TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
HOW big is the gap between international and domestic cricket? For Alan Dawson, it was 91.44 centimetres big.
The former SA fast bowler was surprised to learn he would make his one-day debut against England in SA’s first match in the Wills International Cup in Dhaka in 1998.
“Then Hansie (Cronje) told me he wanted me to take the new ball,” Dawson said this week. “I said, ‘Me?!’
“There must have been 50 000 people in the stands. You couldn’t hear yourself think.
“I went back to Hansie and said, ‘I can’t do this’. He said, ‘Of course you can. I trust you – I’ve been trusting you since 1982’.”
That was the year Dawson captained the Western Province under-13 team to victory over their previously unbeaten Free State counterparts, who were led by Cronje.
What happened next is fuzzy in the memory: Dawson says the umpire at his end was David Shepherd; the scorecard says it was either Steve Dunn or Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan.
Perhaps Dawson is trying to forget the facts. According to him, after he sent down that debut delivery, Shep said, “ ‘Lad, it’s your first ball in international cricket – you can’t overstep by a bloody yard!’.”
A yard is 91.44 centimetres long …
Dawson recovered well enough to take 1/51 from nine overs. But the moment still stings: “I put most of the pressure I felt on myself – you start doubting yourself.”
Almost 17 years on, Eddie Leie knew how Dawson felt. The leg spinner had been a picture of calm precision on his T20 debut against Bangladesh in Dhaka last July, claiming 3/16 and with that man-of-the-match honours.
Eight weeks later, Leie was skipping in to bowl to Martin Guptill at Centurion.
“In franchise cricket you can get away with one or two bad balls,” Leie said. “At international level bad balls go to the boundary. I bowled two full balls to Guptill. Both of them went for six.”
The gap. In these days of official and civilian agonising over what ails the game, umpteen hands are wrung over dwindling standards in a domestic structure that exists in a parallel universe where there is neither money in the bank nor crowds in the stands.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a gap but there is obviously a difference,” Leie said. “You’re bowling to world class batsmen, guys who have played international cricket for a while.
“But the more you play international cricket the more you get used to the levels and the players. So your game is raised.
“A lot of factors would have contributed to SA’s performance at the World T20, but I don’t think (the gap) is one of them.”
That cuts both ways, Leie said.
“It also shouldn’t be an excuse for players going to international cricket and not performing. It depends on the person themselves – how quickly do they learn, how quickly do they get accustomed to the international level, do they listen to the senior players?
“If you go there with the arrogance of, ‘I know everything’, you’re going to get pumped.”
Dawson earned 18 more ODI appearances and two test caps. Is the credit his or that of the system that produced him? Both, of course.
Not that we can know that. But we do know this: that 1998 tournament represents SA’s only success in multi-team events.
Maybe the domestic game was stronger. Perhaps the international scene was weaker. Whatever. The gap was smaller.