‘As long as I can,’ is how long Tahir wants to play for SA

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IMRAN Tahir runs a long way to celebrate the wickets he takes for South Africa’s short format teams, but he will never be too far away from the sides who are central to what he calls “my main goal in life”.

Never? That’s a long time.

And Tahir, who turns 38 in less than two months, is surely approaching the end of his career.

How long did he plan to keep playing for the team that gave him a break almost six years ago?

“As long as I can,” Tahir said on Saturday after bowling South Africa to victory in the first one-day international against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park.

“I’m doing well in the field, I am enjoying myself.

“As long as I am doing well for the team, that’s my main goal in life.

“When I feel I am not, I will be honest with myself.

“As long as the nation is happy with me, I will keep going.”

The nation is indeed happy.

On Saturday, doing what he does best, Tahir ripped the heart out of the Lankans by removing Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Mendis and Upul Tharanga in the space of 15 of his deliveries.

Those wickets took their place among the 114 he has claimed in his 65 ODIs.

His average of 23.05, economy rate of 4.61 and strike rate of 29.9 put him on top in career terms of all three categories among South Africa’s current bowlers.

In 30 T20 internationals Tahir has 49 scalps at 14.61. His economy rate is 6.39 and his strike rate 13.7.

He is the top ranked spinner at No. 3 in the ODI bowling rankings, a list he headed in 2015, and No. 1 overall in T20s.

No-one took more wickets for South Africa in either format last year than Tahir, who also led the way in ODIs in 2015 and in T20s in 2014.

His 7/45 against West Indies in St Kitts in June is the best performance by a South African in an ODI.

But, for all that, Tahir will be best remembered by some for his rifle shot throw from deep point at Newlands in October that ran out David Warner and helped South Africa complete a 5-0 ODI series whitewash over Australia.

That and the lengthy, vividly animated stream of invective he had unleashed at Warner in preceding overs.     

No team could not ask for more from one player than Tahir gives to South Africa – his adopted team.

Lahore-born Tahir famously moved to South Africa not to pursue a career that has seen him play for 21 major teams in three countries, but for the love of a woman who is now his wife.

“Playing for South Africa is an absolute honour,” Tahir said.

“Every game, I take more than seriously.

“I think of it as my last game and that I need to do well.”

His last game?

He’ll celebrate a few more birthdays before that sad day comes.

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Ngidi heights, and rising fast

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

“KG!” Everybody knows who answers to those initials, including the fan who yelled them at the Wanderers last Sunday.

“KG! Can we take a selfie, please?”

The question was asked of the bowler who dismissed the entire Sri Lanka top four in the second T20 played in Johannesburg that day.

He was tall. He was quick. He was deadly. He was black.

Just one thing …

“I’m actually not Kagiso. But, ja, we can take a photo.”

Lungi Ngidi is getting used to being mistaken for that other tall, quick, deadly, black fast bowler who has rocketed into the public consciousness. 

“A lot of people compare me to him and some people actually get mixed up between me and him,” Ngidi said.

“It’s obviously lovely to be compared to him. He’s a great cricketer.

“It’s great to be even considered to be close to him in some sort of way.

“But I really do want to make a name for myself.”

That name is not Kagiso Rabada.

It is, instead, the name of a fast bowler who matched Imran Tahir for the most wickets taken and the best economy rate in the T20 series against the Lankans – and who had a better average and strike rate than anyone else.

It’s the name of a perfectly polite young man, 1.95 metres tall and two months shy of his 21st birthday, from Kloof whose parents are both domestic workers, whose mother “always reminds me to pray and to be grateful for everything that I have”, who rejoices in the second name of True-man, whose talent earned him scholarships to good schools, who is the first member of his family to study at university.

If the suits need a poster child for what happens when transformation delivers people deserving of opportunities to the highest level, they should take a selfie with Ngidi.

He knew he was a living, breathing, excelling example of shifts in thinking leading to different plans and better outcomes.

“There’s been a whole lot of changes lately with a lot of youngsters coming through,” Ngidi said. “It looks as if I was in the plans, so I’m happy with that.

“The changes have been great. It’s nice to move forward with them and it’s nice to be part of them.

“I see South African cricket as really moving in the right direction at the moment.”

Ten days ago, before he made his international debut against the Lankans, Ngidi hadn’t experienced any of that for himself. Just more than a year earlier he had yet to play a first-class match.

Is your seatbelt fastened, son?

“I’m taking it in my stride,” Ngidi said. “Some would say it’s a bit fast. It is happening very quickly, but I seem to be managing. So it’s not that bad.

“I haven’t had time to really soak it all in and actually think about it, but it’s a case of one day at a time and it seems to be going alright so far.”

This week Rob Walter, Ngidi’s former coach at the Titans, warned that “we must be very careful not to create too much expectation too quickly”.

Ngidi knew where that came from: “He always took care of me in that way; in terms of not letting things get too extreme too quickly.

“I think it’s a caring attitude from him but it’s also true – it can be overwhelming, and if it does get to that stage I’m sure there are people I can speak to. But so far I’m managing well.

“It’s a lot of fun, and that’s the main thing for me. I’m enjoying it a lot. The fun aspect plays a big role.

“I’m just doing what I’ve been doing in franchise cricket and it seems to be working.”

Not that he hadn’t noticed the difference between the domestic and international levels.

“The pace is a whole lot faster and the margin for error is a whole lot smaller, and that’s one thing you’ve got to adjust to,” Ngidi said.

“The players are more aggressive in terms of the shots they play. They really do back themselves, so you’ve also got to step up to their level.”

Ngidi has done that in his three T20s, which earned him a place in the squad for the one-day series against the Lankans that started at St George’s Park yesterday.

“It feels good to be rewarded if you do well,” Ngidi said. “I’ve been working hard for it and I’m very happy that I got called up. It’s another step and another opportunity to showcase what I can do.”

Ngidi spoke on Wednesday. Hours later he sustained a hip injury that ruled him out of the ODI series.

Sore though his hip is, the greater pain is surely that Bongi and Jerome Ngidi, who have yet to see their son let loose in a green and gold shirt, would have been at Kingsmead on Wednesday if he was picked to play in the second match of the rubber.

But, by now, Ngidi knows that the world is both a wonderful and a cruel place.

“The schools I went to were private schools,” he said. “So I saw a lot of kids who had a lot of stuff which I didn’t have.

“It’s human nature – you also want such things. But it wasn’t possible.

“Now my world has completely changed and everything’s available, pretty much.

“It is a bit overwhelming, but one of the most important things my parents told me was, ‘Keep your feet on the ground; remember where you come from’.”

Don’t worry, Mr and Mrs Ngidi: he does.

De Villiers sees Hambantota in PE pitch

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

HAMBANTOTA lay 7 326 kilometres clear across the Indian Ocean to the north-east from Port Elizabeth, where the first one-day international between South Africa and Sri Lanka was played on Saturday.

But, for AB de Villiers, those disparate dots on the globe were connected by the St George’s Park pitch.

“The conditions reminded me a bit of a Sri Lankan pitch that we played on not long ago, so we really had to adapt well in the beginning,” De Villiers said.

“I was quite worried that their spinners were going to play a big role in the second half of the game. I knew we had to bowl them out for less than 250 in order to stay in the game.

“So I thought we batted really well, the new-ball bowlers asked the right questions, and then (Imran Tahir) opened it up very nicely for everyone to have a fantastic fielding session.”

Which Sri Lankan pitch was De Villiers talking about?

“In Hambantota the (pitch for the) deciding game was actually worse than this.”

That was in July 2014, when De Villiers led South Africa to victory by 82 runs to clinch their first ODI series win on the Asian island.

“I definitely used some of those experiences in the field with some of my field placings and the plans for the bowlers.

“It’s always nice to draw back to an experience like that now that I’m so old.”

De Villiers turns 33 on February 17. So, hardly old.

But he does have a wealth of the experience he spoke of, and that helped South Africa earn a comprehensive victory – by eight wickets with 94 balls to spare – on Saturday.

An example of De Villiers’ putting his knowledge to good use was how he marshalled his bowlers on a unusually blustery day, even by PE standards.

“It was something we touched on before we went out to play,” he said.

“I alluded to the wind conditions – that we don’t use the strong winds as an excuse but rather use it to our advantage, which we did.

“I thought we used it really well at times, we made them hit into the wind a lot and it paid off.”

And how. Wayne Parnell and Imran Tahir took three wickets each as Sri Lanka crashed to 181 all out.

Half-centuries by Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, with support from Quinton de Kock and De Villiers, was all South Africa needed to strike the first blow in the series.

“‘Immi’ is probably in the best kind of form that I’ve ever seen,” De Villiers said.

“He doesn’t bowl bad balls anymore. He always used to take wickets but (now) you don’t see bad balls, which makes him really difficult to play.”

How much might the leg spinner, who turns 38 in March, have left in the tank?

“The way he celebrates he looks like he could play for another 10 years,” De Villiers said. “Let’s hope we have him for as long as possible.

“Obviously the Champions Trophy (in England in June) is the first thing I can think of.

“Hopefully he’ll be there, and maybe he’ll push it for another two years after that.”

But, right now, De Villiers was more sharply focused on the second game of the rubber at Kingsmead on Wednesday.

“It’s a completely different game, it’s a new-ball game and we’ll go there with a fresh mind.

“It’s not like we’ve won a series already. There’s still a lot to work for and a lot to achieve in this series.”

In the gameplan we trust, amen

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

PERFECTION is hard to find anywhere, let alone in a cricket team that has chalked up as chequered a past as South Africa’s in major tournaments.

Can their tournament history even be called chequered, which implies roughly equal measures of success and failure?

One success, at the 1998 Wills International Cup, doesn’t stack up against the six editions of the World Cup, five of the  Champions Trophy and six of the World T20 – 17 all told – in which South Africa have failed even to reach the final.

And it’s almost that time again, what with the Champions Trophy in England in June.

So, let’s not think of perfection just yet.

But that’s exactly what Neil McKenzie, South Africa’s batting consultant, thought of when he was asked whether planning for the tournament was on track.

That and trust. And gameplans.

“The thing is to try and get the perfect game and to get our gameplan in order,” McKenzie said.

“It doesn’t matter how much pressure or how much over-confidence you’re feeling – the biggest thing is to get that gameplan organised.

“So if you are on a high and you’ve beaten Sri Lanka or whoever, you need to make sure that the gameplan is exactly the same for the next day.

“We’re gearing up for the most perfect game. Whether that’s next week or in a semi-final or a final. The guys are always pushing to get that perfect game going.

“We trust in the gameplan; that’s what’s going to get us to the perfect game and the success that goes with it.

“That guys trust the gameplan and that’s all you can do.

“It’s about trusting that gameplan – being able to play a ball, whether it’s in a club game or the final of a World Cup.”

That’s four mentions of perfection, three of trust and six of gameplans. We think we get his drift.

Following the first match of the one-day series against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park on Saturday, McKenzie and the rest of South Africa’s management team have four more ODIs against the Lankans, five in New Zealand and three in England to get the team where they want them for the Champions Trophy.

What did head coach Russell Domingo hope would be settled in those 12 matches?

“The top six are already established,” Domingo said. “It’s just about trying to find the new-ball partners, and the allrounders at seven and eight.

“Hopefully these next couple of weeks will give us more clarity on that. We’ve got an understanding but hopefully those spots can give us more clarity.”

Can South Africans feel assured that something like the perfection of a trophy is a realistic expectation?

“The brand of cricket we’re playing and the honesty in the group puts us in a really good space,” McKenzie said.

Good. There are more than a few unclaimed spaces on South Africa’s chequerboard.

Leading Edge: Competitive cricket – that’s the ticket

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THERE’S an old oke, 80-something, at the gym who can’t walk past without stopping to talk cricket – the score at stumps last night, today’s match, next week’s series.

By cricket he doesn’t mean the stuff that other, younger okes play using a white ball and wearing kit that makes them look like their mothers dressed them funny. He means proper cricket.

Which doesn’t mean he is hung up on the orthodox. Herschelle Gibbs goes to the same gym, and the oldster’s eyes are lit with admiration every time he sees him.

He struggles with some of the names these days. Listening to him get hopelessly lost in the hills and dales of Phehlukwayo is as funny as it is awkward.

But he knows a “bloody good kid” when he sees one, and you cut him some slack for his long years in the game and the stories he tells.

For instance, one fine day, December 3, 1948, he took the train from Joburg to Benoni and saw, with his boy’s own eyes, Denis Compton score 300 in a minute more than three hours.

There was no surprise when he couldn’t walk past without stopping this week. But there was shock in hearing what he had to say.

“Hope you’ve given up cricket. I have. Too bloody one-sided.”

He meant South Africa’s test series against Sri Lanka, a terrible advertisement for the longest format from neutrals’ perspective.

Not because the pitches were tilted acceptably in South Africa’s favour, nor because the home side played damn fine cricket – but because the Lankan batsmen were as lacking in discipline and application as their bowlers were ready, willing and mostly unable.

The old oke is right. Uncompetitive cricket isn’t worth watching. So who can blame Cricket South Africa for not wanting Sri Lanka back next summer, as the schedule dictates.

Staging more closer games in fairer conditions between teams who both know what they’re doing is, alongside the viral spread of T20, the greatest challenge faced by proper cricket.

The old oke won’t give up cricket. In July the South Africans will play a test series in England, and India and Australia are on their way next season, all of which will keep him happy. That Bangladesh are also coming won’t register on his radar.

When he made his dramatic declaration Sri Lanka had squared the T20 series they went on to win, but it wasn’t worth telling him to watch that.

He is more likely to have flicked a moment’s attention at Saturday’s first one-day international, but no more.

Most of the rest of us, while we have our prejudices, will have taken more notice of what happened at St George’s Park and we have four more ODIs to look forward to in the coming days.

We don’t have a memory of Compton going batty in Benoni, but we do have cricket that should be worth watching.

Behardien’s best shot falls short

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU’RE given a promotion and are intent on making a success of the trust your bosses have placed in you.

An important part of that happening is for most of the 10 other people in your department, and you, to do their jobs properly.

But, when it matters most, just about everything than can go wrong does go wrong.

And there you are, carrying the can and trying to explain it all.

Welcome to Farhaan Behardien’s world.

Asked to captain South Africa’s experimental T20 side against Sri Lanka in the absence of a host of experienced players, Behardien made a fist of things in the freneticism of the first match in Centurion on Friday.

His unbeaten 31 and David Miller’s 40 – and their stand of 51 – earned South Africa a decent 126/6 in a game reduced by rain to 10 overs-a-side.

Superb bowling by Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir, who claimed two wickets each, took the home side to victory by 19 runs.

Two days later at the Wanderers, South Africa were dismissed for 113 on a pitch that wouldn’t have been out of its comfort zone in Colombo.

It was always going to be difficult to stop the Lankans after that, but Behardien’s decision to ask Jon-Jon Smuts to defend seven runs in the last over raised eyebrows – especially as Smuts would bowl his off-spinners to Angelo Mathews, who was well set.

But Mathews’ mobility had been severely restricted by a hamstring injury, and he survived a difficult chance off the first ball of that over.

It could, then, have been different.

Instead, Mathews, pinned to the crease like a butterfly to a board, smashed two sixes to secure victory in the rousing romantic manner.

Thus levelled, the series moved to Newlands for the decider on Wednesday – when almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong and Sri Lanka won by three wickets with a ball to spare.

AB de Villiers’ scored a fine 63 on his return from an elbow injury that has kept him out since June, but – aside from Reeza Hendricks’ 41 and Mangaliso Mosehle’s 32 not out – there was little batting to speak of.

South Africa’s 169/5 is the fourth-highest score in the first innings in the 15 T20 internationals played at Newlands, but they should have made significantly more against the Lankans’ mediocre attack.

Tahir’s 3/18 carried an attack that looked harried and hurried and lost Lungi Ngidi, the series’ leading wicket-taker before the game, to a hip injury after he had bowled two overs.

Worse yet, five catches were spilled and another three that on another night would have been taken fell to earth untouched.

“I think we hung in all the way to the end,” Behardien said afterwards. “The guys fought, we never went away in the 15th or 16th over.”

His major qualm was not with the way his team batted.

“Normally 160 is about par here in day-night games, so we thought 169 was above par,” Behardien said.

“AB held the innings together nicely and Reeza Hendricks batted well; we thought we got a good score.

“The dropped catches cost us.”

Ah, yes, those …

“It was very frustrating; it’s something that you can’t really prepare for.

“We let ourselves down badly in the field and it took the momentum away from our bowlers.

“I can’t put it down to any reason, it was just one of those nights.”

And then there was Ngidi …

“It complicated things quite a lot,” Behardien said.

“He’s been our star bowler in the first two matches and I had to find a couple of overs.

“He was massive loss for us – he was our strike bowler who seemed to get wickets when called upon, so that was a tough blow for us tonight.”

All of which means, right now, that Behardien is the only South African captain to lose a home series to Sri Lanka in the nine rubbers they have played here across all formats.

That’s a cruel fact to hang around the neck of a serious man who made a serious, sincere attempt to get done what he had been asked to get done.

“This will be a bitter pill to swallow but the guys can learn from this,” Behardien said.

“International sport is brutal, but we’ll walk out with our heads held high.

“This is an experience (the players) will never forget and I will never forget – captaining my country.”

We will probably forget much of what has happened since Friday, what with so much cricket being played.

But let’s remember that Behardien gave it his best shot.

He deserves no less. 

Remember AB? Here’s why …

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

BEFORE Wednesday, AB de Villiers had pulled a South Africa shirt of whatever format over his head 383 times.

That’s enough, you would think, to take the edge off doing so for the 384th time.

You would think wrong.

“He was nervous,” Russell Domingo said. “It was almost as though he was making his debut.

“He was very edgy and said he felt like he was playing for the first time.

“It’s great – it shows how much it still means to perform.

“That’s exciting for us, because it’s almost like a bit of a rebirth for him after he’s had seven months off.

“He’s fresh and really desperate to do well.”

In the broader sense Wednesday’s match was the third T20 between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Newlands, and it came with its own importance as the series decider.

But the focus was squarely on De Villiers, who has been kept out of international cricket since June by an elbow injury.

De Villiers is never out of mind, even when he is out of sight, and his withdrawal last week from the test series South Africa will play against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh in the coming months only served to disquiet his compatriots and sharpen the focus on him.

So perhaps he felt as if he needed a reason for South Africans to be cheerful about his return.

He gave them exactly that by coming in at No. 3 in the fifth over and scoring 63, an innings that stood in stark relief to much of the rest of South Africa’s performance in a match in which only two of their other players reached 20, the bowling – aside from Imran Tahir’s 3/18 – lacked discipline and five catches were dropped.

“He played the situation really well,” Domingo said.

“We always wanted him to have some time at the crease with the one-day series coming up, instead of coming to have a bit of a tonk at the end (of the innings).

“In my opinion he’s unbelievable in the last seven or eight overs if he can find himself set at that stage.

“So he played really well and we’re pleased he has some runs behind his name.

“He spent some time in the middle and we can focus all our energies on the one-day series.”

Fifty-nine minutes, in fact, in which De Villiers faced 44 balls, hit two fours and three sixes, and looked like he had never been away.

Sri Lanka nonetheless won by three wickets with a ball to spare to claim their first series in the nine rubbers they have played in this country.

It was also the first time in six series – five of them played without De Villiers – that South Africa have finished on the wrong side of the equation, and they won 13 of the 16 games they played in his absence.

That’s evidence that South Africa have found ways not only to survive but to prosper despite the hole De Villiers’ leaves.

But his performance on Wednesday reminded all who saw it that he remains a better player than most others in any team.

Nevertheless, finding space for De Villiers, particularly in the more settled test team – if and when he makes himself available in that format – looms as a challenge.

The small mercy, then, is that the question won’t arise for most of 2017.

“The worst thing about it is that he’s not going to play for us,” Domingo said.

“The best thing is it gives everyone else a bit of, not peace of mind, but there’s clarity.

“There’s no-one looking over their shoulder wondering if they might be the one to go if AB comes back.

“So it gives the batsmen some breathing space to knuckle down and focus on their game and not be too concerned about when AB de Villiers is coming back.”

The batsmen in South Africa’s ODI squad don’t have that luxury.

That series starts at St George’s Park on Saturday when De Villiers, nervous or not, will again pull a South Africa shirt over his head.