Can Bob Dylan and Jackson Pollock win the World Cup for SA?

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

“SORRY ‘Hash’, I might stink a little bit,” Rilee Rossouw said as he sat down next to Hashim Amla at the press conference that followed the fifth one-day international between SA and West Indies at Centurion on Wednesday.

“I’m used to it with you – it’s fine,” Amla replied like a gently mischievous uncle.

Amla had scored 133. Rossouw had made 132. They had piled 247 runs of domination on the West Indians in their partnership.

Rossouw collected the man-of-the-match award. Amla was named man-of-the-series for scoring 413 runs in four innings at an average of 206.50.

If anyone stank, it was not Rossouw or Amla. But, nevermind batting from opposite sides of the crease, they are at opposite ends of the squad SA will send to next month’s World Cup.

There is little Amla cannot do when he has a bat in his hands. He crossed another item off that short list on Wednesday when he hit six sixes – his most in single ODI innings.

Going into the match, Amla had not bothered hitting any sixes in 86 of his 103 innings. Of the 5875 balls he had faced, only 24 had sailed over the boundary.

He was more concerned with poise than power, and despite what was seen as a too conservative approach he had become the No. 1 batsman in the format. That he is currently ranked third behind AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli is worthy of much pondering.

But, on Wednesday, the accumulator turned annihilator. Amla hooked his first six off the top edge. Then followed a scoop over fine leg, a heave over long-on – launched from a grounded knee – and two over midwicket. His last six was the most outrageous: he danced beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free of his bat, and sent the ball spiralling over third man.

Who was this bearded impostor, what had he done with Hashim Mohamed Amla, and how does he get grizzled hacks to bend Bob Dylan lyrics to his tune? Hey, Mr Tambourine Man? How?

“When an opportunity arises to try and take the game forward you try and do that,” Amla said. As one does.

At international level, nobody knows quite who Rossouw is. Three months ago, he was the flop who had suffered four ducks in his first six ODI innings. Then, even as AB de Villiers painted a Jackson Pollock on and over the Wanderers’ green canvas in the second match of the Windies series on January 18 – in less adequate terms De Villiers scored the fastest ODI century – Rossouw cracked a hundred of his own.

Trouble was, Amla did, too. So Rossouw’s innings had to get in the queue. But he had proved he belonged.

On Wednesday he did so again. This time, Rossouw scored four more runs and faced 17 fewer deliveries, and drilled most his eight sixes flat, fat, phat and fantastic.

“In the beginning it was tough because I felt intimidated,” Rossouw said. “You play with legends of the game – ‘Hash’ and AB and even Faf (du Plessis), and Dale (Steyn).

“You want to feel part (of the team) and you don’t until you score runs. I feel a lot more settled now.”

So, apparently, does Quinton de Kock, who played his first match on Wednesday after more than a month out with an ankle injury.

De Kock dived to snare a legside delivery and, according to Amla, “He just said, ‘Ja – I’m back’.”

All good. Because it’s time to wake up and smell the World Cup.

SA did not choke at 2011 World Cup, says Graeme Smith

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

GRAEME Smith does not believe his SA team choked their way out of the 2011 World Cup, but he feels other versions of the side have lost the plot at the tournament.

“I cannot deny that (SA) have exited the … World Cup in bizarre circumstances – Sydney 1992, Birmingham 1999 and Durban 2003 – but they have also been outplayed on the day in others – Karachi 1996, St Lucia 2007 and Dhaka 2011,” Smith wrote in a column published on the International Cricket Council’s website.

“At each of these … World Cups, (SA) showed good form during the event. However, I cannot categorically say that we were without doubt the best team or would absolutely have gone on to win any of the tournaments if we had got through our knockout game. We can only surmise as to what would have been.”

In the 2011 quarter-finals, SA limited New Zealand to 221/8. After 24 overs of their reply, Smith’s team had reached 108/2, which meant they needed another 114 runs at the moderate runrate of 4.39 against a middling attack on a slow but sound pitch.

Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers were at the crease with frontline batsmen JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis to come and the none too shabby ability of Johan Botha and Robin Peterson in reserve. But SA lost eight wickets for 64 runs and with it the match.

A shattered Smith arrived at the post-match press conference pale and hesitant, and without answers for what had gone wrong. Neither did anyone else, except the reporter who told him “this was not a choke – it’s a joke”.

Former SA coach Eric Simons, who presided over SA’s first-round failure in the 2003 World Cup, gave Smith the benefit of the doubt.

“From a distance, it looked like a choke,” Simons said on Tuesday. “But perhaps for those closer to the action, who knew the conditions better and had to play against that attack on that pitch, it wasn’t.”

Simons was more certain about the nature of choking: “It can take hold in any dressingroom. As a coach, you can feel it happening. You go from being in a place of confidence to being in a place of silence. The air gets thick and no-one seems able to breath.”

Lance Klusener did not know that feeling when SA crashed out of the 1999 World Cup, but only because he was involved in the runout that sealed a tie in the semi-final against Australia at Edgbaston. In that dark moment, was the field a better place to be than the dressingroom?

“Damn right it was,” Klusener said on Tuesday. “But where were the batsmen that day?”

Jacques Kallis was the only SA player to reach 50. When he was dismissed, 39 runs were required from 31 balls.

Klusener hit the first two deliveries of the last over for four to tie the scores. That left SA four balls with which to tip the scales. But, two of them later, Allan Donald was run out and the choke of all of SA’s chokes was complete.

What did Klusener make of Smith’s assertion that the 2011 debacle did not belong in the same category?

“Maybe he’s saying that because he was involved, but if you lose 8/64 some of the blame has to go to to the batsmen.”

Starting next month, SA have another chance to rid themselves of the chokers slur.

“Regardless of whether or not the chokers tag is justified, it is a label that (SA) has to live with in preparation for the (2015) World Cup,” Smith wrote.

Looming World Cup dwarfs fifth ODI

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

QUESTIONS were not in short supply at the press conference ahead of the last match of West Indies’ tour to SA on Wednesday, a one-day international at Centurion. However, straight answers were not as easily had.

“I’m not bothered about SA,” Darren Sammy said. “SA worries, let AB answer those questions.”

No doubt the gathered press would have asked them of AB de Villiers had he been behind the microphone. But De Villiers – along with Dale Steyn – will be rested on Wednesday. So Hashim Amla turned up.

What did he think SA’s weaknesses were heading into the World Cup in Australasia next month?

“I should ask the journalists; they generally pick those out,” Amla said.

Thanks, fellas, for nothing. But perhaps this is what happens when a series that was always going to be dwarfed by the looming World Cup is decided after three games, all of them won by SA.

“I don’t mind a series loss if we beat SA in the World Cup; that would be the perfect response,” Sammy said, making sure to add to the pressure SA are under having never won a knockout match at the tournament.

“I don’t think I have had a World Cup where SA have not been favourites,” Sammy said. “It’s no different this time.

“If you play three good matches in the first round, you are into the knockout stages and anything is possible.

“We all know when it comes to World Cup, once we get to knockout stages we tend to move on.”

Of their nine knockout games at the World Cup, West Indies have won six – including the finals in 1975 and 1979. Among their successes is a quarter-final win over SA in the 1996 tournament.

“If we win two (West Indies won the fourth ODI at St George’s Park on Sunday) and put SA’s bowlers under pressure, that could be a psychological edge going to the World Cup,” Sammy said.

Amla was quizzed on Farhaan Behardien’s role in SA’s World Cup squad. In two innings in the series Behardien has scored 24 runs. However, he took the important wickets of Denesh Ramdin and Marlon Samuels on Sunday, and he has a better economy rate in the rubber than JP Duminy, Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott.

“It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t got the runs that he would have liked to but no-one can argue with his credentials in domestic cricket,” Amla said. “He has been the best finisher in the game for the last few years for the Titans.

“With the ball, he has been uncanny with getting crucial wickets. He is a very wily bowler.”

Wednesday marks Quinton de Kock’s return from more than a month of inaction because of an ankle injury. In his 35 ODI innings, he has scored six centuries and featured in nine century stands – six of them with Amla.

So what, said Sammy: “Cricket is not about one person.”

But, sometimes, it is about the weather: Centurion faces a 72% forecast for thunderstorms on Wednesday.

The haunting of Henry Williams

The Cricket Monthly

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WARMTH from Cape Town’s setting sun slanted into the scene. The air was as still as the wooden panels that embraced the room. Desks stood square and silent. Emptiness was all around.

Only in the press gallery was life evident. Fingers attached to the twitching arms and shoulders of reporters, themselves silent and hunched over keyboards and focused on writing and filing that day’s copy, composed a discordant, subdued soundtrack.

But someone else was present. He sat as still as the air, as silent as the desks, and as empty as he could be.Henry Williams had been the last witness of that day’s proceedings at the King commission. He arrived proud and smiling and wearing his Boland blazer as a shield against anything the world might throw at him.

But Williams wore more chinks than armour. The lawyers’ questions hit their mark, and the truth bled out of him as he sat there. With it went his distinction as a cricketer good enough to have played for South Africa as well as any hopes he might have harboured of that achievement smoothing his path through the rest of his life. Cricket was almost all he had. Now, that had been taken from him. The only other thing he had had was dignity. That was gone, too.

Williams gave his testimony in his first language, Afrikaans. It was translated into English by an interpreter, and Williams and many in the the watching, listening crowd of lawyers, journalists and public in the gallery knew that what he had said in Afrikaans differed – sometimes significantly – from what was entered into the record in English. The murmurs of disbelief caught Williams’ eye. With confusion and fear, he looked at the people who knew what he had said and how it was being bent out of shape.

Yes, Williams said, he had accepted Hansie Cronje’s offer of illicit cash to concede more than 50 runs in his 10 overs in a one-day international against India in Nagpur on March 19, 2000. No, he had not kept his end of the bargain – he injured a shoulder and was unable to bowl more than 11 deliveries. So, no, he had not been paid his dirty money.

At that, snickering snaked through the room. Not only had Williams confessed to being a match-fixer, he had admitted to not being much good at match-fixing.

One by one, the raw bones of Williams the cricketer were exposed. Then the broken bones of Williams the man were picked clean. By the time the lawyers were done, all that seemed left of him was a pair of haunted eyes and a now rumpled Boland blazer.

Once Williams’ last scrap of self-respect had been flicked away, judge Edwin King adjourned proceedings. After a hurried shuffling of papers into piles, of piles into files and of files into briefcases, the room cleared and the emptiness and silence descended with the slanting sun.

Williams, eager to cleanse himself of his humiliation, had tried to join the stream for the exits. He rose and took a step, but seemed unable to take another. He made it as far as the front edge of the witness stand, slumped backward, clutched at the stand in order to stay upright, and inched sideways like a mountaineer stranded on the brink of an abyss. Long minutes later, he was safely back in the chair. There he sat, mired in gloom and staring straight ahead at nothing.

He was still there when the cleaners arrived and ignored him as they went about their work. The reporters, too, pretended he was not there. When the cleaners and the press finished what they had to do and left, some two hours after the end of that day’s hearings, Williams remained unmoved. How long would he sit there, trying to find the strength and the self-respect to stand up and walk out of the door and back into the world?

What must have seemed to him an eon ago, he had been a proud and respected member of a community that is at once adored and distrusted in South Africa’s cultural firmament. Coloured people, as they are called and call themselves, endure a slew of stereotypes – that their sense of humour is infallible, whatever the circumstances, that they are born soaked in alcohol and go through life topping themselves up, that every sentence they speak is shot through with profanities, that they are prone to being snared into criminal gangs whose currencies of choice are drugs and knives.

Closer to the truth is that coloureds were not white enough to enjoy the top tier of privilege in apartheid South Africa, and are not black enough to enjoy the sweetest fruits of democracy in the modern age. To be born coloured in South Africa is to be disregarded, except when someone needs to laugh or fancies a drink and a punch-up.

Williams had been that rare thing – the coloured man no-one could argue did not deserve the chances he had earned. He worked hard, took his wickets graciously, did not let success go to his head, and knew that where he came from was where he was going back to, and he was happy with that.

But now he had blown all that. As he sat there, he was in the eyes of South African cricket, other people like him and – most importantly – himself, just another scar of shame for coloured people. The slanting sun brought warmth into the room for most of us. For Henry Williams, it brought a cold, hard, ugly truth.

However long it took him, Williams found his feet and stood up and life went on. But not, for him, as an international cricketer. Like Herschelle Gibbs, who was guilty of agreeing to score fewer than 20 in the same match but “forgot” and made 74, he was fined and banned for six months. Unlike Gibbs, Williams was not a precocious talent. He was a decent but not dazzling player, a man who could get the job done but not win games on his own.Williams was expendable, and he never played for South Africa again. But his provincial career went on for another four seasons. Since then, he has stayed involved in coaching and development, and is currently Boland’s bowling coach.

Gibbs returned to the international arena as a classic case of the prodigal and remained as susceptible to poor decision-making off the field as he ever was. Cronje tried and failed to have his life ban overturned, and settled for a desk job with an earth-moving equipment company – in finance, no less – before dying in a plane crash on a misty mountainside on June 2, 2002.

Williams went back to what was left of his far smaller life, welcoming the obscurity but not the skew looks he got from people who had nothing but a second-hand idea of what had happened to him.

Then, almost 13 years after Williams’ world had ended on a dark afternoon of the soul in Cape Town, he spoke to two reporters – one of them was me, the other ESPNCricinfo’s Firdose Moonda – who wanted to know nothing more nor less than how he was and what he was doing; not about match-fixing or the King commission, or if he had regrets, or was glad Cronje was dead. Instead, they wanted to know about the Williams he had become. They wanted to write a story of survival.

But Williams did not want to tell that story. He did, however, have quite a tale to tell: about how he had lied to the King commission on the instruction of his lawyers, about how he and Gibbs had concocted a story to ensure Crone took the fall.

So, what had really happened on the fateful day?

“By the time I was in the shower, I heard Cronje in the room speaking to Herschelle but I didn’t know what they are talking about. When I put my shirt over my head, he (Cronje) said, ‘Hey, let’s throw this game’.

“I said, ‘Ja (yes), let’s throw this game’. Because now he’s smiling with me and I’m smiling with him – if you’re going to bullshit me I’m going to bullshit you, so fine. There was nothing involved.

“At lunchtime, he came to me and said, ‘We scored too many runs’. I looked at him and said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Guys, the deal is off’. I said, ‘So what?’. But he never spoke to us about money – you’re going to get this and you must go for that.”

Williams brimmed with bravado as he spoke to us in the pressbox at Paarl. Outside, New Zealand were playing a tour match. Lou Vincent was nowhere near, but sunlight was slanting through the windows …

The ink was hardly dry on the story when Williams called: “My phone won’t stop ringing. Now what? What must I do?”

Gone was the forthcoming confessor of a few days previously, in his place the shattered shell of a man who grew old with the shadows on that day at the King commission almost 13 years previously.

The lawyers he implicated were threatening to sue. The story had leapt hemispheres and mediums. Williams was back where he definitely did not feel he belonged.

“It’s OK, Henry. Don’t worry. This will go on for a few days, but then it will settle down. There is nothing wrong with that story. No-one is going to sue you. Everything is going to be fine, but it could be rough for a few days.”

At that, Williams allowed himself a modest chuckle, just to see if he could still laugh.

“A few days? But how bad is it going to get?”

The fear in his voice was impossible to misread. He had woken up to the nightmare again.

“No worse than it is now. How bad is it?”

Another laugh from the gallows, followed by, “Bad. But you say it will calm down?”

“Yes, it will.”

Which, of course, it did, enabling Williams to go back untroubled to coaching Boland’s bowlers and immersing himself in his passion, racing pigeons.

But cricket was not quite done with Williams. “Hello,” he answered the phone recently. There was bounce and bravado in his greeting, but it was soon snuffed out.

“Hello Henry. Telford Vice here. We spoke last year in Paarl …”

“Who?”

“Umm, we spoke about your racing pigeons … And about the King commission … Do you remember?”

The sulfuric laugh gurgled up from the pit of his stomach.

“Yes,” Williams said in the voice of a sheep stepping into an abattoir. “Yes, I remember now.”

“I’m just trying to find out, Henry, how you’re doing. What’s going on in your life?”

The silence was frigid with fear. Then: “Why?”

“Because a magazine in India asked me to.”

“A magazine in India? Why do they want to know about me?”

“It’s India. You know what that’s like – anyone who has played at a high level is of interest over there.”

Another laugh. “‘Of interest’,” he must have thought, “what a joke.”

But he said nothing.

“How are your pigeons?”

“They’re fine.”

“How many do you have now?”

“About a 100 racing birds and about 40 for breeding, but I lost my best bird last year – just didn’t come back.”

“Ah, sorry to hear that. What was the bird’s name?”

Whereupon Williams smelt a rat. Or, at least, a story in the making. Not this time. Not ever again …

“Anyway,” he said, suddenly hurried and harried, “I’ve got to go. We’re busy with the birds now.” Click. Several subsequent calls to Williams’ number got no further than his voicemail.

He is, of course, still out there, still trying to live the life that he and Cronje destroyed. For days, weeks, months and years he can pretend that that life remains intact, that the events and non-events before during and after a one-day international against India in Nagpur on March 19, 2000 never happened.

He could convince himself that Cronje is alive and well and behind a desk somewhere, that Cronje never existed, that he never met him, or that Cronje never had the arrogance to assume that he and Gibbs would be susceptible to bribery.

But, if Williams took the last option, he would have to face the awful fact: Cronje, crooked and corrupt as he was, was also right about him. He would and did do the dishonest thing, the wrong thing, the thing that painted him as a bad man and cast him into a life of denial and pretence.

It is, however, Williams’ life to live as best he can. He owes no-one anything because everything has already been taken from him.

What to get for the man who no longer has anything except a recurring nightmare and a loft full of pigeons? A phone that does not ring with calls from ghosts like me.

SA answer questions despite defeat

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WEST Indies won the battle of the fourth one-day international against SA at St George’s Park on Sunday, but David Miller won the war.

With the series already owned by SA, the Windies won a thrilling contest by one wicket. A batting line-up without Hashim Amla were limited to 262/8. An attack missing Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir conceded defeat with nine balls left unbowled. Andre Russell won the match by blasting an unbeaten 64 off 40 balls.

“We fought hard right until the end,” AB de Villiers said. “We had some good moments and some not so good moments but we came out on the wrong side of things. Sometimes you can try too hard.”

None of should matter to South Africans who are not De Villiers. What should matter was that Miller scored his maiden century in ODIs, a measured 130 not out during which he made the most of his strengths and overcame his weaknesses.

Like everything SA will do until February 15, when they begin their World Cup campaign against Zimbabwe in Hamilton, Miller’s innings will be seen through the prism of that looming challenge.

Despite SA’s dominance over the Windies, questions remain over the dependability of their middle order. Miller provided the closest thing to an answer on Sunday.

Only twice on his way to his hundred did he hit two fours in a single over. In the 19th, bowled by the pacy Russell, a crisp back foot drive through the covers and a meaty pull scampered to the fence. In the 32nd, Miller reached 50 with an extra cover drive off Sheldon Cottrell that needed a misfield to reach the rope. Then he edged Cottrell’s next ball past third man for four.

Only once he had reached his century, with a legside nudge for two off Jason Holder in the 48th, did Miller hit  a six – over long-off in the same over. Before the innings was over, Miller had hoisted two more sixes.

It was that kind of innings, a tapestry of things done well and others done less well. But the fact that Miller was there at the end, having arrived after SA shambled to to 32/3 in the seventh over and stayed to face 133 balls, said the most.

If Miller makes his name at the World Cup, he will remember his performance on Sunday as an important part of that success.

JP Duminy, meanwhile, faced 68 balls – a more important number than the 43 he scored or the three fours he hit. Just 17 balls had previously gone Duminy’s way in the series, which is not the ideal way to come back from more than a month out of action with a knee problem.

Farhaan Behardien also answered questions, at least partially. His smart catch in the covers to remove Chris Gayle and his jagging inswinger that took out Marlon Samuels’ leg stump hints at why he is in the World Cup squad.

De Villiers, too, had a day to remember; not for the 19 he scored but for his captaincy nous. He brought Duminy on to bowl the seventh over and the off-spinner dismissed Gayle with his sharply turning first ball.

SA’s captain got it right again when Behardien trapped Denesh Ramdin in front with his fifth ball of the match, and removed Samuels with the second delivery of his later spell.

So SA lost. So what? Sometimes, answered questions mean more than winning.

Leading Edge: The greats are nothing without the good

Sunday Times

Leading Edge: The greats are nothing without the good

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

ALEX Ferguson – anyone who calls him “Sir” should be taken out and shot – is not the safest source of sanity on most matters. But even someone who harbours as many issues as he does cannot get all of it wrong all of the time, his slew of trophies excepted.

So, Ferguson was onto something when he said, “The work of a team should always embrace a great player …”

And there we were expecting a profundity. Tell us something we don’t know.

“… but the great player must always work.”

Ah. Indeed. Big Al has it spot on. What good is greatness if it is not put to work for the greater good? Of course, greatness – the real thing, not the platitude dealt out to describe everything from chewing gum to cars to shades of nail varnish – is not often reached without much hard work.

Happily, then, SA will go to the World Cup bristling with more hard-working great players than you could kick a hairdryer at.

AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn will take their places in the pantheon of the game’s greats as surely as Ferguson’s arrogant gloating has ensured that Manchester United will be despised until they are as unsuccessful as, under Ferguson, they were successful.

De Villiers, Amla and Steyn are just the tip of an imposing iceberg of talent, skill and experience that will set sail for the Antipodes soon on a mission that has hitherto proved impossible for SA.

At all of their previous six World Cups they have been the Titanic; never the iceberg. And, mind, they have never been without greats – from Allan Donald to Jacques Kallis to plenty of near-greats.

What good is greatness if it fails to do great things? Or are World Cup triumphs built not with bricks but on the mortar that holds the bricks in place?

Might the strength of the rest of the SA’s squad be a better indicator of their chances than the fact that they have three of the world’s top 10 ranked batsmen – De Villiers, Amla and Quinton de Kock – and two of the best bowlers – Steyn and Morne Morkel – in their ranks?

Javed Miandad, Rameez Raja and Aamer Sohail were three of the leading 10 runscorers at the 1992 World Cup. And Pakistan won the tournament. But a fat lot of good having Martin Crowe, Andrew Jones and Mark Greatbatch in the top 10 did for New Zealand, who lost just one of their eight group games but crashed out to the Pakistanis in the semi-finals.

In that match, Crowe scored 91 and Miandad made an unbeaten 57. However, the key innings was the 60 drilled off 37 balls by a hulking, lumbering 22-year-old named Inzamam-ul-Haq. He would go on to greatness, but then he was no-one’s idea of the player he would become.

As good as De Villiers, Amla and Steyn are, they cannot win a World Cup on their own. They will need their Inzamam, and more.

De Kock, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott all have that look about them. They are greats-in-waiting, which means nothing until they achieve it.

This, then, is their chance. Claim the World Cup and live forever as the men who went where no other South Africans have. That done, nothing else will matter.

Because, say what you like about Ferguson, the damn fool is a winner.

De Kock is ‘vital’, but don’t tell him that

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DO not tell Quinton de Kock what we all know and what he might have realised himself: that he is an important part of SA’s team. And that’s on the captain’s orders.

“We know he’s capable of scoring big hundreds but we know he hasn’t played for a while,” AB de Villiers said on Saturday in Port Elizabeth, where SA play the fourth one-day international against West Indies on Sunday.

“I don’t want him to feel any pressure. I don’t want him to feel like he’s become a vital player to us, even though he has.”

For players of De Kock’s incandescence, pressure comes standard. He has scored six centuries and four half-centuries in his 35 innings, an outrageous success rate for any opening batsman much less a 22-year-old.

Next month’s World Cup is surely his oyster. At least, it was until he tore ankle ligaments and was ruled out for up to 12 weeks. He was originally due to return after SA’s first two games in the tournament. Then the last ODI against West Indies at Centurion on Wednesday was mooted as his comeback.

But on Saturday the theory that he would play for SA A in their 50-over match against the England Lions in Bloemfontein on Sunday tantalised cricketminded South Africans.

“That’s nowhere near the truth,” SA A coach Vinnie Barnes said. “Dane Vilas is my keeper.”

Such is the fuss over De Kock that baseless rumours about him quickly grow wings. De Villiers explained why.

“He’s a wonderfully gifted cricket player. He’s just got to go out there and play the game – that’s when he’s at his most dangerous. He’s a natural ballplayer.”

De Kock will not be the only notable absentee on Sunday. What with SA having clinched the series last Wednesday, the last two games are relegated to little more than practice ahead of the World Cup.

So the West Indians will not have to put up with Dale Steyn again on their tour, while Hashim Amla will be rested on Sunday. Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel could also be left out – making room for Wayne Parnell and Kyle Abbott – while Morne van Wyk will be behind the stumps leaving De Villiers free to direct the traffic.

“It’s different; I won’t say it’s easier or more difficult,” De Villiers said of captaining while also keeping wicket, which has done in all three ODIs because of De Kock’s injury.

Middle order lynchpin JP Duminy, who is freshly back from his latest battle with an ongoing knee problem, has faced just 17 balls in the series. What chance he will jump the queue to the top on Sunday?

“The order will probably stay the same unless we have a situation like we did the other night (in East London last Wednesday, when West Indies were dismissed for 122) and we aren’t chasing a big score.”

De Villiers bridled at suggestions that Duminy would go to the World Cup undercooked.

“It’s the same for every team,” he said. “I don’t see James Faulkner batting in the top three for Australia. That’s your job batting at seven or eight, from six to nine – you’re not always going to bat.

“In the IPL (Indian Premier League), I bat where I want to bat six times out of 16 games. You take what you get, you play the situation you’re confronted with and you prepare accordingly. That’s all you can do.”

But, for all the chopping and changing, De Villiers was mindful that “there’s nothing more powerful than winning games of cricket, especially leading up to that all important World Cup”.

Windies captain Jason Holder faced no such dilemma: “We’re unlikely to make changes. It’s about salvaging some pride.”