Leading Edge: Parsing cricketers’ facts, alternative facts, and nonsense

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU have to wonder what goes on in cricketers’ heads, where facts, alternative facts and nonsense coexist in the murk of the human mind.

Here, for instance, is Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s chief selector in an interview with website Cricbuzz last weekend, trying to explain the mess the Lankans made of their tour to South Africa: “I am not trying to give excuses and I admit we played bad cricket – we should be up for any challenge. But, having said that, I must mention that I have never seen so much of grass in South Africa especially when it comes to one-day cricket.

“In ODIs you generally get wickets that are good for batting. Port Elizabeth, for example, is the slowest wicket in South Africa. But this time I found they had left a lot of grass (on).”

And here’s AB de Villiers talking about the same match: “The conditions reminded me a bit of a Sri Lankan pitch that we played on not long ago (in Hambantota in July 2014).

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

You could consign some of that to the gumph suits say to extricate themselves from tight corners.

Or to the fact that Jayasuriya was born in Matara on Sri Lanka’s southern coast and thus might not know that, in the Eastern Cape, extra grass on a pitch means nothing more than that.

It does not mean steepling bounce or jagging seam movement in the same way that the presence in Parliament of a bunch of burly types in white shirts does not mean the noisy people in the red overalls will go quietly.

You could poke De Villiers’ assertion with the same stick. The pitch at St George’s Park is akin to Hambantota’s? Maybe you need to be from Pretoria for that to make sense.

But how two men of vast experience in the game could come to such differing conclusions about the same strip of earth makes you want to ask whether they are from the same planet.

Faf du Plessis is from Pretoria. Despite that, he keeps a clearer cricketing head than most. But even he has been tangled in the cobwebs between his ears.

“Four days from the start of the match it looks drier than it normally looks,” Du Plessis, looking appropriately grave, said in Mohali in November ahead of the first test against India. “We are expecting the worst.

“Playing India at home is a lot more aggressive than it used to be, when the pitches would probably spin on days three, four and five. Now they’re starting to do that on day one.”

The pitch was indeed a shocker surpassed only by the 22 yards of trash prepared for the third test in Nagpur, which even the ninnies at the ICC agreed was “poor”.

But how much of the blame for the hiding South Africa were dealt in Mohali, which set the tone for the rest of a series India won 3-0, could be proportioned to the pitch and how much to the visitors talking – and thinking – themselves out of the game before it even began?

And another thing. That was Du Plessis’ first test series in India. How did he know what the pitch in Mohali “normally” looked like four days before the start of the match?

None of which is to question the sincerity or veracity of anything above.

Instead, despite all evidence to the contrary in this IPL age, we know cricketers are still human. There’s a relief.

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