Don’t pull that World Cup stunt again, players tell suits

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE selection controversy that clouded SA’s exit from the World Cup damaged the relationship between Cricket SA (CSA) and the SA Cricketers’ Association (SACA).

The rift has since been repaired, but the player body is anxious that the situation should not arise again – which could complicate CSA’s implementation of their stated policy of “aggressive transformation”.

On June 2, Willie Basson, a member of an Eminent Persons Group who also sits on CSA’s transformation committee, told the Portfolio Committee for Sport and Recreation in Parliament that CSA had made – according to the minutes of the meeting – “mistakes” when they “sent a note to the team management on the eve of the (World Cup) semi-final, reminding them about CSA’s policy on demographic representation”.

The “note” led to Vernon Philander, who had bowled just 20.3 of a possible 70 overs in the tournament due to a hamstring injury, being included for the match against New Zealand, who won a tight contest.

The minutes record that Basson said a consequence of the issue was that “the administrators of CSA had allowed a wide distance to develop between themselves and the players’ association”.

He said “CSA would rectify that challenge by consulting players regularly to make them understand the purpose of the Transformation Charter”.

SACA chief executive Tony Irish confirmed Basson’s version of events.

“I don’t believe that there is currently a ‘wide distance’ between CSA and SACA,” Irish said. “We have moved past the (World Cup) episode.

“It is correct that there was unhappiness amongst many of the players at the time. The most important thing in putting all of that behind the players and the team is for this type of thing not to be repeated.”

But CSA’s policy that at least four players of colour should be in SA’s teams raises the distinct possibility of more selection strife.

That would again unravel ties between CSA and SACA, which fulfills the role of a trade union for players and could, in theory, declare a labour dispute or even call a strike.

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Steyn confirms his greatness

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DALE Steyn arrived at the gates of greatness after just less than half-an-hour’s play in the second test between Bangladesh and SA in Dhaka on Thursday. It had taken him 3 877 days as a test cricketer and 16 634 deliveries to get there.

The fateful ball veered full and wide, the stroke was poorly considered and even more poorly played, and the catch at first slip was bog standard.

The scorebook entry, too, won’t look like much in years to come: Tamim Iqbal c Amla b Steyn 6.

But there was nothing ordinary about any of the above. It made Steyn only the second South African after Shaun Pollock and the 13th cricketer overall to take 400 test wickets.

How did that one make him feel?

“No real different to any of the other ones I’ve taken,” Steyn said after Bangladesh limped to stumps on 246/8.

Was it the best moment of his career?

“No. Most definitely not. It’s nice to have the numbers but I’ve had a lot better moments in my cricketing career. Winning games for my country has always been objective No. 1. But it’s cool – it’s nice to have 400.”

So nice, in fact, that Steyn whipped off the sweatband he has taken to wearing in Bangladesh to keep his hair out of his eyes; an affectation that makes him look less like Dennis Lillee and more like Bjorn Borg.

“It’s pretty cool to take a wicket and get the headband off and the hair out. I think I’ve taken some abuse about my hair. Funnily enough, it doesn’t influence the bowling at all. So, I guess, shut up.”

But seriously.

“I just want to play every game. I want to bowl again tomorrow. I want to bowl again the next time SA pick me.

“I would have been very happy if I had taken just one wicket in my international career. I was privileged enough to play for SA and take wickets for SA. And I managed to get 400. I never thought that would happen; ever in my life.”

The only active bowler with more wickets than Steyn is England’s James Anderson, who had 412 before the start of Australia’s second innings in Birmingham on Thursday.

Steyn claimed 3/30 on Thursday, evidence of a return to form after – by his standards – a lacklustre World Cup and a quiet Indian Premier League (IPL).

And, like James Brown …

“I feel good right now even after bowling all day and spending time in the sun; it’s a good flow. Sometimes if you don’t have that love or passion for the game, things don’t go your way.

“I love what I am doing right now, even if it’s in 40 degree heat and the ball is staying ankle high and its not bouncing and there’s no seam and its very slow. Shit, I love it.

“There was a period after the IPL when I actually didn’t want to have a ball in my hand. I needed two or three weeks – maybe four weeks – to get that love back again.

“When you’ve got it you just don’t want to let it go. I just love being on the field right now.”

And well might have on SA’s best day in Bangladesh since they won the second one-day international on July 10.

With Hashim Amla using creative captaincy to make bowling changes and set fields, SA kept the pressure on the Bangladeshis even though Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Simon Harmer did not fire on all cylinders.

But JP Duminy did for his haul of 3/27, and Dean Elgar delivered another brilliant impersonation of a test bowler in taking 1/22. And a bloke called Steyn did pretty well, too.

Dark clouds hang over SA

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

ACCORDING to Hashim Amla on Wednesday, “ … if it was easy it would be called easy cricket”. Not that he needed to say so after his team’s performance in the first test against Bangladesh in Chittagong.

SA were indeed tested, but by their own lacklustre performance more than by the willing but wanting opposition.

They fought back from a first innings of 248 to reach 61/0, a deficit of 17, after three weather-affected days. But the rain kept falling and the last two days were washed out.

More rain is forecast for Dhaka for the next week, raising the possibility of the second test – which starts there on Thursday – falling victim to a similar fate.

Metaphorically, even darker clouds hang over SA. Chittagong marked the first draw in the nine tests the teams have contested. The other eight have been won by SA, seven of them by an innings. But the look of SA for too much of the first test did not suggest dominance.

In fact, whether the visitors will hold on to their proud record of not having lost an away series since August, 2006 – that adds up to 11 rubbers of more than one match – is suddenly a relevant question.

And SA are feeling that pressure. So much so that Amla veered towards contradicting himself on Wednesday.

“With the first test rained off it has put a lot of emphasis on this game,” was his answer to one reporter’s question. Fair enough.

But then the script changed: “I don’t think it’s a must-win game. I don’t think there are any knockouts in test cricket as yet but we are here to win.”

Either you know you have to win or you know that victory is not essential. But you can’t have it both ways. If Amla is struggling to make that choice, every cricketminded South African could make it for him.

More likely Amla tripped over his own deference in his carefulness to avoid saying what could be interpreted as the wrong thing. Cue the wrong thing …

Amla seemed more certain that SA’s attack would be unchanged: “We’ve got three-and-a-half seamers now; I don’t think we are going to add another one.”

That’s a reference to the handy contribution Stiaan van Zyl made with the ball in Chittagong, where he conceded 23 runs in 13 overs and burgled a wicket.

But the other half of that equation by way of a brilliant legside stumping, Quinton de Kock, will be missing in action. De Kock has scored 100 runs in six innings across all formats on the Bangladesh tour. He reached rock bottom in Chittagong, where he lost his off stump to the second ball he faced.

Dane Vilas, who has reportedly been running wicketkeeping operations during SA’s training sessions this week, will make his test debut.

Amla himself might envy De Kock his escape from the heat of the kitchen. After four innings on tour, SA’s captain has 64 runs to show for his efforts.

But, for now, the focus is on Dale Steyn. One more wicket and he will be the only South African other than Shaun Pollock to own 400 test scalps.

Feverish Morkel hungry for slow, low pitch

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

EVEN cricket’s nicest man has his limits. And it seems he has reached them, admitting to suffering from “cabin fever” caused by Bangladesh’s monsoon rain, being “hungry” to get out there and do his thing, dismissing the sultry heat he will have to overcome to do so, and even having the merest moan about Dhaka’s diabolical traffic.

“We’re very happy,” Morne Morkel told a press conference when he was asked whether the sun’s all too rare appearance in the nation’s capital on Tuesday had given the SA squad reasons to be cheerful about their preparations for the second test, which starts there on Thursday.

“We had a bit of cabin fever sitting at the hotel. There are 11 hungry players in the changeroom. We can take the heat – bring the sun out.”

Incongruously given all that, Morkel was then asked if he was enjoying the tour.

“People here go out of their way to make us feel at home,” he said. “Just one thing … the traffic is not fun.”

Which, for someone who wouldn’t know a snarky comment if it smacked him upside the head, was tantamount to a tantrum.

But, with the last two days of the first test in Chittagong lost to rain, SA are under pressure to win in Dhaka to clinch the series. However, the weather looks just as likely to bedevil the second test.

Of course, had SA not found a way to lose the one-day series they could have shrugged their way through the downpours as something they could do nothing about and accepted a drawn test rubber as just one of those things.

That option is no longer available. Winning the test series won’t make up for the ODI catastrophe, but not winning it will make that memory so much worse.

“It’s time for us to bounce back and show why we’re the No. 1 team in the world,” Morkel said.

A silver lining in all of those dark clouds – of the metaphorical variety, anyway – is the prospect of Dale Steyn taking the one wicket he needs to become the only South African besides Shaun Pollock to claim 400 test scalps.

The very thought was enough to put Morkel back onto the positive straight and narrow.

“Dale’s been unbelievable,” he said. “He’s led this attack for years; he’s been the No. 1 test bowler for years. I’m so happy for him.

“It’ll be special when he gets that 400th wicket but I think there’s plenty more in the tank for him.”

And what was Morkel looking forward to in the match? Nothing less than a low and slow pitch. Dinkum. We kid you not.

“I enjoy bowling on the sub-continent because I don’t get as much bounce as in SA, so it brings me more into play,” he said.

Believe that and you might also believe there’s not a lot of traffic in Dhaka.

Clive Rice: gentleman, thug, hard bastard, champion

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

CLIVE Rice looked like a gentleman, talked like a thug and played cricket like the hard bastard he was until Tuesday when, aged 66, he died of septicemia in Cape Town.

To the unknowing eye, Rice was a balding nondescript of utterly average height, build and cut of jib who had resorted to cultivating a cartoon moustache in a pathetic attempt to set himself apart.

Those who knew better could have sworn he grew a foot, with shoulders to match, when he stepped onto a cricket ground.

In an age when the psychology of sport was more seance than science, Rice knew how to get the best out of his players and himself while reducing opponents to shadows of the men they thought they were. Not even umpires got off easily.

“Before you walked onto the field he had marked you down from 100% to 60%,” a former man in a white coat, Rudi Koertzen, said on Tuesday.

After standing in a match in which Rice was captain, Koertzen took a call from umpires’ head Brian Basson.

“What went wrong,” Basson asked.

Koertzen was surprised: “What do mean? I thought I had a good game.”

Basson concurred: “That’s exactly what I mean – ‘Clive Rice gave you 100%!”

Rice sprang to prominence as a fast bowler and matured into an allrounder and a captain. But only one description fitted him: champion.

Rice led what the team then called Transvaal – or, almost as frequently, the Mean Machine – to three Currie Cup titles and Nottinghamshire to two county championships.

He was captain in 610 of his 1100 matches as a senior player. His teams won 305 of those games and lost just 168. He engineered 26 innings victories and felt the sting of leading a side who had lost by an innings only eight times.

And yet, despite all that and more – he won three single-wicket competitions against Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee, supposedly the most princely allrounders of the age – Rice is one of cricket’s most tragic figures.

He was part of the first generation of white SA players to be denied by apartheid-induced isolation what they took as the right they had earned to play international cricket.

When SA were allowed back into big cricket’s fold, he was too old to play more than the three one-day internationals that comprised the groundbreaking 1991 tour to India.

In retirement Rice became embittered with the drive to racially transform the game in SA and actively steered players elsewhere. Indeed, Kevin Pietersen hightailed it to Trent Bridge when Rice was on Notts’ books as cricket manager.

But Rice will be remembered as he was in his pomp: tough, uncompromising, a winner among winners.

Graeme Pollock painted that picture on Tuesday when he related what happened after he had his hand fractured by the rebel Australians’ Carl Rackemann at the Wanderers in January, 1986.

“I retired hurt, and I thought I was going to have a restful time of it after that,” Pollock said.

Like bloody hell: “Clive said, ‘I want you to pad up’. I thought that was a bit mean – I mean, I had a broken hand.”

Kevin McKenzie was steaming towards a century but wickets were dwindling. So, at 274/9 and with McKenzie still in double figures, Pollock returned.

McKenzie was last out for 110 and Pollock finished unbeaten on 65. Then Rice took 3/8 in six overs as the Australians were shot out for 61 to clinch victory in the five-day match by 188 runs.

“That summed up ‘Ricey’,” Pollock said, and it did.

Rain follows SA to Dhaka

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

TALKING about the weather is the stuff of conversations that have nowhere else to go. But the topic was uppermost for Dean Elgar as leaden, leaky skies loosed a downpour onto already doused Dhaka on Monday.

“It’s very frustrating for us at the moment, especially after what we’ve been through at Chittagong,” Elgar said.

“It looks like the rain has followed us. It’s something we can’t control. We’ve just got to try and use the indoor facilities.

“But we are lucky we’ve got an experienced squad. We know what’s required of each player.”

The last two days of the first test in Chittagong were lost to rain and the forecast for all five days of the second and last match of the series – which starts in Dhaka on Thursday – features varying chances of the wet stuff.

That’s not what SA will want to hear after Chittagong, where they were forced to play catch-up cricket for three days before battling back to parity.

The visitors were 17 runs behind with all 10 wickets standing in their second innings at stumps on the fourth day – and that was where the weather called a halt.

The match amounted to not quite two-and-a-half full days’ play, probably not enough for even SA at their most dominant to force a result.

But, had they made a better fist of it in the first innings, when they were dismissed for 236, they would have answered some of the questions that now hang over them.

“In the sub-continent the first innings seems to be quite important for both teams and batting once is the ideal,” Elgar said. “But we understand there’s a lot of hard work that goes into doing that.

“It takes a lot of pressure off the side and then you can go out and express yourself with the ball.

“There’s a way to do it and we didn’t execute it well in the first test. We bounced back nicely and we have the guys in the changeroom to do that.”

The trick is not to have to bounce back – to play as well as a side like SA, a team that bristles with talent, skill, experience and reputation, must play from the get go; particularly against opponents they should show who’s boss every time they meet.

If SA had come even halfway close to that ideal more often on this tour they would not have lost the one-day series or looked like crayfish in the cooking pot in the first test.

On the bright side, the cricket and the weather don’t seem to be getting SA’s players down too much. At least, that goes for Elgar, who as his press conference started on Monday was moved to ask, “Am I announcing my retirement? There’s quite a lot of people here …”

That’s the spirit, rain or shine.

SA’s longest India tour looms large

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE centrepiece of SA’s summer took shape on Monday with the announcement of the fixtures for the tour to India.

The three T20s, five one-day internationals and four tests SA will play in India loom as a significantly higher hurdle than the tour by England that will fill their dance card for the second half of the season.

At 72 days the Indian tour weighs in as the longest of SA’s seven visits there to play bilateral series, starting with a T20 tour match on September 29 and is scheduled to end on December 7, the fifth day of the fourth test. It will be the first time SA will play more than three tests in India.

The suits, then, will be happy that SA’s once close, then strained relationship with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), world cricket’s paymasters, would seem to have been restored.

That signal was sent loud and clear in the gushing tone of a Cricket SA (CSA) release.

“Being a landmark tour in the young history of CSA, Ï wish to thank the BCCI for all the hard work that has been put in to scheduling this tour and I now look forward to the test series becoming an iconic one,” CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat was quoted as saying.

But the Indians will present a tough challenge for a SA team struggling to assert their undoubted superiority in Bangladesh, where they have lost a one-day series to the Tigers for the first time and were unconvincing for much of the drawn first test.

SA have won only one of their five test series in India – in February, 2000 – and none of their four ODI rubbers. They have yet to play T20s there.

India are currently ranked fifth but they were the leading team from November, 2009 to August, 2011. That adds up to 21 months – the same amount of time SA spent on top of the heap from August, 2012 until they were briefly deposed by Australia in May last year.

The Indians’ rise on and off the field has bred a boisterous brand of supporter. SA came face to face with around 80 000 of them in their World Cup match against MS Dhoni’s team in Melbourne on February 22.

Although no venue anywhere can accommodate as many spectators as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, SA will feel the heat of being on the wrong side of the most passionate crowds in the game.

That said, AB de Villiers could enjoy some respite from the hostility in the second test. Here’s hoping that even India’s hopelessly one-eyed supporters will spare some applause for AB de Villiers, who should play his 100th test in Bangalore.

Besides, as Royal Challengers Bangalore’s star batsman, he’s one of their own.

SA in India 2015-16: 

Sept 29: T20 Tour match, Delhi

Oct 2: 1st T20, Dharamshala

Oct 5: 2nd T20, Cuttack

Oct 8: 3rd T20, Kolkata

Oct 11: 1st ODI, Kanpur

Oct 14: 2nd ODI, Indore

Oct 18: 3rd ODI, Rajkot

Oct 22: 4th ODI, Chennai

Oct 25: 5th ODI, Mumbai

Oct 30-31: Tour match, Mumbai

Nov 5-9: 1st test, Mohali

Nov 14-18: 2nd test, Bangalore

Nov 25-29: 3rd test, Nagpur

Dec 3-7: 4th test, Delhi