lombard.

Lombard, to date the only female chief executive of a SA franchise, also the Titans, died of a heart attack on August 9 – Women’s Day – in 2012.

Kambarami, a mother of two, holds an MBA from Nottingham Trent University, and is in the second year of four years of study towards a masters in sport law from De Montfort University in Leicester.

“I have no doubt she is the perfect person for this new challenge,” Titans chief executive Jacques Faul was quoted as saying in a release. “Patricia is also 100% focused on delivery for the sake of the franchise’s continual commercial success.”

Bulawayo-born Kambarami, the sister of Zimbabwe Cricket chairperson Peter Chingoka, will take up her new position next week.

Rattlesnake, banker’s pinstripes are SA’s unidentical spin twins

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

Simon Harmer is a rattlesnake trapped in an off-spinner’s body. Dane Piedt is as consistent as a banker’s pinstripes. Only one of them is likely to feature when SA’s test squad for the tour to Sri Lanka in July is announced next week. Which will it be?

That will depend on what SA’s next test captain, whose name will also be revealed next week, and coach Russell Domingo need the new man to do.

Should a holding bowler be required, the lesser turning Piedt – also an off-spinner, but armed with a doosra – could crack the nod. However, Harmer would be the better option if SA want aggression.

Then again, Harmer spent much of last season’s first-class competition trying to contain batsmen who had found a way past the Warriors’ limited pace attack.

Of the Eastern Cape quicks, only Basheer Walters, Andrew Birch and Rusty Theron reached double figures in the wickets column. Combined, they took 72.

For the Cobras, Dane Paterson, Rory Kleinveldt, Beuran Hendricks, Justin Kemp and Travis Muller each claimed more than 10 wickets. Their total was 111.

The proof was in the standings. The Warriors won two of their 10 games and finished second from bottom. The Cobras won six, and with that the title. 

Despite that, Harmer bristled at being labelled as conservative by those who were perhaps having trouble seeing past Table Mountain.

“If anything, my economy rate (3.10 in 2013-14 and a career mark of 3.21) shows that I’m more of an attacking bowler,” Harmer said yesterday. “In the past, I’ve been accused of being too attacking – I find it strange that someone who turns the ball can be called defensive.”

Neither Harmer nor Piedt has yet played a first-class match in sub-continent conditions, but in two four-day games for SA’s academy in Bangladesh in April, 2011 Piedt bowled 56.2 overs and took 3/196.

Harmer’s sub-continental experience amounts to stints at bowling camps in Bangalore in August, 2012 and Colombo a year later.

“The climate was more challenging than the conditions,” he said. “There was a lot of rain and 40-degree heat – it would be very hot one minute and chucking it down the next.”

But he was confident that, given the chance, he would not rain on SA’s parade: “The difference between good players and great players is the ability to adjust to different conditions.”

Clive Eksteen, who played the first of his seven tests in Moratuwa in August, 1993 – SA’s inaugural test against Sri Lanka – plumped for Piedt: “I think he has more variation than Simon.”

Gametime was not guaranteed for whoever made the grade, but that was not the point.

“It’s a tough place for a young bowler to go to because Sri Lanka have two batsmen who have scored more than 10 000 test runs (Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara) and a whole lot of other quality players.

“But it’s also a great place for a young guy to go to as an understudy and to have the experience of being with the national team.”

Which young guy? Piedt was the leading wicket-taker last season with 45. Harmer was next on 40.

“They both deserve to go,” Eksteen said.

Even so, there will be room for just one of the unidentical spin twins in SA’s squad. 

Who cares if cricket is fixed? –

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

Do we care whether cricket is fixed? If it is, does that change anything? Dare we believe that the game is about winning and losing when we know it is about cash?

Here in the rarefied ranks of the press we need no excuse to fly into a fuss about match-fixing, which for us is next to satanism. But we do not engage with sport at the emotional level of people whose idea of a fine day out involves squinting into the stadium sun or a couch and a game broadcast on television. For us, cricket is work – much more fun than a real job, but work nonetheless. We are not, or should not be, fans.

Cricket chooses its supporters like a painter chooses canvases: those most receptive to its passions will hold its colours brightest and best. The fans, not the players nor the arenas nor the competitions, lend cricket its magnificence. Without them, the game would be just a game. It would not matter. The sound of a six hit deep into a stand silent with emptiness is the sound of a tree falling in the forest, unheard and unloved. 

That means it is up to the fans, not the press nor the ICC nor even the police, to decide whether match-fixing matters. If the folks who buy their own tickets to matches or give up their own time to stare at their own televisions enjoy cricket just the way it is, who is anyone to tell them they should not bother with something crooked?

The bright and beautiful morning of June 15, 2000 in a regal room in Cape Town was neither the time nor the place to meander through such wayward thoughts. There, in a dark suit and under the darkest of clouds, stood Hansie Cronje. All around him, the world glared. He took guard not at the crease but at the witness stand, and admitted to consorting with people who cared nothing for cricket and everything for money. He did not do so willingly – the cold, calculating Cronje had attempted to deny and lie his way out of trouble, but too many people cared too much to know the truth. Eventually, it had to out.

Or so those of us huddled in the press gallery at the King Commission thought. The real truth is that, to this day, many South Africans cannot see why Cronje should have been punished. Either that, or they think he was the fall guy for a gang of as yet unmasked corrupt players. Or even that he refused to do the underworld’s bidding, thereby provoking them to destroy him.

That Cronje himself destroyed his career and his integrity by accepting the first, second, third or fourth lure cast toward him by a cricket crook is not a popular view in South Africa. That he was physically destroyed in a plane crash two years after he had been banned from cricket for life only adds to a lopsided legend that will never be destroyed.

At the time of his death, Cronje was in his second year of study towards a masters degree in business leadership and had been appointed as a financial manager by a manufacturer of earth-moving equipment. As the chief executive of the firm pointed out, Cronje had “the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty in a court of law, and that hasn’t happened yet”. The chairman went further: “Mr Cronje has no criminal record against him, as many people in our country unfortunately have. He would have got the job even if his name wasn’t Hansie Cronje”.

But the weird logic of a couple of cooky capitalists is as nothing compared to thousands of voters looking past Mohammad Azharuddin’s admitted involvement in match-fixing to entrust him with their interests in India’s parliament in 2009. At least he lost this time, but probably not because his constituency realised he had confessed to being corrupt. And who can say that he will not be back in the Lok Sabha in future?

As alarmed as we must be by people who would put so much trust in a man who did not deserve that privilege – for a start, what did it say about Congress that they accepted someone so unsuitable as a candidate? – Azharuddin’s example tells us that the voters who put him in parliament, many of whom would have been cricket supporters, care less about match-fixing than they do about what they will eat for lunch.

Similarly, Cronje, had he lived, would by now have been completely rehabilitated into a South African society      that did not think he had done much wrong in the first place. As it stands, the airbrush of history has erased all his warts. Attempts to correct the picture prompts aghast appeals to not speak ill of the dead.

Which, at some warped level, is as it should be. Cricket is loved because it entertains. Cronje and Azharuddin were masters of that as well as the darker arts.

That also means the fans get the game they deserve. Good luck to them.

‘Match-fixing is legal in SA’

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

Crimes against cricket commonly called match-fixing, which is back in the spotlight following revelations by Lou Vincent, are legal in SA.

Two weeks ago, former New Zealand batsman Vincent said the Champions League T20 that was played in SA in October, 2012 had been stained by the scourge. However, even if that claim was to be proven it seems the perpetrators would not attract the authorities’ attention.

“There is no specific law in our country against match-fixing; that’s why Hansie managed to get away,” Enver Mall, a lawyer who has served SA cricket as a match referee and a national selector, said yesterday.

That raises the spectre of SA becoming a refuge for fugitives from the law in countries that have taken a tougher stance against the practice.

Last July in India, where betting on cricket is big business despite being outlawed, charges were brought against former SA captain Hansie Cronje – whose involvement with cricket’s underworld was exposed in 2000.

In New Zealand, legislation to criminalise match-fixing is being pushed through parliament to be in force before the 2015 World Cup in Australasia. Transgressors could be imprisoned for up to seven years.

Jail already looms for match-fixers in the United Kingdom, where Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were put behind bars in November, 2011 for “conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments” after agreeing to bowl no-balls with specific deliveries during the Lord’s test between England and Pakistan in August, 2010.

In sentencing them, judge Jeremy Cooke said, “The image and integrity of what was once a game but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all …”

Cooke’s powerful words will have resonated with cricket aficionados everywhere, but they would carry no weight in a SA court. Or, as Mall said, “A primary law has to have been broken before someone can be charged with conspiracy – conspiracy to commit murder, for instance.”

Perhaps the only avenue for justice for match-fixers in SA lay in fraud charges.

“If I have paid to watch a professional cricket match where I expect both teams to play to their full potential and I find out afterwards that they did not, a case of fraud could be opened,” Mall said. “But fraud is one of the most difficult crimes to prove.”

Betting on sport is legal in SA, but the International Centre for Sport Security say that 80% of the US$140-billion spent on the practice worldwide annually is invested illegally.

SA’s Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004 covers sport. However, the law’s value is questionable in the wake of evidence of match-fixing in the warm-up matches Bafana Bafana played before the 2010 World Cup fizzling out in a squabble over jurisdiction between government and FIFA instead of being heard in the courts.

Rebel-era SA wicketkeeper Ray Jennings was not convinced that legislation was the most effective weapon against match-fixing.

“There are so many laws against this in India but it still goes on,” Jennings said. “When you sit at an Indian Premier League (IPL) player auction and you hear (former IPL supremo) Lalit Modi saying that (former England allrounder) Andrew Flintoff’s deal has been decided behind closed doors, it’s not match-fixing but it still tells you things are not what they should be.”

Instead of relying on the state, Jennings said, cricket should police itself: “People who have their ears to the floor should take control of this. The biggest penalty should be that those involved in match-fixing are subjected to the loss of faith in them by the people around them.”

Beyond the beard could lurk South Africa’s next Test captain


TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

Is Hashim Amla a Test captain? As with much about this magnificent player for whom cricket is not everything, how can we tell? But we know this: he has put up the hand that shall not sweat and made himself available for the position.

For days, whispers swirled that Amla had reconsidered his previous stance – that anything that put itself in the way of him being the best batsman he could be, captaincy included, was not part of his plan.

Then, on Monday, his agent confirmed that Amla had tossed his topi into a ring that had previously contained only AB de Villiers’ cowboy hat and, perhaps, Faf du Plessis’ designer baseball cap. 

By some measures, Amla is cut from the correct cloth to captain South Africa, a country that harbours a cricket culture in which talking a good game raises suspicion. Instead, what players do on the field is the sole criterion for judging their worth. 

Around these parts, it is believed, people talk too much and too glibly when they try to hide their ignorance of whence they speak. Performance does not talk. It performs. It is to be trusted.

Graeme Smith’s habit of talking as good a game as he played did him no good in the minds of many of his compatriots. Had he shut up and batted like he did, support for him would have been unanimous. Hansie Cronje’s matchfixing madness means less to many South Africans than the fact that he kept his mouth closed and got the job done. Shaun Pollock would rather have bowled a session unchanged than spend 10 minutes with the press. Kepler Wessels never said much beyond yes, no or wait, but there was no doubting who was in charge of his team. That Pollock and Wessels are now television commentators is evidence of cricket’s odd sense of humour.

Amla, too, is happier playing than pontificating. However, times have changed since Wessels, Pollock and even Cronje led South Africa, when terms like “man management” were used only by people unfortunate enough to have to work in an office to pay the bills. 

But, with cricket having cast off all pretence at falling somewhere between a pastime and a vocation and embraced its inner pinstripes, skippers are now captains of industry: the cricket industry.

That means they spend a significant amount of their time talking, managing men, marketing their sponsors’ products and services, studying the latest trends for running a business, and making sure they do not say or do the wrong thing in public.

What they do on the field still carries the burden of proof as to whether they are any good or not, but less than previously. In this era, Keith Miller, Ian Botham and Viv Richards would never have been given the job – too carefree, too rebellious, too headstrong.

Not that Amla himself is the very picture of the modern cricket captain, particularly in a country like South Africa. We like to call ourselves Christian, but tend to behave like heathens. On average, only Russians and Australians drink more alcohol than we do. For all Cricket SA’s (CSA) worthy and ongoing attempts to darken the game, white South Africans still think it belongs to them.

How do those factors stack up against the chances of a devout Muslim, teetotalling player of Indian descent being named South Africa’s next Test captain?

The last issue could complicate matters significantly. What with South Africa’s minister of sport, Fikile Mbalula, having decreed – then retracted, go figure – that 60% of the country’s national teams would in future be black or face being banned from competition and having their funding withdrawn, CSA will know that the appointment of a black captain would strengthen cricket’s commitment to the transformation cause.

However, to do so would be to risk alienating the constituency that thinks cricket needs them to survive and prosper. That is patent nonsense – South Africa’s future is black, undeniably and in every sense – but the white section of our society is decades away from accepting that as the truth. They also have the money and the influence to say so loudly and unpleasantly, and they would do exactly that.

Why would Amla want to put up with all of the above? Like Jacques Kallis, he gives his best when he is left alone in his bubble. Captaincy would burst that bubble.

But let us not assume we know what goes on beyond the beard. Amla has proved that difference does not mean deficiency, that otherness does not put him outside the boundaries of what is good for South African cricket – from his once crooked backlift to his strict and admirable adherence to his faith to his reluctance to give us a good quote.

Amla has found a way through all that to be who he wants to be. Could that include making a success of being South Africa’s Test captain? Who, besides him, can tell?

Amla’s captaincy candidacy confirmed

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

Murmurs of Hashim Amla’s candidacy as SA’s next test captain were confirmed yesterday when his agent, Ismail Kajee, told Times Media, “Yes, Hashim has made himself available.”

However, figures close to the process of appointing Graeme Smith’s successor have admitted to being unsure of “how serious Hashim is” about taking on the cares of captaincy.

Besides, Cricket SA (CSA) have been shot in this movie before. As SA’s designated vice-captain in the short formats, and in the absence of the injured or suspended AB de Villiers, Amla led the team in three one-day internationals, two T20 internationals and five unofficial T20s. Then, last February, he stepped down.

“It is unfair of me to wear the vice-captaincy cap if I am uncomfortable taking over from AB when I am needed,” Amla was quoted as saying in a CSA statement issued at the time. “Captaincy has always been an exploratory area of my cricket but after being at the helm for three ODIs and a few T20s I feel it’s time to groom a successor who has leadership potential.”

Fifteen months on, Amla would seem to have changed his mind. His reasons for doing so remain unclear – questions sent to Kajee for Amla’s attention yesterday were not answered at the time of going to press. But the news is winning attention in SA cricket circles.

“He’s certainly someone who comes to mind,” former national selector Craig Matthews said yesterday. “The reason people don’t talk about him as a possible captain is that he has come across as being reluctant to take the job in the past.

“But he is experienced and level-headed and you would have to take him seriously if he says he wants to captain.

“From a tactical point of view, he has not had an opportunity to prove himself good or bad as a captain at this level, but within the dressingroom they will have a better idea of that.”

In his 15 first-class innings as captain of the Dolphins in 2004-05, Amla scored 707 runs at an average of 54.38. Along the way, he drilled three centuries. The last of them was an innings of 249 in the final against the Eagles.

Despite those sparkling stats, Amla resigned at the end of the season citing a need to stay focused on his batting.  

In the ensuing 10 years, Amla has become one of the pre-eminent batsmen in the game – a fact that has propelled him into a leadership position regardless of whether he wanted that to happen.

Now a succession race in which De Villiers was the clear favourite has been complicated. He remains the frontrunner, but Amla’s captaincy would mean SA would not need to find a new test wicketkeeper. It would also strike a blow for transformation.

And SA would go from Smith, the ultimate leader by example, to another player for whom performance matters more than all the inspirational words in the world.

But Matthews urged South Africans to look forward rather than to the past: “Whoever is going to captain SA is going to be different; he’s not going to be Graeme Smith.”

CSA’s board will meet on June 3 to decide on the selectors’ recommendation for test captain.