Sneaky scorecard adds ‘injury’ to insult of SA loss

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WHAT’S worse – losing the first match of a long tour or seeing the captain listed as “retired hurt” on the scorecard?

SA seemed to be between that rock and a hard place on Tuesday. They were beaten by eight wickets with two balls to spare by a Board XI in their Twenty20 tour match in Delhi and Faf du Plessis headed for the dressingroom having faced 27 balls for his 42, 28 of which he had clipped in boundaries.

Du Plessis has come on tour still in recovery from the knee injury that forced him out of SA’s one-day series against New Zealand last month. And the first T20 against India will be played in Dharamsala on Friday … Oh dear …

But we shouldn’t believe everything we read on scorecards. “It’s just a means to manage his knee post-injury,” Cricket SA tweeted when the inevitable questions came. “The physio doesn’t want him doing too much too soon.”

Phew. Not that that will make the visitors feel better about their performance on Tuesday. They set what looked like a daunting target by totalling 189/3. But the locals lashed lekker in their reply of 193/2.

SA’s troubles started early when Quinton de Kock was run out with the fourth ball of the match having faced three deliveries.

AB de Villiers and Du Plessis steadied matters with a stand of 87, and the captain’s retirement brought JP Duminy to the crease to score 68 not out at better than two runs a ball: hitting two fours and six sixes tends to boost the strike rate.

A measure of Duminy’s command was that Farhaan Behardien scored just 17 in an unbroken fourth-stand of 83, which flew off 7.4 overs.

But SA’s hopes were dashed in an opening stand of 119 by Manan Vohra and Mayank Agarwal, who scored 56 and 87 before Duminy separated them in the 13th over.

That left the Board XI the task of scoring 71 runs off the remaining 44 balls, which they accomplished handsomely thanks largely to Sanju Samson’s 31 not out.

Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada, Eddie Leie and Duminy all recorded economy rates in double figures, while Chris Morris was the only one who went for less than seven runs to the over.

Duminy tried hard to take the edge off all that at a press conference after the match: “I have full confidence in the ability of our bowlers and I will back them 100%. I believe they have what it takes to stop the Indian batting line-up.

“This was about figuring out and assessing what will work for us in these conditions. This match wasn’t exactly about results.”

Still, SA will think, good thing they have Albie Morkel’s allround experience in the bank. Perhaps not: team management told reporters in Delhi that Morkel, who cracked the nod only because of David Wiese’s late withdrawal with broken hand, was still trying to obtain a visa on Tuesday.

Hussey back in SA dugout

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE more interesting news on SA’s tour of India on Monday came not from the players’ dressingroom but from the coaches’ dugout – where Mike Hussey has again been installed as a consultant.

“He’s such a good guy from a coaching point of view,” Faf du Plessis, who played with Hussey for Chennai Super Kings, told a press conference in Delhi. “He’s played a lot of cricket and he’s got a great batting mind.

“So for young batsmen coming into the team, he’s probably the best guy you can learn from: ‘Mr Cricket’.

“He’s done all the right things, he trains hard, he’s a good person and he fits into our team beautifully.”

Even so, cynics will say, Hussey’s involvement with SA at the 2015 World Cup did not have the desired effect. Instead, they lost a white-knuckle semi-final to New Zealand.

But Hussey must have done something right: SA were the only team to score as many as four of the top 10 totals  recorded in the tournament, including two of the three innings that topped 400.

It was the tracksuits’ day in the news on Monday, what with Aashish Kapoor, the coach of the India A team who play SA in a Twenty20 tour match in Delhi on Tuesday, sounding like Fikile Mbalula. In reverse …

Explaining that he had just come from a meeting with his players, Kapoor told a press conference, “I told them they are a bunch of matchwinners.”

In January last year sports minister Mbalula hit the headlines – or did he hit the fan? – when he labelled Bafana Bafana a “bunch of losers” for being beaten 3-1 by Nigeria and thereby crashing out of the African Nations Championship.

Kapoor stopped short of hauling out that other hardy, hoary Mbalulaism – “moer hulle” – but SA should be prepared for the Indian side to try to do exactly that.

“Most of these players have won man-of-the-match awards in the IPL (Indian Premier League),” he said. “We’re not bothered about how SA are approaching the match, we are trying to win it.”

Eight of the 12 players in Kapoor’s squad have indeed been named man-of-the-match in IPL games – a total of 16 times between them. Three others have achieved the feat in Champions League T20 matches.

Fair enough. But there was more method to Kapoor’s madness than that: “This can be a life-changing match for them. One terrific performance and they will be noticed by the selectors – they could be knocking on the door of the Indian team.”

That the South Africans will not be bent on shooting the lights out at the Palam ground on Tuesday is suggested by their request to use 13 players in the match, which has been granted.

What kind of pitch can SA expect?

“It’s not been used for the last 10 to 15 days,” Kapoor said. “There’s a lot of grass that will help bind it together. It will probably be low and slow, but it might be better (for batting) in the first innings.”

Tuesday’s game is SA’s only chance under match conditions to shake off rustiness and adjust to the conditions ahead of the first T20 against India in Dharamsala on Friday.

Eat. Play. Love – SA’s mantra in India

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

EAT. Play. Love. That’s what SA are going to have to do better than ever if they are to make a success of their most ambitious tour to India.

The secret to winning in India is immersion in every sense. So, eat the food and love the place to give yourself a chance to play like champions. The opposite – to seek out restaurants that have reassuringly recognisable menus, to gawk at the traffic and the smog and the heaving crowds in the streets at all hours – is to cocoon yourself in denial and, as sure as dammit, defeat will follow.

The Twenty20 facet of SA’s challenge started on Saturday when Faf du Plessis’ squad jetted out of Johannesburg. Their series of three matches starts in Dharamsala on Friday. That will be followed by five one-day internationals and four tests.

And already SA are being tested. Allrounder David Wiese, who was in the T20 squad, has been ruled out with a fractured hand. He will be replaced by Albie Morkel, the 34-year-old owner of 273 caps in the format who last played for SA against India in Dhaka in April last year.

“Albie has a lot of experience,” Du Plessis said. “I suppose he thought that his time was up but he’s getting another opportunity.”

Rilee Rossouw’s stress fractured foot has not healed well enough for him to take his place in the ODI squad. The uncapped Khaya Zondo, who was selected for the T20s, will fill the gap.

Seventy-two days, the duration of the tour, is a long time to be on the road anywhere. So it is indeed a blessing that modern India is a significantly less foreign place than it was even a few years ago.

“It’s a massive tour,” SA team manager Mohammed Moosajee said. “Our perspective is to keep things as fresh as possible. We’re preparing a two or three-day trip to Goa, which we’ll try to keep quite lighthearted rather than cricket-related.”

Even so, spending that long in a country as consumed and consummable by cricket as India is only adds to the weight SA’s players will feel mounting on their shoulders as the days add up. But, if they win more matches than they lose, they will welcome that weight.

Both edges of that sword will be especially sharp for the six players who have been named in all three squads: Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir.

The first four are old hands who have 938 caps for SA between them in all formats. If anyone is mentally, physically and emotionally equipped for this marathon they are, although De Villiers’ and Duminy’s changed status as young fathers will complicate their feelings.

But Rabada, just 20, has played only 11 first-class matches and has turned out for SA in five ODIs and six T20s. Yes, he has already won an under-19 World Cup, but by the end of this tour – whatever happens – that will be a distant memory for him.

Tahir, meanwhile, will try to maintain his mastery in the shorter formats – he is ranked second among ODI bowlers and his 14th rung on the T20 ladder is the current highest by a SA player – and then resurrect a test career that stalled in December.

Rabada is a young man making his way and Tahir is skittish and impatient. They may need more of the SA team management’s attention than most of the other players.

The extreme length of the tour will also mean SA will depend on their star players even more than usual, and rebel-era SA player Ray Jennings offered what will in certain quarters be a controversial opinion on that score.

“Facing the new ball is easy in India but when the ball gets older some guys struggle to handle it; AB can handle it.”

Where De Villiers bats in the order in ODIs and T20s has become the hottest debate in SA cricket. Conventional thinking is that the more balls he faces, the better. But coach Russell Domingo has preferred to deploy him after a platform of runs has been established.

The stats say De Villiers is most successful – in T20s, anyway – when he takes guard at No. 3, where he has scored three half-centuries and has a strike rate of 126.40.

Another question SA will have to answer concerns the state of Du Plessis’ left knee. Cortisone injections and a softly-softly return to full training has been the approach so far.

“It has settled well over the past two weeks, but he will require careful management,” Moosajee said.

Even if Du Plessis can’t play much, at least he can eat the food and love the place.

Quinton de Kock: in pieces or in the groove?

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE next few weeks will tell us whether Quinton de Kock is Humpty Dumpty or Stella; she who got her groove back in Jamaica.

Not that De Kock will be living the high life in the Caribbean or in pieces at the bottom of a great wall. Instead, he will be at the crease in India, trying to convince us that he has been put back together again.

India will remember De Kock for smashing a hattrick of centuries against them in a one-day series in SA in December 2013. He drilled 342 runs – 174 of them in fours and sixes, more than half – off 359 balls on pitches that have a reputation for snuffing out an opener’s innings more often than Julius Malema pisses off the ANC.

De Kock was as rampant as a batsman should be allowed to be. If he saw it, he hit it. And he saw it plenty.

Before that master blast De Kock had scored one century for SA in his 23 innings across all formats. But his performance in the series set the bar unreasonably high.

Here was the next AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs all in one, and left-handed to boot. Whether he would be allowed by the public and their henchmen and women (that would be us, the press) to become the first Quinton de Kock before he did anything else was the question not often asked.

But it has been answered in the 49 times De Kock has been to the crease for SA since his Indian summer: just twice has he gone to three figures.

In his six most recent innings, in Bangladesh in July, he mustered only 100 runs – a number that cruelly mocked his earlier achievements. In the last three of those efforts he failed to escape single figures, and in the last of them, in the first test in Chittagong, he was removed for only his fifth duck in 78 international innings – yorked second ball by Mustafizur Rahman.

If the notion of hitting rock bottom could be illustrated it would be the picture of De Kock’s mournful trudge back to the dressingroom as the boy wonder rudely grown up.

What to do?

The suits cop a lot of flack in these pages. And so they should: the sight of an expensive tie around a fat cat’s neck is a nuclear alarm to anyone who wields a pencil and the truth for a living.

But this time the suits and their tracksuits in the trenches got it right. Instead of subjecting De Kock to another shambling shocker in the second test in Dhaka, they parachuted him into the SA A squad in India to sort himself out.

Did he ever. In his first innings there, in a 50-over match in Chennai, he opened the batting and scored 108. Importantly, in conditions that become more difficult as the ball ages, he lasted until the 47th over. Next, in another one-dayer in Chennai, he hammered 113 off 86 balls.

Then, batting at No. 7 in a five-day game, De Kock clipped 113 off 102 balls. Also in that SA A team was Temba Bavuma, who shared the Lions’ dressingroom with De Kock until the latter’s move to the Titans this season.

“Considering the scores he made, he does seem to be back to the Quinton I know,” Bavuma said.

If that seems removed for a teammate it is because, rain or shine, De Kock does not change outwardly.

“His confidence is always there. Even though he wasn’t getting many runs in Bangladesh it was still there. But being left out of the team (for the second test in Bangladesh) could have made him want to succeed more.”

What had gone wrong?

“He didn’t have an off-season to clear his mind,” Bavuma said. “That would have helped him a lot. When you take a break, your hunger and drive to get back to the game grows so much stronger.”

This year alone De Kock has played 28 matches for SA, SA A, Easterns and the Delhi Daredevils. Even someone older and better managed like Dale Steyn is in that league with 24 games in 2015. Bavuma? Sixteen.

Humpty Dumpty, Stella and Julius Malema will not agree, but less really is more.

India tour ain’t over ’til it’s started … already

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

“ALREADY,” Lerato Malekutu, the SA team’s media minder, said looking down at her cellphone when it rang moments before the start of the press conference called for the departure of the national Twenty20 squad from Johannesburg on Saturday.

“Plus-91; oh my word.”

T20 captain Faf du Plessis, who was at her elbow ready to field questions from the gathered reporters, offered empathy: “Plus-91 … You know what’s coming.”

Indeed, she did. Plus-91 is the international dialling code for India, where SA will be until December 7 to play three T20s, five one-day internationals and four tests.

And that in cricket’s biggest media goldfishbowl, which is fed by some 87 000 newspapers in one of the few countries in which circulation figures are rising.

There are also around 1 400 television channels in India. Radio? Who knows, but there are 17 stations in Delhi alone, 16 in Calcutta and another 17 in Mumbai. And those are only the FM stations.

Similarly, it is difficult to put a number on how many Indian websites are devoted to cricket. But it is a fact that some of them are among the most widely read on the entire internet.

The grandma of them all, ESPNcricinfo, had a daily average of 5.8-million unique visitors during the 2015 World Cup. How many of them were Indian?

The site’s daily record was set on March 26, when 13-million people logged on to follow the semi-final between Australia and India. The previous record of 12-million had been set a week earlier – when India played Bangladesh in the quarter-finals.

On Saturday, one member of that significantly sized army of reporters covering cricket in India was calling Malekutu. And the tour had yet to start …

But, already, there was news: David Wiese was out of the T20 squad with a broken hand and replaced by Albie Morkel; Khaya Zondo had been included in the ODI equation because of Rilee Rossouw’s stress fracture of the foot.

In fact, weeks ago SA reporters were being contacted by Indian colleagues who had questions like: “Who is this Linda Zondi and what does she do?”

That was before selection convenor Zondi announced the squads he and his panel had chosen for the tour. Then Zondi handed the reins to coach Russell Domingo to coax the players out of their off-season. His approach? The silent treatment.

“I’ve tried not to talk too much to the players in the past few weeks because they are going to be tired of me talking to them in the next few weeks,” Domingo said.

“I’d hate to be talking spin to them for three weeks before we get there, and we get there and guys are already mentally blown before we’ve seen a ball been bowled.”

The first ball will be bowled in a warm-up match against a Board President’s XI in Delhi on Tuesday and the first T20 is in Dharamsala on Friday. But, already, SA know what’s coming.

How many T20s have SA played in India? Not many …

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SA’s marathon tour of India starts in earnest a week from today with the first of three Twenty20s. So, how have they fared in the shortest format in that country? Nobody knows.

Ten years after they played the first of their 80 T20s, SA have yet to experience one in India. Not that they haven’t taken on the boys in blue in the format.

In fact, SA have faced India in eight T20s – more than they have played against six of the dozen countries they have clashed with in the 20-over game. But those eight matches have taken place in SA, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.

So a smidgen of history will be upon us next Friday when the Indian and SA teams line up on the outfield of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association ground in Dharamsala – the home in exile of no less than the Dalai Lama – with the Himalayas brooding in the background.

However, that is only true at senior international level. As members of Indian Premier League (IPL) sides and lesser representative teams, South Africans are thoroughly acquainted with playing T20 cricket in India.

AB de Villiers, for instance, has turned out in T20s at 16 different Indian grounds and has played 36 of them in Bangalore alone. Of SA’s squad of 15 named for the series, only Eddie Leie and Kagiso Rabada do not have any T20 experience in India at some level.

But how much will all that be worth in Dharamsala next week with national pride at stake and the most passionate crowd in the game screaming for the home side? And that in a form of the game in which minor mistakes are often magnified into matters of matchwinning – or losing – significance.

“It’s a very volatile crowd who are very aggressive in their support of India,” Ray Jennings said. “No-one in those stands is going to be shouting for SA. It’s not like here, where almost always some people will support the opposition.”

Jennings played 307 first-class and List A games between February 1974 and January 1993 – all of them in SA and Zimbabwe. The closest he got to taking the field in India was in a couple of six-a-side and 30-over outings in Malaysia in 1992. But, as a coach, he has become a denizen of the IPL’s dugouts.

“India are of course very experienced with regard to the (small) size of their fields and the nature of their pitches,” he said. “So they will have a bigger home ground advantage than is usually the case, and not just in the T20 series.

“They will prepare pitches to heighten their skills and neutralise ours. For instance, our fast bowlers: two or three overs and the swing is gone.

“The variations in the conditions will also be important. Bangalore tends to be slow but one or two other places have bounce. It’s not like in SA where it’s pretty much the same wherever you play.”

After 72 days in India in which they will also play five one-day internationals and four tests, SA will know all that. And much more.

Business as usual for CSA, BCCI despite Dalmiya death

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

JAGMOHAN Dalmiya’s death should have little impact on the rekindling of the relationship between Cricket SA (CSA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Dalmiya suffered a heart attack on Thursday and died in a Kokata hospital on Sunday, six months after he was elected BCCI president for a second time having first served in the post in 2001 and again in an interim, appointed capacity in 2013.

His return to the top this year came in the wake of India’s Supreme Court ruling, as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged corruption in the Indian Premier League, that his predecessor, Narayanaswami Srinivasan, could not stand for re-election.

Dalmiya’s presidency has seen the rebuilding of bridges between CSA and the BCCI – which had been all but destroyed during Srinivasan’s tenure because of the bad blood between him and CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat, which harks back to Lorgat’s time as chief executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Under Srinivasan, India’s tour to SA in 2013 was shortened from a proposed 12 to five matches, which but for some fancy financial footwork would have cost CSA R318-million in lost revenue. On Saturday, SA leave for a tour of India – at 72 days their longest yet – that will feature four tests, five one-day internationals and three T20s.

But what might Dalmiya’s demise mean for CSA in future, especially as being on good terms with the BCCI, the godfather of world cricket, is vital to the national board of every other country where the game is played? What will change for SA’s suits?

Not a lot, Indian sources said on Tuesday. Instead, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur will continue to call the shots, as he did while Dalmiya was president, because of the latter’s failing health.

During Srinivasan’s time in charge, the impression was created that he alone towered uber alles in the game. Not quite. Srinivasan clambered upward with the strong support of a group of administrative henchmen who became known as the “Chennai mafia”.

Likewise, Dalmiya – who in the course of a career as an administrator that stretched back to 1979 was banned from attending BCCI meetings and arrested on embezzlement charges, though never tried – has his supporters.

Among them is Inderjit Bindra, himself a former BCCI president. Bindra is in the corner of another ex-BCCI boss, Sharad Pawar, who is expected to mount a bid to get his old job back now that Dalmiya is gone.

And it was Bindra who stood up for Lorgat when the BCCI tried to bully CSA into not appointing him, going so far as to write a letter to ICC directors in June 2013 in which he claimed Srinivasan “seeks to blackmail CSA”.

But it may be too soon for South Africans to sigh with relief. As well as being the BCCI’s buckstopper, Thakur is also a senior Member of Parliament for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – where Srinivasan has significant support.

Whether India’s government wants to take more direct control of cricket is moot. But what is known is that, in terms of the BCCI’s constitution, Thakur, as secretary, has 15 days in which to convene a meeting to elect a new president.