Adams out, Prince in as Cobras spin silly

Times Media


TELFORD VICEPort Elizabeth

PAUL Adams will no longer be the Cobras’ coach, Western Cape Cricket (WCC) said in a release on Friday.

The release did not make clear whether Adams had been fired or had resigned, saying only – and vaguelly – that he would “be stepping down” on Sunday.

A subsequent release said Ashwell Prince, Adams’ assistant, would serve as caretaker coach for the rest of the season. Faiek Davids is Prince’s assistant.

Dane Piedt, who moved to the Titans on loan after struggling to get a game at Newlands, is now the Cobras’  interim captain.

Barney Mohammed replaces Alan Dawson as selection convenor.

The new regime will be in place for the Cobras’ first-class match against the Lions in Oudtshoorn on Thursday.

Adams’ position has been under threat since September, when it emerged that most of the Cobras’ contracted squad had lodged a formal grievance against him.

The matter went to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in October and in November the newly appointed Dawson resigned because, a South African Cricketers’ Association release at the time said, “he believes it is impossible to work in an environment in which there is a fundamental problem between players and coach”.

The further deterioration in that relationship and how the situation was dealt with by WCC could have led to a legal player strike.

Friday’s development is a defeat for WCC, who offered Adams a new two-year contract in May and have voiced their support for him throughout the impasse with the players.

The release made no mention of the problems of recent months except to say WCC chair Beresford Williams “rejected with contempt certain allegations that Adams’ successes as coach had somehow been the result of outside factors and said he had been a model in his passion and approach”.

Adams has won or shared five trophies across all formats in his four years in charge and guided five previously uncapped players to international level.

He has apparently fallen out with his squad over allegations that his core coaching and management skills are lacking.

The headline of Friday’s release was a laughable attempt to put a positive spin on what has been a damaging episode in the franchise’s history: “Paul Adams appointed as WCC high performance manager and coach”.

The release said that the position had been newly created.

Leading Edge: Cricket’s subtlety sets it apart

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth

IF you blinked 25 minutes into the third day’s play at St George’s Park on Wednesday you would have missed it. Maybe Bruce Oxenford blinked, along with Nuwan Pradeep and most of South Africa’s team.

Vernon Philander delivered to Dushmantha Chameera, who defended stoutly to send the ball scooting straight enough down the pitch to clatter into the stumps at the non-striker’s end.

Chameera’s batting partner, Pradeep, who had sauntered out of his ground and then turned as lazily as a lizard in the sun, may or may not have grounded his bat before the wicket was broken.

Up went the appeal from the South Africans, which prompted umpire Oxenford to use his hands to sketch a reasonable facsimile of a rectangle in the air.

“Decision pending,” the electronic writing on the illuminated wall where the scoreboard used to be duly read even as fielders exchanged high fives. Got him!

Gunmetal grey clouds, spiked with the lightning that would fuel the visceral violence of a thunderstorm an hour later, massed above floodlights glaring through the gloom. Below, breaths were held …

But only until Oxenford and his colleague, Aleem Dar, sharpened their focus on what had just happened.

Hang on a second …

Philander to Chameera, and directly onto the stumps. Which would require a scorebook entry something like, “N Pradeep run out (Chameera)”.

Oh to be a spider in a drain in a dressingroom where a player has effected the dismissal of a teammate.

Could this be? Of course not.

And here’s law 38, chapter two, verse two to tell us why: “(A batsman is not run out if) the ball has not subsequently been touched by a fielder, after the bowler has entered his delivery stride, before the wicket is put down”.

Ah well. ’Twas fun while it lasted.

It was also a cameo of the subtlety that separates cricket from other, lesser games, where what matters is players’ ability to muscle opponents into submission, hoodwink the referee, or perfect otherwise pointless skills with a mindless obsession that in the real world would have them diagnosed as neurotic inmates of prisons of the soul.

Cricket is neither 80 minutes of choreographed thuggery, 90 minutes of passive-aggressive nothing, four days of Freudian faffing about on endless acres of landscaped fakery, two weeks of thwacking and thwocking by brattish blowhards whose parents had too much money, nor almost a month of finding ever more undetectable ways to ingest ever more illegal – and ever more dangerous – drugs in the cause of “winning”.

Cricket, and cricket played in whites in particular, is what happens when the human race holds a mirror to its better side.

There is pathos in its patterns and depth in its drama, and something like literature in the way it tells its story.

The gods help anyone who messes with that, although it often seems as if the future of proper cricket is so dark that those who want it to not only survive but prosper should wear miners’ headlamps.

It doesn’t help that monstrosities like the Indian Premier League think nothing of cannibalising the game to a grotesque degree, or that the boards from cricket’s most financially powerful countries can’t see past their own greed and selfishness.

You could be forgiven for thinking cricket has nothing to fear except cricket itself.   

That may be damned as the view, as a Port Elizabeth cab driver said this week, of someone “narrowminded enough to be able to look through a keyhole with both eyes”.

He was having a go at Australian commentators, but this columnist accepts his guilt if he is so charged.

And see if he cares. Subtlety is for cricket. Diplomacy is for wimps.

SA played perfect match at St George’s Park

Times Media


TELFORD VICEPort Elizabeth

ONLY one century was scored and just two five-wicket-hauls taken, but St George’s Park delivered another absorbing contest into the annals of South African cricket over the past five days.

Four days and 70 minutes, actually. That’s how long it took the home side to beat Sri Lanka by 206 runs in the first test.

Victory was clinched on Friday, leaving the Lankans to wonder how they are going to turn things around in time to put up a better performance when the series resumes in Cape Town on Monday.

Newlands, too, has been given something to think about.

“It was an excellent test wicket,” Stephen Cook, the scorer of that lone century, a sturdy 117, said of a St George’s Park pitch that did not deteriorate as much as usual, and therefore offered little in the way of turn or reverse swing but was a solid surface for batting.

“It nipped about on the first two days and it got good to bat on and started taking spin towards the end,” Cook said.

What did he expect for the second test?

“It’s a fine line in Cape Town. It can either do plenty – we’ve seen a few teams get bowled out for under a hundred – or it can go the other way and you can get 500 or 600.

“It’s a knife-edge in terms of the wicket.

“Hopefully, with our balanced attack and the way we’ve been batting, we can adapt to the situations as they arise. We know their strengths, particularly their spin bowling.

“So I wouldn’t imagine it will turn too much.”

South Africa dealt with the conditions as adpetly as they did with their opponents, who will take their only solace from the facts that they dismissed the home side for fewer than 300 – 286 – in the first innings and then registered the highest fourth innings total yet seen at the country’s oldest test ground: 281.

But those issues are on the periphery of the more important truth that South Africa were dominant in all departments.

“We did everything right,” Faf du Plessis said. “Wining the toss on a greentop you could easily bowl first.

“But we thought it would quicken up on day two, which it did.

“So to get a hundred-run partnership with the openers (Cook and Dean Elgar) was amazing. It set the tone for us for the test.

“We bowled really well, and then in the second innings when the wicket was better the batting unit laid their authority down.

“It was a great opportunity for us as a batting unit to dominate and we did. We put them under pressure and they were not in the game.”

South Africa declared on 406/6 in their second innings and reduced the visitors, who chased a target of 488, to 240/5 at stumps on Thursday.

“The bowling was excellent (on Thursday),” Du Plessis said. “It was a day of not many rewards but every single bowler did everything right.

“I was extremely impressed with the way the guys bowled and (on Friday) we got the rewards.”

Angelo Mathews loomed as Sri Lanka’s last hope of prolonging the inevitable when play resumed on Friday.

But he added just a single to his overnight score of 58 before he was trapped in front by Kyle Abbott with the 14th ball of the day.

Abbott struck again in the same way four overs later to remove Dhananjaya de Silva for 22.

Four balls after that Vernon Philander dived to take a fine return catch that ended Rangana Herath’s innings.

Dushmantha Chameera went next, left with nothing to do but edge a short, rising delivery from Kagiso Rabada to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.

Keshav Maharaj ended the match by cleanbowling Nuwan Pradeep.

Rabada and Maharaj shared six wickets, a change of emphasis compared to a first innings in which Philander loomed large with his haul of 5/45.

South Africa will struggle to play a better match, and the likelihood is that they won’t have to to wrap up the series at Newlands.

But they will have braved a new frontier if they play as well as they can more often, and not just well enough to win.

Patience, or there’ll be a problem

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE at St George’s Park

PATIENCE. If you’re from the Eastern Cape you know more about this slow, strange stuff than you dreamed there was to know. If you’re not from these parts you don’t know nearly enough.

None of the men in Faf du Plessis’ team are from the Eastern Cape. Good thing, then, that in their bid to win the first test they’re being given a masterclass in patience by the Sri Lankans’ yin and St George’s Park’s yang.

That goal was five wickets away for South Africa and 248 runs in the distance for the Lankans at stumps on Thursday.

The thought that South Africa will not win won’t enter many minds when the visitors resume on Friday on 240/5 in search of their rapidly receding target of 488 – a tower taller than any they have yet climbed in any of their 253 previous tests, and more than any team have scored in the 61 fourth innings undertaken before in this country.

But the visitors have already shown patience, much of it by their captain, Angelo Mathews, who has tempered glamour with grit and delivered a fine innings of 58 that, happily, will continue on Friday.

How much more precious patience the remaining Sri Lankan batsmen can afford to spend on a lost cause is pertinent, especially with the second test at Newlands looming as incredibly loud and extremely close as Monday.

The South Africans will ask themselves something similar from the perspective that they might field first in Cape Town.   

Not that they can do much about the pitch, perennially as curmudgeonly as they come, refusing to deteriorate to the level we know it can.

On Thursday, despite a constant easterly breeze – supposedly what Kryptonite is to Superman on this most gorgeously gothic of grounds – precious little in the way of variable bounce, reverse swing or even sharpish turn was evident.

Honestly, leave extra grass on this damn fool pitch, as was done to take the sting out of straight-break specialist Rangana Herath, and suddenly it thinks it has a mind of its own. Gotta love the otherwise old bastard.

None of which could apply nearly as much on Friday as it has done so far. Keshav Maharaj, for instance, looked more of a threat as the afternoon wasted elegantly towards dusk.

Vernon Philander, too, who showed again in the first innings that he is back to his rasping best, can surely not beat the bat too many more times without reward.

But there was batting backbone out there on Thursday in the shape of Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, whose stand of 87 was Sri Lanka’s highest for the first wicket in all 11 tests they have played in South Africa.

They were separated by JP Duminy’s snappy pick-up-and-throw from the covers to run out Karunaratne for 43.

Fourteen balls later Kusal Perera, facing Maharaj, edged a cut as ragged as it was reckless to De Kock.

Silva, he of the twitchy hand jive and yoga-like back bend as he awaits the bowler, was trapped in front for 48 by Kagiso Rabada eight balls after tea. 

Kaushal Mendis fought back by grinding out an old-fashioned half-century, Sri Lanka’s first of the match.

That he got himself out for 58 playing a new-fangled ramp shot to Rabada within sight of the last hour was a pity. With that a partnership of more than two hours and 75 runs shared with Angelo Mathews was snuffed out.

It was also lamentable that Dinesh Chandimal spooned a simple catch to mid-on off Maharaj even as the new ball – and stumps – hove into the equation.

There was no such freneticism about a first hour in which Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock batted on for 11.5 overs before Du Plessis called a halt on 406/6.

He was unbeaten on 67 and De Kock out for 69, and their partnership of 129 was the highest in a match in which all four century stands have been shared by South Africans.

They made it that far on application and industriousness. And another thing: patience.

Quicks, not spinners, key threat at St George’s Park

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth

ST George’s Park is the oldest test ground in the country, but its pitch seems to have discovered the secret to eternal youth.

At least, that’s according to Keshav Maharaj – who should have come to the press conference after the fourth day of the first test between South Africa and Sri Lanka on Thursday as a conquerer-in-waiting.

He is, after all, the only specialist spinner in South Africa’s team.

A team, mind, who are closing in on victory at a ground that, convention says, tends to favour spinners.

Instead, the left-arm spinner made it clear that South Africans shouldn’t expect an early finish when the Lankans resume on Friday on 240/5 in search of their target of 488.

“The pitch has gotten better over the four days,” Maharaj said. “Obviously the ball got softer and that made it a little bit more difficult to bowl with.

“But that’s what we call investing. With that older ball we try to invest, invest, invest, and hopefully with this new ball we can open up an avenue in the morning.

“The pitch is getting better and better by the day but hopefully the harder ball might assist us and spin and bounce a little bit more.”

South Africa took that new ball three overs before stumps on Thursday, and almost made it count when Kyle Abbott trapped Dhananjaya de Silva in front.

But De Silva reviewed the decision, which was overturned because the delivery was shown to be missing leg stump.

Still, the ball will be almost new on Friday morning and it’s to their quicks South Africa will look to win a match in which only six of the 26 wickets that fell on the first four days were taken by spinners.

“It’s not going to be an easy task,” Maharaj said of what lay ahead.

“I want to support the fast bowers. In the first innings they played a massive role, and I just want to stick to my basics and try hit my lengths.

“Hopefully the pitch can assist me from there.”

Or not. More grass than usual was left on the surface in the hopes of negating Sri Lanka’s ace bowler, slow left-armer Rangana Herath.

The plan seems to have worked. Herath, who has banked 17 10-wicket-hauls in his career, finished with match figures of 3/132.

But the extra grass means the pitch has not deteriorated as much as it might have.

“No test match is easy, especially against Sri Lanka,” Maharaj said. “So we’re not counting our chickens before they hatch.

“We’re willing to win in the last session on the final day. If it comes before that, that’s a bonus for us.”

Whether things go down to the wire is one thing. Who takes the wickets is another.

In tests at St George’s Park that have reached a fourth innings, seamers have bowled 5 678 deliveries and taken 93 wickets while spinners have claimed 30 scalps from 2 321 balls.

The quicks, then, take a wicket every 61.05 deliveries and the slow poisoners every 77.37 balls.

Whoever. Whatever. South Africa should still take a 1-0 lead into the second test at Newlands on Monday.

Yearender: SA’s five big moments of 2016

Times Media


TELFORD VICE

IT’S been quite a year for South African cricket. Here are the top five defining moments of 2016:

1. South Africa 7-1 Australia

Having lost five of eight tests last season, come unstuck in the first round of the World T20 in March and failed to reach the final of a one-day triangular in West Indies in June, South Africa’s rousing comeback in their test and one-day series against Australia in October and November was just the tonic the game in this country needed.

2. Captain Faftastic

An important part of South Africa’s turnaround has been the captaincy of Faf du Plessis, who has led with the light touch of someone who knows what he’s doing. Now he has the results to prove it.

3. Quitting captains

Not that Du Plessis’ path to the test captaincy was clear at the start of the year. He had been a stand-in for the injured AB de Villiers, who himself had the leadership thrust at him in January when Hashim Amla did the right thing and quit during the test series against England. Then, after Du Plessis’ success in the tests against New Zealand and Australia and the ODIs against the Aussies, De Villiers did the right thing and quit. Big ups to Amla and De Villiers for getting out of the way of progress.

4. Bavuma’s moment

Sometimes the timing and symbolism of an achievement becomes its relevance. Temba Bavuma’s 102 not out in the second test against England at Newlands in January was such a moment. Who remembers that Amla scored 201 in the same innings, that Ben Stokes made 258, or that Bavuma’s half-centuries against Australia in Perth and Hobart in November were better innings and more important in the context of those matches than his Newlands knock? What mattered in Cape Town was that South Africa’s first black African test batsman had scored his first century.

5. Rabada’s baker’s dozen

Kagiso Rabada’s quality is such that he is expected to deliver excellence every time he marks out a run-up. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t notice when he exceeds even his skyscraper standards. Like he did when he took 13/144 – second only to Makhaya Ntini’s 13/132 as the best test figures by  a South African – against England in Centurion in January.

Yearender: SA’s top coaches in 2016

Times Media


TELFORD VICE

WHAT do high-level cricket coaches do? No-one really knows. But here are our top five in South Africa in 2016:

1. Russell Domingo, South Africa head coach

In the wake of South Africa losing five of eight tests last season, crashing out of the running for a place in the World T20 semi-finals in March and failing to reach the final of a triangular one-day tournament in West Indies in June, Domingo seemed about to feel the sharp edge of the axe. Instead, his contract was extended and he has presided over test series wins over New Zealand and Australia and a one-day series walloping of the Aussies. Put away that axe.

2. Neil McKenzie, South Africa batting consultant

Domingo took every chance he got to lament the lack of a specialist batting coach in his dressingroom. Until February, that is, when McKenzie was appointed. Even so the World T20 didn’t go according to plan and neither did the triseries in the Caribbean. But much of the credit for the turnaround against New Zealand and Australia must go to McKenzie. Measuring how much is tricky. Suffice to say that he has helped South Africans score six test centuries and five ODI hundreds this year.

3. Charl Langeveldt, South Africa bowling coach

Beating Australia in Australia without Dale Steyn is a taller order than doing so without AB de Villiers. Happily for South Africa they triumphed without both those matchwinners. That happened not only because Kagiso Rabada is a wonder of the age, but also because Vernon Philander was back to his superb best and Kyle Abbott had risen from the canvas that the 2015 World Cup became for him. And who should South Africans thank for that? Take a bow Mr Langeveldt.

4. Mark Boucher, Titans head coach

Those five words still don’t look right. And when they were first spoken seriously Boucher himself didn’t seem to believe them: he missed the start of the franchise season because he was playing golf in Britain. But there he was in the dressingroom in Centurion on Friday, pulling all the right strings at all the right times to engineer victory over the Warriors in the franchise T20 final.   

5. Malibongwe Maketa, Warriors head coach

Maketa was in the wrong dressingroom on Friday, but that was the closest the Warriors had come to being in the right one since they reached the final of T20 competition under Piet Botha in 2010-11, which they also lost. Maketa took the reins from Botha during the 2014-15 campaign and this season his team have played the kind of gutsy cricket they last delivered in 2009-10 under Domingo to lift the one-day and T20 trophies. Watch this space, and this young coach.