What the Zimbabwefication of SA cricket would mean

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IF you watched Dale Steyn answering fans’ questions in video clips posted online last week by one of his sponsors you would have seen and heard the great fast bowler discussing matters as breathlessly important as why he wears No. 8 on his short format shirts.

But you would not have seen or heard him answer an increasingly thunderous question that SA’s players should be asked at every opportunity: how close are you to retiring from international cricket to cash in and play as many T20 tournaments as your mind and body can bear?

There is little chance of South Africans finding out where Steyn stands on the issue as he is playing in the Caribbean Premier League, as are AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel.

Those five names encompass SA’s captains in all three formats as well as the heart of their batting order and their two most experienced fast bowlers.

At 31, Morkel is the youngest in a group of players who are significantly closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Morkel is also the latest player to be linked to thoughts of retirement from at least one international format, in his case one-day internationals. 

And if they all had to up and go in one or more flavours of cricket? Where would SA be then?

“For us, earning in rands, our players are going to say their priority is playing in T20 tournaments,” former selection convenor Andrew Hudson said. “When they have time, they will play for SA or for franchises.

“Especially for someone approaching the end of their career, they can’t play in all the tournaments and play all the formats for SA.

“Players giving up a format is going to happen more and more with senior players who have played a lot of cricket.”

Ensuring that process goes as smoothly as possible loomed as a high SA hurdle.

“The team will lose players and it will have to spend time growing players to get back up to the top again,” Hudson said. “But there are enough cricketers in the pipeline; there’s plenty of talent in the system.

“The thing is we’ve got guys who are flat out. They play well in all formats and they are in demand overseas. How do you manage them? It’s going to be difficult. That’s the challenge. I don’t think finding new talent is the challenge.”

Hudson endured the retirements of Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, and all in the past four years. Add just one of the players above to that list and the future looks so dark you might want to reach for a miner’s helmet.

Or should you? Since a host of experienced players walked out of the international game over Heath Streak’s sacking as Zimbabwe’s captain in 2004, the Zimbos have won 23.6% of their matches and lost 74.7%. Before the separation, Zimbabwe won 23.1% of the time and lost 65.7%.

They are 0.5% more successful than they used to be and 9% worse off. The difference is, in a word, marginal.

It’s time for SA to wake up and smell reality. They weren’t as good as they think they were and they won’t be as bad as they think they’ll be.

So, why does Steyn wear No. 8?

“If you draw a line from where you start an S to where you finish an S – a line straight through it – it becomes an eight,” he said.

And if you continue that line it looks a lot like a dollar sign. Hark, the future.

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