Five things SA should learn from England

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

THAT SA have been taken to test cricket school by England for the past month is old news. But going to school means learning. So, what have SA gleaned from their opponents, who won the series 2-1?

1. It takes a team

If you did not know the results of the matches, could not access the scorecards and were reliant solely on the series stats to try and find out how England clinched the honours, you would be puzzled.

Leading runscorer? Hashim Amla. Leading wicket-taker? Kagiso Rabada. The cliche is true: the really is no “I” in “team”.

England attacked their challenge as a unit. SA depended on too few players.

When James Anderson was ruled out for Kingsmead, Moeen Ali took eight wickets in the match. When England crashed to 167/4 and then 223/5 at Newlands, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow put on 399 for the sixth wicket.

When Dale Steyn’s contribution was cut short through injury, SA’s attack – but for Morne Morkel – looked lost until Rabada shot the lights out at Centurion in a game that didn’t matter. When nine out of SA’s XI did the hard yards to get to 20 in their first innings at the Wanderers, no-one went on to 50.

2. History strikes twice, but not always in the same place

“England have four frontline seamers and a spinner,” SA coach Russell Domingo said. “SA don’t have that luxury anymore. They’ve got Ben Stokes, who gets hundreds and five-wicket hauls. Jacques Kallis used to do that.

“Their allround bowling strength is a massive factor – bowlers win you games. That’s been the difference in the series.

“They bat to No. 13. They have a seriously skilled bowling unit. They got an experienced captain who’s nearly got 10 000 runs. They’ve got what SA had a few years ago.”

3. Oh captain, our captain … Whatshisname?

Yes, Hashim Amla took a brave decision to resign bang in the middle of the series. Yes, AB de Villiers is probably the best choice to replace him – at least for now.

But this revolving door scenario meant SA’s captain had about as big an impact on the direction the series took as, say, the deputy minister of chewing gum affairs has on fisheries and forestry.

Few teams are successful without strong leaders. That goes double for SA, who are hardwired to follow a giant.

Alastair Cook, cricket most successful opener after Sunil Gavaskar, had a forgettable series with the bat, averaging 23.00, but he knew how to get the most out of his men.

4. Specialists are special

This will seem unfair, because England also used an experimental opening batsman. But they could hide Alex Hales and his 136 runs at an average of 17.00 because of point No. 1 above.

For the same reason, SA’s lack of a specialist opener to partner Dean Elgar stuck out like a single-speed bicycle on a freeway.

It seems the only South Africans who didn’t think Stephen Cook – or Heino Kuhn, for that matter – would be a better fit for the job than the struggling Stiaan van Zyl were the selectors. En kyk hoe lyk hulle nou.

5. Trust in flair

We won’t see another Kallis for who knows how long. But that doesn’t mean we should stop believing in flair.

England are not known for their creativity, but they out-created SA by trusting in players like Stokes and Bairstow and even Hales – none of whom fit their roles as snugly as traditionalists would prefer – to do their thang.

SA, by contrast, looked like they were grasping at the straws of how things have been done for decades.

You can have any star you like, as long as his name is Rabada

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

WHENEVER you looked up at Centurion on Tuesday, Kagiso Rabada seemed to be taking a wicket. He claimed 6/32 in England’s second innings for a match haul of 13/144.

If you blinked, you might have missed SA taking England’s last seven wickets for 49 runs in 66 minutes to win the fourth test by 280 runs and to narrow the series gap to 2-1 in the visitors’ favour.

As Rabada took his 13th wicket to end the match, a smiling giant rose and applauded in the back of the pressbox, his mighty hands meeting in loud and repeated celebration.

It was the praise of someone who had been there, done that: the hands belonged to Makhaya Ntini, the only living South African who has also have taken 13 wickets in a test. Hugh Tayfield, who died in 1994, bagged 13 twice.

Rabada also had to do something twice on Tuesday. He thought Jonny Bairstow’s wild slash and the resultant slip had completed his first 10-wicket haul in tests. Only for replays to show he had overstepped. No problem: Rabada had a prodding Bairstow caught behind again with his very next ball.

After six tests, Rabada has 24 wickets. Ntini took 390 in 101 matches in a career of 11 years. But that prospects of Rabada scaling those heights, and then some, looks good.

Which only added to Rabada’s words when he said, “The key is to do it for 15 years, not one game.”

Was Ntini his hero growing up?

“I liked a lot of people, so I couldn’t pick one person. But he definitely was one of the people I liked.”

Another was Dale Steyn, who also had 24 wickets after six tests.

The rest of the SA team stood back to allow Rabada to lead them off the field and up the stairs to the dressingroom.

Up he loped as languidly as his 20-year-old legs would carry him, souvenir stump in hand. He paused halfway to hand that trophy to his father, Mpho Rabada, who was on the other side of the barricade applauding as lustily as Ntini, the Barmy Army and the smattering of locals who had turned out.

“I didn’t know he was sitting on that side; he took me by surprise,” Rabada said. “He said I must give him the stump and I gladly did.”

Rabada took his baker’s dozen in a match in which Morne Morkel was the only other SA bowler to claim more than one wicket. Did he feel as if he was doing it all on his own?

“I didn’t feel like I was carrying anything – guys were carrying me.”

The only time Rabada was up the creek without an answer was when he was asked if he thought a sterling performance against England could lead to a fat county contract.

He ummed. He aahd. Then AB de Villiers leaned across him and gave a firm answer: “No.”

It was also left to AB de Villiers to do Rabada’s bragging on his behalf.

“Every time I asked him to perform he did,” De Villiers said. “He showed the maturity of a guy who’s played 100 tests and the pace of a guy who’s only played one or two. He is the future.”

After SA’s rocky recent past, the present doesn’t look half bad.

England resumed on 52/3 and were shot out for 101 in the space of 82 deliveries. Only three of their players scored 10 or more runs on Tuesday and no-one made it to 15.

Pity none of that matters much.

Fight’s over – fancy a drink?

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

TWO acquaintances, one leaving the room, the other entering, passed each other in the aftermath of the fourth test at Centurion on Tuesday.

“We can’t all fit into ours,” Alastair Cook explained to Russell Domingo between SA’s press conference and England’s.

“Pop in to ours,” Domingo replied.

“We’ll come to yours, then,” Cook confirmed with a nod and a smile. “Is that OK?”

“Perfect,” Domingo said with a firm thumbs up.

Sport reveals its worth in these semi-private moments. That adversaries who have for a month now been urging their charges to do to the opposition what would earn them charges of assault, or worse, in the real world can arrange a bout of dressingroom drinks as easy as you like is a wonderfulness.

Not that everything about the post mortem was jolly.

Asked if SA were, having not reached 200 in eight of their 15 completed test innings in the past year, considering appointing a batting consultant, Domingo sighed.

Then he said: “We’ve come up with a name for my book I’m going to write. I’m going to call it, ‘They Think We’re Stupid’

“Everybody thinks we haven’t been looking for a batting consultant, but we’ve been trying for the last year. And not just for a batting consultant – for a batting coach.

“We’ve offered the position to quite a few people and we’ve offered the position while things were going well, not while we were being bowled out for 80 and 90.

“We’ve got somebody in mind. We’re waiting for him to commit to us. He seems pretty keen to do it. We’ve had a few people in mind.

“They all said they were interested but then wouldn’t commit to it simply because travelling is not that fun when you’re away from your family for all that time, when there’s a lot or pressure and criticism you’re faced with when things don’t go well.”

Domingo was also asked if the “penny had dropped” about picking specialists because opener Stephen Cook scored 115 on debut after Stiaan van Zyl, who has batted at No. 3 for much of his franchise career, was discarded after averaging 15.60 in his 11 innings at the top of the order.

“Everyone will have their opinions,” Domingo said. “Stephen Cook’s come in and made a big impact and full credit to him. He deserved his call-up and has played really well in his first test.

“(Van Zyl) wants to continue opening the batting at franchise level. He loves it. He wants to do it. He’s done it before.”

But Domingo knew criticism came with the territory: “When you’re losing there’s always going to be a lot of noise coming from outside but it’s part of the job; you’ve got to deal with it.”

That said, things could get worse before they get better, what with Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander ruled out of the one-day series against England starting next Wednesday with shoulder and ankle injuries.

Steyn’s return has been targetted for the T20 series against Australia in March.

Kyle Abbott will miss the first match of the England ODI rubber because of a hamstring problem.

Bodi banned, but questions remain

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

THE match-fixing scandal took a great leap sideways on Tuesday when Cricket SA (CSA) banned Gulam Bodi for 20 years but failed to take the opportunity to cast further light on the biggest threat to confront the game since Hansie Cronje crossed over to its dark side 16 years ago.

How many other players were or are involved, how, when and how many fixes or attempted fixes were arranged, how deeply the fixing cancer has spread into SA cricket, or even how long the investigation will last was not among the information CSA decided to share with their most important stakeholders – the public – at a press conference at Centurion.

“I fully accept that there are certain members of the media that would have liked to have had information sooner, but this is a very complex matter,” Louis von Zeuner, an independent member of CSA’s board, said.

“Despite the wrong being done we are dealing with human beings. We also need to act in a responsible way and it just was not possible to share any information earlier than today.”

CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat didn’t take kindly to media coverage of the story, which is set to balloon as a result of Tuesday’s conference sparking more questions than it answered.

“You’ll respect our position that we don’t make any comment on an investigation that is ongoing,” Lorgat said. “Importantly, we won’t confirm or deny any name that is speculated in the media.

“In fact, I think the media at times do not exercise the best responsibility, from my point of view. In fact, they make the investigation more difficult. They complicate what is already a complicated matter.”

Former SA player Bodi earned his ban, five years of which has been suspended, by contriving to fix domestic matches in SA last year. He was suspended in December and, CSA say, confessed to the charges last week.

Bodi, 37, didn’t sound like a man who had been barred from earning money the only way he knows how when Times Media called him on Tuesday.

“Hey! How you, man,” he boomed into the phone. Was he as relieved as he seemed?

“They’ve warned me not to comment at this stage. I’m still busy sorting things out with my lawyer.”

Among the few facts that were confirmed on Tuesday was that CSA understood they were bound by law to co-operate with the police.

“We abide by the law and the jurisdiction of this country,” Von Zeuner said. “Whatever action needs to be taken in terms of anti-corruption legislation will be adhered to and followed.”

Less certain is whether Bodi was able to make any of his offers to players stick.

“The evidence we’ve got from Mr Bodi suggests that we got him in a planning phase and that no fixes had been active,” Lorgat said.

“We won’t stop short until we’ve concluded every last shred of evidence. That could take us weeks, months, if not years. I expect Mr Bodi to co-operate with us, but that’s a condition of his suspended sentence as well.”

Former SA captain Cronje was banned from cricket for life in 2000 after admitting to taking money from figures in the gambling underworld.

SA home in on hollow victory

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

WHAT if SA won a test and nobody cared? That’s the likelihood at Centurion on Tuesday, where the home side are seven wickets away from beating England – who need to bat all day or find 330 more runs to win the fourth test.

That’s if the visitors give a damn, considering they have already won the series and zombied about the place on Monday like they have turned their thoughts to the one-day series starting in Bloemfontein next Wednesday.

Things couldn’t be more different on the SA side of the fence. Having gone nine tests without being able to sing their victory song – their longest winless streak in the 227 completed tests they have played since readmission in 1991 – SA will take any victory they can get; even one as illusionary as this threatens to be.

The truth is SA have been well beaten in the series by a team who weren’t better than them, but who performed far better than they did.

SA’s selectors have done them few favours, while key players’ injuries and poor form, as well as uncertain leadership on and off the field, have cost them dearly.

If the home side do pull one back on Tuesday the series scoreline should not read 2-1. Instead, it should be revised to 2-half.

Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma put SA in their strong position with a stand of 117. Amla, who scored 109 in the first innings, fell four runs short of making a century in both innings for the second time in his career. Bavuma was his tidy, tykish, terrier-like self for his unbeaten 78.

All good. But the last time a SA captain suffered a pair in a test, news of an iceberg making the Titanic an offer it couldn’t refuse probably had yet to reach Papua New Guinea.

Louis Tancred it was, bowled by SF Barnes and stumped off Frank Woolley at the Oval in August 1912 – merely four months after the steel hit the seabed on a frigid night in the Atlantic.

On Monday, SA’s captain was trapped in front second ball by a bananaring inswinger from James Anderson. In the first innings, he had reached out and touched a veering away swinger from Stuart Broad and was taken at second slip, also second ball.

As Nasser Hussain might have asked, “Whatshisname?”

Call him AB duck Villiers.

In fact, in his four innings as captain De Villiers has thrice been sent back to the dressingroom runless tae think again.

And this from a man who did not know the indignity of registering a duck until his 79th test innings – also at Centurion, against Bangladesh of all non-entities, in November 2008.

“I never thought that was possible,” Bavuma said of De Villiers’ unhappy hat-trick. “But he is human; he does make mistakes.”

It is, of course, too early to heap criticism on De Villiers as a skipper and too late to question him as a player: he is in the spring of his captaincy on the golden summer of his playing career.

But, on a day like Monday, when SA took their sweet time to bat England out of the game, oddities like that eased the torpor.

De Villiers declared on 248/5 in the sixth over after tea, setting England 382 to win. By stumps, Alex Hales, Alastair Cook and Nick Compton had been dealt with and just 52 runs were on the board.

“Those were big wickets, and we’ll be coming at them tomorrow with our heads held high and shooting on all cylinders,” Bavuma said.

Fine, but let’s not get too excited.

Arriving now, Kagiso Rabada

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

CLEARLY, Kagiso Rabada didn’t get the memo – the one about not trying too hard in a game that doesn’t matter much. Instead, Rabada tried harder than ever at Centurion on Sunday and was rewarded with his best figures yet in a career that will grow to many more than his six tests.

Almost as certain is that he will improve on the 7/112 he took for SA on the third day of the fourth test against England.

Or, as Rabada himself said, “I don’t feel I’ve arrived yet; there’s still lots of work to be done.”

Still, those are the best figures by a South African in a test innings against England since Hugh Tayfield took 9/113 at the Wanderers in February 1957.

Only 24 times in SA’s 400 tests has a bowler taken seven or more wickets in an innings, and just 19 of SA’s 326 test players have done so.

Rabada was as close as kids should be allowed to venture to rampant in the grown-up’s world of test cricket, and never more so than when he removed Joe Root, James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow – with an away swinger, a bouncer and a cutter – for no runs in nine deliveries.

“Once I got Root out it was a big relief,” Rabada said. “The day before I was a bit all over the place.”

At an age when others are trying to land a proper job and trying not to drink too much (or not trying), Rabada is excelling on cricket’s greatest stage. What a feeling …

“I’m really doing what I wanted to do – it’s amazing.”

As a contest, the match became irrelevant when England clinched the series at the Wanderers last weekend. So the fourth test, by any measure of modernity, should never have been played.

But try telling that to test cricket’s oldest devotees. And to one of its youngest: a tall, lithe, fire-eyed 20-year-old whose 16 scalps in the series puts him one behind Stuart Broad as the leading wicket-taker.

To Rabada went the honour of making Sunday’s play interesting. To him, too, should go gratitude for ensuring that there is a game of sorts out there on Monday.

SA were 42/1 in their second innings, a lead of 175, when bad light ended play. They are on top because Rabada did most of the doing in dismissing England for 342 in reply to SA’s first innings of 475.

That England were able to add 204 runs to their overnight score of 138/2 before they were dismissed was due in large part to Moeen Ali’s gritty 61.

Moeen was last out having helped realise 131 runs for the visitors’ last four partnerships.

The top half of England’s batting was dominated by a pair of 76s by Alastair Cook and Root.

Cook was undone by a rising delivery from Morne Morkel that veered into the left-hander and took his outside edge on its way to Quinton de Kock’s gloves. That left Cook 41 runs short of becoming the first Englishman to score 10 000 test runs.

Dean Elgar was caught behind off James Anderson coming around the wicket and angling the ball at him, and SA suffered another blow when Hashim Amla was hit on the thumb by Ben Stokes.

Amla removed his glove to reveal an existing bandage, and there was blood next to his nail when that came off.

Amla and his thumb survived, but SA will need him in one piece on Monday if they are to retain the advantage.

    

   

  

Cricket can check out of match-fixing anytime it likes, but it can never leave

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

CENTURION is not the worst place to be marooned while rain falls where the cricket should be. Here, in the bosom of Highveld hospitality, they will feed you and water you until you are fit to burst, and all the while with a smile.

And that’s come rain, shine or one of those biblical thunderstorms that can turn SA’s happiest ground into a scene from Ben Hur, chariots not included.

Things haven’t changed. On Thursday, the uninitiated who attended the opening of the AB de Villiers Suite might have expected the “snacks” promised on the invitation.

Instead, they were confronted with more pap, wors, quarter chickens, vegetables, salad and beer than they could safely consume at one sitting.

Similarly, in January 2000, idle nonsense permeated the Centurion pressbox, where too many reporters had too little to do and too much time to talk about it as rain fell for three days of the fifth test against England in a series SA had already won.

Little more than 100 metres away from us as we guzzled and gaggled, Hansie Cronje was making dirty money.

First he asked Alec Stewart, as they passed each other on the stairs leading from the dressingroom to the field early on the fifth day, whether England “wanted to make a game of it”.

Darren Gough would rather not have, probably. In anticipation of another slow and squelchy day at the office, he had spent much of the previous night drinking with Ian Woosnam, the golfer, and was puking his lungs out in the dressingroom toilets even as Cronje and Stewart spoke.

The plan was that each team would forfeit an innings and then get on with a playing a real, live one-innings match.

England captain Nasser Hussain first rejected but then accepted the deal, and was pleasantly surprised when Cronje set England a target of 249 in less than three-and-a-half runs an over.

What a brilliant idea! No boring draws for us, thank you!

“Some people in that dressingroom might now say that they thought there was something going on but I don’t remember people saying that was a bit dodgy, a bit strange,” Chris Adams, who played the last of his five tests in that match, told the Independent. 

The idea actually belonged to professional gambler Marlon Aronstam, who stood to make piles of money if a match that was headed for a draw reached a positive result.

For facilitating this lucrative contrivance, he gave Cronje R53 000 and “a leather jacket, for my wife”.

Gough hit England’s winning runs, Cronje was exposed as a crook months later and died in a plane crash in 2002, and Aronstam’s Twitter page – if it is indeed his – lists his location as “jail”.

Here we are, 16 years on, back at Centurion for another dead rubber between SA and England and with more corruption swirling in the dark clouds above.

On Friday, a carload of English broadcasters, including Jonathan Agnew and former England captain Michael Vaughan, fell victim to what the Daily Mirror headlined as a “frightening confrontation with South African policeman”.

They seem to have fallen victim to one of the daily drawbacks of living in Gauteng: metro cops demanding bribes in lieu of writing out tickets, in this case because Agnew could not produce his driving licence.

And so back to match-fixing, which – albeit at domestic level – once again this way comes. Or did it never leave?