Spotlight on Steyn, and bugger the state of the pitch

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DALE Steyn has missed SA’s last dozen one-day internationals and he joked last month that he “can’t even make the one-day team at the moment”.

But, on the eve of the first ODI between SA and Australia at Centurion on Friday, the stalwart flamethrower hogged more than his fair share of the pre-match spotlight.

“Dale’s personality sometimes is a bit cranky,” SA captain Faf du Plessis said on Thursday. “That’s why you see that fire when he gets a wicket and that’s why we love him like that.”

After months out with groin and shoulder injuries Steyn emerged triumphant in the test series against New Zealand last month, taking 10 wickets at 10.20 – which included a match haul of 8/99 at Centurion.

That silenced observers who had wondered if, at 33 and with his body apparently failing him, Steyn’s storied career was over.

“I think he felt like that from the test series when he came back, felt like he needed to prove a point,” Du Plessis said.

“If you don’t produce the goods regularly people are going to ask questions and that comes with its own pressures.

“Now he is back in the one-day team and he will try and make a huge impact and try and show everyone that one-day cricket is still a big part of his future.”

To hear Du Plessis tell it, all Steyn needs to take wickets is to be introduced.

“The fear that he puts into opposition, the name itself,” Du Plessis said. “You have a few guys around the world who can do that.

“They’ve done well for a while and they put that doubt in your head as an opposition because of the name.

“If Dale is fit and 100% and wants to bowl quick he is an extremely big asset.”

Australia captain Steve Smith was wary of Steyn visiting the same kind violence on his men as he did on the Kiwis.

“I watched the test series against New Zealand, where he was almost back to his best,” Smith said. “I think he’s been left out of their one-day side for a while, so he’s probably out to prove a point.

“No doubt he’ll be up and ready to go.”

The conditions at Centurion on Friday should suit skiddy, swingy fast bowlers like Steyn.

Which could make the Australians rue resting pace aces Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for the series.

Instead they will be spearheaded by the relatively inexperienced Scott Boland and John Hastings.

But the South Africans will be mindful of being bowled a googly by that theory.

Australian leg spinner Adam Zampa was more successful than any of SA’s quicks in a triangular series in the West Indies in June, and no bowler has claimed more wickets in ODIs in 2016 than his total of 25.

“I can’t speak highly enough about him,” Smith said of Zampa. “He’s done a terrific job.

“He understands his skills well and he reads the batsmen very well.

“That’s one of his big strengths, making sure both him and I sum up the situation and that he bowls to the situation.

Centurion’s surface is about as far as cricket gets from the desperately slow, ripping turners that were rolled out in the Caribbean.

But, like Steyn, Zampa is a quality bowler.

And bugger the state of the pitch.

Cobras v Adams cleared for legal take-off

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE stand-off between Cobras players and their coach, Paul Adams, leapt the boundary on Wednesday when the SA Cricketers’ Association (SACA) took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

The move is the latest twist in a saga that has been brewing for months and came to a head two weeks ago when it emerged that 10 of the franchise’s 17 contracted players had filed a formal grievance against Adams.

A SACA release on Wednesday spoke of “a breakdown in the relationship between the majority of the Cobras players and the head coach”.

“It involves a fundamental loss of confidence by the players in the coach’s ability to lead the coaching of the team arising from his inability to create an effective team culture, poor communication and man management skills, lack of tactical and technical knowledge and disorganisation in running proper practice and training sessions,” the release said

Central to the drama is a report by former SA team director Paddy Upton, who was appointed as a mediator by an independent panel formed by the board of Western Cape Cricket (WCC) to investigate the players’ claims.

“Paddy’s report is an internal document and hasn’t been made available to the media at this stage,” SACA chief executive Tony Irish told TMG Digital.

“I can however confirm that after conducting a number of interviews and looking at all the relevant documents he outlined three possible scenarios and the benefits and risks relating to each of those.

“The first was to continue with the coach with no changes.

“The second was to continue with the coach with an additional support structure around him, and the third was for him to stand down as head coach and be redeployed elsewhere in Western Province cricket.

“Given the risks and upsides attaching to each scenario, and the extent of the breakdown in the relationship, Paddy clearly recommended that the parties should agree to the third scenario.”

But, after studying Upton’s report, WCC decided to retain Adams – who has been offered a new two-year contract that, reportedly, remains unsigned.

It appears WCC didn’t follow Upton’s advice because, they said in a release last Tuesday, “The board found material deficiencies in Upton’s report as he did not fully discharge the mandate given to him to speak to all the contracted players.”

Irish took issue with that view: “As a mediator his role was to understand the grievance and assist in resolving it.

“He didn’t need to interview every single player to do this and he was specifically mandated to use whatever approach he considered appropriate.

“His report demonstrates a very thorough understanding of the grievance and his recommendation of how it should be resolved.”

That that has not happened means “the players have exhausted the internal cricket process for dealing with their grievance and now have no option but to refer this to the CCMA”, the SACA release quoted Irish as saying.

The fact that, under Adams, the Cobras have won or shared four trophies in five years across all formats would seem to be a mitigating factor. But not in the ranks of the disgruntled.

“According to the players however the coach’s shortcomings back then were compensated for by the role played by senior players at the time and the situation has got progressively worse,” the statement quoted Irish as saying. 

Despite all that Adams and his players will be at the Wanderers next Wednesday to play the Lions in their opening first-class match of the season.

The dressingroom promises to be quieter than usual, except for the ticking all involved might hear in their heads.

That’s because a hearing will be held within 30 days of the CCMA serving papers on WCC.

Whatever the CCMA says will not be binding on any party.

But, in the real world, when workers aren’t satisfied with CCMA rulings, they go on strike.

The awkward question: what would AB do?

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WHAT would AB do? It’s a question South Africans will hope doesn’t come up too often in the next two months.

In that time SA will play Australia in five one-day internationals and three tests.

And they will have to do so without AB De Villiers, who requires elbow surgery and has been ruled out.

De Villiers is SA’s captain in both formats as well as their star batsman.

Australia are the No. 1 team in ODIs and they are two places above fifth-ranked SA on the test ladder.

How worried should those South Africans be?

“Put it this way, the Australians are happy,” former SA coach Eric Simons told TMG Digital on Wednesday.

“Any team that loses AB de Villiers is not going to be as strong as it would have been.”

How much weaker will they be?

De Villiers has missed only four of the 110 tests SA have played since he made his debut in December 2004.

None of those matches have been against Australia, who have won 11 of the 20 tests De Villiers has played against them.

Of his 26 ODIs against Australia, SA have won 13: exactly half.

That drops to a third when De Villiers is not in the mix – played nine, won three.

“The (SA) team are in a transition phase and they rely on three or four players,” Simons said.

“AB is, massively, one of them.”

Indeed. But SA found a way to beat New Zealand without De Villiers in a test series last month.

That said the Kiwis, flinty, clever and competitive though they are, are not the Aussies.

Among the few truths of South African cricket that have survived everything history has put in their path – including 22 years of isolation – is that Australia are the team South Africans measure their side against.

Starting on Friday, when SA and Australia meet at Centurion in the first of five ODIs, that truth will be held up to the light again.

De Villiers, no doubt, will watch as carefully as the rest of us. 

AB-less SA to face Australia

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

AB de Villiers has been elbowed out of SA’s imminent home one-day series against Australia and their test series in Australia in November.

De Villiers, who missed SA’s two tests against New Zealand last month as well as a one-day international against Ireland on Sunday because of an elbow injury, failed a fitness test on Tuesday.

“Although the physio strapped his elbow while he was batting this morning, and he did feel some relief with some of his shots, the elbow pain hasn’t resolved completely,” SA team manager Mohammed Moosajee said in a video released on a Cricket SA (CSA) social media account.

In a subsequent release CSA quoted Moosajee as saying De Villiers had “not recovered from his elbow impingement injury which makes surgery the only long-term solution”.

“We have tried the conservative management of rest, physio, rehab and cortisone infiltration into the elbow, but that has not yielded the results that we would have liked,” Moosajee was quoted as saying.

He will have surgery to the elbow early next week and the target is to hopefully have him back for the Sri Lankan home series over the Christmas period.”

That will not go down well with a team who are working hard to bounce back from a string of disappointments.

Since July last year SA have lost a one-day series in Bangladesh, been beaten in a test series in India and in another at home by England and failed to reach the final of a triangular one-day series in West Indies.

De Villiers is SA’s one-day captain and, when Hashim Amla resigned the test captaincy in January in the middle of the England series, he stepped into that breach.

Faf du Plessis, who has led SA in De Villiers’ absence, is probably a better captain.

But De Villiers’ greater value to SA is as the most devastating batsman in world cricket.

He was their leading run-scorer in tests and ODIs last year and remains the top ranked batsman in the latter format.

Beating the No. 1 ranked Australians without De Villiers will be hard enough in the ODI rubber, but winning a test series against them in their own backyard without him is a far stiffer challenge.

Rilee Rossouw, who replaced De Villiers in the squad for the Ireland match, will stay with the squad for the five ODIs against Australia.

That series starts in Centurion on Friday.

De Kock gives Aussies ammo

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

QUINTON de Kock probably wasn’t trying to give Australia ammunition to pin to their dressingroom wall ahead of their one-day series against SA, but that’s just what he did.

In an expansive answer to a reporter’s question that started in the throes of last season, when SA lost test series in India and at home to England and failed to reach the final of a triangular ODI series in the Caribbean, De Kock said, “Four months in India takes a lot out of you and it was straight from there to West Indies.

“That’s five months out of the country and just constant cricket. It’s tough.”

“That’s why I think some of the Aussies are blaming their fingers to go home early.”

The Aussie in question is Shaun Marsh, who cried off the trip to SA with a broken finger he sustained last month during the tour to Sri Lanka.

James Faulkner is out with a calf strain and Mitchell Starc gashed his shin in training two weeks ago.

Not that Starc was in danger of having to mark out a run-up in SA – he and Josh Hazlewood are being rested, which would seem to add substance to De Kock’s theory.

Besides, why should teams take seriously five arbitrary ODIs wedged into a schedule studded with more important matters. Like the test series SA will play in Australia in November.

But to more or less accuse an Aussie of being soft, as De Kock did, is not clever; even if the quip was made in jest.

Doubtless De Kock will find his own fingers in the firing line more often than they might have been in the first match of the series at Centurion on Friday.

Happily, De Kock has the talent, skill and confidence to give as good as he gets. 

“I like to keep confident in my game, I don’t like to get into my own shell,” he said.

“My confidence will always be there. Even if we don’t do well it’ll always be there.”

Like it was in Benoni on Sunday, when a belligerent De Kock spanked 82 off 66 balls in SA’s 206-run win over Ireland.

Deservedly the focus was on Temba Bavuma, who opened the batting on his ODI debut and scored 113.

But Bavuma isn’t part of the squad for the Australia series.

Instead De Kock will welcome back Hashim Amla as his partner at the top of the order.

They will be key to SA’s hopes of beating the Australians, and if the home side do so well enough – at least 4-1 – they will go from fourth to second place in the rankings.

Australia are on top of that heap, a status they will want to justify in their match against the Irish in Benoni on Tuesday.

Anything SA can do they will want to do better.

Upton report called for Adams’ axing

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

PADDY Upton’s report on some Cobras’ players grievances with Paul Adams called for the coach to be relieved of his duties, TMG Digital has learned.

But the Western Cape Cricket (WCC) board decided last week, after studying the report, that Adams would be retained.

The board pointed to what they called “material deficiencies” in Upton’s report, which was commissioned as part of the mediation process between the unhappy players and Adams.

It appears Upton, a former SA team director whose appointment as mediator was acceptable to both sides in the dispute, did not speak to all of the aggrieved players.

Adams has been offered a new two-year contract, but it is believed that neither he nor the board have signed off on the contract.

The matter now seems headed for the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Adams is highly likely to be removed as coach if the players win their case.

But should the CCMA rule against the players they would be liable for disciplinary action.

Either way Adams will not be fired.

It is understood another role will be found for him at the franchise should the CCMA decide in the players’ favour.

The saga has split the franchise with short format captain Justin Ontong having told TMG Digital that he supported Adams and first-class captain Omphile Ramela believed to be among the players who want Adams dismissed.

The opposing camps of players are reportedly not on speaking terms, and that with the Cobras’ first match of the season against the Lions at the Wanderers in Johannesburg starting next Wednesday.

How old is too old for top cricket?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SIX members of the South African team who played in the second test against New Zealand at Centurion last month were on the wrong side of 30. Only two were under 25.

Is this cause for concern, or is blooding talent a worry too many for a team trying to balance winning and transforming?

Or was what happened when Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith were all removed from the equation in the space of two years as a cautionary tale?

How old is too old to play international cricket, and when should the age alarm for players sound for selectors?

“It depends on so many factors, including the role of the player,” sports physician Jon Patricios said.

“Obviously a fast bowler is going to differ from a middle order batsman or a spin bowler.

“It also depends on the conditioning of the athlete and a lot on how that athlete has managed his career, how they’ve periodised themselves and avoided burnout and fatigue and staleness, and taken time away from the game.

“It depends, too, on when that player came into the game. Some players might reach the the highest level relatively late, like Mike Hussey, and have quite an extended career.

“Someone who starts touring internationally at 20 might be burned out by 26.

“Sometimes we discard our players too soon and we don’t manage them well enough.

“Jacques Kallis is a great example of how you can get the best out of a long career.

“I wouldn’t say a team that has five or six 30-year-olds is at a disadvantage to team that has five or six 20-year-olds.”

Hussey was 30 when he played the first of his 79 tests for Australia. Kallis played his last match for South Africa at 39, ending 18-and-a-half years as an international.

Peter Kirsten is another member of the ageless club. Isolation meant he didn’t make his test debut, which followed him starring in the 1992 World Cup, a month before his 37th birthday.

Kirsten made his first-class debut at 18 and was three months shy of 42 when he scored his last century at that level.

“You should be at your peak from your mid-20s to 32, or even longer than that,” Kirsten said. “For me it was different because I was still hungry – we hadn’t played test cricket.

“I can understand why test cricketers retire at around 35 or 36 these days, but that was when I started my test career.

“I’d always kept myself fit and that was important. As I got older I wasn’t physically affected, except when I started picking up calf injuries at around 36 or 37.

“You go on because you love it and because you’re batting so well. In my case I just felt really good.”

Kirsten concurred with Patricios about the dangers of tossing players aside when they still had plenty left in the tank.

“If you keep yourself physically fit, and because you get better mentally, it’s a good recipe to pick older players,” Kirsten said.

“Selectors who discard the oldies prematurely should think again. Try and keep them in as long as you can, especially for test cricket.

“For ODIs and T20s you’ve got to be fit. You’ve also got to be fit for test cricket but it’s less intense in physical terms.”

But they differed on whether modern phenomena like the Indian Premier League (IPL) would make players want to stick around for longer or call it quits sooner than before.

“The IPL has probably created a situation where careers might be shortened, but because of the amount of money that players earn they can probably afford that,” Patricios said.

For Kirsten: “The IPL will probably lengthen a player’s career because of the money available.”

Not that any cricketer is Peter Pan. Not even AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla or Dale Steyn.

“They’re going to be very difficult to replace,” Kirsten said, echoing every cricketminded South African.

Patricios saw that challenge differently: “If there was no conveyor belt of players coming through then you start hanging on to players, and that would be a worry.”

Or not. Of the South African team that beat England at Lord’s in August 2012 to top the test rankings, five were over 30 and no-one was younger than 27.