Anything SA can do, Zimbabwe can do worse

Times Media


NOT even a hat-trick by Prosper Utseya could stop SA from winning their triangular series match against Zimbabwe in Harare on Friday.

SA, who were 142 without loss almost midway through their innings, crashed to 231 all out with Utseya and his fellow off-spinner, John Nyumbu, taking 8/78 between them on a dry, sharply turning pitch. 

But anything SA could do, Zimbabwe could do worse – they were dismissed for 170 inside 40 overs to give SA victory by 61 runs.

Utseya, who finished with career-best figures of 5/36, hit the visitors hard in the 26th over. First he had Quinton de Kock spectacularly caught by Tendai Chatara at short third. Then Rilee Rossouw edged the first ball he faced to slip. With his next delivery, Utseya trapped David Miller plumb in front.

Utseya’s hat-trick was only the second in a one-day international by a Zimbabwean following Eddo Brandes’ effort against England in Harare in 1997.

The moment was particularly bitter for Rossouw, who was run out off his first ball in his previous innings – his international debut against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on August 21.

But Utseya will not be able to enjoy his success too heartily. On August 22, he was reported for having a suspect bowling action and has 21 days from that date to be tested.

His faster delivery and arm ball were cited as the potential problems. However, Utseya took all his wickets on Friday with off-breaks.  

And all that after Hashim Amla and De Kock had mounted their fifth century stand in 17 opening partnerships together.

Zimbabwe’s limited pace attack, weakened still further by Tinashe Panyangara being thrown out of the squad for sending his teammates video clips of Australia’s Mitchell Johnson attacking England’s batsmen, had no reply to the SA opening pair’s onslaught.

They Zimbabweans also did themselves no favours by dropping Amla on six in the fifth over with just 12 runs on the board.

Amla scored 66 before Utseya had him stumped in the 25th over, and De Kock forged ahead to 76. Their stand of 142 came off 147 balls.

But, with AB de Villiers rested, the only other SA batsmen to make an impact were Nos. 10 and 11, Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir, who shared 36 off 37 balls in a partnership that brought the Zimbabweans back to earth in the wake of their wild celebrations earlier in the innings.

That sombre mood seeped into Zimbabwe’s reply. They batted conservatively against SA’s new-ball pair, Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott, and then lost five wickets to the left-arm spin of Phangiso and Ryan McLaren’s steady, accurate seam.

Sikander Raza, Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Malcolm Waller and Elton Chigumbura all made promising starts to their innings but failed to follow through. Consequently, no Zimbabwean pair shared a half-century stand.

“It’s a team game, and someone has to come through,” Utseya, so taciturn he has been nicknamed “Rowdy” by his teammates, had said between innings. “I’ll give you a big smile if we get across the line.”

Sadly, by the end of the match, Utseya no longer had reason to smile.


SA, Australia, India in ODI rankings snakes ’n ladders

Times Media


RANKINGS matter. A lot. But don’t take a civilian’s word for it – according to Faf du Plessis, the rung a team occupies on the ladder carries a great deal of motivational weight.

“A lot of teams say the rankings don’t mean anything to them, but for us they’re very important,” Du Plessis said.

“To be the No. 1 test team in the world is a huge honour for us. We respect the hard work it took to get there.

“A year or two ago in the one-day set-up we were mid-table. We’ve worked hell of a hard to get to where we are.

“So it’s important for us to try to play or best cricket to knock Australia off that No. 1 (ODI) spot. To be No. 1 in this format as well is something we’re really striving for.”

SA will doubtless have an eye on the pecking order for the next few days, when it could be subject to a range of changes.

As matters stand, Australia lead India by a single ratings point with SA in third place by a fraction of a point. 

If SA beat Zimbabwe in their triangular series match in Harare on Friday – and there is no valid argument that that will not happen considering the home side have lost their last six games across all formats, and lost most of them badly – they will slip ahead of the Indians into second spot.

But should India win against England at Trent Bridge on Saturday, they will go to the top of the heap.

Only for the Aussies to go back to No. 1 with what should be an easily achieved win over Zimbabwe on Sunday.

Which would leave the way clear for a straight shootout for the top ranking when SA and Australia clash on Tuesday.

All of which should add interest to a triangular series that has quickly devolved into a bilateral showdown in someone else’s backyard.

Zimbabwe have been outclassed by both their opponents, and now they are beating themselves. On Wednesday, Tinashe Panyangara, one of the hosts’ few bowlers capable of bothering batsmen of the calibre that feature in teams like SA and Australia, was dismissed from the squad for the dastardly crime of making a silly joke.

Panyangara had sent his teammates video footage of Mitchell Johnson knocking the stuffing out of England’s batsmen, and wished them luck.

Zimbabwe’s humourless team management took a dim view. The fast bowler was sent to the corner in a dunce’s hat to think about what he had done and, doubtless, made to write “I must not scare our batsmen” at least 500 times. Bart Simpson must know just how Panyangara feels.

Not that SA will feel anything like relief not to have to face him. Panyangara is competent but hardly a first-rate threat.

Rather, AB de Villiers’ team will look for ways to build on the momentum they would have sparked by beating the Aussies in a rollicking runfest on Tuesday – easily their most commanding performance in the five matches they have played in Zimbabwe.

SA rose impressively to the challenge by chasing down a target of 328 with seven wickets and 20 balls to spare. Now for their next trick: beating Zimbabwe properly, which means showing neither respect nor mercy.

Affies too good for Aussies

Times Media


AFFIES were too good for Australia in Harare on Wednesday, and SA earned a rousing seven-wicket victory into the bargain.

The triangular series match was decided with 20 balls to spare, when SA reached 328/3 in reply to Australia’s 327/7.

AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, both graduates of the Pretoria high school and lifelong friends, scored more than three-quarters of the towering target between them with innings of 136 not out and 106.

Together they shared 206, SA’s biggest partnership for any wicket against the Aussies and just the Proteas’ seventh double-century stand in 511 one-day innings.

Du Plessis celebrated his first ODI century in his 49th innings. De Villiers made his 18th ton in the format in his 159th trip to the crease.

“It’s a special day,” Du Plessis said. “I got my first test hundred against Australia (on debut in Adelaide in November, 2012) and it’s good to get this one against them.”

De Villiers, whose highest score in his three previous innings on SA’s tour of Zimbabwe was the 21 he made in the first ODI against the home side in Bulawayo, was reluctant to talk about his own performance save to say he “needed to score some runs”.

About du Plessis, De Villiers said: “He brought a lot of calm and he batted so well.”

Du Plessis built his innings largely on orthodoxy and confidence, bar the odd audacious hook off the front foot.

But De Villiers did not so much push the corners of the envelope as rip it up, particularly when he found a way to flick James Faulkner over his shoulder for six while sitting cross-legged on the pitch.

That De Villiers spent most of his innings clutching his cramping left hamstring only added to his feat. That he never flinched, despite that handicap, from taking sharp singles or diving to make his ground elevated his effort to superhuman levels. 

Du Plessis’ innings was chanceless, but De Villiers was dropped on 78 by Mitchell Johnson off his own bowling and on 86 by George Bailey at point off Kane Richardson. Neither chance was difficult.

Both batsmen reached their centuries by crashing Mitchell Starc through the covers in the 37th over, but Starc’s last ball also separated them – Du Plessis tried the front-foot hook trick once too often and was caught at midwicket.

Enter JP Duminy to power SA to victory with De Villiers in an unbroken stand of 71 that was realised in 8.1 overs.

Such was Du Plessis’ and De Villiers’ dominance that it was difficult to remember whether Australia batted on Wednesday.

They did, and while SA tamed Glenn Maxwell for seven they conceded 102 to Aaron Finch, 51 to Phillip Hughes and 66 to Bailey. They also leaked 93 runs in the last 10 overs.

It took superb bowling by Imran Tahir to reel in the Aussies, who were 83/0 when he was introduced in the 15th over. Tahir removed Hughes and Mitchell Marsh to reduce the Aussies to 115/2 in the 24th.

Australia needed Steve Smith’s 31 off 19 balls and Johnson’s 23 not out off eight to get them past 300.

Wayne Parnell was the weak link in SA’s attack, which made it all the more strange that De Villiers tossed him the ball to bowl the last over of Australia’s innings. Twenty runs flowed from it.

But, a few hours later, none of that mattered. What did matter was that Affies were too good for the Aussies.

SA’s phony war ends

Times Media


THE phony war SA have been fighting in Zimbabwe ends on Wednesday in the form of a one-day international against Australia in Harare.

But SA’s awakening is unlikely to be rude. In fact, all AB de Villiers needs to know his team face their stiffest challenge yet on their trip north of the Limpopo is his memory of last season’s Newlands test between Wednesday’s opponents.

With that series locked at a game apiece, the third test threatened to come apart at the seams as the tension rose along with Australia’s push for victory, which they achieved by 245 runs.

Hot words were slung like bullets, several of them by Michael Clarke at Dale Steyn – who levelled his bat at the Australian captain, causing the umpires to step in.

“It was a hard-fought series, but there are definitely no hard feelings,” De Villiers said on Tuesday. “We didn’t expect anything less. It’s always a tough series. I’m expecting to see more of that in this series. 

“There was lots of personal stuff. I don’t mind it – I laughed at a couple of chirps I heard.”

But De Villiers warned that not everyone in the SA dressingroom held his benign view of the Aussies’ sledging habit.

“They can’t expect us to be mates with them off the field if they get very personal,” he said.

And SA will not expect Australia to role over like Zimbabwe have done in the test and three one-day internationals, all of which the Proteas have won.

The Aussies made plain their intentions in the first match of the triangular series on Monday, when they racked up 350/6 – the highest ODI total made at Harare Sports Club – and dismissed Zimbabwe for 152 inside 40 overs to win by 198 runs: their biggest victory over the Zimbabweans in the format.

De Villiers, however, opted for understatement: “We analysed it in our meeting and I watched a couple of overs – not too many,” he said. “It was a one-sided game. Australia obviously played well and deserved to win.”

The plain truth was that Australia took the fight to Zimbabwe in a way SA have not. They did not hold back in their attacks with bat and ball, and won in style. SA, by contrast, did not do much more than what was required of them.

“I’m very happy with the way we’ve performed,” De Villiers said. “I won’t say we’re the perfect unit; there’s lots of room for improvement. We’re certainly not where we want to be, but I thought we played very well.”

Bizarrely, considering the results so far, he also had kind words for the home side: “Zimbabwe are a very dangerous ODI team, especially in their own country, and I won’t be surprised if they upset the likes of Australia in this series – hopefully not us.”

De Villiers and Hashim Amla, who were both rested for the third ODI against Zimbabwe, will no doubt return to action on Wednesday. So, in all likelihood, will Steyn and Morne Morkel, who put their feet up for the entire series.

Clarke remains a doubtful starter with a hamstring injury that kept him out of Monday’s game.

But SA can bank on facing Glenn Maxwell, who blasted 93 off 46 balls against Zimbabwe, for the first time in an ODI.

Players taking to cricket by the numbers



CRICKETERS can bat, bowl, field and run. But they can’t hide from the emotional triggers that snag the attention of players and public alike.

So, as much as the game’s stars will roll their eyes and protest with a stifled yawn that they could not care less about statistics and milestones or where they are in the pecking orders that litter the media, all we need to do to know different is to ask ourselves whether we would care if those numbers were about us. We would.

We want to know where we stand with our significant others, our bosses, our underlings, our elders and our juniors. Psychiatrists and psychologists would be out of business if we did not have a strange need to know what we think of ourselves.

Moreover, we want to know these things truthfully, or as close to the truth as we can get. That is not often possible, as anyone who has been lied to by a lover will attest.

But cricketers have it easy. In these days of instant everything, when they want to know how good they are they get their Google on. Or they consult the stats wallahs, who are in almost every dressingroom.

Players do so discreetly because they would not be comfortable with the rest of us knowing how seriously they search for the answers to their questions.

But they tend to betray themselves. For instance, South Africa’s players spent a good deal of their tour to England in 2012 explaining away the significance of the fact that, if they won the series, they would be the top ranked Test team. However, in the magic moments after they won the third match at Lord’s to secure that status, a beaming Graeme Smith held the mace with one hand and stuck the index finger of the other in the air like he just didn’t care – as plain a “We’re No. 1!” as we could hope to see.

Then, last November, Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s T20 captain, went boldly where lesser men would not: “We’ve set a goal for ourselves to try and get to No. 1 by the time the (World T20) starts. I don’t expect us to compete in a tournament if we’re ranked No. 5 or 6. That means you are inconsistent. If you get to No. 1 it means there’s a lot of consistency in your side.”

Du Plessis was too right for his team’s own good. South Africa went to the WT20 in fourth place, and left after losing to India in the semi-finals.

Now, AB de Villiers has also reached for the inspiration provided by cold, hard numbers. The third and last one-day international against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo last Thursday held little relevance, what with South Africa having won the first two.

After explaining why it would be important to give the bench-warmers a game – South Africa stuck by that and all three played – De Villiers said, “Other than that there are still rankings at stake so as a team I’d like to win even though we might make a few changes.”

South Africa were fourth on the ODI ladder going into the series. They emerged in third place and thus just in time to challenge top dogs Australia in the triangular series that started on Monday. India were second by a fraction of a point, but the way they are playing they could find a way to lose to themselves. 

Hashim Amla, meanwhile, regained the No. 1 batting spot from De Villiers by dint of the 122 not out he scored in the first match in Bulawayo. De Villiers was just a point behind and had a bulletproof opportunity to ravage one of the weakest attacks in cricket in that third match to help him get back on top. But he and Amla were both rested on Thursday, all the better to keep their rivalry going.

However, with Virat Kohli marginally below De Villiers and George Bailey lurking with intent in fourth place, everything could change.

Yes, the rankings are facile marketing and nothing more. Yes, they do not matter to those who prefer their cricket unsullied by such nonsense. No, that is not going to make them go away.

Besides, when more cricket is being played than anyone could ever care about, what are we to do to add relevance and context to matches and series and tournaments that are frequently devoid of such old-fashioned virtues? It figures, really.

Be afraid, SA – Mitchell Johnson is back

Times Media


BE afraid, SA. Be very afraid – the bastard’s back. Mitchell Johnson spent a good chunk of last summer scaring the bejaysus out of South Africans, and he was at it again in Harare on Monday.

This time his targets were not SA’s batsmen but a covey of SA-based television commentators perched just so atop the sightscreen at Harare Sports Club (HSC), where Australia played Zimbabwe in the first match of a triangular series.

Tinashe Panyangara loped in to bowl the 49th over of an innings that would yield 350/6, the biggest total yet seen at HSC. And with the sweetest, straightest swoop of his bat Johnson sent the ball arching down the ground and over the boundary – and straight into the windows supposedly sealing the commentary box from anything that could befall the prattling posse inside.

Yelps of alarm were followed by the shattering of glass, and frantic attempts to ensure the flying shards had not done much damage. Blood was apparently drawn, but minimally.

From the middle, Johnson held up a hand in acknowledgement of the damage he had caused. But the cold grin on his face said he enjoyed the moment as much as he did taking 22 wickets at 17.36 in Australia’s test series in SA in February and March.

“I was very happy with that,” Johnson said. “I’ve been trying to hit the ball as straight as possible instead of across the line, and I’m not going to apologise for that.”

As if to reinforce the worrying truth that he had SA back in his sights, Johnson took the new ball and with it immaculate figures of 6-2-7-1 as Zimbabwe crashed to 152 all out and defeat by 198 runs – their biggest loss in 28 completed ODIs against the Aussies.

And to think Johnson was not even the Australians’ main threat on Monday. That was Glenn Maxwell, who played every shot in the book and invented a few along the way to score 93 off 46 balls.

“There is no plan to Glenn Maxwell,” Sean Williams said.

Mitchell Marsh was not far behind with his 89, which was part of a stand of 109 scored with Maxwell in just nine overs.

Not that Australia’s captain on Monday, George Bailey, was overly impressed: “No hundreds; that’s something we’d like to get.”

With Michael Clarke back in the line-up and Phillip Hughes smuggled in there somewhere – Clarke has a hamstring problem and Hughes did not crack the nod despite the 202 not out he made in a List A game against SA A last month – the centuries should flow.

But when SA arrive at the ground on Wednesday to take on the Aussies they will know they are in for a match that will be unrecognisably different from those in the 3-0 triumph AB de Villiers’ team completed over the home side on Thursday.

The Australians did not hold back, they did not allow the Zimbabweans into the game and they did not let the conditions dictate how they played. SA were guilty of all three mistakes, which has taken the gloss off the fact that they have won every match they have played on this tour so far.

On Wednesday, if SA need a reminder of how things should be done, the smashed commentary box window should do nicely.

Too many of Utseya’s revolutions televised in Zimbabwe’s twilight zone

Sunday Times


NO Australian’s passport was stamped when Ricky Ponting brought his team to Bulawayo to play Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup, so grateful was Robert Mugabe for the illusion of normality that big cricket beamed live to the world could lend his twilight zone of a country.

But many spectators who used World Cup games played in Zimbabwe to protest the brutality of the regime were detained and tortured. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga got off lightly: the black armbands they wore to “mourn the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe” cost them their international careers but nothing more.

More than 11 years on, things have changed. Michael Clarke and his men were treated like any other VIPs when they arrived at Harare International Airport on Thursday to play in a one-day tournament that will also feature the home side and SA.

Ordinary Zimbabweans, meanwhile, have seen the dangerous futility of taking slogans to a gunfight.

But careers are still being ended, or at least shoved under a cloud. Prosper Utseya, a veteran of 156 ODIs, has been declared “suspicious” – not by the state but by the International Cricket Council, whose bowling action police have placed him under surveillance.

Utseya has 21 days to have his allegedly dodgy action tested. While the off-spinner at the heart of Zimbabwe’s attack remains free to bowl, his arm ball and quicker delivery will come under special scrutiny. Perhaps too many of his revolutions were televised.

Australia’s ranks include Mitchell Johnson, who spooked SA’s batsmen last summer to a degree that even Mugabe’s goon squad would have admired, and Phillip Hughes, who smashed a double century off SA A in a one-day game last month.

Shane Watson are Shaun Marsh are out with injuries. Also missing with official leave is David Warner, who has stayed home to give up being the only unruly kid in his house by becoming a father.

SA dealt ruthlessly with the Zimbabweans in a test and three ODIs in the past two weeks, and the Australians should beat the hosts at least as comfortably.

So interest in Monday’s game between Zimbabwe and Australia in Harare is a fraction of the focus on Wednesday’s clash, when the two big guns meet.

Hughes is likely to supply some of highest calibre ammo around, but Australia can be sure that Quinton de Kock will also be locked and loaded.

Having drilled Zimbabwe’s peashooter attack for 185 runs in three innings in Bulawayo, De Kock is primed for the conditions. The Aussies are also unlikely to get inside his head.

“I’m not one for planning,” De Kock said this week. “I know some of the guys are. They like to sit down and watch videos of the opposition. I just hit a few balls in the nets and when it comes to the day I’ll play.”

Sounds like a passport to success.