Milestones take edge off series loss

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THAT the result of the third one-day international between England and South Africa at Lord’s on Monday was irrelevant didn’t get in the way of milestones being passed.

South Africa’s seven-wicket win in a series England clinched in Southampton on Saturday was their first success in an ODI at the grand old ground, where they have played four matches in the format.

Hashim Amla, already the fastest man to score 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 and 6000 runs in ODIs, added 7000 to his list.

Amla made 55 in his 150th innings to knock Virat Kohli – who got there in 161 trips to the crease – off the top spot.

That effort was part of an opening stand of 95 Amla shared with Quinton de Kock, who scored 34.

South Africa remained on course for a comfortable victory even though Amla and De Kock were dismissed four balls apart with Faf du Plessis following them back to the most famous pavilion in cricket 15 deliveries later.

JP Duminy and AB de Villiers, and their unbroken stand of 55, took the visitors home with 21.1 overs remaining.

That won the game but by then the contest had been decided.

Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell saw to that by reducing England to 20/6 in the first five overs of the match to record the fastest instance of a team taking the first six wickets in all 3874 ODIs yet played.

England recovered before being dismissed for 153 in 31.1 overs.

South Africa took the advantage with more disciplined bowling than in the first two games of the series and a dramatically improved fielding performance.

They put down six catches on Saturday, but their only blemish on Monday was the difficult chance De Kock spilled off Keshav Maharaj for Jake Ball’s wicket.

Jonny Bairstow and David Willey found a path through the debris with a partnership of 62 for the seventh wicket.

Then Bairstow and Toby Roland-Jones added 52, a stand ended when Bairstow ventured down the pitch to Maharaj and was stumped for 51.

Rabada first struck with the fifth ball of the match, which Jason Roy edged to first slip.

Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid fell to consecutive deliveries by Rabada in the fifth over – both to catches by Faf du Plessis at second slip – but Bairstow survived the hat-trick ball.

Rabada took 4/39 with Parnell claiming 3/43 and Maharaj 3/25.

Imran Tahir was not considered for selection because of a tight hamstring.

Morne Morkel played his first match of the series, while Parnell and Duminy returned after missing the second game.

South Africa now turn their attention to the Champions Trophy, in which they play their first match against Sri Lanka at The Oval on Saturday.

De Villiers and his will be disappointed at the series loss to England, but they will take heart from the steady improvement they have shown in the three matches.

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The incredibly shrinking politics of sport

Sunday Times Opinion & Analysis


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

NOTHING and no-one got past Bruce Fordyce as he powered his slight frame through the field from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in 1981 to claim the first of his nine Comrades Marathon victories. Nothing, that is, except a few vrot tomatoes.

They were thrown at him by a fellow competitor enraged by the black armband Fordyce wore as a protest.

Contrast that with what happened at the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town last month, when runners were warned against taking up an appeal from social organisations including Save SA, Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign to wear black armbands to “say no to poor leadership in our country” during the race.

Organisers took a dim view, which they spelt out in an official release: “As a sporting event we celebrate inclusivity and diversity, and strive to unite, not divide.

“We remain neutral, apolitical and impartial as an event, and are not associated nor condone any political activities at our events.

“We therefore respectfully request that runners and supporters do not use this event as the platform for political activities.”

That would be a violation of the race rules, which read: “Under no circumstances will any slogans, chants, banners, placards or such-like of a political, religious or offensive nature be tolerated.”

But Fordyce said the comparison was not perfect.

“There’s a subtle difference between the armband I and other runners wore in 1981 and what happened at Two Oceans,” Fordyce said.

“President Zuma and his cronies are not the fault of Two Oceans, whereas the Comrades Marathon Association decided to associate itself with the apartheid government in 1981 by accepting R5000 to be part of the Republic Day celebrations. A lot of black runners pulled out of the race because of that.

“An equivalent today might be a decision to call it the Donald Trump Superbowl; Americans would protest.

“It’s not Two Oceans’ fault that we have a Guptastate – it’s whether the issues affect that sport directly.”

Fordyce, who commentated on this year’s Two Oceans on television, said he saw runners wearing black armbands “and they were not disqualified”.

That said, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the sting of politics has been drawn from the vast blimp of affluence sport has become.

Which could explain why we do not hear South Africa’s current sporting luminaries use words like “cronies” and “Guptastate” in talking about the country’s state of affairs even as their compatriots put their lives on the line in service delivery protests. That’s if we hear sportsmen and women talk about anything besides their exploits in the arena or some peripherally connected fluff.

Instead, footballers are fined for lifting their jerseys to display messages, and even banned for complaining about racist crowds – the fate of Sulley Muntari, a Ghanian stalwart of three World Cups who was abused while playing in a Serie A match at Cagliari.

And to think the same game was once graced by Socrates, who captained the Corinthians team that defied a military junta by demanding democratic elections in Brazil in 1981.

In 2008 Luke Watson spoke of the “burden” of wearing the racially tarnished Springbok jersey and said he had to “keep myself from vomiting on it”.

These days rugby players puke only when they’re pissed, while just about the only non-rugby thoughts heard from them concern their addiction to religion.

Current cricketers suffer from a similar affliction, but even though Henry Olonga is among the God-botherers he joined Andy Flower in a black-armband protest against “the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe” at a 2003 World Cup match in Harare.

Can we blame professionalism for the cognitive dissonance those who run modern sport seem to encourage among the playing elite, or does the happy truth that evils like apartheid are no longer with us mean that sport has ceased to be an appropriate vehicle for the real world of political protest?

“It’s a two-way street in that the politics of those who play sport is being drummed out and the politics of those with power is being brought in,” University of Johannesburg sociologist Ashwin Desai said.

“Those who play sport have been silent. That’s a real danger – that sportspersons can’t express themselves in any way.”

That, Desai suggested, could put sport’s authorities at odds with wider society.

“In a time when people feel cut off from party politics and institutional politics, you can see them taking action in other ways.”

San Francisco 49rs quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing just that last year, when he kneeled or sat rather than stood during the playing of the national anthem before games to highlight the epidemic of police brutality shown towards blacks in the US.

But telling the world what you really think while millions are tuned in to watch you hit, bowl, throw or kick a ball or run a race can exact a high price.

This year Kaepernick is struggling to secure a place in any of the NFL’s 32 teams, while neither Olonga nor Flower played for Zimbabwe after the 2003 World Cup.

The furore over Watson’s vomit comment stunted his career, which was never fully cleansed of the seeming stain that he was the son of Cheeky Watson – who had shunned white rugby to play on the non-racial side of the apartheid divide in the 1970s.

Muntari’s ban has been overturned, but only after howls of objection to it from around the world by fellow footballers and followers who have long bemoaned the sport’s ongoing – and too often tolerated – problems with racism.

But if we’re going to point fingers at the way sport has dumbed itself down then we have to ask what the protests of the past achieved.

The international boycott against South Africa’s teams in the 1970s is often held up as an important chink in apartheid’s armour, and it was indeed instrumental in bringing home to whites just how opposed much of the rest of the world was to the policies of the government they kept electing.

That, however, didn’t mean that the present had turned out like those who fought the good fight had hoped.

“There wouldn’t have been a debate about quotas (in South African sport) if more development and transformation had taken place in the 1990s,” John Minto, a major figure in the protests that swept New Zealand during the 1981 Springbok tour, said.

“But the ANC set out to destroy the non-racial organisations like SACOS (the South African Council on Sport) and they didn’t set up any structures in their place. It’s an embarrassment.

“Then, when there’s a public debate about quotas and transformation, the ANC blames whites. It’s obscene.”

For Minto, sport is a symptom of  a disease that has dashed hopes for a properly functioning democracy at the southern tip of Africa.

“The ANC have sold out the majority of people in South Africa,” Minto said. “They’ve taken up almost every offer that was going. In the end the corporations have got their way.

“Democracy in South Africa and a lot of other countries is five minutes in the ballot box and that’s it. There’s no question of a participatory democracy.”

Perhaps times really have changed. Can it be a coincidence that Fordyce and his armband, Socrates’ Corinthians and the mayhem to which Minto was central were part of the history of the same year?

Fordyce was an archeologist with a special interest in ancient rock art who at Wits University became close to Bruce Webster, the anthropologist who was assassinated in 1989 for his anti-apartheid activities.

Socrates was a medical doctor who listed Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon among his heroes.

Minto, a high school physics teacher and lifelong activist for progressive causes who was nicknamed “the screaming skull” by a detractor, ran – and lost – for mayor of Christchurch last year.

Difficult, isn’t it, to imagine many of South Africa’s modern footballing, cricketing or rugby-playing finest immersing themselves in the wider world quite so selflessly, former test cricketer Mark Boucher and his passion for rhino conservation excepted. Almost all of the others will be remembered as nothing more than footballers, cricketers and rugby players.

Maybe that’s because the revolution will not be televised. Which means those who mount it will not be sponsored by big companies.

Pass the vrot tomatoes.

De Villiers happy with team, but not with whiff of ball-tampering

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOUTH Africa lost as many one-day internationals in four days last week as they did in the previous eight months.

Their defeat by England by two runs in Southampton on Saturday followed a 72-run loss in Leeds on Wednesday.

South Africa won 14 of the 16 ODIs they played before they went to England, a stretch of success that started on September 25 last year.

But AB de Villiers didn’t sound like a beaten captain after the series was lost on Saturday.

“Games like these give me a lot of confidence,” De Villiers told reporters.

“I’ve seen the boys in the dressingroom and they’re quite upset and very disappointed.

“But I’ll try to lighten the mood because I think we deserve that.

“We played a really good game of cricket today.

“More of today with a little bit more care in the field is, I think, what’s required.”

They will get the chance to put De Villiers’ theory into practice in the last game of the series at Lord’s on Monday.

South Africa botched six catches on Saturday and their bowling, though more effective than on Wednesday, lacked consistency.

A thrilling climax ensued with Mark Wood defending seven runs in the last over, but South Africa were in the running only because of an unbroken stand between David Miller and Chris Morris that yielded 62 runs off 41 balls.

“The boys played a great hand at the end to get us so close – I thought we had it in the bag” De Villiers said.

“We didn’t get that lucky bounce; a little edge of the ’keeper, something like that.”

De Villiers was less positive about a conversation he had with umpires Rob Bailey and Chris Gaffaney after the 33rd over of England’s innings.

“The umpires felt the condition of the ball changed, in a way making me feel that we are responsible as a team,” De Villiers said.

“I was quite upset about that.

“I told the umpires we had nothing to do with the condition of the ball except for the fact that [Keshav] Maharaj bowled five overs on the trot from that end and the ball generally scuffs up when the spinner bowls a few overs.”

Did De Villiers think the umpires had accused his team of ball-tampering?

“Yes – I did feel that.”

The ball wasn’t changed and De Villiers was satisfied the matter had been laid to rest.

“No further steps were taken from both parties,” De Villiers said.

“The game was still played in great spirit after that; credit to both the umpires and us as a team.

“If I can give my five cents, I think it was just a bad Kookaburra on the day.

“That happens sometimes – the leather comes off a little bit from badly manufactured balls; you do get that sometimes.

“The umpires didn’t agree with that.

“Generally there’s a warning or a fine. None of that happened, which tells me they realised we were innocent in this case … I think.”

Well might De Villiers have given himself pause for thought.

South Africa have been convicted of ball-tampering three times since October 2013, most recently in Australia in November.

The last thing they need ahead of the start of the Champions Trophy this week is that kind of controversy, especially with De Villiers one infraction of the over-rate regulations away from a ban.

South Africa play their first match of the tournament against Sri Lanka at The Oval in London on Saturday.

The real SA stand up. Sort of …

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOMETHING like the real South Africa stood up at The Rose Bowl in Southampton on Saturday.

Not in the field: they dropped five catches and fluffed another.

Nor at the bowling crease: England’s 330/6 marked only the third time in South Africa’s 77 bilateral ODI series that their opponents have put 300 or more on the board in consecutive games.

But South Africa remembered who they are at the batting crease, where they mustered a reply of 328/5.

That, of course, wasn’t good enough to stave off defeat and render irrelevant the result of Monday’s game at Lord’s.

But, having given wickets away as if they were handing out flyers at the robots in Leeds on Wednesday, when they lost by 72 runs, their authenticity returned on Saturday.

That rang truest for Quinton de Kock, who scored a seamlessly measured 98, and AB de Villiers, whose unusually subdued but solid 52 was his first half-century in 10 innings of any flavour of cricket.

Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis should have more of decent starts, and Farhaan Behardien fritted away anaemically.

But David Miller and Chris Morris masterblasted South Africa to within seven runs of victory going into last over.

Mark Wood conceded only three, leaving Miller on 71, Morris on 36, and their rousing unbroken stand worth 62 off 41 balls.

Before the classy Miller and the streetfighting Morris took up the challenge it looked too late to swing a match that seemed won by Ben Stokes’ 79-ball 101. More than three-quarters of his runs boomed in front of square and more than half on the on side.

To think Stokes might have been run out before he had faced a ball will turn South African stomachs.

To point out that he edged the first delivery he faced and was dropped by Amla at slip will twist those stomachs into a knot.

To remember that he also feathered the next delivery and was also dropped, this time by De Kock, might create a queue for the toilet.

If someone’s locked in there already it’s probably Keshav Maharaj, the bowler who suffered those last two insults, which followed his injury of having Alex Hales spilled on the long-on ropes by Kagiso Rabada. And that on Maharaj’s ODI debut.

Tahir a champion in search of a trophy

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

IMRAN Tahir has bowled 8811 legitimate deliveries for South Africa. Of those, 245 have claimed wickets.

He has sent down each of those balls as if his life depended on them doing as he intended, and South Africa’s medical crew must be mildly concerned that he will survive his mad celebration whenever he takes a wicket.

But nothing Tahir has yet done on a cricket ground has been freighted with the full expression of his commitment, passion and just plain gees as much as a particular specimen of that lesser weapon of armed intent: the throw.

The Railway Stand curved beyond Tahir’s back at Newlands on the night of October 12 last year as he surged a few paces from the backward point boundary to meet the scurrying ball.

Tahir, bathed in neon, stooped to scoop the poop.

That done, his left leg stabbed forward and braced like bejaysus.

His right elbow had squeezed past his scapula, past his spine …

His shoulder was torqued like a tiger …

His arm was locked and loaded …

The elbow led, the forearm followed, and the hand did its job.

That was to release the ball, which tore flat, fast and true through the sky like a dagger through velvet.

David Warner was at the other end of this alchemic equation.

Prosaically, Warner had veered wide of his leg stump, slashed Andile Phehlukwayo to backward point, and decided there were two runs to add to the 172 he had already scored.

Poetically, the moment was spiked with the context of a confrontation between Tahir and Warner that had burned brighter than the floodlights for several minutes.

First the umpires, then Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla, had failed to put a leash on an increasingly rabid Tahir as he advanced on an increasingly bemused Warner.

To do what? Who could tell, but there was cordite in the air.

Tahir wouldn’t be told. He was doing the telling.

According to him, Warner had lit the fire: “I think he was trying to get under my skin because I was bowling well.

“But even though I was aggressive towards him I was calm inside, and we did shake hands afterwards and I gave him a pat on the back because he batted really well.”

Back to the ball, which rent the night on those razor-edged wings and arrived just so in Quintin de Kock’s gloves poised a breath from the bails – which were nudged groundward with a straining Warner out of his ground.

“I wanted to win the game before that; when I was bowling to him,” Tahir said. “But I had another opportunity and luckily the ball hit the target: Quinton took it well.”

Nevermind that Tahir is South Africa’s leading current bowler in major ODI tournaments in terms of wickets, average and economy rate.

Nevermind that no-one has taken four or more wickets more often for South Africa on the biggest ODI stages.

Nevermind that he has not played ODIs in England before.

Everything we needed to know about Tahir’s commitment, passion and just plain gees turned Newlands’ night air a darker shade of blue on October 16 last year.

And then came the throw.

It takes that kind of thing to win trophies.

It takes champions.

Bring on the Champions Trophy.

SA improve, but not enough to stave off series defeat

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

DAVID Miller and Chris Morris came within two runs of earning South Africa a rousing win in the second one-day international against England at The Rose Bowl in Southampton on Saturday.

They shared an unbroken partnership of 62 off 41 balls, but that wasn’t enough to spare Monday’s match at Lord’s from becoming a dead rubber.

Ben Stokes overcame a rocky start to score 101 and steer England to a towering 330/6, the second-highest total seen in the 21 ODIs played at this venue.

South Africa’s reply of 328/5 was powered by opener Quinton de Kock’s 98 until he was caught behind off Moeen Ali in the 36th over.

De Kock shared stands of 56 and 96 with Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, who made 24 and 52.

Then Miller took over in partnerships of 55 with Farhaan Behardien, who laboured to 17 off 25 balls, and Morris, who smashed his 36 not out off 22.

Miller’s unbeaten 71 came off 51 balls, and he hit five fours and two sixes.

Miller and Morris took 13 runs off the penultimate over, which was bowled by Jake Ball.

That left seven to get off the last, but Mark Wood limited the damage to three.

Stokes might have been run out before he had faced a ball, and he was dropped by Amla at slip and wicketkeeper De Kock off the first two deliveries he faced, both of them bowled by Keshav Maharaj.

Things could only get better for Stokes, and they did dramatically: he reached his century off 77 balls with 11 fours and three sixes before being caught at long-off.

The bowler was, deservedly, Maharaj – who also had Alex Hales dropped.

South Africa’s bowlers improved from the first match of the series at Headingley in Leeds on Wednesday, when England won by 72 runs.

But the standard of the visitors’ fielding crashed – they squandered six chances.

Kagiso Rabada yorked Jason Roy in the fifth over with a delivery timed at 149.8 km/h, and 10 overs later England were 80/3.

Hales was well-held by De Kock standing up to the stumps for medium pacer Dwaine Pretorius, who got a fingertip to Eoin Morgan’s straight drive to run out Joe Root at the non-striker’s end.

Morgan and Stokes wrought the advantage for England with a stand of 95 that was ended in the 33rd over when Rabada dismissed Morgan for 45 with De Kock diving forward to snare a low catch.

Stokes and Jos Butter then put on 77 to strengthen England’s position, and Buttler and Moeen Ali built the momentum with a partnership of 78 that flowed off 40 balls.

Rabada, who took 2/50, was the only bowler to claim more than one wicket but South Africa’s attack showed more discipline and purpose than on Wednesday.

Pretorius replaced Wayne Parnell, Maharaj came in for Imran Tahir and Farhaan Behardien was preferred to JP Duminy, who had played in all 23 of South Africa’s previous ODIs in a streak that stretched back to February 14 last year.

Stokes fit, but that’s the least of SA’s problems

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

IT isn’t often that training sessions rival matches for attention, but England’s practice in Southampton on Friday – ahead of the second one-day international against South Africa at The Rose Bowl on Saturday – was one of those times.

The focus was on Ben Stokes, the fiery allrounder who bowled only two overs at Headingley on Wednesday because of a knee problem. Stokes had surgery on the same knee last year to repair torn cartilage.

Much hand-wringing and what-iffing has ensued, as would seem to be the English way,  since Stokes limped off.

The news that he had been cleared to take full part in Friday’s session made bigger headlines than some countries’ elections, and the subsequent confirmation that he is available for selection play on Saturday probably bumped Donald Trump off a few front pages.

Not that Stokes’ fitness seems of immediate import, what with England surging to a handsome 72-run win on Wednesday.

Another victory for them on Saturday would decide the issue and put unwanted pressure on the visitors ahead of next month’s Champions Trophy in England.

South Africa’s No. 1 ranking, and the fact that they arrived in England having lost only two of their previous 16 ODIs, will shrink into the shadow cast by a series loss.

No injuries have been reported from their dressingroom, but Wednesday’s woes went further than skin deep.

South Africa’s bowling lacked snap, their fielding failed to crackle, and their batting popped in all the wrong ways.

They played mushy cricket, and England had them for breakfast.

Two half-centuries – by Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis  – but no centuries and only one century stand is not going to win many matches, and successful attacks need more than one bowler – Chris Morris – firing on all cylinders.

All of which added up to the feeling that South Africa lost the match more than England won it, Eoin Morgan’s 107 and Moeen Ali’s unbeaten 77 notwithstanding.

“That’s the best way we could have started; it was a complete performance,” Morgan said.

“Moeen has one of the hardest jobs batting at seven and he was very calm and composed before taking the game to them.”

Depth, in batting as well as bowling, has long been a key strength for South Africa – they have earned a reputation for never being beaten until the scorers confirm the result.

But that trademark nuggetyness was conspicuous by its absence on Wednesday.

It will need to be rediscovered if the series is to be levelled on Saturday.

And another thing – can someone hang a stopwatch around AB de Villiers’ neck?

South Africa need their captain.

They also need their most destructive batsman.

They don’t need him banned for not herding his bowlers through their overs quickly enough, as will happen if De Villiers falls foul of the minimum over-rate again.

That umpires and referees should have more important matters to excite them than this pettiness is another argument for another day.

Right now, De Villiers’ shoddy time-keeping is the problem that needs solving.