The Katwaroo among the Proteas

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

BE prepared. Years from now in a pub far, far away, you could be asked, “Which wicketkeeper who played for SA was born in Trinidad?”

The correct answer would be Steven Katwaroo, who did duty behind the stumps for SA in their 50-over warm-up match against West Indian Cricket Board XI in Port of Spain on Sunday.

Katwaroo wore green and gold because Quinton de Kock was given a break having played 13 of a possible 14 games at the Indian Premier League (IPL). SA’s other wicketkeeping option, AB de Villiers, played in Sunday’s IPL final.

Rain ended the match midway through the home side’s reply to SA’s total of 280/9. The Board XI’s score of 127/3 meant the game was, according to Duckworth/Lewis, tied.

Of Katwaroo’s teammates for a day, only Rilee Rossouw, Wayne Parnell Aaron Phangiso and Kagiso Rabada did not play in the 2016 IPL.

Was not having to come in from the cold of the off-season an advantage?

“Coming to a foreign country you just want to have some time on the legs, especially some of the guys who haven’t played,” Hashim Amla said.

So it seemed, what with Rossouw gone for a third-ball duck and Amla scoring 92. Then again, Phangiso’s hitherto hidden batting ability earned him an unbeaten 34 off as many balls.

The rain hampered SA’s bowlers with JP Duminy smacked for 21 runs in two overs and Wayne Parnell travelling for 35 off four. But Kyle Abbott and Rabada went for less than three runs an over and claimed a wicket each.

For veterans of the IPL the biggest adjustment was remembering to factor in the 30 overs they haven’t been thinking about for the past seven weeks.

“You have a lot more time to set the game up and you’ve got to keep reminding yourself that there’s a lot of time left in the game,” Amla said.

More fine-tuning will be required as SA prepare for their first match of the triseries, against West Indies in Providence on Friday.

“Maybe it’s a bit slower and lower in Guyana but we’ll only really know when we get there,” Amla said.

The Windies are the weakest of the three teams, which means Friday’s game could serve as a warm-up for SA’s match against Australia in Providence on Tuesday.

Don’t expect to see Katwaroo in either of those contests. But already he has a story to tell his grandchildren.

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Pace ace in the slow lane

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DALE Steyn was dropped for SA’s one-day triseries in the West Indies and not rested as was claimed when the squad was announced, the Sunday Times understands. That could explain why he will play for Glamorgan while he is, officially, meant to be putting his feet up.

Steyn will turn out for the county in the first half of their domestic T20 campaign – which coincides with the triseries. Not that anyone could describe him as worn out.

“They used rest as an excuse,” an insider said. “He knows they dropped him.”

Injuries limited Steyn’s involvement in the eight tests SA played against India and England last season to 40 overs.

He bowled his quota in three of the four T20s he has since played for SA but was not selected in another two games in that format.

On top of that, Steyn bowled a dozen deliveries for Gujarat Lions in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), all in one game on April 21. He could have sent down as many as 60 overs.

Consequently for five weeks Steyn has been “extremely frustrated as he is just not being selected”, according to an IPL source.

And that despite “training hard before and after matches, so he is showing lots of interest”. The Lions seem to be “looking more at developing local bowlers”.

How they could decide not to pick Steyn on the basis of two overs which went for 17 runs and were bowled in a single match makes no sense, especially as they are paying him R5.3-million – at least, on this week’s exchange rate.

The fact that the finest fast bowler of the era was not been instrumental in his team reaching the play-off stages is one answer to that mystery. Another is that six of the 24 players on Gujarat’s roster came at a prettier penny than he did.

Just how valuable do the Lions deem Steyn? The same as comparative mediocrities like Dwayne Smith and Dinesh Karthik, who each fetched the same asking price as the South African at this year’s auction.

Of Steyn’s 15 compatriots who are also on the books of IPL franchises this season, seven are more expensive. AB de Villiers’ price-tag of R21.9-million and the R6.5-million being paid to Morne Morkel and David Wiese bookend a list that includes, in descending order, Chris Morris, David Miller, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock.

JP Duminy, Hashim Amla – who was signed late as an injury replacement and played only six games – Kyle Abbott, Imran Tahir, Farhaan Behardien, Marchant de Lange, Albie Morkel and Tabraiz Shamsi were all acquired for less money than Steyn. Nationality aside, 19 players went for more than Steyn.

What’s the point of all this accounting? To try and measure Steyn’s value not through the prisms of patriotic emotion nor what he has accomplished in one of cricket’s epic careers, but in terms of what his most moneyed employers consider him to be worth to their team right now.

That will rankle South Africans: this is Dale Steyn we’re talking about, a champion of the age, the man with as much fire in his eyes as in his belly, and in his bowling arm.

“Great bowlers like that, when people start questioning them and writing them off, they produce the goods,” Russell Domingo said.

“We’ve got a lot of test cricket ahead. We’ve got five ODIs in SA against Australia (in September and October) which I am confident he will be part of. There are 11 test matches these next seven months.

“Dale is our No. 1 go-to guy in test cricket. He will lead this attack for a while still.”

Selection convenor Linda Zondi did not respond when he was asked what had been communicated to Steyn about his omission from the triseries squad – was he told he was being dropped or rested?

At least money still talks.

Cricket culture clash looms in Caribbean

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

CHINUA Achebe should be writing this. Or perhaps Harper Lee. Even George Orwell. It is the story of what happens when things fall apart and mockingbirds are killed, and it starts around 1984.

It is a triptych of cricket cultures – one at rock bottom, another in decline, and still another seemingly bulletproof to such drama. It is a look at West Indies, SA and Australia ahead of their one-day series in the Caribbean that starts this week.

In 1984 no-one would have dared suggest that West Indies would soon be but a pale puce shadow of their maroon greatness. That’s what happens when you assume success will take care of itself.

SA were up to their necks in isolation in 1984 but they are learning that lesson now, in the wake of the retirement of major players, an economy that is squeezing cricket into a dark corner, and a vortex of insistent politics.

Australia, meanwhile, continue to advance fair. They are the World Cup champions, the top-ranked ODI side, and unshakably focused on their next step forward. Who remembers that, in 1984, they won 11 and lost 15 tests and ODIs?   

You would rather be Australia than West Indies, but the latter loom larger than they did before they won the men’s and women’s World T20 in April. That followed their under-19s’ World Cup triumph.

“The West Indies have won three more World Cups than we’ve won and they won them in one year,” Russell Domingo said.

“They probably didn’t have the best T20 World Cup final but they’ve got a guy who can hit four sixes in a row.”

That guy is Carlos Brathwaite, the home side’s most bristling batsman.

AB de Villiers would seem to be SA’s answer to that kind of audacity, but leave room for the return of the prodigal: Wayne Parnell, who bled 85 runs in nine overs and scored a skinny 17 not out in his last ODI – against India during the 2015 World Cup. Parnell has since rebuilt his self-belief at franchise level.

“I’ve always thought Wayne Parnell is a special cricketer with a lot of ability,” Domingo said. “I am so pleased that he has gone into domestic cricket and done exactly what was required.

“He needed to get some game time and play week in, week out get some overs under his belt and get his confidence where it needs to be.”

Which brings us to a Goliath called David, as in Warner; that most Australian of Australians. He is short of neither confidence nor muscle and the Aussies have securely moored their psyche to players like him.

Do not be surprised if Parnell, Brathwaite and Warner dominate this tournament, given the conditions and the culture of one-day cricket.

But only of them can win it. Mickey Spillane should write that story.

New life for old idea in Caribbean triseries

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IF the idea of SA’s triseries against West Indies and Australia seems old-fashioned, that’s because it is.

Six one-day tournaments involving three or four teams have been played in the past five years. In the five years following SA’s first triseries – in February 1993, when they hosted the Windies and Pakistan – 20 such events unfolded across the international cricketscape.

In an era strewn with bilateral rubbers of all flavours on top of World Cups, Champions Leagues and World T20s, all of them islands in the alphabet soup of domestic T20 extravaganzas flung from Barbados to Bangalore to Bangladesh and several other places inbetween, finding time in the schedule to put three international teams in one place long enough to play each other a few times each is a feat worthy of its own place in the record books.

But, starting on Friday at the soulless Providence stadium outside Georgetown in Guyana, where West Indies will take on SA, a triseries we shall have. Two days later the home side will be up against the Aussies at the same venue.

And so on and so forth until, on June 26, after each team have played six games, the top two sides on the log will clash in the final at the stately Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.

For the first time in the Caribbean all the matches in an ODI series will be day/night games. Of the 276 ODIs played there since the first one in 1977 only three have taken place under lights.

So, what does that tell us? Not a lot. The Windies won the first, against Zimbabwe in St Lucia in May 2006, by 10 wickets. The second, between West Indies and Sri Lanka also in St Lucia in April 2008, was washed out, and the third was won by 91 runs by the home side against Bangladesh in St Kitts in August 2014.

Which might make you wonder whether Friday’s game will be tied: of all the available options for results in day/night ODIs in the West Indies it’s the only box not yet ticked.   

Not that SA are allowing themselves such flights of fancy. After last season’s unconvincing performance – won 14, lost 13 – they will be focused on plugging the hole in their own and their public’s confidence in their abilities.

Kagiso Rabada, just 21, looms as key to that happening. There is nothing quite like an infusion of fresh talent to remind the old guard why they play this damnably difficult game, and Rabada did exactly that last season.

What might the flying young man in his magnificent fast bowler’s machine of a body accomplish in a place where hurling the ball at bone-breaking pace was put on its pedestal in the modern game?

Not so fast, Russell Domingo said: “He is still learning his trade. I wouldn’t say he is our No. 1 strike bowler. We’ve still got some wonderful bowlers in the side – Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander.

“To maintain and sustain it over a long period of time is a challenge. Him being such a bright star and such a valuable commodity, the temptation is to play him every single game but we need to be careful with that. He can’t play every game because by the time he is 23 or 24 we won’t see the best of him.”

All good. Except that Steyn and Philander aren’t in this squad. Instead, SA will get their gas from Kyle Abbott, Chris Morris, Morkel, Wayne Parnell – and Rabada. That’s good company to keep but as we saw last season Rabada belongs right up there.

SA’s batting is less settled, what with Faf du Plessis in danger of missing their first two games because of the finger he fractured while playing in the Indian Premier League.

But perhaps there’s no reason to fret. Of the 27 finals SA have reached in ODI tournaments involving three or four teams they have won 16.

West Indies and SA have never met in a final, but Australia have been the Proteas’ opponents in seven finals – and the Aussies lead that scorecard 4-3.

An eighth decider between them looms in the Caribbean. Any chance of an old-fashioned humdinger?

Time for AB to give SA the RCB treatment

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IF you’ve tuned in to coverage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) these past seven weeks and not seen AB de Villiers putting some hapless attack to the sword, don’t go buying any lottery tickets.

De Villiers owns the highest score in the tournament – an undefeated 129 smashed off 52 balls – and the best strike rate, 170.07, among batsmen who have had at least 10 innings. Only Virat Kohli and David Warner have scored more runs than De Villiers’ total of 682.

Better yet, the South African has done all that with the kind of verve that has made him stand out. And that despite sharing the spotlight with Kohli, who would hog the headlines even if he got out for nought every time. Instead, he has drilled four centuries in 15 innings.

But whereas Kohli broods malevolently at the crease, as if his every stroke is meant to exact revenge on all those who ever dared doubt his greatness, De Villiers bats with the sheer joy of being alive. As much as he dazzles us, it’s difficult to believe he isn’t also dazzling himself.

Even so, South Africans watching from afar will feel conflicted. It’s wonderful that one of their own is performing so well. But how come he isn’t the same AB fab quite so often when he plays for SA?

The question comes in the shadow of De Villiers reaching 50 only five times in the 20 innings he has had for SA since the start of England’s tour in December.

A 20% success rate from someone so outrageously gifted doesn’t cut the mustard, especially when he then blazes six half-centuries and a century in 15 innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore.

In mitigation, for all the flash and dash of the IPL the tournament’s playing standards are significantly     below international level.

India’s docile limited overs pitches, small outfields and white-ball cricket’s punitive bowling regulations tip the balance further in batsmen’s favour.

But there will nonetheless be extra eyes on De Villiers when he takes guard for SA in their triangular series in the Caribbean, which starts next week. Some of those eyes will be in his own dressingroom.

“I think any team is blessed to have AB in the side,” Farhaan Behardien said before the members of SA’s squad who are not playing in the IPL jetted off on Wednesday. “Any pressure that is on him is from the outside and just a perception.”

However, even De Villiers needs a little help from his friends …

“Whether he performs or not the rest of the guys have to stand up,” Behardien said. “AB is only human. Just. We need to take the pressure off him – that’s when he plays his best cricket.”

The other side of that coin is that De Villiers is going to have to show he still holds the national cause dear having failed to deny rumours in December that he was considering retirement.

“It’s always been the most important thing for me to enjoy my cricket,” he said then. “It’s just important to look at the schedule moving forward. That’s the talk in the camp, and for me maybe not to play all kind of cricket.

“If I play all the IPL games, the whole season, I do get a bit tired towards the end of the season.”

Fat chance. As SA team manager Mohammed Moosajee said on Wednesday: AB has committed himself to play all formats. Unless he has an injury I don’t think they are going to rest him at this moment.”

Domingo still coach. What else do you want to know?

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE most important news of SA’s press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday ahead of their departure for the Caribbean was delivered before a word had been spoken.

It was the sight of Russell Domingo – who is still SA’s coach despite having been the prime target for the criticism that followed his team losing almost as many matches as they won last season.

Since October SA have lost test series to India and England, and a T20 rubber against Australia. They have also won one-day and T20 series against India and England. But the test defeats loom largest, along with a record South Africans don’t like the look of: won 14, lost 13.

The last of those games was played in March, which has given Domingo time to reflect and recharge for the ODI tournament against West Indies and Australia. SA play their first match against the home side in Guyana next Friday.

“It’s been a wonderful two months,” Domingo said. “There is nothing like spending time at home and putting everything into perspective; enjoying the small things in life and sitting down and watching other coaches sweat it out at the Indian Premier League, seeing how small the margins are between winning and losing.

“It can make you realise how so many times results are not really in your hands. I am fresh and ready to go. I probably need a break from my dad chores.” 

Dad spent some of the downtime listening to his 11-year-old son’s take on SA’s spiral from No. 1 to No. 6 in the test rankings.

“He reckons it’s a good thing we’ve dropped down because it takes a little bit of the pressure away from trying to hold onto that position and doing whatever you can to get into that position.”

But for the next month SA’s focus will be on the white-ball game and at least one set of opponents South Africans respect.

“You know the history of SA and Australia,” Domingo said. “They’re a side you always want to judge yourself against.”

Aside from sharp-edged rivalry, Domingo said, “winning is important – the public demands it, cricket people demand it”.

Some of that winning could be done by a slow bowling component that features leg spinner Imran Tahir, the left-arm orthodox Aaron Phangiso and left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi.

“The wickets are not quick,” Domingo said. “They don’t offer much lateral movement and the spinners, particularly in Guyana, play a big role.”

Phangiso liked the sound of that: “That means there will probably be an opportunity for two spinners to play most of the time. The conditions will allow that.

“I’m hoping to put in some good performances and to get some consistency.”

Phangiso will also hope that he can put his recent past – which included being throw off a flight for unruly drunkenness and having his bowling action declared illegal, then cleared – behind him.

“There’s a lot of lessons you learn from those type of things, and a lot of the time the public get a story that’s not 100% (accurate),” he said.

“It was a bit tough. It was four months of newspapers – ‘Phangi’ this, ‘Phangi’ that, (bowling) action that. But I’ve got a strong family, very Christian people. That helped a lot.”

Phangiso, inspired by what he learnt at a spin camp in India this month, said he would bring a new approach to the triseries.

“I’ve been a defensive spinner all my career. I’ve always kept it tight, tight, tight – and then taken the wickets with pressure. But now maybe I’ll look to attack.”

Whatever. Just win.

IPL will help players in triseries

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE format is different and the standards will be, too. But will SA, Australian and West Indian players in the Indian Premier League (IPL) have an advantage in the triangular one-day series their national teams will contest in the Caribbean next month?

“The fact that they’ve been active will help; they will not be rusty,” former SA batsman Boeta Dippenaar said on Monday. “Going into a tournament like that straight from a winter programme is the big challenge for any coach.”

West Indian pitches are similar in pace to India’s, although less responsive to spin bowling. Might that also serve IPL players well?

“These days international players are exposed to so many varieties of conditions that you would expect them to be able to adapt when needed,” Dippenaar said. “Information is the touch of a button away.”

Of SA’s squad of 15 only Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada and Rilee Rossouw are not dashing about India.

They should not have too many cobwebs to brush away. Parnell and Rossouw last played at franchise or international level in April, and Phangiso and Rabada in March.

Faf du Plessis was at the IPL but has been sidelined since April 26 with a broken finger that has ruled him out SA’s first match of the tournament, against the Windies in Guyana next Friday. He has used the downtime to holiday in the US with his wife, Imari.

Four Australians will also come in from the cold to go the Caribbean. Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Matthew Wade were last in action in March, but Mitchell Starc will return from an ankle injury that has kept him off the field since November.

The situation is reversed for the home side, not least because of the free agency that has taken hold in the Caribbean to deny the maroons the services of several of their top players.

Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard are the only members of West Indies’ triseries squad who are playing in the IPL.

Not counting the injured Samuel Badree, six players who were part of the Windies’ triumph in the World T20 in April will be missing next month. Among them are key figures Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Chris Gayle.

That, and SA’s track record, prompted Dippenaar to predict a SA-Australia final in Barbados on June 26.

“We’ve all come to learn that this type of series is where SA do well,” he said. “But when we are in an International Cricket Council event we don’t seem to do as well. I don’t expect it to be any different this time.”