Snoop Dogg and the dominee’s daughter’s date – or Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

CHRIS Gayle is Snoop Dogg in pads, a ripping rhyme of runs and boundary bombast. Darren Sammy is the cricketer even a dominee would let his daughter date.

Both are among the hired guns in the domestic T20 that starts on Sunday with a triple-header at the Wanderers.

The thought of 180 consecutive overs of the short, sharp and brutish stuff crammed into 12 hours will make those who prefer their cricket to be played in whites and pause for tea to long for the comparative bliss of root canal treatment.

But, for others, who consume life vicariously in bite-sized chunks fed them umbilically from glowing screens, T20 is the only way cricket makes sense.

For better or for worse, they are the future. And Gayle, even if he is hardly a kid anymore at 35, is an important part of sustaining the present until it becomes that future.

He is the ultimate emphatic player in the format that subtlety forgot. In fact, by one admittedly creative measure, Gayle is more valuable to his team then Brendon McCullum and David Warner combined.

The dozen centuries Gayle has scored – the record for T20 – top the 10 shared by McCullum and Warner, Gayle’s closest rivals on that score. Together, McCullum and Warner have had 373 T20 innings. Gayle has had 181, or less than half as many.

Unsurprisingly, Gayle is the most prolific T20 batsman with 6551 runs to his name. Next on the list is Brad Hodge, who has scored 466 fewer runs than the Jamaican despite having had 27 more innings.

Gayle also owns T20’s highest score, an undefeated 175 he blitzed off 66 balls for Royal Challengers Bangalore against the Pune Warriors in last year’s Indian Premier League.

Geoff Toyana, who coaches the Lions team the lusty left-hander will pad up for against the Dolphins on Sunday, can’t hardly wait for Gayle to blow in: “At least he’s coming this time – he left Jamaica on Wednesday and he’s in London now; he arrives at 7am (on Friday).”

Well might Toyana be interested in Gayle’s travel plans. In 2011-12 and 2013-14, he was set to play for the Dolphins before being ruled out through injury.

But quite how someone as straight-laced as Stephen Cook, the Lions captain, will deal with an overgrown wild child like Gayle, whose Twitter feed is not for the prudish, is a compelling sub-plot to the tournament.

Toyana, however, was not concerned about potential man management issues: “We’ve got all kinds of characters in our squad – some crazy guys and some nice guys. I don’t think Gayle will give us a problem.”

Titans coach Rob Walter is unlikely to be asked whether he expects trouble from Sammy, who has already arrived at Centurion.

“I have always tried to bowl dot balls,” Sammy said on Thursday. “As we say, a dot is as good as gold in T20-cricket. If I bowl dot balls, I build pressure.”

Sounds rivetting. Not. But the Titans won’t complain on Sunday if Sammy puts his bowling where his mouth is against the Cobras – who will expect more exciting stuff than that from Kieron Pollard.

The Knights, meanwhile, will need Andre Russell to play above expectation against the Warriors, who will bank on Craig Kieswetter’s experience.

Is it a Gayle? Is it a Malinga? No – it’s Kieswetter

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THINK T20 and names like Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga spring to mind. Craig Kieswetter? Perhaps not.

But, despite his low profile, the Johannesburg-born, Cape Town-educated England wicketkeeper-batsman is 48th on the list of alltime highest runscorers in the format. In those terms, he is a more successful T20 batsman than Shikhar Dhawan, Kevin Pietersen, Sachin Tendulkar, Richard Levi, Adam Gilchrist or Jesse Ryder.

Kieswetter has scored 27 half-centuries and has a strike rate of 123.5 to his credit in 114 games for Somerset, the Brisbane Heat, England Lions and England.

By the sound of things, none of that came as news to Piet Botha – the coach of the Warriors team Kieswetter will play for in the franchise T20 tournament starting on Sunday.

“I expect big things from him,” Botha said. “He’s got a proven track record in T20 and he’s played all over the world.”

Kieswetter could slot neatly into the vacancy left by Davy Jacobs, who is recovering from hand surgery, behind the stumps and at the top of the order. He could also do so on another level considering Jacobs is among the most battle-hardened players on the domestic scene.

“I think he will contribute to our team in terms of experience and helping the young guys,” Botha said.

Kieswetter was down with that: “I want to try and contribute with the guys; help as much as as I can with anything, especially on the field but also off the field – try to pass on a bit of knowledge.”

After his first net session with his new teammates, Kieswetter knew he was part of a spirited bunch.

“I thought I’d get it quite easy from the guys and I got the opposite,” he said. “It’s quite a young squad, full of young guys with a lot of talent. The key point for us is to get that talent playing consistently well over a period.”

That would become a lesser challenge if Rusty Theron overcomes a lingering knee injury. Yesterday, Botha remained unsure of the key allrounder’s fitness.

The Warriors play the Knights in the first match of a triple-header at the Wanderers on Sunday.

That will be followed by the Cobras’ clash with the Titans, and a game between the Lions and the defending champions, the Dolphins.

When death and sport collide

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TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

HERE in sunny South Africa, land of the freshly free and the boisterously brave, home to colonialists, communists and capitalists, country of Mandela, place of Gandhi’s political awakening, we have, in the space of a week, killed two of our best and brightest and jailed another.

Last Tuesday, Oscar Pistorius was put away for five years – more like 10 months if he behaves well – for shooting dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through a bathroom door. On Friday, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, the 800 metres silver medallist at the 2004 Olympics and in 2009 the world champion in the same event, died in a car crash on a lonely road. On Sunday, the South African football team’s captain and goalkeeper, Senzo Meyiwa, was gunned down in what would appear to be a burglary gone horribly wrong.

Death and sport are not supposed to collide. When they do, we are shocked – as if such a thing has never happened before and will surely never happen again. But it has and it will, and we will be shocked again.

We can live with sport stars winning, losing and drawing, with them saying and doing stupid things, or being caught in compromising positions with people who are not their significant others, or even falling foul of the law.

But we cannot live with them dying. When they win, we win. When they lose, we lose. When they draw, we draw. And when they die that part of our hearts reserved for them – and only them – dies with them.

The last time cricket in South Africa endured this pain was on June 1, 2002, when an aircraft carrying Hansie Cronje was waylaid by the weather and mangled on a mountainside.

That Cronje died a crook, banned from the game for life for his involvement in matchfixing, does not stop taxi drivers in every cricket country you could name hailing him as a great player when they detect a South African accent from the back seat.

In these memories, neither death nor dastardly dealings have dimmed Cronje’s aura. To them, nothing about Cronje matters more than his ability to play cricket as if he had the balls of 10 men. That he also had the ability to take money to under-perform – and to convince others in his team to do the same – is ignored by all except a few who still feel the sting of his betrayal.

How Indians feel about their own Cronje, Mohammad Azharuddin, was confirmed in 2009, when they sent him to parliament. It is easy to ridicule Azharuddin’s election, to say it should never have happened and that it tells us much about the Indian mind.

Except that, had Cronje lived, it is entirely conceivable that his future could have unfolded in much the same way in South Africa. Whatever he ended up doing – he was a financial manager in an established company at the time of his death – he would have done prominently.

And he would have been forgiven. If South Africans can forgive those who perpetrated apartheid and all its evils against them, why not a mere matchfixer? In fact, there are people who remain adamant that Cronje did nothing he needed to be forgiven for.

Pistorius and Meyiwa, too, dipped into the dark side. Many refuse to believe Pistorius’ explanation that he shot Steenkamp because he thought she was a burglar, while Meyiwa was at his girlfriend’s house at the time of his death. His wife’s pain can only be exponentially increased by this highly public fact.

Cricket in South Africa should be thankful that it has, so far and Cronje excepted, escaped this kind of heartache. A game that likes to believe it is all about sunshine and fairness would struggle to recover from such catastrophe.

The other side of the equation is that, measured against this grim standard, no amount of ball-tampering or sledging or cheating or matchfixing committed by the current South African team will matter to those who support them.

Whatever else South Africa’s players are or are not or would rather the world did not know about them, they are alive. Here on the all too sharp tip of Africa, after a week of awfulness, that is a wonderful thing.

No KP for SA T20. Yet …

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

BOWLERS in this year’s franchise T20 competition can rest assured: they will not have to face Kevin Pietersen. At least, not yet …

Contrary to murmurs that Pietersen would play in the event, his name was not on a list of six foreigners billed on Monday as the “super star” contingent for the tournament, which starts on Sunday.

But the only star among Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy and Craig Kieswetter is Gayle.

That truth is borne out by comparing the list with the T20 rankings, where Gayle is the highest pegged batsman at No. 15. The only bowler in the top 50 is Darren Sammy, who is 46th.

Zimbabwe’s Hamilton Masakadza is ranked higher than Gayle, while Lonwabo Tsotsobe is a better bowler than Sammy by 25 rungs on that ladder.

And it seems a genuinely big fish got away. The Lions were in discussions with Samuel Badree, the world’s top ranked T20 bowler, but he could not negotiate leave from the school where he teaches.

Kumar Sangakkara was also set to call the Wanderers home for the next six weeks before he was whisked away on Sri Lanka’s tour to India.

If reports of Gayle’s involvement ring deja vu bells, that’s because he was all set to play for the Dolphins in 2011-12 and 2013-14 only to pull out with injuries. This time, he looks likely to turn out for, that’s right, the Lions.

“We have had assurances from a physio and from his agent that he is in good health,” Lions chief executive Greg Fredericks said on Monday, adding that he hoped to have Gayle’s signature on a contract “in the next 24 hours”.

Pietersen, one of the most destructive hitters in the game, was in the country two weeks ago. But only to play in a charity sixes tournament with former SA players and to take to the bush with rhino warrior Mark Boucher.

One of those former players was Graeme Smith, now the T20 tournament director. That led to theories that Smith could convince Pietersen to return to the country of his birth, if only for a few weeks.

He might be here again in the near future, but to autograph copies of his controversial autobiography rather than a playing contract. It seems signing up with a franchise for the tournament’s duration is not part of Pietersen’s short-term plan.

“People said we should try and get KP, but what I’ve heard is that he isn’t available for more than about a week,” Fredericks said.

That is, until December 13 – six days before the start of Australia’s Big Bash League. The England Cricket Board have cleared Pietersen to play in that tournament, where he will turn out for the Melbourne Stars. According to reports out of Australia on Monday, he will warm up by playing a Victorian Premier League match the week before.

SA’s tournament runs until December 12, which would preclude Pietersen’s prolonged involvement. But it does not rule out a spot of parachute professionalism for the odd game or two.

Of course, the price would have to be right for a player who was paid US$1.5-million by the Delhi Daredevils this year. Or, as a veteran man of cricket said on Monday, “I’d be impressed if he didn’t ask for a lot.”

But, for Fredericks, the grass was not always greener abroad: “Last season’s competition was won by the only team that didn’t have an overseas player in their squad.”

This summer, that team, the Dolphins, will have Bravo on their books. Pollard will play for the Cobras, Russell for the Knights, Sammy for the Titans, and Kieswetter for the Warriors.

De Kock’s timing perfect for Aussie tour

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

EARTH to Aussies: De Kock is coming, ready or not. Quinton de Kock, that is, who batted his way out of the wet paper bag his recent form has been in the third one-day international against New Zealand in Hamilton on Monday.

Rain ended the match after 30.4 overs and with it a series SA had won 2-0 on Friday. But not before De Kock had scored 80 not out in SA’s total of 157/3.

De Kock’s display dismissed disappointment over his string of sorry scores in his last five ODIs – 26, nine, seven, two and one.

After facing a dozen balls on Monday, De Kock had scored as many runs in boundaries. In all, he hit 11 fours from the 94 balls he faced. But De Kock also showed maturity and took on the responsibility of keeping SA going forward after they had been reduced to 70/3.

That caught the eye of AB de Villiers, who shared an unbroken stand of 87 with the left-hander.

“His last few games, he’s probably not scored as many runs as he wanted to,” De Villiers said. “But that tells a story about where he’s at with his cricket.

“To still keep his head up high and still try and still work hard at his game, and come through with a decent knock was really important.

“In one of his first few games I realised he had that in him. I also thought he was a flashy player, going hard at the ball all the time. But then I realised he actually has the other side of the game as well.

“For a 21-year-old to have that in his gameplan is amazing. I certainly didn’t have it at his age.”

High praise indeed, which means the Australians – SA’s opponents in three T20s and five ODIs starting next Wednesday – will take notice.

How did De Villiers rate his team’s readiness for what will be the most significant stage of their preparation for next year’s World Cup?

“We’re nowhere near where we want to be,” he said. “Actually, we’re not far off. But there are lots of areas we can work on.

“It’s a matter of being more ruthless in certain areas. In the second game, we stumbled with the bat. We could have got to 300-plus.

“With the ball, in the first game, we should have finished it off earlier.

“We’ve been working really hard on our fielding. I still believe we can improve, but we’re going in the right direction.”

In other words, their best today, their better tomorrow.

Leading Edge: Play that funky music, AB

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SOMETIMES, you have to wonder whether AB de Villiers’ initials stand for something other than the advertised Abraham Benjamin. Something like Absolutely Brilliant. Tuesday was one of those times. And Friday.

On Tuesday, in the first one-day international in Mount Maunganui, De Villiers was made to wait 47 balls for his first four.

Not that it mattered. Only sad bastards like TS Eliot’s J Alfred Prufrock measure their lives in things like coffee spoons. If your favourite Pollock is Jackson you will know and appreciate that there is more to the artistry of batting than boundaries bashed every which way.

Fours and sixes are all very well, but there was more creative confidence in the way De Villiers took 31 runs of the first 46 balls he faced than anything a brutal bludgeoner like Virender Sehwag might have wrought.

Then came delivery No. 47, bowled by that returning old stager, Dan Vettori. Flexing his wrists, De Villiers muscled the ball ever so elegantly through mid-on for four. Vettori’s next effort disappeared down the ground, straight, sweet, and sizzling, for another boundary.

Of his next 15 balls, De Villiers sent three scurrying to the fence. He revised the equation with the last six, putting another three past the field.

Thirty-six of De Villiers’ 89 not out came in fours. But it was the other 53 that stuck out for their enterprise and daring, their fluid footwork, their precise intent, their perfect marriage of muscle and mind. To label De Villiers’ strokes in the tired tradition of cuts, drives, sweeps and pulls would be to miss the point.

De Villiers is jazz at the crease. If you must, you could call what he does bebop, hard bop, post bop, modal, swing, syncopated, acid, cool, hot, ragtime, or straight-ahead. Or you could shut the hell up and enjoy. In the same way that no categorisation stayed pinned to Miles Davis, so there is no box that will fit De Villiers.

If that’s not batting that De Villiers does, what exactly does he do? He makes things happen. Watch.

On Friday, when the second ODI was played at Mount Maunganui, De Villiers did so in a way that not even he had dared to before. In his 164 previous ODIs for SA, he had bowled only once: two overs against Zimbabwe in Harare last month in which he conceded 13 runs and took no wickets.

But, with the 10th delivery he bowled on Friday – a long hop, it has to be said – De Villiers induced a flaccid flap from Tom Latham that deposited the ball into Hashim Amla’s hands at short fine leg.

The delivery lacked flair, but not De Villiers’ decision to bring himself on in the 15th over ahead of Imran Tahir.

Then De Villiers took his second wicket, and properly. Trent Boult backed away to leg to make some space to smash the ball all the way to the south island. But De Villiers saw him coming, and speared a slower delivery into Boult’s pads – from where it caromed onto his stumps.

A slower ball! In 101 tests, 173 ODIs, 10 T20s and almost a dozen years playing at the highest level and along the way taking 662 wickets across those formats, Makhaya Ntini never mastered the subtlety of that art. And here comes De Villiers, a veritable upstart at the bowling crease, getting people out with the damned thing.

There have been many other examples of De Villiers’ genius where those came from, and there will be many more. South Africans should not be proud – they should be relieved other teams and their supporters have to find a way past him, and not theirs.

A(bsolutely) B(rilliant) de Villiers, jou lekker ding.

More heroes than villains for SA in NZ

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WHEN AB de Villiers needed an example to help him illustrate the compliment he was trying to pay one of his players on Friday, he found what he was looking for sitting right next to him.

“That Dale Steyn delivery is going to get nine out of 10 batsmen in the world out,” SA’s captain said after his team had beaten New Zealand by 72 runs in the second one-day international in Mount Maunganui to claim the series ahead of Monday’s last match in Hamilton.

“Except ‘Hash’. Maybe ‘Hash’ would have blocked that to mid-off.”

With that, Hashim Amla, who having been named man-of-the-match for his 119 was seated alongside De Villiers, beamed through his beard and chuckled that he “would probably have nicked it”.

Levity aside, that cameo captured three of the major reasons SA have dominated the series.

De Villiers was a fury of innovation and torque at the crease in the first match on Tuesday, when he scored an undefeated 89. As a captain, he has been unafraid to entertain an unconventional idea – like bringing himself on to bowl.

Steyn has taken only three wickets – Imran Tahir, Vernon Philander and Trent Boult have four each – but his personality has allowed him to loom over his quarry of cowering kiwi birds like a menacing storm cloud.

Amla has left the New Zealanders, the most resourceful players in cricket, scratching their heads for ways to curb his serene unorthodoxy from running away with the innings.

Philander, too, can be satisfied with knocking over the seasoned Martin Guptill twice, and the series’ top runscorer, Luke Ronchi, once. He has the best strike among SA’s regular bowlers and the second-best in the series.

The pitches have offered Philander help and allowed him to bowl the fuller length that has earned him 115 wickets in 26 tests, but South Africans will hope he has discovered how to transfer his success from one format to another.

De Villiers, Steyn and Amla are proven performers in test and one-day cricket but the ODI jury remains out on Philander, who has taken 21 wickets in his 17 one-dayers.

“He has all the skills and the talent to handle the new ball like he did today,” De Villiers said of Philander after Tuesday’s match.

Philander himself is not scared of anything, much less anything piddly one-day cricket can throw at him: “The intensity creeps up playing ODIs, but it’s not going to make a massive difference to who I am.

“It’s probably just going to enhance my game, and it can only be good for my game because I’ve got a lot to contribute to this team.”

JP Duminy scored an important unbeaten 58 in the first match, and was the victim of a marginal “umpire’s call” lbw decision on Friday just as his innings was taking shape.

Tahir, meanwhile, is operating with the slick assuredness that SA have come to bank on in ODIs.

So much for the heroes. What of the villains?

Concern will be starting to stir over Quinton de Kock, who has gone five ODI innings without scoring a half-century. That fact is cast in stark relief by another: after his first 19 innings he had five centuries.

In this series, De Kock has been undone by a fine away swinger from Boult and by his own misjudgment when he was bowled off his inside edge by Mitchell McClenaghan. It is too early to panic, but SA will want De Kock firing sooner rather than later.

The other worry is Ryan McLaren, who was welcomed back from a broken arm on Tuesday by having two of his overs smashed for 16 runs each and another for 13.

But there is more good news than bad for SA. “We came here to win the series and we’ve achieved that,” De Villiers said. Job done, and well done.