Fixtures snub home of SA cricket

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE Eastern Cape is the home of SA cricket, but it is also the big loser in next season’s international fixture list.

SA will play 19 matches against New Zealand, England and Australia at home between August and March. However, only one game has been bequeathed to the Eastern Cape: the second one-day international against England on February 6, which is scheduled for St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.

By contrast, the Wanderers, Newlands, Kingsmead and Centurion will each host SA four times. That means almost two thirds of the fixtures will be played at just more than a third of the country’s 11 established international venues.

But at least PE have a reason to strike up the band in the national cause – unlike the province’s other international venue, Buffalo Park in East London, which will have to hope for better luck next time.

That said, East Londoners are becoming used to cheering on their team in front of their televisions. SA have played there just seven times in the past 10 years.

Cricket has a rich black history in the rural Eastern Cape that stretches back more than a century, and the all-white SA side played their inaugural test at St George’s Park in March, 1889.

That counted for little on Friday when Cricket SA announced the fixtures for Australia’s tour in March, SA’s last engagement of the summer.

SA v Australia:

March 4: 1st T20, Kingsmead

March 6: 2nd T20, Wanderers

March 9: 3rd T20, Newlands

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Harmer faces struggle to stay in test mix

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SIMON Harmer will know better than to over-think his inclusion in SA’s test squad for their tour to Bangladesh next month.

What with Dane Piedt sure to bowl himself back into form sooner rather than later and the selectors indulging in funny business by picking a short format specialist in Aaron Phangiso as Harmer’s spin twin, the Warriors off-spinner will know that he is only as good as his last performance.

Happily, that was the match haul of 7/153 he took on his test debut against West Indies at Newlands in January. But even that should not nurture a sense of security.

Kyle Abbott’s experience is a powerful cautionary tale. Since claiming match figures of 9/68 against Pakistan at Centurion in February, 2013 – only two SA test debutants have done better – Abbott has played just two more tests.

And, of course, he was shamefully left out of SA’s team for their World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand in Auckland in March despite having been his team’s best bowler of the tournament in terms of average, economy rate and strike rate.

Given all that, it’s difficult to see Harmer establishing himself in the side even if he takes all 40 available wickets in the two tests SA will play against Bangladesh. So what, exactly, should he aim to achieve in the series?

“He’s got to get out there and bowl like he can and bowl for the team,” Andrew Hudson, whose tenure as SA’s convenor of selectors ended with the squads picked for the Bangladesh tour, said on Friday.

“If he bowls like he did in Cape Town that will be fantastic. He took his opportunity and bowled really well.

“And, of all the spinners in the mix, he’s the best batsman. He’s also a good fielder, which makes him a good all-round package.”

Indeed, Harmer scored two half-centuries – one of them an effort of 92 off 99 balls – batting at No. 4 in six matches for Monton and Weaste in the Central Lancashire League in April and May. He has made seven half-centuries in franchise first-class matches.

Harmer also took 17 wickets at 16.11 for Monton and Weaste. His most recent outing was for Todmorden against Lowerhouse in a Lancashire League game on May 23, in which he claimed 5/29.

Bangladesh will provide stiffer opposition than anything the Lancashire leagues have to offer but it can do Harmer no ill that he is clearly in decent form.

But he will nevertheless keep looking over his shoulder for potential threats and rivals. Even so, he will not see Morne van Wyk and Stephen Cook coming.

Van Wyk was named SA’s T20 international player of the year and Cook the franchise first-class player of the season at Cricket SA’s awards bunfight this week.

Strangely, neither of them will be in Bangladesh.

Zondi a surprise choice as selection convenor

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

CRICKET SA’s (CSA) decision to appoint Linda Zondi as convenor of selectors on Tuesday is surprising because of his relative inexperience on the panel and the presence on the same committee of candidates with better playing credentials.

But Zondi’s elevation is in line with CSA’s commitment to “aggressive transformation” – he is the first black African to hold the position.

“There’s a moral obligation to get things right (on transformation),” CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat told an audience in Johannesburg on Tuesday night.

Zondi, who became a national selector in July, 2013, replaces former test opener Andrew Hudson, who said in April he would step down after five years as convenor.

Zondi played three first-class matches for Natal B and KwaZulu-Natal B from February, 1997 to February 1999. He batted at No. 7 and No. 8, scoring 35 runs in four innings, and neither bowled nor kept wicket.

Ashwell Prince and Errol Stewart are new faces on the panel. Prince was a rock in SA’s batting order for 66 tests while Stewart played 98 first-class games and six one-day internationals.

Hussein Manack, a veteran of 52 first-class matches, was retained. He told Times Media on Tuesday night that he would relinquish his directorship of the Gauteng Cricket Board, a conflict of interest that would have prevented him from serving as a selector.

Shafiek Abrahams was nominated for another term on the panel but his tenure ended.

SA’s death bowling consultant at the 2015 World Cup, Charl Langeveldt, replaces Allan Donald as bowling coach.

Head coach Russell Domingo’s contract has been extended until April 30, 2017.

The rest of the SA team’s support staff is unchanged.

The decisions were taken at a CSA board meeting in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Rule change could alter selection landscape

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

TWO members of SA’s current selection panel would be ineligible for their positions in terms of rules enforced after they were appointed.

One of them, Linda Zondi, has done what was needed to meet the requirements. The other, Hussein Manack, has not and his tenure seems set to end when Cricket SA’s (CSA) board meet on Tuesday to discuss naming a new selection committee.

The board could also come up with a replacement for Allan Donald as SA’s bowling coach, a vacancy that Charl Langeveldt – the team’s death bowling consultant at the 2015 World Cup – has been tipped to fill.

Asked on Monday if those two issues would be resolved at the meeting CSA president Chris Nenzani said, “It depends if all that needs to be done has been done.”

With convenor Andrew Hudson having stepped down after five years in the hot seat, the selection panel was always going to be different.

But Manack could also be on the way out because he is a Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB) director and chairs the Lions’ selection committee.

No-one who is employed by or serves on domestic structures is eligible to be a national selector, a measure that was either not in place or disregarded when Manack and Zondi were appointed in July, 2013.

However, Times Media has established that Manack has been nominated for another term.

Manack would be a viable successor to Hudson as convenor were it not for his conflicts of interest. That said, there is no evidence of Lions players having been favoured during his tenure.

Some might wonder whether Manack’s presence in the SA camp at the World Cup was why the Lions’ Quinton de Kock kept his place in the team despite scoring 53 runs in his first six innings at the tournament.

But another Lion, Aaron Phangiso, was the only member of the squad not to play a single match at the World Cup.

Zondi left his job as the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union’s township development manager at the end of April, apparently to clear his path to stay on the panel.

Dolphins chief executive Pete de Wet said on Monday he was “not at liberty to say” whether Zondi had been put forward by KZN to continue as a selector.

The other member of the existing committee, Shafiek Abrahams, is in the running again. As the panel’s senior man he could be the next convenor.

Or not: Times Media has learnt that Ashwell Prince has the backing of at least two provinces.

Prince comes with the credibility earned by playing 66 tests as well as a reassuring seriousness that should help him rise above squabbling with the suits – and others – who will try to tell him how to do his job.

Day/night tests: light at end of tunnel or oncoming train?

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

TEST cricket has woken up and smelt the T20 revolution. But its plans to avoid being consumed by its offspring remain in dreamland.

Either, the International Cricket Council’s cricket committee mused recently, tests could be shortened to four days or be played under lights. Both ideas will need to overcome cricket’s crippling default deference to tradition if they are to escape the drawingboard.

Besides, the suits are not going to allow a day’s worth of broadcast revenue to be erased from the bottom line of every test. But they might bite the hook of lights, cameras, action in the cause of putting more bums on seats and with them a higher price for broadcast rights.

Australia seem determined to play the first day-night test in November against New Zealand, who are not best pleased at the thought. Seventeen of their 20 contracted players are opposed and the feeling in New Zealand is that taking the field at cocktail hour to play 90 overs with a pink ball would cheapen what they regard as their marquee series.

“Gimmicky,” was players’ association head Heath Mills’ assessment.

Tony Irish, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), said the organisation had not taken a position “but we’re following what’s happening in Australia and New Zealand”.

That said, FICA appear to be in the Kiwi corner. “One stakeholder out of 10 is driving this,” Irish said. “Unless all the countries are seeing the attraction why does test cricket need to be played this way? Cricket Australia are making the assumption that crowds will be bigger at night.”

Morne van Wyk was part of one of the several trials held to discover how the pink ball stands up to its red counterpart when North West hosted the Knights over three evenings in Potchefstroom in September, 2012.

“I struggled against the new ball and in the hour when the sun was setting but aside from that it was batting friendly and I had no problems keeping wicket,” Van Wyk said. Damn straight: he scored 125.

But, he said, eyes should be kept on the lights more than on the ball.

“Potch has some of the best floodlights, better than some test venues. Part of the criteria for playing test cricket at night should be that the lights have to be better than they are for limited overs day/night games.

“Test cricket is much more intense than one-day matches. At a place like St George’s Park, where two of the pylons look like those at my local hockey club and the banks of lights are smaller than a car, it would be unfair to the batsmen to have guys running in and bowling at 150kph.”

And another thing – when stumps are drawn as the shadows lengthen cricket’s small but noisy army of reporters knows their first drink of the evening is near. Mess with that at your peril.