Would SA have done better than New Zealand?

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

FOR this SA were denied a place in the World Cup final? For this New Zealand’s fine team held their nerve in the hurricane of emotion that tore through the Eden Park semi-final? For this Australia prepared themselves as if for war?

The Aussies pitched up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday to play the match of their lives. It was, after all, Michael Clarke’s last one-day international.

And a crowd of 93 013 give him the send-off he has earned as Australia clinched their fifth World Cup title with a seven-wicket win that looked effortless but was not, even though 101 deliveries were unspent in winning it.

The Kiwis left their A game on the wrong side of the Tasman. Had they played against SA in Auckland on Tuesday like they did on Sunday, AB de Villiers would have been walking to the middle with Clarke come toss time for the final.

But would SA have beaten the Aussies on Sunday? No. The only time in the tournament Clarke’s men have made significant errors was in their loss to New Zealand, which they suffered a month ago. SA played something close to the perfect game in their quarter-final against Sri Lanka. But that was their only performance that did not raise concerns.

On Sunday, Australia refused to open the door to New Zealand, who refused to knock. This was close to a no contest as a cricket match should be allowed to get. Were it a boxing match, the referee would have awarded it to the Aussies in the first round because the Kiwis declined to throw a punch.

Even so, Grant Elliott became only the fifth player to score half-centuries in the semi-final and final of the same World Cup. Unhappily for New Zealand, Elliott and Mike Brearley – who did this double in 1979 – are the only two who have not been part of the champion team.

Elliott’s 84 not out against SA was a thing of calm beauty, an innings composed more than it was played. His 83 on Sunday was defiance on legs, but it was never going to be enough to deny an Australian team who could not have dissected their opponents more skillfully and precisely had they used a scalpel.

The glint of the Aussies’ cold steel was never more apparent than when Glenn Maxwell ended New Zealand’s innings with a lightening throw from short leg that shattered the stumps with non-striker Tim Southee’s foot over the crease but not grounded at the crucial instant.

By then Brendon McCullum had neither mastered nor blasted. Instead, he had played over and around a fullish inswinger from Mitchell Starc and been bowled. Martin Guptill’s stumps had been nailed when he played back to a Maxwell off-break. Kane Williamson had popped a simple return catch to Mitchell Johnson. Brad Haddin had dived to pluck from the air – and just off the ground – the dipping edge James Faulkner had induced from Ross Taylor. Elliott had steered Faulkner’s back-of-the-hand slower ball to Haddin.

By then it was all over bar Australia’s chase of a nominal target of 184. Clarke scored his second half-century of the tournament, a sturdy 74, and shared a century stand with Steve Smith.

Clarke chopped on to Matt Henry with just nine runs required, then departed to a blaze of flashbulbs and a long roar of appreciation. He has not always been his compatriots’ favourite, but this changes everything.

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‘CSA board demanded Philander play in semi’ – insider

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

CRICKET SA’s board (CSA) hung Vernon Philander out to dry by demanding his selection for the World Cup semi-final in a move that made captain AB de Villiers reluctant to play in the match, sources close to the SA team say.

If the claims are true, a star bowler who has taken 121 wickets in just 29 tests has been cynically undermined. Philander has earned every nugget of his success, but being thrust from the cold of an injury lay-off into the team to play the most important match in SA’s one-day history makes him look like a player who has benefitted from being black.

The other side of the equation is that the in-form Kyle Abbott was denied the opportunity he deserved – which probably cost SA a place in Sunday’s final.

Philander hurt a hamstring after bowling four overs against India in Melbourne on February 22. His only other match of the group stage was against the United Arab Emirates on March 12. In both games, he did not find the seam movement that makes him lethal.

But, having bowled just 12.3 overs for the middling return of 2/53 in the World Cup, Philander was included in the XI for the semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland on Tuesday.

That would have been understandable if SA had no other option. However, they had Abbott – their best bowler in the tournament in terms of average, economy rate and strike rate.

Asked if Philander had been selected on transformation grounds and, if so, how and why the decision was made, CSA president Chris Nenzani said: “Team management could perhaps be in a better position to respond to your query. However let me state that I have not in the past interfered with the selection of the team and I do not intend to do so in the future. We have always emphasised that national team selection must be on merit.”

Brendon McCullum hammered 14 runs off Philander’s first over on Tuesday, forcing him out of the attack. Philander conceded a respectable 38 runs off his other seven overs and in fact was SA’s most economical seam bowler in the match, but only De Villiers’ careful captaincy spared him a mauling.

Once he had bowled his eight overs, Philander left the field – either because SA wanted to put a more attacking fielder into the mix or because he was still injured.

“AB didn’t want to play in the semi because of this; it is a clear case of interference by the board – they ordered Philander’s selection,” a well-placed source who declined to be named because “people will lose their jobs if this gets out” told Sunday Times.

“It was a purely political decision. The players are fuming about it, but they won’t say so.”

Another source confirmed that they had “heard the rumours”, adding, “If they are just rumours then they are very unfair. If it’s true then (this will have a) detrimental effect on Vernon and the team. It’s very unfortunate either way.”

The Philander fandango came in the same week that the SA Cricketers’ Association (SACA) said they are “considering our legal options” after, SACA claim, CSA’s board unilaterally raised the quota of players of colour in franchise teams from five to six.

The simple, harsh, truth of SA’s failure to win the World Cup

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

NEW Zealand reached the World Cup final because a steady, unspectacular 36-year-old South African played the innings of his life.

Grant Elliott’s 84 not out was the difference between two teams who fell victim to the kind of errors that most players, however experienced, will make under pressure.

Without Elliott’s performance, all the fire and brimstone of Brendon McCullum’s batting would have come to nought. Martin Guptill’s double century in the quarter-final against West Indies would have been just another amazing innings, not part of a bigger story. Trent Boult’s heroics would have been in vain.

It all came down to Elliott, Dale Steyn, and the last two balls of the match – five to win, four to tie, which would have been good enough to put the Kiwis through. Elliott sealed it with a six.

“There’s such a fine line between winning and losing, and that line was proven once again,” Russell Domingo said on SA’s return home. “For us to want to make radical or drastic changes or chuck this out or chuck that out based on a boundary with one ball to spare would be immature. We need to let the dust settle and take stock before deciding.”

Too late. The decisions that mattered were revealed when SA’s World Cup squad was named on January 7. One of them ignored SA’s own steady, unspectacular player. His name is Ryan McLaren.

The chickens of McLaren’s omission have come home to roost. And that is not hindsight: the howls when he was left out should still be ringing in the selectors’ ears. Now louder than ever, in fact.

You can pick as many players as you like who allegedly have that dreamed up nonsense – the x-factor. There are 25 other letters of the alphabet, and all of them are needed to form words to fit into sentences that make up chapters to be compiled into a book. The World Cup is a book, and x does not feature in it nearly as often as the more steady, less spectacular letters.

Australia reached the World Cup final because they played like a team who believed they would get there. Their loss against New Zealand in a white-knuckle shootout was, according to the Aussies, an aberration. They proved themselves correct with five subsequent victories, which included beating Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India.

When SA lost to India after a less than convincing win over Zimbabwe, the pressure on them increased exponentially. Going down to Pakistan lent them the look of dead men walking. Their stirring win over Sri Lanka in the quarter-final promised much, but delivered little.

SA never seemed to have the big picture in focus. Instead, they played as if they believed one game would change everything. But the Aussies were confident enough of the coherence of their campaign for Michael Clarke to announce his retirement from one-day cricket on the eve of the final.

Clarke summed up that sureness: “I will train no harder today. I will study New Zealand no harder than I did last time we played them. I will sleep no worse tonight than I ever do. I’ll be no less nervous before I walk out to bat. The feeling is exactly the same.”

When Joel Stransky needed to nail a dropgoal to win the 1995 World Cup final, he did. When Mark Williams was given two chances in two minutes in the 1996 African Cup of Nations final, he scored twice.

When SA needed to stop Elliott from finding four runs off two balls to earn the right to play the biggest game of their lives at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, they failed. Simple. Harsh. True.

Leading Edge: Protea backfire

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

IT started with tinsel and ended in tears. There was so much wrong with the way SA approached this World Cup, from the ridiculous fuss made at the announcement of their squad to the outrageous nonsense that accompanied their send-off to their seeming inability to do anything without a consultant hovering, to the selection of Vernon Philander ahead of Kyle Abbott for the semi-final. Call this what it is: Protea backfire.

The place for marketing in cricket is on lampposts. It should never be allowed to involve players or coaches or anyone who has a proper job.

Cricket SA’s marketing went mad before the World Cup. Whoever decided an extravaganza of a squad announcement was required when a simple e-mail would have done exactly the same job should be fired. Or at least have their budget castrated.

The same goes for the embarrassment that was the squad’s soap opera of a farewell. How much money was wasted on that, and for what exactly? What happened to going to the airport, signing autographs for the fans who turn up, posing for a few pictures, saying goodbye, and getting onto the plane?

Note that all this was done for a team who had yet to win a World Cup. And what have they returned as? A team who still haven’t won a World Cup.

After all that unnecessary piffle, SA finally arrived Down Under. The madness was behind them. Except that it was not. All it did was shift into a new shape – chronic consultantinitus.

Already have Allan Donald as your bowling coach? What the hell: have Charl Langeveldt as well. Russell Domingo is your head coach? Why don’t we add Gary Kirsten to the mix as well? That will undermine the current head coach? Nah, it won’t do that. Oh, and here’s Michael Hussey as well. After all, it’s not as if you guys have ever been to the Antipodes before, so you have no clue how their pitches are going to play. And remember Mike Horn, he who was not Marlon Brando of Apocalypse Not Now – the tour to England in 2012? Well, he’s back to tell you to climb every mountain. Or something.

SA’s support staff outnumbered their players. In fact, there were times at practice sessions when it was difficult to see the players for the jam stealers. What were they all doing? Did the consultants have consultants themselves?

And Philander for Abbott? A bowler who has missed four out of seven games through injury and didn’t look in the best of form when he was fit being dragged in from the cold to replace, in the biggest game in SA cricket history, someone who had played his heart out and got the results? What indefensible folly.

None of the above would have hit the radar had SA reached the final. If they had, the over the top approach would have been held up as the rollercoaster superslide to success.

Instead, if we weren’t all so pissed off with how this World Cup ended for SA, it would be funny. One day, when SA simply get on with playing cricket, it will be. Until then, expect plenty more tears.

The team of the tournament

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

SIX weeks and a day after it started, the World Cup reaches its climax on Sunday in the final between Australia and New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It has been a tournament of teetering highs and scraping lows, of two double centuries, five scores of 150 or more, 31 lesser centuries, seven bowlers taking five wickets or more in a match – one of them six, another seven – and of England being laughed all the way home after the first round.

In an indication of what we all know already, that bat rules ball in one-day cricket – for the first time since the 1987 World Cup no team was dismissed for fewer than 100 runs. The 1983 tournament is the only other time that has happened. In all, 17 sides have been sent packing in double figures.

But, after everything, cricket is a team game played by individuals. And the best of them who featured in the World Cup are gathered here:

2015 World Cup XI

Martin Guptill (New Zealand) – Because patience is a virtue, even in modern ODIs. And to be able to write headlines like the New Zealand Sunday Star Times did: “Two toes, amazing feat”. That’s right: Guptill has only two toes on one of his feet because of an accident involving a forklift truck.

Brendon McCullum (New Zealand) – Bad Bren. Mad Mac. Or just plain Baz. Gotta have him swinging for the fences. Makes brute force look pretty as a tattoo. Nerves of ice don’t hurt, either. Neither does having the meanest cut jib in cricket.

Steve Smith (Australia) – Hides his magnificence behind a certain sleepiness and the most ordinary name in the game. If the regular strokes don’t fit the bill, he makes his own.

AB de Villiers (SA) – General Electric. Genius. Steve Jobs in pads. Not even AB knows what AB is going to do next.

Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka) – If Julio Iglesias played cricket, this is how he would bat. There’s a rich smoothness to everything Sanga does that does not quite fit into the frenetic world of sport as we have come to know it. Bless him for it.

Michael Clarke (Australia) – Hey, someone (preferably someone strong, sharp and unshutupable), has to captain this bunch. Can bat a bit, too, when he sorts himself out.

MS Dhoni (India) – For the smile. For the shrug. For the unflappability. And for the television audience – got to get an Indian in there somewhere.

Wahab Riaz (Pakistan) – Angry and at ’em.

Mitchell Starc (Australia) – Angry and at ’em and consistent.

Imran Tahir (SA) – Having spent years trying to spin the ball around corners, Tahir has discovered the value of confidence and control.

Trent Boult (New Zealand) – Too fast, too furious, too swingy, too good to leave out of any team. Besides, who needs right-handed quicks when the best bowl with the other arm?

Indian arrogance, SA sadness gone – and then there were two …

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

THE Indians and their arrogance have gone the way of the South Africans and their sadness. Ten other teams didn’t last even that long. Two have been left standing, and they meet in the World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Sunday.

It doesn’t get bigger or smaller than this. Bigger because no other one-day international means as much. Smaller because, 48 matches and six weeks ago, who would’ve thought that the last two teams in the mix would be neighbours? That’s if you consider the Tasman Sea to be the fence between them.

For Australia, whose four previous triumphs in the tournament already makes them the most successful World Cup team, No. 5 would mean they have won almost half of the 11 events yet played.

For New Zealand, this is unchartered territory. Before their heart-stopping victory over SA in Auckland on Tuesday, they had lost all six of their semi-finals.

Australia didn’t have nearly as much trouble subduing India in Sydney on Thursday. A century from Steve Smith and Indian batting that looked as tired as MS Dhoni has for a few years now was all it took.

With that, thousands of hotel rooms across Melbourne became available and the airport was clogged with fleeing fans in blue shirts.

And now this – a showdown in the MCG corral, cricket’s grandest arena and a place where the Kiwis have won only eight of their 24 one-day internationals and just four of 19 against the Australians.

The Aussies have won 71 of their 118 ODIs at the MCG. But the Kiwis will want to hold onto the fact that only one side – Zimbabwe – have not beaten them there. SA, for instance, have come out on top six of the seven times in which they have played Australia at the MCG. If only …

However, to hear Michael Clarke tell it, the MCG is the ultimate home ground. “The fact that the conditions are different will certainly help us, and we’ve played a fair bit of cricket throughout the summer at the MCG,” he said.

New Zealand, who have all of their World Cup matches at home, were last involved in an ODI at the MCG in February, 2009. But they won it.

Whatever. Whoever. Clarke didn’t care: “New Zealand deserve a lot of credit – they’ve been the form team of the tournament. But I don’t think it bothers us too much who we play.

“It was our priority and our goal to get into the final. And it happens to be (against) New Zealand.”

Actually, maybe Clarke did care: “The fact that the two hosting nations are in the final is extremely special. I think there’s a great mutual respect between the teams. Australia and New Zealand on and off the cricket field have a wonderful relationship.”

Not that there will be much bromance going in the stands on Sunday. The crowd at Eden Park for the Kiwis’ semi-final set an unmatched example for how cricket should be watched. They were constantly aware of what was happening in the match and the consequences of what was happening. When a single digit changed on the scoreboard, a roar or a groan went up.

The New Zealanders have left all that behind. Instead, they will have to beat one of the most cocksure teams in front of one of the most boorish crowds.

They will need more of the stuff that Grant Elliott had flowing through his veins on Tuesday.

“This game, it’s amazing,” Elliott said after his 84 not out nailed SA’s coffin shut. “Once you’re in the zone and you’re playing with freedom and you’re not really thinking, then it’s a great game.

“It’s just see the ball, hit the ball. You don’t premeditate with batting. The less you think, the better.”

Damn straight.

Future imperfect looms for SA’s aging squad

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

IMAGINE a SA team without AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir and Morne Morkel …

Actually, imagination is not necessary – all of those players are 30 and older. Which means none of them is likely to see another World Cup.

The 2015 tournament was SA’s chance to win it all but they could not quite get there, going one step further than their predecessors by becoming the first SA team to win a knockout match but crashing out a game later.

This seemed to be a golden generation of SA players, a group who would get up after being knocked down and fight on. But, when it mattered most, they turned out to be brass and promptly tarnished.

With peripheral players Farhaan Behardien and Aaron Phangiso also in the over-30 club and Vernon Philander reaching that milestone – or is it a millstone? – in June, only five members of SA’s squad at this World Cup could still be around when the tournament turns up in England in 2019.

That makes Quinton de Kock, Rilee Rossouw, David Miller, Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell the future, although four years is a long time in cricket and the landscape could change significantly by the time another squad is put on the plane with instructions to bring back the trophy.

Morne van Wyk, Colin Ingram and Vaughn van Jaarsveld are also longer rather than shorter in the tooth. So the batting torch passes to players like Theunis de Bruyn, Jon-Smuts and Rudi Second.

Among bowlers, hopes will be high for Kagiso Rabada, Marchant de Lange, Dwaine Pretorius, and Eddie Leie to break through the domestic ceiling.

But predicting the future is folly. Injuries, burnout and the emergence of bright young things can and will change any or all of the above. And there is every chance that one or more of the older players will find ways to extend their careers.

Russell Domingo seemed to hope so when he said on the squad’s arrival back in SA on Friday: “I think some of these guys will still be around in 2019; they will only get better with time.

“We don’t want players to make emotional decisions of think of retiring.”

All good, but it will worry cricketminded South Africans that too many of the leading franchise players are more than halfway through their careers.

Perhaps SA’s cupboard of players who have significant futures at international level is indeed more bare than usual. Perhaps it just looks that way in the wake of a difficult few days.

But cricket, like life, goes on – win or lose.