TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
“FOURTH stump good length.” For a while on Wednesday those were the most embarrassing words in cricket. Like bits of egg on a face, they were all over the confidential instructions SA’s bowlers were given before the first one-day international against New Zealand in Centurion.
Four of the Kiwi top seven – Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson and Grant Elliott – were prescribed this medicine to cure them of the runs. The others were treated with variations on that theme.
“Fourth stump hard lengths,” for George Worker. For Colin Munro, “Fourth stump back of a length.” Clearly, Jimmy Neesham was a tricky customer: “Fourth stump slightly fuller lengths angling in.”
We know all this because a piece of paper was pushed under a hotel room door. The page was addressed to Dale Steyn but delivered to the wrong room in the SA team’s Johannesburg hotel. The accidental recipient, one Cassandra Teasdale, apparently posted it on social media.
Doubts about elements of the story’s veracity remain. After all, Dale would surely be teased by this. And in Greek mythology Cassandra was a Trojan princess and prophet. Meanwhile, no sign of the fateful post could be found on the feed of anyone named Cassandra Teasdale on the two most popular social networks. Hmmm …
However, before the start of Wednesday’s match SA team officials confirmed to reporters in Centurion that the document was authentic.
Soon, the news was buzzing around even that bastion of blah-blah, the television commentary box.
“You don’t need documents slipped under your door to know Mitchell McClenaghan is going to bowl short – he’s been doing it for a few years now,” HD Ackerman said on air.
To off-mic but audible guffaws from his fellow pundits, Ackerman added: “It’s amazing that after all these years no-one’s worked out how to play that fourth stump, back of a length delivery.”
Eric Simons tried to steer the debate into an interesting area: “I think we would be amazed at how many international bowlers would be able to execute that plan consistently. It’s a lost art.”
The sniggering subsided when Faf du Plessis, who is out of the series with a knee problem, appeared for a commentary stint.
Du Plessis discussed his injury – “ITB friction syndrome” – as well as his prognosis – “three to four weeks with no running” – and how likely some players were to be run out. He even ventured onto the tangled tangents of hairstyles and fashion sense.
But there was no mention, neither by Du Plessis nor the commentators, of “fourth stump good length” nor how the filthy four-word phrase slipped back under the door and onto the worldwide web.
For all that, a look beyond the fuss proves that the blueprint – however dourly repetitive in its language – was written by someone with their heads screwed on properly.
It is divided into three damn straight columns: “Areas to bowl”, “Bouncers” and “Death overs”. In other words, the most important factors. Notes on the strengths and weaknesses of the New Zealanders are concise and clear. Williamson, for instance, “attacks” but “doesn’t pull well”. And so on and so forth.
There is no rocket science here, just solid sense. Not to mention mystery: who the hell is Cassandra Teasdale? But, in the same way that if you split your pants in public it matters little that your underwear is clean, there is also embarrassment.