Lions bowlers roar against Cobras

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Newlands

“AG no man,” echoed with increasing frequency and mournfulness under The Oaks at Newlands on Sunday as the Lions made a mismatch of their One-Day Cup final against the Cobras.

Justin Ontong was the only batsman to go above and beyond the 20s – he made 60 – before the Cobras succumbed for 169 in 42 overs to a slow pitch and canny bowlers who all kept their economy rate below five.

The Lions roared with 6.2 overs to spare, when they won by eight wickets on the back of Stephen Cook’s undefeated 77.

For the first time in the franchise era the Lions won this competition outright, having shared it with the Cobras in 2012-13 after both attempts to play the final were washed out.

The Cobras reached the final for the fifth consecutive time. They have claimed the spoils just once in those attempts.

Pumi Matshikwe and Aaron Phangiso took six wickets for the visitors, but the bigger truth was that their attack bowled effectively as a unit.

So when Eddie Leie’s hamstring packed up after he had bowled 5.3 overs, Alviro Petersen sent down the leg spinner’s other 4.3 overs smartly enough to go for only 18 runs.

Consequently only three pairs of the Cobras’ batsmen put on as many as 30 runs together and none made it to 50. 

As Cook said, “Every guy stood up when he needed to stand up.”

The game was thus won and lost in the Cobras innings. But the Lions needed sturdy batting if they were to clinch the match with minimal drama against an attack that bristled with Beuran Hendricks, Wayne Parnell and Dane Piedt.

Most of that steadiness was provided by Cook, who shared stands of 67 and 96 with Rassie van der Dussen and Petersen.

Between them Cook, Van der Dussen and Petersen hit 21 fours – 10 more than the entire Cobras line-up. Petersen’s breezy 55 came off 56 balls.

But the most vivid illustration of which team were having the happier day came in the 23rd over of the Lions’ reply when Cook edged an angling delivery from Parnell.

By the time the gently looping ball reached wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, Cook had tucked his bat under his arm and turned towards the dressingroom. Umpire Bongani Jele had his finger up, signalling the obvious.

All it needed for Cook to be dismissed for 51 was for Vilas to take what should have been the simplest of catches …

Instead he dropped it.

Good thing Vilas wasn’t behind the stumps down the road from Newlands at the Vineyard Oval on Saturday, where Dale Steyn bowled a ball in anger for the first time since December 28.

Steyn, who is recovering from a shoulder strain, sent down five overs in each innings for WP Cricket Club in a Premier League match against St Augustine in what amounted to a fitness test for the three T20s SA will play against Australia starting at Kingsmead on Friday.

He took 3/2 and 2/11 – two of them trapped in front, another two bowled, and the other caught at third slip.

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Why should coaches have played?

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

LANCE Klusener’s removal as Dolphins coach means only two of SA’s six franchises are led by men with international playing experience.

They are the Cobras’ Paul Adams and newly appointed Knights coach Nicky Boje, although Roger Telemachus is one of the two caretaker coaches who will do duty at Kingsmead until a permanent replacement for Klusener is found.

What with Malibongwe Maketa in charge at the Warriors, Geoff Toyana at the Lions and Rob Walter at the Titans, an argument could be made that, at a coaching level, franchise cricket is more amateur than professional.

But that would be to ignore the realities of a society in which many of those who might have played international cricket and then gone on to coach at a high level were denied those opportunities by dint of race.

Beyond the sociology, even though international teams began appointing coaches as recently as 1986 – when Bobby Simpson took Australia’s reins – has the role not evolved enough for it not to be tethered to playing experience?

Playing and coaching are vastly different fields. Why make success in one a pre-requisite of qualification for the other?

Perhaps change is afoot, what with three of the 10 test teams coached by men who never played at that level – SA’s Russell Domingo, England’s Trevor Bayliss and New Zealand’s Mike Hesson.

India, meanwhile, have dispensed with a coach. But they do have “team director” Ravi Shastri strutting his larger-than-life stuff and berating groundsmen who don’t follow orders.

Domingo and Hesson own not a first-class cap between them. Neither does Titans coach Rob Walter, who offered an interesting perspective based on his experience as SA’s conditioning coach and with two Indian Premier League franchises.    

“I was always in the mindset of being in the coaching framework, and with that I learnt from some of the very best coaches around,” Walter said.

“The key is in your ability to transfer that information onto the players you work with. But you also can’t be naive. There is a need for guys who have had international experience. That’s where getting a consultant to come in and pass on knowledge related to playing at the highest level comes in.

“Whether it’s me drawing from those guys and handing that information over to the players or the players themselves having access to those people, either can work and have been known to work.

“It’s really about managing people. Do you have to have international experience to be able to manage people? Absolutely not. But you mustn’t be closed off to the fact that they are potential areas that you can’t comment on.

“I can’t comment on opening the batting for SA in a test match because I’ve never done it. I’ve been there, I’ve watched it, but I’ve not lived it in the flesh.

“So if there is a requisite to get that information from a person who has done that then that’s what you’ve got to do. That’s the reality.”

Another reality is that players who become coaches do not have to earn their integrity all over again in their second career.

“There’s no doubt that if someone who has played 50 test matches comes down to a net the batsmen immediately hold some form of respect for him if they respect the way he played and the type of person he is,” Walter said. “There’s no way around that and you’re stupid if you try and battle that.”

But Walter was nonetheless confidently comfortable in the coaching landscape.

“I’ve probably been involved at some level with 10 different international coaches who were very successful. The key is to pick their brains but also to reaffirm that you know what you’re talking about.

“When you’re having a discussion and you find that your thinking is very similar to what they’re thinking then you know you’re on the right track.”

Nicky Boje played 43 tests, 115 one-day internationals and a T20 for SA. These days, he coaches the Knights.

“It’s important to have somebody (as a coach) who’s played in the different formats and has played international cricket,” Boje said. “But you still get good coaches who have not really played cricket. It all depends on your personality and the way you manage players.”

Indeed. Perhaps two out of six is no bad thing.

Leading Edge: Someone needs to tell Steyn he’s a great

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT was February 27, 2003. The opposition were Canada. The place was Buffalo Park. You wouldn’t have thought this would be the famous final scene of Allan Donald’s SA career.

But, after 72 tests and 164 one-day internationals, it was. The batsman who received Donald’s fateful last ball – and hit it for four, nogal – was Delhi-born Ashish Bagai, who would become a successful London banker.

Four day-nights later at Kingsmead, a dressingroom full of players, tracksuits and suits didn’t read the Duckworth/Lewis sheet properly and SA kicked themselves out of the 2003 World Cup. At least Donald was spared direct involvement in that indignity: he had been dropped.

Not only was that the end of Donald’s illustrious time in green and gold, the folly of trying to squeeze another drop out of his greatness was over, too.

He was 36. In bowlers’ years, he was at least 10 older. The delivery with which Donald bid farewell to all that was the 87 502nd he had bowled in 863 matches of all descriptions since making his first-class debut 18 years previously.

The lesson should have been learnt a year earlier, when this country’s finest fast bowler of the age and among the best seen anywhere in the game in any era retired from test cricket after the first match of a series against Australia.

Donald took his bow not walking through a guard of honour but writhing on the Wanderers pitch and clutching at his hamstring like a footballer felled by an opponent’s bad breath.

The lesson also wasn’t learnt when the idea of nursing Jacques Kallis to the 2015 World Cup needed a tour to Sri Lanka in July 2014 to be exposed as bad.

“I just knew on that tour I was done,” Kallis said after scoring five runs in those three innings, and plaudits to someone who had spent most of his time at the top at the pinnacle of that top to know the truth when he saw it in the mirror.

But here we are, 13 years after that blustery day in East London (aren’t they all) when Donald bowled his last, and still the lesson has not been learnt.

Names and places have been changed but SA are again guilty of trying to squeeze another drop of greatness out of a well that is drying up fast.

This time, the name is Dale Steyn and the place could be Mumbai, Nagpur, Delhi – where SA will play their group matches in the World T20 – or Kolkata, the venue for the final.

At 32, Steyn has played 448 games at senior level and bowled 36 216 deliveries. That’s little more than half the matches Donald had played and comfortably less than half the balls he had bowled when the writing loomed large on the wall in his last ODI. But, as Steyn’s body keeps telling him and us, he is done.

Not all greats are created equal. But they are all great. Whatever he does or does not accomplish at the WT20, Steyn is a great. Someone tell him that, please.     

    

Phangiso, Tsotsobe, Tsolekile – more trouble for Toyana’s problem children

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

LIONS coach Geoff Toyana hopes there’s nothing crooked in Aaron Phangiso’s bowling action being declared suspect for the first time in his career after the One-Day Cup semi-final against the Warriors at the Wanderers on Wednesday.

But he confirmed that Lonwabo Tsotsobe – who protested his innocence of match-fixing in an interview with an Indian website published on Thursday – was training with the squad.

Toyana declined to comment when asked why Thami Tsolekile was not practising with the Lions. Calls to Tsolekile’s cellphone number went unanswered.

Former SA, Titans and Lions player Gulam Bodi was banned from cricket for 20 years in January after admitting to his involvement in match-fixing.

Both Tsolekile and Tsotsobe have been linked to the scandal in media reports, though no evidence has been brought against them publicly as Cricket SA (CSA) have refused to give details of their investigation. 

However, match-fixing suspects are likely to be suspended by CSA. Lions chief executive Greg Fredericks said on Thursday that “we know absolutely nothing, but besides Bodi nobody has been suspended”.

Left-arm spinner Phangiso has 14 days to have his action tested. The results will be sent to a specialist approved by the International Cricket Council (ICC), who will have another 14 days to decide whether Phangiso chucks – which would see him banned from bowling all or some of his deliveries.

That could complicate Phangiso’s participation in the World T20 in India, which starts on March 8. SA play their first match on March 18.

“‘Phangi’ has played international cricket for three years, and for this to come up now is really baffling,” Toyana said on Thursday.

“When the match officials (referee Tiffie Barnes and umpires Johan Cloete, Shaun George and Adrian Holdstock) called me to talk about his bowling action I was really surprised. At age 32 he’s been called for something that has never been an issue in his career. I’m just hoping there’s nothing behind it.”

Toyana said the “biggest surprise” was that Phangiso has been asked to undergo the tests today. He had agreed, Fredericks said.

“I’m upset about that,” Toyana said. “I hope this is not a way to try and block him from going to the WT20. For this to come up at this stage of his career is really surprising.”

If Phangiso was tested as late as possible, on March 16, his fate could have been decided as late as March 24: after SA’s first two group matches.

In any event, ICC sources said on Thursday the event technical committee would probably allow SA to replace Phangiso in their squad even if he was banned during the tournament.

Toyana insisted Phangiso was an utterly orthodox finger spinner and not a chucker: “I’ll go back and look at the video footage of the game to see if I can pick up anything, but his strength has always been his change of pace and his guile. He doesn’t bowl the one that goes the other way.”

As for Tsotsobe: “Lonwabo has been coming to our training sessions but he’s not match fit yet.”

What about Tsolekile?

“Thami has not trained with us for the past six weeks,” Toyana said.

Why not?

“Can I not answer that?”

And all that with Toyana on the verge of taking his team to Cape Town to play the Cobras in the One-Day Cup final at Newlands on Sunday.

Sometimes, what happens beyond the boundary overshadows the game itself.

We’re all transformation monitors, says Mbalula

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU are cricket’s transformation watchdog, and you have the power to bring lapses in Cricket SA’s (CSA) efforts to make the national team look more like the nation to the notice of the highest authorities.

In fact you have already done so. And you would be forgiven for thinking the authorities have taken enough notice of your pro-action to hand you a responsibility you considered theirs.

A ministry statement on Tuesday after a meeting between sports minister Fikile Mbalula and CSA’s board on Monday said there was “general agreement that glaring gaps and inadequacies in the policy that are in conflict with the sports barometer and transformation charter” were being seen in cricket.

Asked what those gaps and inadequacies were, sports ministry spokesperson Esethu Hasane said, “In most cases these are raised by the public in terms of a Proteas team that is still not as reflective (of the demographics of the population) and that transformation is slow.

“What the minister meant is that CSA’s board and chief executive must try to check where the gaps are, and that people still believe transformation is slow 21 years after democracy.”

In the 32 matches SA have played across all formats since the 2015 World Cup, they have fielded six players of colour once, five and four in 15 games each, and three once.

This season, for the first time since Makhaya Ntini and Mfuneko Ngam played against New Zealand at the Wanderers in January 2001, SA included two black African players in the same test XI: Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada.

CSA’s stated race quota – which they semanticise by calling it a “target” – is at least four players of colour in every SA match.   

“The CSA delegation offered to undertake a consultation process, within its structures, aimed at policy review and closing the gaps in line with the memorandum of agreement signed by the federation with the minister to achieve transformation targets,” the statement said.

“The CSA board further committed to discuss the principle of merit selection in relation to the quality of opportunity.”

Tied to that issue are the concerns raised by Black Cricketers in Unity (BCU) in November about black players struggling to get a game for SA despite being included in national squads.

CSA informed the minister that all the grievances lodged through the (BCU) petition are receiving priority attention at the highest level,” the statement said. “The minister’s office will be presented with updates every step of the way on developments in this regard.”

Hasane said Mbalula took BCU’s views “very seriously” because it is “a matter that needs serious attention”, but that the minister respected “the autonomy of CSA as a board and cannot get involved in its investigations and processes because that would amount to political interference”.

According to Hasane, CSA’s match-fixing investigation was ongoing. The statement said Mbalula had offered CSA “the services of state investigative agencies” – which Hasane said meant the Hawks.

Asked for his response to the statement CSA president Chris Nenzani said, “This represents the outcome of the meeting and I have no further comment.”

Moerse headaches loom for SA

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

JIRRE jong,” a journalist flustered by having to make several major revisions to his report, each more hasty than the last, on the see-sawing second T20 between SA and England at Newlands on Friday said as he placed his recorder in front of Faf du Plessis at the press conference that followed.

Du Plessis looked up, flashed a smile and quipped, “En daar wen ons sommer a moerse game!

A moerse game, indeed – which SA won by three wickets off the last ball. Two days later at the Wanderers, another moerse performance, this one more emphatic than exciting, had SA home and hosed by nine wickets with 32 balls to spare.

With that SA had reeled off five consecutive victories over England in the shorter formats. In a season that will be remembered for troubling test series in India and against England, that is a consolation rather than a cause for celebration.

For now, that is. SA’s first match in the World T20 in India, also against England, is 25 days away. Should De Plessis’ men still be alive when the final is played at Eden Gardens on April 3, and should they win it, the five defeats they have suffered in eight tests in the past few months will be all but wiped from South Africans’ memories.

That is not how things should be, but is how South Africans tend to regard their teams: they are as good, or as bad, as their most recent performance.

However, a hurdle remains to be cleared before such fantasies can be entertained seriously.

Australia will play three T20s in SA early next month. Only on the evidence of that series will South Africans dare to hope, or not, that it might just rain on their team’s trophy drought at the WT20.

The form book says South Africans will have reasons to be cheerful – Australia have lost four consecutive games in the format to England and India.

But the last team they beat was, that’s right, SA; twice in three matches to win their rubber in Australia in November, 2014.

We are, of course, getting ahead of ourselves. First we need to ask what to do with Quinton de Kock and Dale Steyn, who missed the T20s against England through injury but should be fit to face the Aussies.

They would walk into any T20 team in the game. Except, it seems, SA’s.

How would you make room for De Kock considering AB de Villiers’ inclusion creates another opportunity to follow the fashion for picking as many allrounder as a team can stand?

And why, even if you are trying to bring a great bowler like Steyn back into the mix, would you fiddle with an attack that showed in both T20s against England that they have everything it takes to come out on the right side of an equation that is loaded against bowlers?

After the Wanderers match on Sunday, Du Plessis trotted out the well-worn line that “it’s not a headache, it’s great to have options”.

Not in this case. Russell Domingo made it plain last week that he did not share the conventional view that JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien were on borrowed time.

That leaves Rilee Rossouw or David Miller as favoured victims for the chop. Both could claim that they have not had the opportunities afforded Duminy and Behardien.

Steyn, meanwhile, has been dogged by injury as he approaches the end of his career. He is a liability.

Those are moerse headaches waiting to happen.

Women keep cricket’s magic alive

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT took women to make more Americans take football seriously. Now women need to remind cricket that T20 is about innovation because men are determined to make linear, logical, sense of the magnetic madness that is the shortest format.

There was plenty of just that to see at Newlands on Friday. That is, while the SA and England women’s teams were playing the second of their three T20 internationals.

Even though the boundaries were shortened by about 20 metres compared to the playing area on which the countries’ men’s teams would play the first game of their T20 series a few hours later, power hitting was not an important part of the equation.

One six was hit during England’s 20 overs. Compare that with India’s men’s team hammering SA for 11 sixes in Dharamsala in October.

But England’s women hit 18 fours on Friday, or three more than India’s men at Dharamsala. Not blessed with as much of the brawn men use to blaze the ball to the fence, most of those boundaries at Newlands were scored because gaps in the field were sought and found.

Strokes like the reverse sweep – which is calculated to confuse fielders rather than careen out of their range – came out more often than they might do if men were at the crease.

To watch England’s Anya Shrubsole was to see a master swing bowler at work, her skill made all the more appreciable because she does not generate anything like Dale Steyn’s pace.

Dane van Niekerk’s stumping by Sarah Taylor happened at rattlesnake speed, so fast that Van Niekerk was halfway back to the dressingroom before anyone not on the field realised she had not been bowled.

Trisha Chetty’s runout, meanwhile, was a magnificent moment of multi-tasking: the wicket was broken at both ends of the pitch with both batsmen – sadly, that is what they are called – out of their ground.

And after all that SA still claimed their first T20 victory over England, and deservedly so. Clearly, women’s cricket exists in a parallel universe where no line is as straight as it seems.

Contrast that with Faf du Plessis, one of the clearest, most articulate thinkers among modern players, doing his damnedest to demystify death bowling.

“It’s all to do with the surface we play on,” Du Plessis said this week. “Death isn’t always yorkers. Sometimes, when the pitch might grip, hard lengths could be a better option.

“If one of the straight boundaries is short, if you’re looking for yorkers and you miss it’s possibly the easiest shot to try and score a boundary.

“If you can land your yorkers at any time of the game, especially if you’re closing that over down, it’s a great time to nail that yorker.

“It’s something we’ve worked on as a bowling unit – to land those yorkers right through the game.”

Nothing about cricket is as emphatically male as a yorker shattering a set of stumps. But we shouldn’t blame men for their tendency to want to straighten any line: show a man a problem and all he thinks of is how to solve it.

So, was Du Plessis sounding a worry or a hope when he said, “A T20 World Cup is crazy because anyone can win it.”?  

T20 exists because enough people realised the 30 overs in the middle of most 50-over innings amounted to little more than a turgidness of nurdling batting and nothing bowling. Get rid of those overs and you are left with business ends of the innings: craziness squared.

But, 11 years and 504 matches after the first T20 international was played, the craziness often fizzles into something suspiciously like the formulaic fare that 50-over cricket is at its most unwatchable.

“Maybe people have worked it out and maybe it will lose some of its charm,” former SA player and selector Craig Matthews said. “But isn’t there a natural evolution about it that allows you to find new ways to play it and become better at it? That will be the challenge for teams going forward.

“T20 brings a lot of money to the game, which can’t be dissed. If people learn a way to play it and that takes some of the appeal away, they’ll find ways to make changes to bring some of that appeal back.”

Spoken like a man: damn straight.