SA come home to tough questions

Times Media


TELFORD VICECape Town

IF SA thought they could shamble home to tea and sympathy in the wake of their failed World T20 campaign, they can think again.

“Clearly our team didn’t perform to expectation; we expected a lot more,” Cricket SA chief executive Haroon Lorgat said at SA’s return press conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“I’m sure questions will be asked. We’re asking questions ourselves.

“We will need to do some sort of review. We will do it objectively and smartly. It’s not knee-jerk stuff. It’s not emotional stuff. We’ll do it properly. We’ll try to understand what we’re not doing.”

But there was no sign that anyone would jump without being pushed.

Asked if he wanted to continue as coach, Russell Domingo said: “Absolutely. It’s a massive honour and a massive privilege. Everybody wants to do it. It’s a big challenge for me – we’ve obviously not achieved what we set out to achieve.”

Lorgat offered Domingo breathing space: “To pre-empt that is premature. He’s got a contract in place. I don’t think I would want to speculate before getting down to the details.

“There’s no need for a rush into this. Let us settle down and take it with great consideration. We are talking of futures.”

Domingo’s current deal expires in April next year, before the Champions Trophy.

Faf du Plessis did not face similar questioning over his future as captain, perhaps an indication that the cricketminded public are blaming the coaching staff – and particular Domingo, who has been dogged by doubters over his lack of high level playing experience – for SA’s poor display.

But Du Plessis was put on the spot about the view he expressed firmly before the tournament that AB de Villiers should bat in the first six overs of the innings.

De Villiers did not open the batting and came to the crease in the first six overs only twice in four innings.

“You had to compare Hashim (Amla) and Quinton (de Kock),” Du Plessis said. “Initially there was only place for one of them (in the team) but both showed amazing form. Wherever AB needs to bat he needs to put in performances.”

The other mystery was stalwart fast bowler Dale Steyn playing in just two of SA’s matches.

With the young group of players we had, to have a player with that experience was always going to be invaluable,” Domingo said. “Hindsight is a great science but I’m glad that Dale Steyn went.” 

The tournament marked only the second time in the 18 World Cups, Champions Trophies and World T20s SA have played in that they have been ruled out of the knockout rounds before the end of the group stage.

Du Plessis’ men crashed out of the running for a place in the semi-finals when England beat Sri Lanka in Delhi on Saturday.

By then they had lost to England and West Indies, which left their fate in other teams’ hands in an event in which any more than one defeat would have put a side on the skids.

Domingo said SA’s preparation could not be faulted, while Du Plessis blamed poor decision-making, the shoddy execution of basics, and conceding too many extras for his team’s fate.

“We just didn’t play the big moments well enough,” Domingo said.

Advertisements

Lessons from a game that shouldn’t have been played

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT’S a not a good idea to draw lessons from matches that don’t matter and have no business being played, but South Africans would have found the temptation difficult to resist after their team’s World T20 match against Sri Lanka in Delhi on Monday.

That SA won by eight wickets with 14 balls to spare meant significantly less than the fact that both teams have been out of the running for the semi-finals since Saturday, when the Lankans lost to England.

“I’m very baffled,” Faf du Plessis said with particular reference to SA’s first match, against England in Mumbai on March 18, when they failed to defend 230.

“What do we need to do? It feels like one of those nightmares where you can’t get your pads on and you can’t get to the crease.

“You play that game 10 times in a row and you’re probably going to lose once.”

But once was enough to put SA on a plane back home instead of to the semis. Which might not have been the case had SA put their faith in less emphatic bowlers earlier in the tournament.

On Monday the unemphatic Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir and Farhaan Behardien took 5/59 in 11 overs between them. They had taken all of those wickets before the end of the 14th over to, with the help of a runout, reduce Sri Lanka to 85/6.

Phangiso was on a hattrick, both of his victims bowled – Lahiru Thirimanne by a ripper that pitched outside the left-hander’s off-stump, hit the top of leg, and made millions wonder why Phangiso has spent his career fiddling with variations of flight and pace instead of turning the ball like that delivery certainly did.

Tahir was as watertight as SA have come to depend on him to be. Behardien, in his only game of the tournament, counted Tillakaratne Dilshan as one of his two wickets.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the emphasis divide, Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott and David Wiese combined for 2/59 in 8.3 overs.

Perhaps that was the mix of bowlers SA should have put out there all along: Sri Lanka’s total of 120 marked the first time in this WT20 that a team batting first had been bowled out.

Something similar happened when SA batted in that Hashim Amla and Du Plessis, two of the least flashy players in all the game, did most of the chasing in their second-wicket stand of 60 – which came off 55 balls, featured only six fours and no sixes, and was fashioned from what batsmen a century ago would have recognised as cricket strokes.

Perhaps relentless accumulation and more reliance on orthodoxy would have been a better approach than trying to hit too many balls as hard and as outrageously as possible.

The partnership was ended by umpire Sundaram Ravi, who somehow failed to see the thick edge that Du Plessis steered onto his pad and sawed him off leg-before for 31.

That brought AB de Villiers to the crease on the wings of rousing cheers from the neutral crowd. He did not disappoint them with a hard-hit 20 not out that included the winning runs – a six blazed over midwicket.

Amla stood tallest and unbeaten on 56, an innings for any age. The match did not matter and shouldn’t have been played, but who would forego the chance to see a master at work?

SA dressingroom a dark place

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT’S over. SA’s World T20 campaign, that is, which sputtered to a sticky end in Delhi on Saturday when England beat Sri Lanka by 10 runs.

That result means Delhi will host an irrelevance on Monday. Whatever SA do in their last group game, against the Lankans, will not be enough to put Faf du Plessis’ team in the semi-finals.

The only other instance of SA falling out of the running for the knockout rounds before completing their group matches in the 18 editions of the World Cup, Champions Trophy and WT20 they have contested came at the 2012 WT20.     

SA are in this unhappy place because their batting and bowling units have taken turns to fall apart.

Against England in Mumbai 10 days ago their bowlers lost the plot and with it their lines and their discipline, conceding 20 runs in wides. Against West Indies in Nagpur on Friday their batsmen failed to turn up, dwindling to 122/8 on a pitch Du Plessis admitted was “actually a normal wicket”.

And that was all this edition of the WT20 wrote for SA. The format means two strikes and, probably, you’re out.

“We’re not playing close to how good we are or can be and that’s frustrating,” Du Plessis said after the Windies emerged on the right side of the equation by three wickets and with two balls to spare in a low-scoring streetfight of a match.

“We want to be better. Unfortunately we’re not producing the goods on the day. You need a bit of luck but also you make your own luck, and I feel if you win those small moments in the game generally the luck goes your way.

“I’m disappointed because I had strong hopes of winning the tournament and now we’re hoping for other performances to go our way.

“We’ll obviously be rooting for some opposition to try and do us a favour. But if it doesn’t happen like that there’s no excuses – we didn’t produce how we should have produced.” 

Sri Lanka didn’t do SA that favour on Saturday. That’s that, then. Except that it isn’t.

AB de Villiers opened the batting in his last six T20s before the tournament and was set to do so in India, so much so that the debate before the WT20 centered on whether Quinton de Kock or Hashim Amla should partner him at the top of the order.

Indeed, on March 3, when Du Plessis was asked whether De Villiers could be moved to No. 3 to make room for both De Kock and Amla, he said, “We’ve planned for this World Cup for two years and now, a week before the World Cup, to start to change those plans is not for me.

“I’m not that kind of guy. So, for me, a week before the World Cup, that is not really an option.”

After Friday’s match, Du Plessis said much the same thing: “We want him (De Villiers) in in those first six overs. We decided on AB at the top a while ago and to change that would be a sign of panic.

“I think our strongest team is with AB at the top in India.”

Odd, then, that De Villiers batted at No. 3 against England, No. 4 against Afghanistan and No. 5 against West Indies.

As for the six-over theory, De Villiers came to the crease in the eighth over against England and the 10th against Afghanistan. He took guard in fourth over against the Windies, but because SA had slumped to 20/3. Mystifyingly, Rilee Rossouw – who had not featured in the first two games – was sent in ahead of him.

Then there’s Dale Steyn. Or rather, there isn’t. The leader of SA’s attack for much of the past 10 years, the bowler who was carefully nursed to the tournament after suffering injuries, the man whose eyes burn with the fire of this proud team, has sat in the dugout for two games now.

Whatever is going on in SA’s dressingroom? The question is disturbing enough, but not nearly as much as the answer could be.

Can T20 groom genuine allrounders?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WHEN Hugh Page walked out to bat fielders would chug in the opposite direction – to the boundary they knew he would try to clear sooner rather than later.

Page was a fast bowler of that old-fashioned religion, of fire with the ball and brimstone with the bat, owner of a first-class batting average of 22.96 but also of nine half-centuries; most of them smote more than they were stroked.

Not that he was a bona fide basher. Page top-scored with 60 for Essex at Chelmsford in 1987 in an innings in which Graham Gooch was bowled for a duck by Imran Khan, who led a Pakistani attack that also featured Wasim Akram.

Twice in the cauldron of Transvaal’s matches against Western Province he walked out to bat past those chugging fielders and returned with a half-century.

Were Page playing T20 cricket today he would struggle not to be classified as an allrounder. He would be up there with Chris Morris, David Wiese and, in another sense, Quinton de Kock.

“I would love that,” Page said.

But that love was conditional on us not getting ahead of ourselves. T20, Page said, was no place to breed genuine allrounders.

“It’s stuck at that level because the art of cricket has been lost with T20 – when to attack, when to defend, when to bring certain bowlers back into the game to give yourself a chance of bowling the opposition out if the game looks like fading away.

“All that sort of thing is gone because it’s all about bowling to restrict the runs to as few as you can and getting as many runs as you can when you’re batting.”

If that sounds like Page is looking down his nose, he is – at a game in which the top-rated allrounders are Ravichandran Ashwin and Shakib al Hassan, who are nowhere near the class of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram.

“T20 is great from a spectator’s point of view and there are batting skills that are unbelievable, but they can’t can be carried over to the purer form of the game,” Page said.

Eric Simons was closer to a classical allrounder than Page. But their opinions chimed on the chances of T20 giving cricket proper allrounders.

“You don’t often improve the batting skills of your bowlers in T20,” Simons said. “Test cricket is where allround skills are honed, rather than the other way round.

“Test cricket depends on technique whereas T20 is an outcome-based game: it doesn’t matter how the ball gets to the boundary as long as it does.”

Simons, now a coach, said he worked on “detoxing” bowlers who had overdosed on T20, “getting them to spend time on getting back to their basics”.

Even the best could fall victim to this malady, Simons said: “I believe Dale Steyn has lost something from his bowling because of T20, in which bowlers need to be so innovative that it messes with their heads.”

Best we don’t let it mess with our idea of an allrounder.

Leading Edge: WT20 should be blueprint for all tournaments

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

TOURNAMENTS are fakery, particularly in a sport as fraught with variables as cricket. They are rarely won by the best team in attendance. Nor do they offer a true test of those teams.

Pakistan were not the best side at the 1992 World Cup but they had the balls to win it. SA should have won it in 1999 but choked on the thought.

Tournaments are what cricket does to show off, to flex its drama muscles, to celebrate its glorious uncertainties – and, not least, to make a pile of money.

But let’s keep it clean: unlike the narrative of a bilateral series, which builds with each passing delivery, over, session, innings, day’s play and match, a tournament is a highlights package made for television and the modern world.

So why does cricket insist on making most tournaments about as big a drawcard as washing your socks?

Because the suits are greedy. They crammed 51 matches spread over 46 days into the 2007 World Cup, all the more expensively to sell the rights. That equation shrank slightly from both ends at the 2011 World Cup, which featured 49 games in 42 days. But it seems this piece of string has lengthened again – last year the World Cup comprised 49 games in 43 days.

How many of those games do you remember? Grant Elliott launching Dale Steyn for six to win the semi-final is written into cricket lore, so that’s on the list. AB de Villiers flying over the cuckoo’s nest against West Indies sticks out, as does SA’s consummate performance in their quarter-final against Sri Lanka.

But that’s about that. Unless the thumping SA were dealt by India hulks in a dark corner in your memory.

Any takers for the Pakistan game? Or the Windies? Zimbabwe? The United Arab Emirates?

Much of what happens at tournaments melts into a meaningless mental whirl that, with luck, might snag on a synapse and live again for as long as it takes you and your mates to talk your way through a beer.

In cricket, less is often more. But, in line with the thinking that spectators want to see runs, runs and more runs and to hell with the bowlers and any semblance of a contest between bat and ball, the suits shove so many more matches at us that we can’t see the bats for the willow trees.

So what a relief to be smacked in the face by the freshness of the 2016 World T20.

SA’s loss to England in their first game effectively suspended a guillotine over their necks for the rest of the tournament.

Bangladesh blowing a win over India that was already in the bag looked like SA in the bad old days.

Afghanistan’s Mohammad Shahzad is to the WT20 what Tony Manero was to Saturday Night Fever.

But wait. There’s more. But not much more. When the final is won and lost in Kolkata next Sunday we will have seen 35 games in 26 days.

That’s why the drama lingers. More, please, suits. By which we mean less, of course.

SA on WT20 life support

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SA’s hopes of reaching the World T20 semi-finals are bleeping on life support in the wake of their loss to West Indies in a heart-stopping finish in Nagpur on Friday.

A piddling SA total of 122/8 never looked like keeping the Windies at bay. However, it almost was – the maroons crumbled like macaroons but stayed intact enough to scramble home with three wickets standing and two balls remaining.

As Faf du Plessis said, “It felt like we were half-a-step behind the West Indians the whole game.”

The result sealed the West Indians’ place in the semis and left SA hoping hard that Sri Lanka beat England on Saturday. If England win SA will be out of the running.

“This game makes us all very old very quickly,” Du Plessis said. “When you’re not playing your best cricket you don’t deserve to be in the semi-finals of a World Cup.

“We’re in a deserving position for the cricket we’re playing.”

An abiding memory of Friday’s game will be of Kagiso Rabada cleanbowling Chris Gayle with the fifth ball of the Windies’ reply, a delivery that swung between bat and pad with serpentine grace.

Another will be of Imran Tahir dropping Marlon Samuels off his own bowling and dismissing Andre Russell and Darren Sammy all in the space of five deliveries.

And still another of Samuels spearing fours through third man twice in the penultimate over before skying a catch down the ground.

But the only memory that matters is that SA batted like dead men walking and, consequently, are a step closer to their funeral in this tournament.

Only six times in their 85 completed T20s have SA scored fewer runs. Only twice in the 29 wins the have achieved batting first have they defended a lower score.

Not that SA’s attack were blameless. No Windies bowler went for more than two boundaries. Rabada and Morris conceded four and five respectively. SA gave away eight runs in wides. West Indies? Two.   

But the game turned on both teams’ batsmen being befuddled by what looked rather like a cricket pitch.

Yes, the strip chosen by the groundsman was vetoed by the International Cricket Council’s pitch consultant, Andy Atkinson, who favoured the preparation of a faster surface. Yes, the pitch glinted a touch green from the middle – bizarre for an Indian ground. Yes, it wore a veil of mystery.

No, that did not merit all who batted on it behaving like mechanics refusing to work on a particular car because they had never seen one in that colour.

Properly timed strokes were about as plentiful as golden tickets hidden in Willy Wonka’s bars of chocolate.

Quinton de Kock’s 47 was the best effort in an innings in which David Wiese was the only other player to reach 20, and they joined forces to add 50 for the sixth wicket. But, like SA’s other batsmen, neither De Kock nor Wiese looked anywhere near comfortable at the crease.

Perhaps they were spooked by the sight of Gayle bowling his collector’s item off-spin for only the 23rd time in his 48 T20 internationals.

Whatever. Rilee Rossouw and David Miller were added to a list of 17 batsmen dismissed by Gayle in this format that also features Shane Watson, David Hussey, Brendon McCullum and Jonny Bairstow.

A bigger part of SA’s downfall was Dwayne Bravo’s canny concoction of cutters and off-speed deliveries that earned him figures of 2/20.

And then came Samuels, scrapping and scheming and scratching through five partnerships for his 44.

As matchwinning innings go it was as ugly as a car crash. But Samuels survived and West Indies prospered, and deservedly so.

Nagpur does SA a favour

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU wouldn’t expect the Nagpur groundsman to do SA any favours, not after the 22 yards of day-old chapati he prepared for the test they played against India there in November.

Even the International Cricket Council (ICC), not often a repository of common sense, condemned that surface as “poor” – forever tainting the victory India achieved to clinch the series.

So when SA returned to the city at India’s geographical centre this week to play a World T20 match against West Indies on Friday, they thought they knew what they were in for.

“When we got here on the first day of practice the wicket was very dry and we just prepared ourselves accordingly to play on it,” Faf du Plessis said yesterday.

But that was before Andy Atkinson, the ICC’s pitch consultant, took action. The pitch originally selected for Friday’s game was apparently the same strip used in a WT20 game on March 15: New Zealand dwindled to a total of 126/7 and India were dismissed for 79.

Six of the 12 bowlers who turned their arms over that day were spinners. They claimed 11 of the 17 wickets and had a collective economy rate of 5.13.

So, at Atkinson’s suggestion, another – presumably faster – pitch was chosen for Friday.

“I assume that the reason they’re changing it is to not be as dry or not to spin as much as it possibly could have on that dry surface,” Du Plessis said. “But it’s still two teams competing and possibly it’s going to be a spinning deck, so I don’t think too much will change.”

Whether that means SA will stick with Russell Domingo’s heavy hint earlier this week that SA would play both their frontline spinners, Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso, is keenly anticipated.

But what hasn’t changed is that SA need to win if they are to retain serious hopes of reaching the semi-finals.

They have lost only once – to England in their opening game – but the cut-throat format of the tournament means that two losses will likely remove a side from the equation for a place in the final four.

Adaptability, Du Plessis said, was key to SA staying on track.

“We do rely as a team on being smart and to make the correct decisions on whatever the surface is on the day,”  he said. “If you consistently prepare for those sort of scenarios, where you need to adapt every day and you don’t just rely on one gameplan and one specific batsman to come off, that’s all you can do.

 “As a team we do that very well, especially as a batting unit – we adapt quickly and we’re smart in our decision making.

“We’ve got guys that can play quite a few different roles and that’s going to be the key here. If it’s going to be a slow Bunsen burner then we have to make the transition quicker than the West Indian team.

“Obviously they are a power-hitting team, so they realise their strength and also their weakness. But for us it’s about being the smartest ones on the day.”

West Indies and New Zealand are the only unbeaten teams in the tournament, but the Windies have two to play including Friday’s game. So their foot will be firmly on the gas – and they will have big-hitting Chris Gayle back in harness following a hamstring scare.

But Windies captain Darren Sammy warned SA not to focus all their attention on Gayle.

“We have 15 matchwinners,” Sammy said. “Yes, Chris is our biggest player. But there’s no pressure on him to perform. We as a group know what we have.”

SA will have to make do without JP Duminy, who has been ruled out with a hamstring strain.

“People will see how important JP is to our team now that he’s missing,” Du Plessis said. “He’s an allrounder who, especially in these conditions, plays a role with both bat and ball – and that’s even talking about his experience.

“A lot of talk that has gone into it, especially on who can do that sixth bowler’s job.”

The time for talk is done. It’s time for SA to win – or, probably, pack their bags.