‘I know I feel fine’ – Rabada

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DON’T worry about Kagiso Rabada and his workload – he’s fine, his workload is under control.

So much so that Rabada might not be deployed in the fourth one-day international against New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Wednesday.

“I know I feel fine,” Rabada, who missed the second game of the series with a minor knee injury, told reporters in Hamilton on Tuesday.

“It’s just precautionary action that has been taken since this is going to be a long season and I’ve been playing quite a lot.

“But I’m OK.”

Rabada is 21, an age at which even those of us not blessed with a fast bowler’s body feel as if nothing will ever go wrong; that our knees will never hurt, our backs will never be stiff, our necks will never sound like a bowl of rice crispies when we turn our heads.

Twenty years from now, having put his body through much more than most of the rest of us will ever know, Rabada may revise his opinion.

But for now … 

“I feel like I’m the main person when it comes to judging how I feel, but truthfully,” Rabada said.

“Sometimes you play with niggles, sometimes you feel fresh, sometimes niggles come and go away, sometimes they stay longer.

“The longer I’ve played the more I’ve learnt to manage myself with the help of the medical team to give me advice.

“I will take it accordingly.

“You have to understand – sometimes you have to put your ego aside.

“I listen to the medical staff and then, first of all, judge how I’m feeling and take the necessary action.

“Some players will rest if we feel like … or if the coaching staff feel like they need a rest.

“You don’t just manage on performances; it’s also to give guys some rest so they can come back feeling stronger than ever.”

Sometimes it’s tough being 21, and it’s even tougher if you’re the best young fast bowler in the world.

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Hamilton pitch, not Guptill, could be SA’s biggest challenge

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

MARTIN Guptill? Bring him, even if it is in a match that could decide the one-day series between New Zealand and South Africa.

That game is at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Wednesday, and Guptill is set to return to the home side’s line-up after recovering from two hamstring injuries.

And that with South Africa leading the five-match series 2-1, and returning to the scene of their victory by four wickets with a ball to spare in the first match of the rubber.

But Kagiso Rabada was in no mood to pay Guptill too much respect on Tuesday.

“We’ve played against Martin Guptill before,” Rabada told reporters in Hamilton. “We know he can be destructive.

“He’s a quality player, and he’s proven that over the years.

“But we’ve got our plans and we never back down to anyone.”

With a laugh, Rabada thought it well to add: “Let’s hope he doesn’t score runs.”

Guptill, ranked fifth among batsmen in ODIs in June, is now No. 9.

He averages 42.52 and has a strike rate of 86.80 after 141 matches in the format.

But in 14 innings against South Africa those numbers drop to 22.07 and 64.93.

Against South Africa in New Zealand?

Even less: 20.33 and 61.33 in seven games.

So, Guptill might not be South Africa’s biggest challenge on Wednesday.

That could be the pitch, what with rain forecast for Tuesday.

Wet weather before the first ODI made that surface slower and stickier than it would normally be, and also encouraged seam movement.

That gave South Africa’s superior attack a key advantage, but it didn’t help either team’s batsmen.

Chris Morris, one of the more junior members of the attack who has now played 21 ODIs, took his opportunity well and with it a haul of 4/62.

Another allrounder, Andile Phehlukwayo, went wicketless at fewer than a run-a-ball, and scored a vital 29 not out to help AB de Villiers win the match.

Rabada, who has only 11 more ODI caps than Morris, claimed 2/31.

“We’ve got some guys who have been on the fringe for quite a while and also some nice raw talent that’s come in,” Rabada said. “It’s a new era that’s developing.

“We’re getting used to each other – we’ve got some nice spinning options and also some good allrounders.

“We’re in a good space, especially with this new crop of players coming in.

“We’ve got the luxury of so many allrounders and it gives balance to the team.”

Good, because the suggestion from New Zealand is that Rabada could be rested for Wednesday’s match.

Rabada ready to rock IPL – and he won’t come back broken

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU could hear the nation gasp when the Delhi Daredevils signed Kagiso Rabada for R9.8-million, and not only because a 21-year-old had more money than he could count.

For months, Rabada’s escalating workload has generated a correspondingly escalating burble of concern.

To be talented and black in modern South Africa is to be dogged by a double-edged sword of Damocles.

That cut both ways for Rabada last year, when he confirmed his class as among the very best young fast bowlers in the game.

One measure of that was that he took more test wickets in 2016 than Josh Hazlewood, James Anderson, Trent Boult or Mohammad Amir despite playing fewer tests than any of them.

The other edge of the sword was that Rabada bowled more overs across all formats for South Africa in 2016 than anyone else: 431.3.

If  had bowled all of those overs non-stop he would have sent down almost an entire test match worth of deliveries on his own.

And now this, off to the IPL, a tournament with a reputation for squeezing the last drops of blood, sweat and tears out of its well-paid slaves.

What shape will Rabada be in when he returns in the second week of May having played up to 11 games?

But there’s a happy twist to this tale.

Rabada’s head coach at the Daredevils is Paddy Upton, a former South Africa team director and among the most innovative thinkers in any dugout.

“I can wear my Delhi Daredevils cap only and say, ‘Right, we’re going get as much as possible out of you for 11 games’,” Upton told Sunday Times from Dubai.

“But (Daredevils mentor) Rahul Dravid and myself have always been about developing players in their careers, and the time we spend with them is just a part of that journey.

“We try and help them not only to have a good IPL but to enhance and further their career.

“The IPL is part of the 11-month season. We understand that.

“There are teams who try and get every cent and every moment of every day out of the players.

“If players aren’t managed well and cognisance isn’t taken of the whole year you end up with a burnt out player at the end of an IPL. So it doesn’t serve anyone.”

But Upton won’t have Rabada for the sharp end of the competition. What’s to stop him sending a drained man home?

“You could do that, but it’s a short-term view and I’m not in the coaching game for short-term views,” Upton said.

Besides, “If he plays all 11 games he will end up bowling 44 overs in six weeks. That’s not a lot of overs to bowl in six weeks. That’s four-and-a-half one-day games in a month-and-a-half.”

The devil, Upton said, was in the details.

“If we make him bowl at every compulsory practice, and sit on the bus for an hour to get to practice and another hour home, that’s what kills players.

“I would like to think that Rahul and myself really do understand the value of rest and fresh players, and that, for example, an extra four practices is not going to take Kagiso’s game forward in any way. That would probably undermine his game.”

And there’s a significant upside.

“The IPL is the single best learning environment that a cricketer could wish to be in,” Upton said.

“He’s going to be spending six weeks in the richest learning academy in cricket.”

Rabada will also bowl to players he will tangle with on the world stage for years yet.

That’s what the IPL does for cricket and cricketers. Can the nation stop gasping already?

SA underbelly hardens in New Zealand

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

UNDERBELLIES are invariably derided as soft, but South Africa’s is becoming a hard, toned six-pack on their tour of New Zealand.

In the first match of the one-day series, in Hamilton last Sunday, Andile Phehlukwayo, batting at No. 8, delivered the brave-hearted batting that was needed to help AB de Villiers drag South Africa over the line with a ball to spare.

Three days later in Christchurch, No. 7 Dwaine Pretorius and No. 10 Phehlukwayo took the visitors closer than they should have been to victory before New Zealand scrambled a six-run win.

On Saturday in Wellington, Wayne Parnell, at No. 8, partnered De Villiers in a much needed stand of 84 that was too soon forgotten when South Africa’s juggernaut pace attack ripped through the Kiwis on a seaming pitch.

Having totalled 271/8 with De Villiers’ 85 the centrepiece, the visitors made the New Zealanders look like penguins on prozac and sent them packing for 112 in 32.2 overs to win by 159 runs.

How’bout those middle order munchkins, Russell Domingo?

“It’s been a feature of our side’s play over the last year that the younger players have all come in and put in performances straightaway, which says a lot about where the team is at the moment and the culture of the group,” Domingo told reporters in Wellington.

“It’s always pleasing when new players are stepping up and not relying on one or two players. It’s very much a collective effort at the moment.

“Everybody, at different stages, is stepping up and putting in big performances – like we showed in the last game in Christchurch.

“Although we lost the game, there were some outstanding performances from some young, new players.

“Those are good signs for us.” 

And yet Domingo wasn’t completely satisfied after Saturday’s display.

“It was still not the perfect game by a long way,” he said.

“There’s still room for improvement but I’m really satisfied by the way the bowlers went about their business on a good wicket to bowl on. The disciplines were exceptional.”

They were, and Domingo wouldn’t be human if he didn’t harbour a hope that some of those disciplines would rub off on his top six.

South Africa were 114/1 in the 23rd over on Saturday. Sixteen overs later they were 180/6. That’s a swing of 5/66.

In Christchurch, they were steaming towards success needing 105 off the last 14 overs with six wickets standing. Then AB de Villiers and David Miller got themselves out a dozen balls apart and the pressure multiplied.

But the unsung villain, both on Saturday and in Christchurch, was Quinton de Kock. It’s an unfair charge considering he scored 57 and 68 in those games, but that’s not going to be considered good enough for a player who did not fail to convert a half-century into three figures the first six times he went past 50 in ODIs.

“I suppose he would feel a little disappointed in the manner of some of his dismissals,” Domingo said.

“But that’s the nature of how he plays. He is such an aggressive player and I by no means want to curb his natural instinct.

“He is still a baby, its hard to believe he is only 24.”

Domingo also marvelled at the facts that “(Kagiso Rabada) is only 21, Andile is only 20”.

The kids are indeed alright. There’s nothing “only” about them.

Leading Edge: Only America can make cricket great again

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

EVERY cricket tragic worth the red smudge – metaphorical or not – on their whites knows that the first international match was not played at Lord’s, Melbourne or what used to be called Bombay.

Instead, it was staged in Bloomingdale Park at 31st Street and First Avenue.

That’s right: in Manhattan. Yes, in New York City.

Teams representing the United States and Canada, watched by perhaps as many as 20000 spectators, took each other on from September 22 to 24, 1844.

The Canadians, bless ’em, won by 23 runs. Best we don’t tell Donald Trump lest he hatch an alternative result. That’s if he doesn’t brand cricket some kind of dire foreign threat. Like French fries.

But even orange agents of truthless outrage can’t deny that the home of international cricket is the US of A.

Funny thing is, despite everything that has happened in the ensuing 173 years, cricket’s future is as American as its past.

It’s viable future, that is, as an entertainment that competes for the ever-shortening attention spans of people who have better things to do than watch teams pretend that not a lot has changed since 1844.

That’s test cricket in a nutshell: still played exclusively in whites, almost always in daylight hours, nearly never by women, too often for hours on end in which little of consequence appears to happen, seemingly without a thought for the convenience of a public that does not have five days to sit around and take seriously a “match” that might not even produce a winner.

If Trump blusters himself into a war with Britain or its former colonies – hey, remember when we thought not even the fattest, stupidest Yanks would consider him for president – cricket could easily construed as the trench that divides his Us from our Them.

You can hear him now: “Build! The! Boundary!”

Which is not to deny the grandest form of the game its grandeur. It lives and breathes an integrity that puts it exponentially beyond any other team sport and produces contests within its larger contest that stay with you like a first kiss.

But can test cricket get some relevance already? To do so, it will have to go home to the US – where big sport is about fine professionalism, not the fake patriotism of national teams, where major cities are home to two franchises in the same code, and where administrators know their game is followed by people with lives.

Baseball, for instance, is concerned about games dragging on for too long. So, since 2015, measures like warning players who stray from the batter’s box between pitches and limiting the time pitchers take to wind-up and throw have been instituted at various levels.

And that in the interests of shortening a game that, on average, takes around three hours to get through nine innings.

Which is as long as long as a game of T20, cricket’s shortest, most frenetic format – factors that tend to make purists stay away or change the channel.

Cricket refuses to enhance its watchability, instead going the other way and ensuring – in the shorter, ostensibly more with-it formats, nogal – that any bowler who does not serve up deliveries that a reasonably coordinated 10-year-old could slap to the boundary is slandered with no-balls and wides, and submitting itself to the contrived pretense of nit-picky power plays.

Please, cricket, sell your soul to the Americans. They’ll make you great again. Or at last. 

That 1844 game, for instance, was hosted by the St George’s Cricket Club, whose team had a kickass nickname: the Dragonslayers.

Sign me up. I’m already a fan.

Meet SA’s R87.3-million IPL men

Times Media


TELFORD VICECape Town

SOUTH Africa’s on-field contribution to the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) amounts to nine players in four of the eight franchises.

Between them they will earn R87.3-million – which will no doubt put a gleam in the eye of finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

In terms of the new wealth tax of 45% Gordhan announced in Wednesday’s Budget, that means the IPL will pump almost R39.3-million into the country’s coffers. 

Kagiso Rabada hit the headlines when he was sold to the Delhi Daredevils for R9.8-million at the player auction in Bangalore on Monday.

But he is only fourth among the tournament’s best-paid South Africans.

Heading the queue is David Miller, who will make R24.4-million.

AB de Villiers will earn R18.5-million, and Rabada’s Lions teammate Chris Morris R13.6-million.

Miller, De Villiers and Morris were retained by their franchises and were, therefore, not up for auction on Monday.

The other retained South Africans are, in order of earnings, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Hashim Amla and Tabraiz Shamsi.

Together they will make R3.4-million less than Miller.

None of the above figures take into account Gordhan’s cut.

South Africans might wonder which team to support when fireworks, cheerleaders and the most bumptious television commentators in all of cricket signal the start of the tournament on April 5.

If numbers mean anything they might plump for Delhi, which is home to Rabada, De Kock, Morris, Duminy and Paddy Upton – the former South Africa team director who is the Daredevils’ head coach.

Royal Challengers Bangalore have De Villiers and Shamsi, and Kings XI Punjab lay claim to Miller and Amla.

Du Plessis will have no-one to speak Afrikaans to in the Rising Pune Supergiants dressingroom.

Except, perhaps, Eric Simons, Pune’s bowling coach.

Besides Upton and Simons, six South Africans are dotted around the support staffs.

Jacques Kallis is the head coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders, who also have Mark Boucher as their fielding coach, Adrian le Roux as a fitness specialist, and Mike Horn – he of 2015 World Cup infamy – as a “motivational advisor”.

Allan Donald is in Bangalore’s colours as their bowling coach, and Jonty Rhodes takes charge of fielding with the Mumbai Indians.

If it seems as if South Africa’s IPL footprint has shrunk, that’s because it has.

Last year the tournament featured Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien and David Wiese – all of whom went unsold this year – Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel – who are injured – and Marchant de Lange and Albie Morkel – who were not up for auction.

And now there are only nine, plus that slew of coaches.

Money talks, they say. But can it play cricket?

SA tsunami looms. Again …

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU can’t complain about a team who have reeled off 11 victories. But you can ask questions about what those results have revealed.

If that team is South Africa, who went into the first match of their one-day series against New Zealand in Hamilton on Sunday on the back of those 11 consecutive wins, you must ask those questions.

Too often South Africans have seen a tsunami of success on the horizon only for it to ebb to a few centimetres of foam by the time it reaches the shoreline, where a major trophy invariably glints in the sun – bone dry and untouched.

The tsunami is on the horizon again, thanks to South Africa’s 5-0 drubbings of Australia and Sri Lanka and a one-off win over Ireland. On the shoreline stands the Champions Trophy, waiting to be won in England in June.

Having coached South Africa at the 2003 World Cup, Eric Simons knows how that feels.

“You’ve got to recognise that they’ve done extremely well and you can’t be critical,” Simons said.

“You can only beat whose put in front of you and they did very well against Sri Lanka …”

A “but” had to be coming soon, surely.

“ … But we’re looking for problems, and I’m not convinced by the bowling.

“As you coach you look at how something is delivered rather than the outcome, and I think there’s work to be done on the bowling.

“You’d like to see a strategy in place, and sometimes I think we got away with things rather than that it looked like the strategy was clear.

“Essentially what you’re doing is managing the odds. And that means you need to get three things in place – get your tactics right, get your execution right and get your field placing right.

“I can’t always see that that is happening. The outcomes have been good, but under the pressure of a tournament those things must be in place.

“Sometimes when I’ve watched situations, particularly in the 50-over game, where plan A is all you need to deliver, and then something happens and you think, ‘Why would he do that?’.

“You’re commenting from a distance because we don’t know what the thinking is, but it looks to me like the bowler’s got it wrong rather than he’s been able to consistently deliver plan A.

“There’s no need to change. You run up and hit the top of off stump and suddenly you bowl full on leg stump. There’s no way that’s a plan.

“I look at the ball and I look at the field, and I’m thinking, ‘Either he’s got it horribly wrong or he’s tried to bluff the batsman’.

“As a coach, you should be able to see what the plan is.”

Simons saw fewer issues with South Africa’s batting: “There’s quality all the way through. If they can maintain allrounders at seven, maybe even eight, they have a really solid line-up.”

But if Simons’ view of South Africa’s bowling is accurate then work needs to be done before the Champions Trophy.

Some of it would fall to the bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt, and head coach Russell Domingo.

The rest would be on the shoulders of AB de Villiers, South Africa’s ODI captain and the man with whom the buck stops   as soon as the players step onto the business side of the boundary.

It is De Villiers’ job to implement whatever plans have been devised, and how well – or not – he does so during the five-match New Zealand series and the three ODIs South Africa will play in England before the Champions Trophy will serve as a reality check for the tournament.

De Villiers’ relationship with the game in this country is at a delicate stage.

But all will be forgotten if he comes home with the trophy.