T20 tournament’s honeymoon over

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

TWO centuries. Eighteen half-centuries. One total of more than 200. Two century partnerships. One team dismissed.

One four-wicket haul. No-one with double figures in the wicket column. No economy rates of less than a run-a-ball.

One side so dominant it would seem to make sense to award all their remaining points now and tell them to take a break with a cheery, “See you in the semi-finals.”

Another team who could well owe their second position in the standings not to winning but, thanks to multiple washouts, to not losing.

And a heap of dropped catches, not to mention an epidemic of shoddy ground fielding.

Those are the bare bones of the story halfway through the league stage of the franchise T20 competition — which was proffered as a consolation for the aborted inaugural edition of the T20 Global League.

So, how’s the replacement faring? That depends on who you ask.

For players who have not reached international level, having the likes of AB de Villiers and Kagiso Rabada around can only lead to a leap in the standards of their own game.

At least that’s the theory. In practice the internationals are streets ahead.

But, importantly, the tournament provides an objective measure of the skills gap between franchise and international cricket.

Plainly it is, as many have argued, big. But at least that has been established as a fact, which in the absence of hard truths can be difficult to achieve without the noise of agendas of all shades cluttering the issue.

There are, of course, plenty of views being aired on social media.

“People here in the UK think [the competition] is a joke,” one commenter wrote. “The quality is poor compared to the … T20 blast where the South Africans who play are those who are wanted by the counties for their talent.”

That South Africa’s best players are involved in their home tournament is the event’s only way to set itself apart from the rest of the lacklustre, unloved, irrelevant domestic game.

But the honeymoon is over, and the thought of having to endure 30 more matches before the semis does not sit well.

David will slay Goliath on occasion. At least we hope so, and that it will happen more often than has been the case.

But we are confident the unbeaten Titans, with their slew of internationals, will keep winning.

And we fear that rain will never leave Durban alone on match days — and so the Dolphins will keep earning unearned points.

Will we see more centuries than those scored by the Lions’ Reeza Hendricks and the Dolphins’ Sarel Erwee?

Will we see another bowling performance as good as Lungi Ngidi’s 4/14?

Will we see a side get through their 20 overs in the field without botching a catch?

The action continues on Wednesday in the shape of games between the Cobras and the Warriors in Paarl, and between the Lions and the Titans at the Wanderers.*

The semi-finals are on December 13 and 14 with the final scheduled for the 16th.

Hang in there, sportslovers.

* Published before Wednesday’s games. The Cobras beat the Warriors by 10 runs and the Wanderers’ match was washed out.

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Will SA be underdone against India?

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOUTH Africa’s finest are starring in the franchise T20 competition even as their major test opponents this summer, India and Australia, are engaged at the highest level.

The Indians, who beat Sri Lanka by an innings in Nagpur on Monday, will have played three games in each format against the Lankans by the time they take to Newlands for the first test on January 5.

Also on Monday, Australia won the first of their five Ashes tests against England by 10 wickets.

The Aussies will also play four one-day internationals and at least four T20s before winging their way westward for a test series that starts at Kingsmead on March 1.

And the only first-class cricket South Africa will see before they face India is a four-day, day/night game against Zimbabwe at St George’s Park beginning on December 26.

It’s been billed as a test match, but is likely to be closer in intensity and usefulness — to South Africa, at least — to a tour match.

The South Africans will be hardened to the task by the time the Australians get here, but they will have to hit the ground running against No. 1-ranked India.

Would Russell Domingo, South Africa’s coach until after their most recent test series, against England this winter, be worried about his team’s readiness were he still in charge?

“The preparation will be spot-on going into that game against Zimbabwe, and there’s a bit of time going into the game [against India] in Cape Town,” Domingo said on Tuesday.

“When it comes to test cricket, particularly in South Africa, the side will always be motivated to do well, and although it’s T20 cricket their are playing at the moment it’s still some form of cricket they are getting under their belts.”

Besides, a day short of a month will pass between the end of the Indians’ test series against the Lankans and the start of the rubber against South Africa.

As Domingo said: “India will also go into some one-dayers after their tests against Sri Lanka and it’ll be foreign conditions for them when they come here.”

But the T20 competition, in which almost all the leading batsmen and bowlers have been capped at international level, remains questionable preparation for what lay ahead.

“Unfortunately no new players have stood out and the guys who’ve been performing are the guys who were always going to perform — JP Duminy, AB de Villiers, Kagiso Rabada,” Domingo said.

Reeza Hendricks and Sarel Erwee, who have scored the only two centuries in the 30 matches played so far, were the exceptions. But even that wasn’t unexpected.

“It’s been really good to see Reeza Hendricks do well, but that’s why he’s been picked in South Africa’s T20 side,” Domingo said of the Lions opening batsman, who is the tournament’s top run-scorer and has nine T20 international caps.

“The other players who’ve performed have all been on the radar, people like Aiden Markram [the fifth-highest runscorer].”

Despite the lack of fresh talent making breakthoughs, Domingo saw a positive.

“The disappointing thing is that no-one new has really put up their hand, but the pleasing thing is that the guys who have been picked [for South Africa] are the same ones who’ve put in the good performances.

“So it shows that the right guys have been identified.”

And, come January 5, they’ll have to produce the goods against India.

Can anyone catch the Titans?

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

LIONS coach Geoff Toyana will have the hardest job in cricket at the Wanderers on Wednesday: find a way to beat the Titans.

Halfway through the league stage of this season’s T20 competition the closest the Titans have come to losing was in Benoni on Friday Wednesday, when their game against the Dolphins in Benoni was washed out.

So, is Toyana praying for rain? Not a bit of it.

“We’re playing at home, and we always play good cricket at the Wanderers,” Toyana said on Monday.

But the Lions have lost three of their five games — one of which was an eight-wicket thumping by the Titans at Centurion on November 12.

“At crucial times we’ve made dumb decisions,” Toyana acknowledged.

Theoretically the Titans can still be caught at the top of the log, but the 21 points they have piled up is more than double that earned by the second-placed Dolphins.

And, unkind though the thought is, you have to wonder whether the Durbanites’ three washouts is a factor in their success. That and keeping the opposition guessing.

“We sometimes win the ones we shouldn’t win and then lose the ones we should win,” Dolphins coach Grant Morgan said.

“We’re like France [in rugby] and Pakistan [in cricket]: we’ve got multiple personalities.”

The Titans couldn’t be more different. Opponents know exactly what they’re going to get — although they don’t know exactly who’s going to turn up.

“They’ve made three or four changes every game,” Toyana said, sounding almost envious at the notion of such luxury.

But that’s what happens when you are able to field an XI studded with AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Farhaan Behardien and Dean Elgar.

So much so that the Titans haven’t felt the injury-enforced absence of players of the calibre of Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel and Chris Morris.

They also haven’t complained about Dale Steyn quietly exiting the tournament after three games to concentrate on his match fitness for the longer formats as he continues his comeback from a serious shoulder injury.

But it’s part of Toyana’s job to stay positive, and he wasn’t about to concede superiority to the boys in blue.

“I believe I’ve got the best bowling attack in the country and we can push them,” he said.

A key member of that attack is Kagiso Rabada, who would seem to be leading by example on and off the field.

“His presence in the dressingroom has been exemplary,” Toyana said. “He’s definitely shown he’s an international player; he adds a lot.”

Rabada is the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with eight scalps at a not too shabby average of 15.37 and economy rate of 6.7.

Thing is, he might need to take all 10 for none if the Lions are to beat the Titans at the Wanderers on Wednesday.

Failing that, pray for rain.

LEADING EDGE: Dear Aussies, shut up and play

It’s enough to make even South Africans shout for England. Would that both teams could lose the Ashes.

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

Sunday Times

AUSTRALIANS are exponentially better at playing cricket than most other people on the face of the earth. So why don’t they shut the hell up and play?

David Warner calling the Ashes “war” and saying he wanted to see “hatred” on the field are the kind of rancid utterances we have come to expect from someone who might struggle to land a job flipping burgers were it not for his ability to hit cricket balls hard.

We roll our eyes at his latest passive-aggressive stupidity and get on with watching him bat. Perhaps we shouldn’t: such ugly thoughtlessness adds nothing to cricket’s rich store of wit and wisdom, and should be the subject of rigorous examination in all sections of the media — especially by controversy-averse television commentators — and in public discourse.

Warner’s apparent lust for war and hatred should be of far greater import to that section of cricket’s audience that regards itself as human and part of the wider world than what he has to say about his latest innings.

That it isn’t is a searing indictment of the priorities of cricket’s media and its audience.

Maybe a victim of Syria’s war on its own people or of Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen should share the podium with Warner at his next press conference so he knows what the effect of hatred looks like up close and personal.

At least while Warner’s out in the middle he can’t embarrass himself and the game. Or we can’t hear him doing so. Small mercies, and all that.

But what’s with Nathan Lyon, a retreaded groundsman, for goodness sake, voicing a vicious wish to “end careers”?

It’s enough to make even South Africans shout for England. Would that both teams could lose the Ashes.

Alastair Cook wouldn’t be too many Saffers’ idea of a cricketer worth celebrating — too orthodox, too posh, just too bloody English.

But there should be applause from all quarters for his response on being informed of Lyon’s cheap and nasty crap: “Nathan was the first person I saw at the ground this morning. He asked me how my kids were. We had a nice 10-minute chat. It makes me chuckle.”

Which Lyon are we to believe? The polite enquirer or the doos who sounds like the National Enquirer?

To make up your mind about that, you need a handle on Australia’s virulent tabloid culture.

Some of most bracingly perspicacious thinking and writing on cricket, and everything else, emanates from Australia. So does some of the most putrid drivel on cricket and everything else.

A case of the latter was Channel Nine’s gung-ho coverage, last November, of Faf du Plessis and the most infamous mint in history.

Yes, the story was legitimate. Yes, Du Plessis did the wrong thing and deserved to be punished.

But why did Channel Nine have one camera trained on Du Plessis and another focused on how Du Plessis handled the camera in his personal space as this circus lurched through Adelaide airport?

Because Channel Nine needed drama to move the story forward, and the thuggish behaviour of the South Africa squad’s security detail — a reporter was body-slammed and his microphone kicked across the floor — gave the network exactly that.

Perhaps this happens when a society that likes to think of itself as robust and forthright is hemmed into an ever-smaller space for real life by too much regulation for its own good.

Aussies like to see themselves as tough-talking, hard-drinking, full-on individuals who are always up for an argument that’s all the better if it gets physical.

Closer to the truth is that they wouldn’t dare not wear a seatbelt, nevermind drive a car after drinking a beer, and the way they allow themselves to be spoken to by security guards with no authority beggars a Third Worlder’s belief. Say that in Mzansi, fella, and those epaulettes will be shoved where the sun don’t shine.

The law must, of course, be obeyed. But the way Australians do so doesn’t square with the image they project.

Some Australians, that is. Many are superbly civilised. Others are Warner and Lyon.

Benkenstein sees sawdust in SA’s batting boerewors

“Once AB [de Villiers] goes and Faf [du Plessis] goes — JP’s [Duminy] already gone — and Hashim [Amla] is also going to go …” – Brad Bing

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

Sunday Times

DALE Benkenstein bats for both sides. As a coach at Hilton College he knows what goes into the sausage machine. As South Africa’s freshly appointed batting coach he knows what comes out the other end.

And he’s concerned that there’s sawdust in the boerewors.

“I’ve been involved in schools cricket for a year now and the talent pool is amazing, phenomenal: the school system is still producing cricketers consistently,” Benkenstein said.

“After school is a bit of a worry — what happens to guys then? Club cricket seems to have gone downhill and the academy system isn’t really working in all provinces.

“There seems to be a void and that worries me, because batsmen take longer to mature and you can lose a whole percentage of batsmen in that 18-to-21 year-old period.

“Some guys mature later and they could be your top players. That’s an area in which I’d like to see if we can improve things.”

Benkenstein spoke the day before Cricket South Africa (CSA) proclaimed the “huge impact on the broadening of the talent pool at youth level” their system of community hubs and regional performances centres (RPC) was, they said, having on the game.

“There has been absolute explosion of talent coming through this year and the number of players selected for the youth tournaments has rocketed to 243 [up from 136 last year],” a release quoted CSA’s cricket general manager, Corrie van Zyl, as saying.

“This is a huge increase by any standards and will strengthen our resolve to give more children from our non-traditional feeder systems the chance to excel.”

The suits tend to cop it in these pages, but there is no question they have put much effort and devoted their best expertise into ensuring that junior cricket is healthy.

It’s what happens next that’s the challenge.

“Clubs are struggling and the more they do the more the structure is starting to collapse,” said Brad Bing, who has been part of cricket in many capacities and levels and is the managing director of Sporting Chance, a Western Cape coaching network.

“And they’ve taken away B section cricket. So the incentive to continue if you weren’t in an academy was zero.

“Anyway, there are players who come from academies who don’t make the grade because they haven’t played club cricket, where their issues would have been sorted out.

“When they took away the hopes of players in a structured club set-up to play B section cricket, they killed a lot of dreams. With that came killing the depth of talent.

“The worst part is when guys are out of form. Where do they go back to? You can’t go back to amateur cricket because you’re too old and you can’t go back to club cricket because it’s not as strong as it should be.”

Bing sees those chickens coming home to roost soon.

“Once AB [de Villiers] goes and Faf [du Plessis] goes — JP’s [Duminy] already gone — and Hashim [Amla] is also going to go …

“Those are four bloody good players, two of them world class in Amla and De Villiers, and there’s not enough players coming through to take their place.”

Aiden Markram?

“He can play but he’s one guy.”

Which is where Benkenstein comes into the spotlight: “The batting coach is going to be under huge pressure once those guys retire.”

At 43, Benkenstein is old enough to remember the sausage machine Bing described. Perhaps there was no sawdust then, but there was probably more fat.

And more meat and spices, and with that more flavour.

Wins for Cobras, Knights; rain halts Titans’ march

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

TMG Digital

THE Cobras celebrated their first T20 win of the season on Friday, while the Dolphins accomplished what no other team have in not losing to the Titans.

The Knights took matters into the last over to haul in the Warriors’ modest target to bank their second victory.

Losses to the Dolphins, Lions and Titans followed the Cobras to Paarl like a bad smell, but the home side came away with a six-run win over the Lions despite their mediocre 145/7.

Hashim Amla’s 42 and JP Duminy’s 54 were the Cobras’ only scores of more than 20, Vernon Philander’s 16 was their only other effort in double figures, and twice they lost two wickets in an over.

Kagiso Rabada’s 2/20 from his full quota of overs led the visitors’ decent bowling performance.

Rassie van der Dussen and Reeza Hendricks put on 52 for the Lions’ first wicket, but the Cobras held on with defiant bowling by left-arm spinner George Linde, who took the new ball and claimed 2/26, and Rory Kleinveldt, who took 2/16. The Lions washed up on 139/6.

In Bloemfontein, the Knights squeaked to their four-wicket win with two balls to spare.

Colin Ackermann’s 74 was the sole mention in dispatches in the Warriors’ 155/6, in which leg spinner Eddie Leie kept things tidy for his return of 1/20 from all four overs.

The Knights seemed to be cruising it, even when David Miller was dismissed for 48 in the 15th over to leave the home side needing 51 to win.

But they lost Ryan McLaren and Aubrey Swanepoel as the pressure built until Marchant de Lange smacked the only ball he faced for four to settle the issue.

The Titans took their perfect record after four games to Benoni, where the Dolphins rocked up still soggy from having two games at Kingsmead washed out.

Lo and behold, the wet weather followed the Durbanites to the highveld and the closest Friday’s game got to starting was when the captains tossed.

The Titans won that, of course, but not a ball was bowled.

What can cricket do about Durban’s downpours?

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

TMG Digital

IT’S an old joke heard wherever cricket is played, but these days it seems to be told more often in Durban than anywhere else: if you want rain, schedule a cricket match.

All things being equal, six days of franchise cricket should have been played at Kingsmead by this stage of the 2017-18 season. Instead, the weather has allowed only half as many.

By way of comparison, the Wanderers has had eight days of franchise cricket this season; one fewer than planned. But that was because the Titans needed only three days to beat the Lions there in October.

The weather and cricket have long been at odds in Durban, where bad light towards the end of the day has prompted the start of play in tests to be moved to as early as 9am.

That made it difficult to tell who was more startled: opening batsmen who had to deal with exponentially more early moisture, or reporters who had an aversion to spicy food being presented with an array of Kingsmead’s famous curries for lunch at 11am.

Durban’s latest disappointment pelted from the skies on Wednesday, when the Dolphins’ T20 game against the Warriors was abandoned without a ball bowled.

Last Friday’s T20 suffered the same fate. The KwaZulu-Natalians’ opponents that day were the Knights, who were also stuck in the dressingroom playing cards for a whole day of their first-class fixture at Kingsmead in September.

“You have to accept that there will be washouts,” Dolphins chief executive Heinrich Strydom said on Thursday, his voice heavy with frustration still dripping from the previous evening.

“The irony is, Saturday was sun, Sunday was sun, Monday was sun, Tuesday was sun …”

Strydom was appointed in May, and “I’m still waiting for my first [T20] home game”.

At least he wasn’t around for the debacle last August’s debacle, when more than three days of a test against New Zealand went unplayed because of a wet outfield.

So, what to do? Are there silver linings in the dark clouds that seems to hang over Kingsmead whenever stumps are pitched?

“The weather patterns say we should play in February and March, but the best option might be to build a roof over the place,” Strydom said, not entirely seriously.

“We’ve asked to play the first five [four-day] games away and host the next five. Then again, your facilities probably won’t be up to scratch to host five first-class games in a row.

“It’s something we’re thinking about but there’s not a lot we can do about it.”

It’s a mad idea, but what about moving the franchise?

Any takers for the Dannhauser Dolphins? Or the Drummond Dolphins? Actually, if we want to take the rain out of the equation they should be the De Aar Dolphins.

Annual rainfall in De Aar is all of 196 millimetres. In Durban? A touch more at 1009 millimetres.

But moving a franchise means much more than a change of name. You can’t, for instance, put a cricket ground on the back of a truck.

What if the ground was already there? Like the City Oval, easily among the country’s loveliest places to play cricket, in Pietermaritzburg, which is not quite 80 kilometres up the N3 from Durban.

Been there, done that, Strydom might have said: two days of the Dolphins match against the Lions there in October disappeared down the drains.

So, if you’re going to the cricket in Durban best you pack an umbrella. And whatever you do don’t tell the weather gods there’s a game on.