Chris Gayle does not have a cold –


CHRIS Gayle sticks out. It is, after all, difficult to hide a six-foot-two, dreadlocked Jamaican with shoulders to match and more than a passing resemblance to Snoop Dogg in downtown Sydney, home of the short, white folks – and plenty of even shorter yellow folks – now that Aborigines have been hunted to the point of extinction.

Certainly, the friend of another reporter’s friend had no trouble seeing Gayle out and about on Wednesday night at 9pm. So, well within curfew. But, round midnight, Gayle posted a picture of himself all got up in shades, ripped jeans and a cowboy hat – all in black – and looking like he was about to whip out a pair of six-shooters and blow someone’s ass away in the gunfight not at the KO Corral but in a hotel corridor somewhere fancy. He captioned the picture, “I’m only Human …”

Too human, as it turned out, because picking him out of a line-up of the usual suspects at a West Indies training session on Thursday morning was impossible.

All West Indies’ players seem to be at least six-foot-two with shoulders to match, and all of them wear the same blue training gear. That extends to their coaches – Curtly Ambrose is six-foot-seven, although he does not have the shoulders. Marlon Samuels does, but he is shorter than most and can be spotted by his junkyard dog scowl.

So it took a while for the small frizz of reporters gathered at the nets at the Sydney Cricket Ground to work out that Gayle was not among the six-foot-twoers towering out there in their blue kit.

Trigger a few minutes of what gives the denizens of the World Cup press corps a reason to get out of bed on most days: a story that is not really a story but will do until a real story – or a better story that is not really a story – comes along.

What? No Gayle? And that after, in Canberra on Tuesday, he had made Zimbabwe feel as if they were stuck in a lift with Robert Mugabe for 50 overs when he scored 215 against? And with the game against South Africa, the biggest game West Indies and South Africa have played since … dunno … on Friday? And with South Africa under pressure to win having failed dismally to fight their way out of a stale roti against India in Melbourne on Sunday? And considering South Africa tend to morph into melktert at the merest sign of pressure …

Oh! My! God! What are West Indies going to do?! Gayle! Gayle! They need Gayle! They must have Gayle! They cannot stay alive without Gayle! South Africa would dance naked on top of Sydney Harbour Bridge if they did not have to bowl to Gayle!

And this before anyone has tried to find out why Gayle is not around.

A call to the West Indies media manager – who is clearly visible to us not 100 metres away but on the other side of the fence that may not be crossed on pain of probable excommunication from the ranks of accredited reporters – produces the profundity that Gayle is resting his ailing back. But he will be fit for the South Africa match.

Gayle has had a sore back for more than a year, and the way he sat down behind the microphones to talk about his double century in Canberra suggested he will have to endure the pain for many more years year.

This is good grist for the non-story. But it gets better because one of the security men guarding the players from the motley likes of us and our nuclear-tipped pencils says Gayle has a sore throat; a cold, even.

A cold! When Frank Sinatra had a cold, Gay Talese came up with 15 148 words on the subject for Esquire and produced the finest piece of magazine journalism yet written. A cold! What luck!

Better yet, we have a discrepancy! At official level! Sore back or cold? You decide. Now that’s what a non-story needs to grow some balls.

Back on the phone to the media manager: does Chris Gayle have a sore throat or a cold or anything of the sort?


Bugger. Chris Gayle does not have a cold. Gay Talese cancels his hastily arranged trip to Sydney. Esquire are mightily unhappy.

Although it could be a lie. That is, of course, why media managers exist – to lie to the likes of us to keep the good stories and the good non-stories alike out of the paper.

Yup. It’s definitely a lie. Has to be. Bloody bastard media officer. We’re onto him.

But, reporters being the damn fools they are, one of them asks not in a whisper but out loud “So, does he have a cold?”

As one, the four security staff on the other side of the fence but within earshot swivel 180 degrees and boom in unison: “He Does Not Have A Cold!”

OK! Jeez! Neither Frank Sinatra nor Chris Gayle has a cold! We get it!

But does his extra sore back have anything to do with him being out at midnight? And with whom? And why? And doing what? He’s only human, remember …


Extraordinary SA were ‘ready to fight’

Times Media


IT was, AB de Villiers said, “Just one of the games.” Jason Holder, too, tried to draw a veil of something like ordinariness over Friday’s events at the Sydney Cricket Ground: “I thought we were well in the game when (De Villiers) came to the crease, but he was his normal exceptional self – he took the game away from us.”

But sometimes captains can’t fool any of the people any of the time. SA’s World Cup match against West Indies was anything but ordinary.

De Villiers scored an undefeated 162 in his team’s total of 408/5 – which set a slew of records. Then Imran Tahir took 5/45 as the Windies crashed to 151 all out and victory for SA by 257 runs – prompting another swirl of numbers never yet seen.

In the process, SA improved their net runrate to +1.260 – second in pool B only to India’s +2.060 – and took the possibility of De Villiers falling foul of the over-rate for another match.

All of which helped SA bounce back convincingly from a crushing loss to India in Melbourne on Sunday, and set them up to surge into the quarter-finals. They are heavily favoured to beat Ireland in Canberra on Tuesday. The self-destructing Pakistanis and the uncompetitive United Arab Emirates, SA’s remaining opponents in the group stage, should be dealt with easily.

“It’s great to see the guys like that, hustling around,” De Villiers said. “You could see their eyes were open. They were ready to fight.”

None more so than De Villiers himself, who reached 50 off 30 balls, 100 off 52, and 150 off 64. That’s right: he went from 100 to 150 in the scant space of a dozen balls, and from 50 to 150 off 34 deliveries. He scored 30 runs in the last over of the innings, drilling hapless Jason Holder for two, six, six, four, six, and six.

Did he know when to pull the trigger to set SA’s runrate soaring?

“Not really.” he said. “It’s about assessing the situation constantly.”

How did he ensure the ball kept booming off the very middle of his broadsword bat?

“It actually wasn’t coming off the middle of the bat, not all of them,” De Villiers said. “Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”

It went the way of Tahir on Friday. But how would the leg spinner approach bowling to de Villiers? He wouldn’t, he said. Instead, he would no-ball himself out of the attack.

“Two beamers and I’m out,” Tahir said, waving the match ball in the air to demonstrate: “Goof! I’m gone!”

Emphatic SA bounce back with a bang against Windies

Times Media


SA needed an emphatic performance against West Indies at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Friday to reassure their supporters and, more importantly, themselves that their World Cup campaign was back on track in the wake of their underwhelming display against India last weekend.

Job done, and how. First SA recorded the highest total yet made in a World Cup match between two test-playing countries, a towering 408/5.

It was also the biggest pile of runs SA have ever assembled in the tournament, and the highest total any team have made in a one-day international in Australia.

AB de Villiers’ century, which came off 52 balls, was the fastest scored in ODIs in Australia and his eventual 162 not out shimmered with all the outrageousness South Africans have come to expect from him.

Then SA dismissed the Windies for 151 in 33.1 overs to win by 257 runs – matching the margin India beat Bermuda by in Port-of-Spain in March, 2007 as the record victory in World Cup history.

Imran Tahir, who roared off into the outfield to celebrate five times, played the biggest role SA’s surge to triumph. His haul of 5/45 represents the best figures by a SA spinner in a World Cup match.

SA were expected to win this game. But not like this. Bring on Ireland, who SA will play in Canberra on what is sure to be Tuesday, bloody Tuesday.

India? Who are they again? The memory of SA’s 130-run loss – their heaviest in World Cup history – to MS Dhoni’s team in Melbourne on Sunday faded a little more with each of the 17 fours and eight sixes De Villiers authored into the annals on Friday.

And not just the fact that he did, but the way he did: with increasing outrageousness and inventiveness. He survived two chances, both after reaching his century. But the crowd would have booed anyone who dared dismiss De Villiers.

His over-the-shoulder flick, which requires a semi-somersault worthy of Spiderman, was particularly in evidence. That and a booming drive. And a meatily muscled mow to midwicket. Ah, you name it; he played it. Not to mention a few not yet named.

That De Villiers is also SA’s skipper makes him at once an irrisistable and an impossible example to follow. But Rilee Rossouw tried anyway, and he damn near succeeded.

Rossouw replaced JP Duminy, who was ruled out with a side strain in one of three changes to the XI who played against India. Kyle Abbott and Farhaan Behardien were the other new faces. Vernon Philander’s hamstring kept him off the field, while wayne Parnell was dropped.

Not that Rossouw batted like someone who had just arrived. In fact, his shot to reach 50 was more audacious than any of De Villiers’. A short delivery from Jerome Taylor veered across the left-hander, who leapt into the air and had both feet off the ground when he made dabbed deliberately at the ball and sent it screaming into the seats beyond third man for six.

Rossouw and De Villiers added 134 after Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla had put on 127. The main difference between the partnerships was that Amla and Du Plessis faced 23.4 overs together – almost twice as many as the 12.3 that Rossouw and De Villiers took to blitz their runs.

All of which paled next to the 3.2 overs that De Villiers and Behardien needed to rustle up 80 runs for the unbroken sixth wicket. Behardien’s contribution? Ten.

And then the Windies batted. Or, rather, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels tried to reprise the world record stand of 372 they shared against Zimbabwe in Canberra on Tuesday – when Gayle scored 215 and Samuels made 133 not out.

This time, they were dismissed 13 balls apart – both by Abbott – for a combined contribution of three runs. Then West Indies were 63/7. Then, somehow, Jason Holder scored a defiant 56 off 48 balls. Then the game was over and SA knew they were back. And with a bang.

The day Sandton came to the SCG

Times Media


SANDTON came to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Friday. To the lower reaches of the Victor Trumper Stand, to be exact, where the green shirts amounted to but a puddle compared to the sea of blue that roared support for India in the match against SA at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.

But the green puddle was loud beyond its size, and on the field SA gave it plenty to be proud about – not least a total 408/5 to which AB de Villiers contributed an undefeated 162 that demanded a rewrite of the book of superlatives. Then SA decimated West Indies for 151.

Many of the Saffers had made their way to the SCG from Rose Bay, the Sydney suburb where hordes try to keep one foot in Africa even as the other strives for a toe-hold in the Lucky Country.

“It’s unusual to hear an Aussie accent in Rose Bay,” one of them said. “There are so many of us there.”

So, what’s it like impersonating an Antipodean?

“Australia is such a hard country to live in – everything is so expensive,” she said in accent that was slowly but surely curdling with Aussieness. “You could buy a mansion in Houghton for what gets you a small, two-bedroom apartment here.

“But when I read about stuff like loadshedding and the chaos in Parliament, it’s not so bad.

“We will never close the door on moving back to SA, but for now this works for us.”

Just then a security guard ordered her not to stand on a particular yellow line at the top of a flight of stairs. Dutifully she moved away. Sandton security guards would know better than to do that, even if they gave a damn what the yellow line was meant to signify.

Out on the field, SA were busy erasing all the yellow lines they could find with the kind of abandon that must have seemed reckless to their watching compatriots.

In deepest Rose Bay, they will talk about Friday’s game for years to come – about De Villiers making up the rules and the physics of batting as he went along, about Imran Tahir looking like he would run all the way to Tasmania when he took a wicket, about the magnificent chaos of it all.

And, next time someone orders a Saffer in these parts to do something for no good reason, they just might not comply so sheepishly.

Dear Martin Crowe: respect, but no hugs

Times Media


AS a proper Pretoria boy, raised from solid Afrikaner stock, schooled at Affies and married in the bushveld, AB de Villiers does not do touchy-feely.

So he squirmed uneasily in his chair when he was asked on Thursday whether he had read the open letter former New Zealand batsman Martin Crowe wrote to him, and which was published by ESPNCricinfo on Wednesday.

“Yeah, I did read it,” De Villiers said with a polite smile. “It’s quite interesting – some valuable points made, and some points that are not so valuable.

“But I think it comes from a good place, and that makes me want to read it and want to take the good points.

“So point taken, and what can I say? Just thank him for that, for the input, and hopefully we’ll make some of the points count that he mentioned in there.”

Later, in Afrikaans, De Villiers said: “It sounds like he’s talking from his heart, and when a man talks from his heart you should listen because it’s important.”

Crowe’s letter begins with his earlier prediction that SA would win the World Cup, and by telling De Villiers “don’t be sad” about the fact that his team have “looked pretty ordinary at times”. He also makes the point, handsomely, that “any success of the highest order is down to bold, courageous leadership”.

So far, so fair enough. But then Crowe flies off on a grandiose tangent: “You guys should know; you had one of the best of all time – Nelson Mandela. So my first little tip is to acknowledge that bold leadership is your domain. This is your time to march them out, take them home. The skipper in black (New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum) has already assumed that role and is mounting an assault, just as Edmund Hillary did. On your side, if I were you, AB, I’d reach out and feel the presence of Madiba.”

De Villiers was asked whether he had shaved after reading Crowe’s thoughts. He replied that he had. Here’s why: “Have a shave, AB, you look ragged and rattled. Smarten up. A touch of polish is required. Since that 31-ball ton (against West Indies at the Wanderers last month), you have got a bit sloppy. You need to be all things in all situations. You need to lead like never before. Take a leap of faith. Feel Mandela in your bones.”

Crowe advised De Villiers to give Wayne Parnell – “a bit of a rogue (who) can go walkabout” – the new ball, and to, “Get Dale (Steyn) to relax, get rid of the stunned mullet look …”

As for SA’s first-choice spinner, “Oh, I love Imran (Tahir). What a big heart. If only you had 11 of him.”

Quinton de Kock needed to “clear the mind a little … breathe and believe”.

Crowe signed off with, “Respect, A big fan.”

The respect is clearly mutual. But, please, no hugging.

Gayle feels the love, and the pain

Times Media


BEFORE Thursday, all AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle had in common was that they hit the ball a long way and have done so in the colours of the same Indian Premier League franchise.

Then De Villiers pitched up in flip-flops for his press conference ahead of SA’s World Cup match against West Indies at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) that started in the early hours of Friday morning.

Clearly, SA’s captain did not train hard on Thursday. Neither did Gayle. In fact, he did not train at all. But while the South Africans scaled their practice back to activities like beach volleyball, the Windies put in a full session at the SCG.

Not, however, Gayle, whose absence from proceedings prompted a flurry of interest. First, the story went, he was resting the back that has been troubling him for more than a year. Then, it was said, he had a cold. But that was denied: his back was indeed what had kept him away from the nets. And, no, it did not mean he would miss Friday’s match.

Gayle smashed 215 off Zimbabwe’s attack in Canberra on Tuesday. If that doesn’t get you a day off, nothing will. But, after that innings, the first double century scored in the history of a tournament that has been going for 40 years, Gayle is the World Cup’s headline act.

Everything he does – or does not do – is news, regardless of how many runs he scores SA on Friday. However, De Villiers did not blink when told of Gayle’s inactivity.

“He doesn’t train often,” De Villiers said. “I played with him (for Royal Challengers Bangalore), and you don’t often see him in the nets. His body is quite old for his age. He needs to look after himself to make sure he gets on the park.”

Ailing back or not, Gayle’s achievement against Zimbabwe – which saw him equal De Villiers’ record of 16 sixes in a one-day innings – did not strike the SA captain as unusual.

“It’s not a surprise to see him bat like that,” De Villiers said before offering the barest bones of SA’s plan to avoid another master blast.

“It’s a matter of making sure you make your plans against him. He’s a world class player and he can win games for his team in almost any situation. He’s one of those guys you need to look out for and make sure your plans are really clear towards him.”

To opposing teams, Gayle looms large as the monster with the bat. But that’s not who he is on his own side of the fence.

“Chris is one of the most jovial people in the dressingroom,” West Indies captain Jason Holder said. “He brings a different atmosphere; he brings a lot of fun. It was a really good feeling not only to see him get a hundred, but going on to get a double hundred. His success is crucial to our overall success. We love him.”

So does De Villiers, but only when he and Gayle are in the same team.

Duminy doubtful for West Indies clash

Times Media


WHAT’S more difficult than trying to beat West Indies without Vernon Philander and with a ban hanging over the head of captain AB de Villiers? Having to do so without JP Duminy.

Times Media learnt on Thursday that Duminy was set to undergo a fitness test on a side strain before the first ball was due to be bowled at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday. The match was scheduled to start at 5.30am (SA time).

Philander has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, while the slow over-rate SA were fined for in their match against India in Melbourne on Sunday means another infringement would see De Villiers banned for one match in the tournament.

Winning Friday’s game took on added importance for SA in the wake of their 130-run loss to India, their worst ever at a World Cup.

Not only will the points be important to SA on Friday, they will want to regain the confidence they lost in that match.

Duminy’s allround contribution will be missed if he has been forced out. He scored 115 not out in SA’s opening match of the tournament against Zimbabwe in Hamilton on February and bowled seven overs for a tidy 39 runs against India.

SA found out just how much they needed Duminy when he missed the one-day series in Australia in November. In his absence, the middle order struggled for stability and the Aussies won the rubber 4-1.

In experience terms, Duminy that only other player in SA’s squad besides De Villiers and Hashim Amla to have played more than 100 one-day internationals.

Duminy’s growing stature as a leader was acknowledged when he was named captain of SA’s T20 team for a series in November after Faf du Plessis was rested.