Leading Edge: Reasons for Saffers to be cheerful they’re not Kiwis

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Hamilton

“I’M practising my tosses; hopefully that helps my chances tomorrow,” Kane Williamson, a thoroughly decent oke trying like hell to be the nation’s idea of a captain, said on Friday.

By then the coin had gone up seven times on South Africa’s tour, and seven times the other fella had called correctly. Make that eight, with Faf du Plessis getting it right again in Hamilton on Saturday.

But the toss, with its requisite uncertainty, is the least of Williamson’s worries. Far worse was losing Ross Taylor after the first test, in Dunedin, to a torn calf. Worse yet, Trent Boult was ruled out for the second test in Wellington with an upper leg problem. Even worse than that, New Zealand lost their last five wickets for 16 runs in that game, and with it the match. The worst could yet be to come, what with Tim Southee removed from the equation with a torn hamstring and Taylor and Boult still on the sidelines.

And what is it with Kiwi cricketers and their legs? Drawing pins in their pad straps? Bee venom in their thigh guards?

Williamson tried his best to put a brave face on all that on Friday.

“It’s exciting,” he said.

Yes, really.

Then again, Williamson doesn’t have a brave face to put on. Instead he has the face of a 10-year-old who has grown a beard because he is sick of being asked for ID whenever he has tried to by a beer in a country were even 30-year-olds don’t get into bars without proving their age.

But he does still have a sense of humour, which bubbled up on Friday when, because of the injury epidemic, he struggled to list his slip cordon: “It’s not a secret – I’m just trying to remember it.”

He’ll need that disposition to stay sunny, what with the press suggesting he be stood down.

“Williamson is a very good captain on the field,” senior cricket writer Mark Geenty offered in a respectful, measured opinion piece in the Dominion Post.

“He’s shown himself to be astute, and capable of bold selection calls like dropping regulars Tim Southee and Mitchell Santner who were both justifiable exclusions.

“But this can’t go on. Even with gaps in their schedule these next two winters, Williamson needs a break from the full-time captaincy for which the NZ$50 000 fee (about R500 000) doesn’t compensate for the mental toll. If he doesn’t resent the extra (media and commercial) commitments he’s very close to it.”

Makes sense, and in a way that couldn’t possibly be construed as offensive. But on Friday Williamson was paid the ultimate insult of being defended by the opposition.

“It’s unfair,” Faf du Plessis said of calls for his opposite number’s head.

“It comes with not winning. It’s part of our job as captains. Sometimes you feel its not deserved.

“Kane has done a good job and the New Zealand test team have done some really good things over the last while.”

It is an education coming here from a country where few in leadership roles are given the benefit of the possibility that they have earned those positions fairly and squarely, and that they are the right people for the job.

But, whatever its problems, South African cricket can be relieved that it’s not the game in New Zealand – where the system does not produce nearly as many players and the conditions don’t help hone the best among them.

Few of New Zealand’s cricketers stick out on the basis of sheer talent, and those who do tend to be dogged by suspicion that they are, somehow, frauds who aren’t as good as the world thinks they are.

The brilliant Martin Crowe, for instance, seems a much more loved figure in death than he was in life.

Williamson is as fine a batsman as Crowe. But, around here, there is as much admiration for him as there is for players of significantly lesser ability.

He shouldn’t give a toss about that, but then he wouldn’t be a Kiwi.


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