Could tortoise Elgar replace hare De Villiers?

De Villiers missed only 42 of the 270 ODIs South Africa played during his career.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

ONE is a dasher, a dazzler, a doer of derring do. The other plods with pithy particularity and purpose. It would take a lot to confuse them, but the latter could be the answer to the former’s removal from South Africa’s equation for the World Cup in England next year.

AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar are about as different as a pair of batsmen could be — which doesn’t mean Elgar isn’t a candidate to step into the void left by the undeniably great De Villiers, who retired from international cricket last week.

At least, that was Ottis Gibson’s take at a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday.

“We will pick guys that we believe can go and perform in those conditions,” Gibson said.

“Dean playing county cricket now puts himself in the picture.

“When you look at his record playing white-ball cricket he is not out of the picture.

“But since I’ve been here we haven’t looked at Dean [for one-day internationals].

“But now, with what’s happened with AB, and you’re looking at experience in English conditions, someone like Dean, I would imagine, will come into the conversation.”

Gibson didn’t allow himself to be painted into a corner on who might replace the finest white-ball batsman world cricket has seen since … nobody.

And the fact that Elgar’s name came up at all was thanks to a reporter’s question.

But it would be foolish of Gibson to have ruled out a player who has reeled off scores of 87, 50 and 91 off the 246 balls he has faced in his last three one-day innings for Surrey.

Elgar batted at No. 3 twice and opened the batting in his other innings, which only adds to the intrigue of what would be nothing like a straight swop in South Africa’s line-up.

As do the facts that Elgar played the last of his six ODIs in October 2015 while De Villiers missed only 42 of the 270 games South Africa have had in the format since he made his debut more than 13 years ago.

That illustrates how integral De Villiers was to his team’s cause. It also tells us, as Gibson said, that there is no replacing him.

What’s needed is a complete revision of South Africa’s batting strategy now that the strongest link in the chain has been lost.

The sparseness of Elgar’s previous involvement in ODIs means minimal tinkering would be required to fit him into the XI.

And, unlike other, also viable candidates for the job — Farhaan Behardien, Reeza Hendricks and Theunis de Bruyn — he has earned his respect, and more, in the game’s toughest role: regularly opening the batting in Test cricket.

Gibson and the selectors have the time they need to plot a path out of the dark place that is a South Africa team abruptly and, it seems, unexpectedly denied De Villiers’ stellar services.

They also have the opportunity to experiment, what with 23 ODIs scheduled before the World Cup.

There’s only one AB de Villiers but there’s also only one Dean Elgar.

That may be enough; not to solve an unsolvable problem but to prevent it from becoming bigger.

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Gibson ‘shocked’, ‘disappointed’ by De Villiers’ retirement

“I’ve retired from cricket, and when you retire your retire. Don’t try and say I might try and play here or there.” – Ottis Gibson

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

OTTIS Gibson tried hard on Monday to find the positive needles in the haystack of negativity that was dumped on cricket when AB de Villiers announced his retirement from the international arena last week — just more than a year before the World Cup in England.

Even so, South Africa’s coach couldn’t avoid using words like “shock”, “disappointing” and “mourning” in his public reaction to De Villiers’ decision, which rocked world cricket on Wednesday.

But Gibson knew there was no point looking back wistfully at what might have been had De Villiers stayed in the mix.

“The announcement came as a shock to me but we had a conversation — he called me the morning before the announcement and told me what he was planning to do,” Gibson told a press conference in Johannesburg.

“So we had a long conversation around, ‘Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’. He reckons that he is.”

That sounds like Gibson tried to talk De Villiers out of it. Did he?

“It seemed to me that he was enjoying his cricket; we saw him in the IPL [Indian Premier League] taking Spider-Man catches.

“That’s why it was a shock to me, and I suppose it was a shock to everybody else as well.

“I did say to him, ‘What about giving away Test cricket and still playing one-day cricket with the World Cup coming up?’.

“He said he’s spoken about it with all the people he needed to speak to, and there’s no point in me trying to get him to change his mind. I don’t think there’s anything I could say that could get him to change his mind.”

Gibson would seem to have been granted the serenity to accept the things he cannot change, the courage to change the things he can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

“I need to get the team together and move on; sport moves on,” he said.

“Of course it’s disappointing. He’s one of the best players in the world. He could have made a huge difference in the World Cup and he knows that. But he’s chosen to walk away from the game at this time and it is what it is.”

Worries over the standards of domestic cricket, which have in many estimations fallen since Gibson played for Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng in the 1990s, probably mean De Villiers’ replacement will be an already familiar name.

Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn and Dean Elgar — in a one-day context — were all mentioned by Gibson, who was nonetheless keen to make the point that, “I don’t want to start calling names. We will pick guys we believe will go and perform in those conditions.”

What would Gibson make of a reconsideration by De Villiers, who has in the past gone back and forth over issues like whether or not he was available to keep wicket?

“When a player makes a decision like [retiring] it’s hard to go back because somebody will come and fill his place, and if that player is performing how do you deal with that situation?

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it, but it’s a great question.”

Not that Gibson was holding his breath.

“I’ve retired from cricket, and when you retire your retire. Don’t try and say I might try and play here or there.

“It seems to me the announcement leaves a few things hanging; he might still change his mind.

“But I can’t focus on that. I need to focus on the group of players I have to work with.”

There was no ignoring the haystack in the room and Gibson had the good sense to stop looking for needles.

“This clearly puts a spanner in the works of a lot of the planning we’ve been doing,” he said.

“Every cricket team has to, at some point, when a great player moves on, have — what do you want to call it? — a little mourning period. Then another great player comes along.

“That’s not saying we’re not going to miss AB. Of course we are. But it gives an opportunity for someone to come in and stake a claim.

“There’s enough talent in the country, not to fill AB’s awesome shoes, but to have the 10, 12-year career that AB has had.”

De Villiers had diamonds on the soles of his awesome shoes, agreed. Now we’ve all got to get rid of those walking blues.

What AB de Villiers wants for Christmas

“I am a person first and then a cricketer.” – AB de Villiers

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Florence

A father, mother and two small boys were gathered at a pizza and pasta joint in Port Elizabeth early on the evening of Christmas Day last year. 

The older kid wore a shower of straight, brown hair and beheld his pizza like a king his kingdom. His brother babbled blissfully.

Mom smiled the happy smile all moms smile when they have made it, almost, through another day with their sanity more or less intact.

Dad looked weary around the eyes and sat a touch hunched. He seemed burdened and older than the 34 he would turn in less than two months. He offered a sans-serif smile.

It was an ordinary scene that plays out around the world every day. Except that the father in this family was AB de Villiers trying to do what even he couldn’t do: be ordinary.

“I am a person first and then a cricketer,” De Villiers said in a 2016 Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations player survey.

That’s as close to heresy as we get in a society in which you’re only as good as your latest social media post, but no less true for that.

De Villiers proved his point on Wednesday by walking away from however many more millions and however many more runs, and all the fame.

“I’ve had my turn and to be honest I’m tired,” he said. “It’s not about earning more somewhere else. It’s about running out of gas and feeling that it’s time to move on.”

His decision was greeted as if a loved one had died when all that had happened was that a great cricketer’s career had been laid to rest.

De Villiers’ genius in the white-ball formats has overshadowed the fact that in Test cricket he was merely excellent.

Of all the 2 912 men who have batted in Tests, only 43 average 50 or more — 1.48% — and just 15 of them have played at least 100 games in the format. That puts De Villiers in the top 0.52% of Test batsmen.  

But greatness doesn’t respect the banality of numbers. You only had to see, once, De Villiers apparently levitate as he awaited a delivery he would put over the third man boundary with an outrageous flick, or splay his knees, one of them on the ground, to deposit a ball over the backward square leg fence, or take an uncatchable catch, to know that he was great in the only sense of the word that should exist.

That he could think of doing these things was arresting. That he could do them should have got him arrested.   

None of which made De Villiers a good captain. He won more games than he lost, but that happened because of the team he led — which of course included his exemplary self — and despite his ham-handed leadership.

Graeme Smith stood tall, alone and unmistakably at the helm of his ship. Faf du Plessis is always two steps ahead of what anyone else is thinking, and wearing a sly smile to prove it.

De Villiers was invariably frazzled and surrounded at every turn by sub-committees of teammates lending him better ideas. Little wonder he was too often in trouble with the overrate police.

The circumstances of a particular loss suffered under his leadership more than three years ago now were a kick in the balls that must still hurt and could easily have hastened Wednesday’s decision. 

For the suits to have the arrogant idiocy to meddle in the selection of the XI for the 2015 World Cup semi-final at Eden Park was a crime against De Villiers and his team that has, shamefully, gone unpunished.  

A tendency to obfuscate and contradict his own admissions on chronic niggles, some more serious than others, exposed De Villiers as someone who said what he thought others wanted to hear.

That made him a fine example of what’s right and wrong with modern sport. Let stars star. Let leaders lead. Let talkers talk. Don’t get those wires crossed, and bugger the media, social and otherwise.

Anyway. All done. All dusted. All over. Bet you can’t wait for Christmas, nê, AB?

Mr 360 by the numbers:

Games played for South Africa: 420

Balls faced: 26 787

Centuries: 47 (9.71% of 484 innings)

Half-centuries: 109 (22.52%)

Ducks: 20 (4.13%)

Balls bowled: 396

Wickets — 9

Catches: 463 (215 as wicketkeeper)

Stumpings: 17

Captaincy: 124 games, 69 wins (55.65%), 49 losses (39.52%), 0 draws, 1 tie, 5 no results

Twitter followers: 6-million

Estimated net worth: R250-million

AB de Villiers’ dream comes true at last

“I actually had chest pains,” some sad soul posted after De Villiers’ retired. Really? You need one of two doctors: to treat a heart-attack, or to sort out your head.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

THE question came most often from Indians, and it was almost always directed at South Africans. Until August 2, 2010, there was no answering it with any seriousness.

“Is there anything AB de Villiers can’t do?”

It took De Villiers himself to provide the answer. On August 2, 2010, he released “Maak Jou Drome Waar [Make Your Dreams Come True]” with singer-songwriter Ampie du Preez.

Henceforth, Indians who asked certain South Africans if there was anything De Villiers couldn’t do were met with a snappy, “Yes — sing.”

Turns out the joke is on us. By retiring from international cricket at 34 with a storming return to the Test arena last summer still shimmering in the memory, De Villiers has indeed made his dreams come true: he has got his life back.

Nothing could be as important to him and his family.

Anyone who doesn’t agree is mean-spirited and selfish, and the fake anguish being expressed by people trying to pass themselves off as proper cricket fans can go to hell.

“I actually had chest pains,” some sad soul posted on social media on Wednesday in response to De Villiers’ announcement.

Really? You need one of two doctors: to treat a heart-attack, or to sort out your head.

There is fault to be found with the way De Villiers told us he was moving on.

An outrageously over-produced video almost as cringeworthy as the weird and not so wonderful footage that accompanied “Maak Jou Drome Waar” was not the way to do it.

Worse, he broke the news on his own app, which is like dumping someone on WhatsApp. Tacky, or what.

For a classy player, that was the equivalent of farting as you try to heave a full toss over cow corner and instead send a bottom edge twixt keeper and slip.

Are the hits, which help monetise apps, really that important?

But on social media, class, if it even exists, is temporary. Especially to people who have almost 6-million followers on Instagram and Twitter — each — and another 3.5-million on Facebook. That’s a lot of monetising.

Even if that wasn’t the case there has to be understanding for players saying what they want to in the way they want to say it. 

Was De Villiers trying to leave on his own terms and without people like reporters getting in the way of what he was trying to express?

Probably. But as much as having your say unabridged is your right, it behoves journalists to examine what you’re saying and critique it as rigorously as anything you might have said in a press conference or an interview.

Not that anyone who is not AB de Villiers knows what it’s like to be him.

We can imagine lives of being paid stupidly large amounts to play a mere game — and take issue with the fact that people who have real jobs, like doctors and teachers, earn exponentially less — and we can dream of flitting from one luxury hotel to another and never knowing what they cost.

We can try to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who seems to spend most of their lives being adored and the rest signing autographs.

We can imagine what it’s like to have stories like this written about us.

But we can’t know what it means not to be able to talk a walk without being recognised, or spend time with your family in public without work getting in the way — some of us have trouble smiling for a single selfie with a loved one over lunch, nevermind one a minute with utter strangers who know our names.

We have no clue how it feels to have so many people watching your every move all the time, to be studied and examined and pontificated about as if you were a work of art imprisoned in a frame and nailed to a wall.

That’s what De Villiers has been all these years, a picture whose prettiness we demanded not be spoiled by him becoming real.

Is there anything Abraham Benjamin de Villiers can do about that? Yes. He did it, albeit poorly, on Wednesday.

Life after AB de Villiers

There are options. None of them is as good as De Villiers. No-one is.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

SA after AB: feel it, it is here. At least, it will be on July 12, when South Africa play Sri Lanka in the first Test in Galle — their first game since AB de Villiers announced his retirement, with immediate effect, from international cricket on Wednesday.

Truth be told, South Africans couldn’t care less what happens in that series of two matches on the Asian island, nor in the five one-day internationals and sole T20 that will follow.

The three ODIs and three T20s at home against Zimbabwe in October will be a yet smaller blip in the national consciousness, and even the three ODIs and T20 South Africa will play in Australia November won’t count for much.

Neither will the full tours in all three formats against Pakistan and Sri Lanka they will host next summer will tell us how much De Villiers will be missed.

It’s the World Cup, stupid. 

How South Africa will perform in England in June and July is all that matters to the cricketminded South African.

And they have more than a year to wait to find out; time in which younger players like Theunis de Bruyn and Aiden Markram will want to answer the question positively as much as older hands like JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien.

There are, then, options. Thing is, none of them is as good as AB de Villiers. That’s no slight on those players because no-one is anywhere near as good as AB de Villiers.

Rather than try to replace a player who brought an ungovernable whirlwind to the crease with him, South Africa need to reimagine their team and their playing approach.

Pretend, selectors, captains, coaches and fans, that AB de Villiers never existed.

Anything else is a recipe for failure and morbid memories. Anyone who says, “What would AB do?”, should be taken out and shot. 

Now is the time to get the hand-wringing out of the way. As South African Cricketers’ Association chief executive Tony Irish said in a release on Thursday: “AB’s record in international cricket speaks for itself and one just needs to take in the public response to his retirement on social media to understand what he has meant to cricket fans in South Africa and around the world.”

Indeed. But this too shall pass, and soon a way will have to be found, particularly in white-ball cricket, past De Villiers’ decision.

Duminy is, without trying to be cruel, done. So if the plan is to go with experience then the sturdy, dependable Behardien must be the immediate focus.

If the approach is to back newer blood, De Bruyn, who has the talent and the skill but has as yet to show the required initiative, is the man.

And not least because Markram has already earned his opportunity on his own terms.

Thoughts will be given to making Temba Bavuma find his inner Hashim Amla and with that another gear in his game, and there is an argument for Heinrich Klaasen’s spark to be rewarded.

There is time and there are possibilities, none of them certain.

This is, and it’s all that matters: there is no AB de Villiers.

De Villiers goes with neither a bang nor a whimper

The wonder of watching a batsman do the undoable is over. When will fans see De Villiers’ like again? 

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

AND just like that, with neither a bang, a whimper nor a tear, AB de Villiers was gone — retired from all cricket except that played by the Titans.

Some call it quits in emotionally charged rooms filled with their teammates and reporters. Others are carried out of the game forever on stretchers.

De Villiers announced that he was done in a slickly produced video on his own app that blipped into being on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon.

“Hi,” he began, facing the camera, wearing a cap, standing on a field and sounding as if he was about to try and sell a late-night television audience a set of steak knives.

“This is the Tuks Cricket Club at the high performance centre in Pretoria, where 14 seasons ago I arrived as a nervous youngster when I was first called in to the Proteas squad.

“Today, at the same place, I want to let you know that I have retired from all international cricket with immediate effect. After 114 Test matches, 228 one-day internationals and 78 T20 internationals, it is time for others to take over. I’ve had my turn and to be honest I’m tired.

“This is a tough decision. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’d like to retire while still playing decent cricket.

“After the fantastic series wins against India and Australia, now feels the right time to step aside.

“It would not be right for me to pick and choose where and when, and in what format, I play for the Proteas. For me, in green and gold it must be everything or nothing.

“I will always be grateful for my teammates, the coaches and the staff of Cricket South Africa (CSA) for their support for all these years.

“It’s not about earning more somewhere else. It’s about running out of gas and feeling that it’s time to move on. Everything comes to an end.

“Cricket fans around South Africa and around the world, thank you very much for your kindness and generosity and, today, for your understanding.

“I have no plans to play overseas. In fact I hope I can continue to be available for the Titans in domestic cricket, and I will remain the biggest supporter of Faf du Plessis and the Proteas.”

De Villiers’ legion of supporters in South Africa, India and around the world must have felt as if those steak knives were in their backs.

For them the wonder of watching a batsman do the undoable was over. When will they see his like again? 

But for those who have spent a decent chunk of the past 14 seasons hearing De Villiers sometimes clicking through the cliché gears, other times struggling to express himself as well as he wanted to in his second language, and still other times not quite making sense, this was an all too polished a performance — even for someone who has made a stellar career out of delivering polished performances.

How much time passed between De Villiers making up his mind and the highly professional production of the video, which includes cutaway shots and fades and could indeed be used to sell something?

Something, perhaps, like sincerity.

To have “no plans to play overseas” doesn’t mean he has committed himself to turning down new offers from elsewhere that are too good to refuse.

Similarly, “I hope I can continue to be available for the Titans” doesn’t mean he will be available. 

As for, “It would not be right for me to pick and choose where and when, and in what format, I play for the Proteas”, how wasn’t that exactly what De Villiers was doing when he opted out of the 17 Tests South Africa played between August 2016 and October 2017?

De Villiers’ decision will be greeted as the end of South Africa’s hopes of winning next year’s World Cup and the beginning of the end of the team’s time at or near the top.

It might be neither, but it will stagger a game that has seen too many fine players end their careers in too short a time for South African cricket’s own good.

In less than six years Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Kyle Abbott, Morné Morkel and now De Villiers have taken their final bows for the national team.

De Villiers will leave the biggest hole because he had as much audacity as he had talent and skill. The others had the talent and the skill, but no-one had De Villiers’ audacity.

“His records and statistics are a true measure of the skill and brilliance he brought to the crease,” a CSA release said.

“He has a phenomenal number of milestones to his name; the world record for the fastest ODI 50 (16 balls), 100 (31 balls) and 150 (64 balls), the second highest individual Test score for South Africa (278 not out), the highest points (935) by a South African in the Test rankings, and he has claimed the coveted SA Cricketer of the Year award twice (in 2014 and 2015).

“He retires with an incredible Test average of 50.66 and as the fourth-highest run-scorer for South Africa with 8 765 runs. His exploits in the limited overs formats have been extraordinary, and he finishes as the No. 2 ranked player in the world and as the second highest run-scorer behind Jacques Kallis with 9 577 runs at an average of 53.50.”

There was more gushing from CSA president Chris Nenzani: “AB is one of the all-time greats of South African cricket who has thrilled spectators around the world with his sheer brilliance, coupled to his ability to innovate and take modern day batting in all three formats but particularly in the white-ball ones to new levels.”

And from CSA acting chief executive Thabang Moroe: “AB has been a colossus on the world stage for well over a decade and we are indeed grateful that most of this time he has been wearing the colours of our beloved Proteas.”

Bangs, whimpers and tears have and will be heard and seen about De Villiers’ retirement. But none, it seems, from De Villiers.

Ngidi SA’s leading light at IPL

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

YOU know by now that Lungi Ngidi bowled up a storm for Chennai Super Kings against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday.

Ngidi made good use of a pacy Pune pitch to claim 4/10. No-one else took more than two wickets.

What you may not have known is that, going into Wednesday’s eliminator between Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, Ngidi owns the best economy rate in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

His 5.90 makes him the only bowler in the competition conceding than a run-a-ball.

But there’s a catch, and not the kind that earns a wicket: Ngidi has played only six of Chennai’s 15 games.

Bought for his base price of the equivalent of less than R930 000 — or something like pocket change on the IPL scale — he was never going to be a regular member of the attack.

So there was no surprise when Ngidi missed Chennai’s first seven games, at least partly because he returned home after the death of his father.

He played in four of the next six matches, taking five wickets at 7.14 runs an over, and cracked the nod for Sunday’s game because Deepak Chahar had injured a hamstring.

Happily, Ngidi grabbed his chance with both hands.

And when Chahar returned to the fray on Tuesday for Chennai’s playoff match against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Mumbai, the South African shared the new ball with him.

This time Chennai’s matchwinner was another South African: Faf du Plessis’ unbeaten 67 took them home by two wickets with five balls to spare.

Even so, it has been a quiet IPL for Saffers.

AB de Villiers’ 480 runs in 11 innings for eliminated Royal Challengers Bangalore puts him eighth among the runscorers, but the next South African on the list is Quintin de Kock — in 35th place.

Ngidi’s haul of 10 wickets makes him the country’s most successful bowler at the tournament, but he shares 26th spot on the ladder with four others.

Chennai have booked their place in Sunday’s final in Mumbai, which means Ngidi and Du Plessis — and Imran Tahir, who is also on CSK’s books — could get another chance to shine.

Perspective vital in glow of SA’s Bangla bash

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

THE good news is South Africa won all five of the one-day internationals and three T20s they played against Bangladesh these past two and a bit weeks.

Bad news? None. Dané van Niekerk’s team have done everything asked of them, and more.

“To play eight games and win all eight, we don’t so that often,” Van Niekerk said in Bloemfontein on Sunday after her women completed their whitewash with a 23-run win in a T20 reduced by rain to nine overs-a-side.

“So maybe it’s the start of really great things with this team.”

Maybe is the operative word, because even as South Africa’s triumph glows it highlights the bigger challenge to come in the shape of the three ODIs and T20 triangular series they will play in England in June.

Perspective is worth plenty, and in this instance it is that South Africa have played more than three-and-a-half times as many white-ball games as the Bangladeshis: 178 ODIs and 79 T20s versus the visitors’ 35 and 37.

The home side also have exponentially more experience in foreign conditions, in which they’ve won 32 of their 82 matches.

Bangladesh, who have contested 32 games on the road and won only two, have had just 11 more matches in total than South Africa have had on the Asian subcontinent alone.

The South Africans have understanding for the Bangladeshis’ plight. “It’s not easy coming out of your comfort zone,” Shabnim Ismail said. “Bangladesh haven’t really travelled much and they haven’t played much.”

Ismail knows of whence she speaks: South Africa lost 13 consecutive T20s between August 2008 and October 2010, and four of the first 11 Tests they played before winning a match.

Almost six years after Bangladesh became an international side they have yet to play a match in the longest format.

The value of South Africa’s superior experience is the poise they showed in games like Sunday’s, when Van Niekerk said they played “loud music in the changeroom” to help them relax despite the unusual circumstances.  

“The batters did their best, but the way we went about setting up that score [64/4] wasn’t great,” she said. “I was a bit worried: [defending] eight an over in a nine-over game; you really don’t know what’s going to happen.

“But the way [the bowlers] went about executing their plans, I couldn’t have asked for better.

“The batting showed the fluster but our bowlers had time to assess the wicket.”

Ayabonga Khaka took 3/10, Marizanne Kapp 2/8, and Ismail went for only five runs, each from two overs, to limit the Bangladeshis’ reply to 41/6.

More of that level of performance will be required in England, where all three ODIs will count towards the International Women’s Cup, the qualifying mechanism for the 202 World Cup.

The T20s will be important for South Africa’s bid to win the World T20 in West Indies in November.

Having reached, and almost won, their 2017 World Cup semi-final against champions England, a Caribbean cruise to victory would be the best news for South Africa.

South Africa squad for England tour:

Dané van Niekerk (captain), Lizelle Lee, Chloe Tryon, Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Raisibe Ntozakhe, Suné Luus, Laura Wolvaardt, Andrie Steyn, Zintle Mali, Stacey Lackay, Tazmin Brits.

England tour itinerary:

ODIs:

June 9: Worcester (11am)

June 12: Hove (1pm)

June 15: Canterbury (2pm)

T20s:

June 20: v New Zealand (1pm), v England (5.40pm), both Taunton

June 23: v England (1pm)

June 28: v New Zealand (1pm)

July 1: Final, Chelmsford (3pm)

My bike and me: happily married

Sometimes I cheat on my bike and grab a cheap, empty thrill in the saddle of a rental. I go home and whimper apologies. My bike says fuck you.

Bicycling Magazine

IMG_3029

The author and his obsession. Photograph: Firdose Moonda

TELFORD VICE in Florence

MY bicycle saves my life every day. It’s my only bike and my only vehicle. Gears? They’re for people who want too much to think about. Hills? Bring it; I know them well. Hipster? I’m hip (at least, I like to think so) and I have hips that will need replacing from too much running and riding if I don’t do enough yoga, but I’m too bloody old by half to fake hipsterhood.

My bicycle is a roadster the colour of freshly oxygenated blood. A thing of brilliance called a VanMoof Bambooman carrier is fixed to its North Road handlebars by the hack job of two bits of a leather belt, nuts, bolts and cable ties. A Brooks — which cost me more than the bike — is where my bum goes.

I love my bicycle. If some meteorological madness were to hit my home it would be the only thing I would save on my out. And save it I would.     

What brand is my bike? Haven’t a clue. Once, someone who knows about these things took a look at the brazing and said it might be an old Raleigh. I think it’s as an old bastard, like me: my father was a drug dealer, my mother a fortune teller. They were too busy trying, and failing, to stay out of trouble to get hitched.

My bike was rescued from a fate worse than rust by Emile Kotze — then of Starling & Hero in Woodstock, now of Whippet in Joburg — and resurrected and trucked to Jozi, where I used to live. Four-and-a-half years ago I moved to Cape Town. My bike was happy to go home. It told me so.

My bike has never felt the luridness of lycra. At least, never in our relationship. Cleats? I’ve had a pair since I was a kid. But they’re the kind you wear to play the gods’ own game: baseball.

My bike and I are on the road every day we’re together. But I travel a lot for work and after about a week away I start pining. I try to resist but sometimes the moments of weakness weigh up and I cheat on my bike and grab a cheap, empty thrill in the saddle of a rental. I go home and whimper apologies as abject as they are pathetic. My bike says fuck you.

Before my bike and I got together I was just another frustrated driver stuck in traffic. Bullshit. I, like every other, also frustrated driver around me, wasn’t stuck in traffic — we were the traffic. Now traffic is just something that I used to know.

If you read this magazine regularly and you’ve read this story this far, you know where this is going. I could get on with it and throw all the stats and facts at you: why cycling beats driving on every scorecard you can think of, why humankind’s future will happen on a bike if humankind is to have a future at all, why we’re all going to die horrible, smoggy deaths, our arteries clogged with capitalism, our joints congealed with modern life, our minds mushed by mindlessness delivered on screens, if we don’t get the hell out there and pedal.

And, if I did that and I were you, I would turn the page. 

Because you know all that already. Because you believe all that already, which is different from knowing it. Because probably you are not, like me, car-free having sold the cursed hunk and with it all those petrol, parking, maintenance and licence bills and the daily drudgery of being a motorised hamster on a macadamised wheel going nowhere slowly. Because, even if you want to free yourself from your car, thanks to South Africa’s all but barren public transport landscape you cannot. Because, unless you have the money, Uber isn’t the answer.

So why do I think this article is worth your trouble?

Because I want to share how stoked I am. Because, like any zealot, I want to spread the good news. Because nothing would make make me happier if there were more stoked zealots spreading the good news. Because just a few years ago I didn’t pay bicycles much heed. Because now I couldn’t imagine my life without one. Because together we can change the world. Yes, really.

I realise I’m preaching to the converted, or at least to the quasi-converted. You do, after all, ride a bike — either on a road or off it, in races against other riders or against your own sagging fitness, and maybe sometimes, if the weather’s wonderful and the distance is decent, even to go from A to B to C and back to A.

Sorry if I’ve left any sub-sub-culture of the sub-culture off that list, and sorry also to those who worship their bikes like I do. Thing is, my own conversion has been so complete I find it difficult to understand why everyone doesn’t ride a bike everywhere all the time. So I run out of ideas quickly when I try and think of reasons not to. But I’ll have a go.

Safety?

Don’t be stupid when you’re out there but be assertive, which is a fine balance. I’ve been doored a few times, with spectacular results, at least partly because I was riding too close to the line of parked cars. Happily, all I have to show for my troubles are a slightly dinged Bambooman, a brake lever that looks like it might have been designed by Salvador Dali and redesigned by Uri Geller, and what I suspect was a broken finger.

Now I ride a touch further into the lane, keep a vigilant eye for occupied drivers’ seats, and ignore the occasional idiot hooting behind me. 

If only our drivers were taught the Dutch reach. In the Netherlands you fail your driver’s test if you don’t reach for the latch to open your door using the hand furthest from the door. That way, you naturally turn your head and look down the road before opening the door. 

Being assertive rests on the bulletproof truth that you, the cyclist, belong on the road as much as anyone and anything else. Those who do not want to share the road should stay off it, or go to hell. You won’t get many chances to debate these neanderthals, but when you do here’s your killer blow — this road was here a long time before cars arrived, buddy; so learn to share. 

A keen sense of anticipation is crucial. If you ride behind a minibus taxi know that it will stop frequently and often not where, lawfully, it should. Know that it will lurch into traffic without warning. Know that you can do nothing to change that. But, above all, know that without minibus taxis there would be a lot more motorised morons on our roads. And that minibus taxi drivers tend to be more skilled — and once you get to know those on your routes, respectful of you and your bike and downright chatty at the robots — than the average entitled oaf behind the wheel of an obese 4×4.

Something else that sets Dutch drivers apart is that almost all of them grew up on a bike. That means they have an innate sense of what the cyclist in front of them is going to do. Anticipation works both ways.   

You don’t want to wear a helmet?

I won’t wear a helmet until every driver, passenger, skateboarder, rollerblader and pedestrian does also. There is no logic in requiring people on bikes to be helmeted when people in vehicles that travel exponentially faster are not. And since when are the heads of skateboarders, rollerbladers and pedestrians harder than those of cyclists?

There are not enough bike lanes?

Bike lanes are nice to have but they are not must haves. And they’re dangerous because to separate cyclists from drivers is to allow drivers to regard as truth the nonsense that they own the road. Besides, depressingly often bike lanes are hijacked by cars for parking.

It’s raining. Or too cold, too hot or too windy.

You’ve heard of rain gear. And jackets. Heat? Wind? You’re a cyclist, for fixie’s sake.

I could go on. And on and on. But I’m never going to convince myself that bikes are not the answer and the future and all things wonderful. So go, you good thing. Get out on your road. All of them. All the time.

That’s only the practicalities. The broader point is that my wellbeing is closely tied to my relationship with my bicycle. A while ago, we had to drive for the first time in six months. For an hour. Then, after several hours of work, we would have to drive back. I was keen on taking a train but my wife, also a cyclist but less gung-ho, wasn’t. So we drove.

Less than five minutes in, I felt a hollow, crushing numbness behind my eyes. Our conversation dried up as I constrained my focus to the road. I arrived with a headache, sore knees and a bad attitude. Our drive back was crippled by traffic, and our evening ended in a stupid argument.

I hoped I never had to drive again. Fat chance. We live in a world colonised by cars. So much of our public space has been swallowed by them that we walk what amounts to a tightrope just to cross the road. And we keep adding to the problem: planners think they can solve traffic challenges by widening roads. That’s like thinking you can lose weight by loosening your belt.

My bike agrees with all of the above. We’ve had conversations like these so often that sometimes I think we’re in danger of boring each other. Which somehow never happens. There’s always a hill to get up, or a headwind to tackle, or some oke in lycra trying to walk in cleats to laugh at, or always another poor bike bolted to a coffee shop wall — the not-so-secret handshake of the hipster hangout — to pity.

There’s always life, and we’re living it real. Every day.


Where should you ride a bike? Everywhere! But here are some of the best places to do so:

Paris

“Attenceeo!” That’s not how you spell attention in French, but it is what she said as she rattled across the Pont Notre-Dame yelling her warning – shrill and urgent, her flouncy skirt flouncing for all its worth – of a golden evening this European summer. I will never forget her. The pedestrians duly paid attention, and no untoward contact was made. As never seems to happen in a city where so many people are on bicycles that you wonder why anyone would downgrade to a car. And no-one rides an ugly bike, of course. 

Chandigarh

Yes, in India. But in India’s only planned city, way up north in the Punjab. That means the traffic makes sense even to comparatively mollycoddled, sheltered South Africans. So many vehicles of all descriptions, and then some, are on these clogged roads that a bike isn’t something weird. It’s just another vehicle on the road, and accorded the same respect as all the others. 

London

London’s cyclists tend to be a grim bunch – they are miserable Poms, after all – but you won’t want for bike lanes, hiring options and fellow travellers. And it’s mostly flat. Watch out for black cab drivers, though: they respect nothing and no-one but their own sorry ilk.

Florence

Maybe it’s the cobblestones, or the fact that many of the streets are narrow capillaries, or the hordes of pedestrians, especially in tourist season. But even the most unpracticed urban cyclist is safe as a bet on the All Blacks to beat the Boks in the graceful ooze of movement on the roads of this painfully beautiful city.

Why a city needs a bicycle mayor like a fish needs water

“If we have lower speed requirements, narrower lanes that make drivers feel squashed, that slows them down automatically, and that’s good for all of us.” – Lebogang Mokwena, Cape Town bicycle mayor

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Lebogang Mokoena wants to get you on your bike.

An abridged version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2018 edition of The Sunday Times 

TELFORD VICE in Florence

LEBOGANG Mokwena sees cycling in black and white. When she’s at Thembelihle High School in Khayelitsha on Friday afternoons, helping to put kids on bikes to go to school and back, and teaching adult women to ride in Mowbray on Saturday mornings, cycling is black.

When she was a spanner’s throw from Parliament in the city centre making her first address as Cape Town’s inaugural bicycle mayor on April 21, the audience was almost entirely white.

It’s part of Mokwena’s mission to join those disparate dots. And a lot more besides. She hopes to turn what for some is a sport, for others transport, and for still others an expression of their hipsterism into an integral part of what it means to live in a city that predates the car by more than 200 years but is dominated by the engine.

“I’ve had one white woman sign up [for classes],” Mokwena says. “The rest are black and a few coloured and Indian. I don’t know if that’s linked to Cape Town and its geography, and how much harder it is to penetrate if you’re from the Flats.

“When I was training to do the [2017] Argus it was interesting to see big pelotons of men — coloured men. Other than the white male community that seems to be the next big, coordinated, organised cycling community in Cape Town.

“Beyond feeling black and white it feels deeply gendered. Everytime I’m cycling — just going to get milk — I’m more likely to see men riding about. Very rarely do I encounter women, and if I do they tend to be white.”

Cycling’s vast peloton includes lycra lovers who look like they’re riding the Tour de France in perpetuity, magnificently muddied mountain bikers, bearded men in checked shirts and skinny jeans on single speeds, those Khayelitsha kids trying to get to school and back, their parents going to work and back or to look for a job, and people like Mokwena going everywhere on a bike, including “to get milk”.

Full disclosure: this reporter, who has never been near lycra, is among the latter and has been #ProudlyCarFree, and happily, for almost a year. My bicycle saves my life every day. Not all of us are that fortunate.

“We can’t discount geography,” Mokwena says. “The further out you live from where you’re likely to get a job or where you actually work, the less likely you are to even contemplate a bicycle as a means of transport.

“But at the heart of society is upward mobility, which is linked to particular sets of material acquisitions. And the car is a big part of it — preferably German, preferably fast.

“Part of our biggest challenge is changing the imagination of the average South African about what success looks like, and that success can look like a R500 secondhand bicycle that allows you to save your money and do different things with your financial resources as opposed to pumping them into a depreciating asset like a car.”

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Today Florence. Tomorrow Cape Town?

Mokwena sounds like a cycling lifer, but she learnt to ride in 2014 as a “broke student in New York”. She grew up bikeless in Sophiatown, where a generation earlier many people would travel to work by pedal power, and in Soweto, where she was, in her own words, “the fattest sedentary chatterbox”.

In 2016 she bought what remains her bike at a Brooklyn jumble sale for US$65 — R820. It has taken her all around New York and Italy, and now Cape Town.

That you could spend R6.3-million on a Trek Butterfly Madone — almost 8 000 times more than Mokwena paid for her bicycle — is a measure of the distance between cycling’s poles.

“And we want to maintain all of it, whatever type of cycling people want to do. But there is something elitist and therefore exclusionary about some cycling circles — what you wear, the cleats, the carbon frame.

“My bicycle has more than paid for itself. Every trip I’m not paying for an Uber or a taxi or a bus, it’s a saving that goes right back to the money I used initially to by the bicycle.

“For the average South African household even R800 is a big ask, so part of our challenge is to think about how we enable more people to gain fairly cheap, subsidised access to a bicycle. That’s not easy but there’s lots of room for corporates to get involved and brandish their logos.”

And for the legions blinkered by their windscreen mentalities to be pissed off about the money and effort cities put into coaxing people to use bicycles instead of cars.

But there’s another, call it a Freedom Charter perspective: that the roads were there long before cars and thus belong to everyone who uses them. All of us pay for them, and cyclists take an exponentially smaller toll on them in terms of space and wear and tear. So, bike lane or no bike lane, get on your bike.

“Infrastructure does not make people more sensitive automatically; more mindful and more respectful of cyclists,” Mokwena says. “You see that in Salt River, how often [bike lanes are] completely disregarded.

“To get more people on the road safely means getting more people on the road safely whether or not there’s designated infrastructure. It’s also cheaper.

“We do already have roads. So painting them to demonstrate that cyclists also have a right to use them is probably cheaper than trying to create an extra few metres for cyclists. This is not a popular view, and I certainly do feel a little bit safer if I’m riding along a cycle path. But it shouldn’t have to take that.

“Often the lanes are not used or they’re completely disregarded by motorists. So changing how motorists think and feel about the roads is really what will help cyclists be safer. It’s not designated lanes only that makes them feel safer.

“But we’re a middle income country. I cannot justify to myself calling for cycle lanes when people don’t have water or a toilet or they don’t have houses.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the city around cycling infrastructure when the city is under pressure to build social housing. As we meet some of these basic needs we can put much more pressure on the city about cycling infrastructure, but in the meantime the big, core, material concerns of the vast majority of South Africans are far from whether or not there’s a cycle lane. They’re about whether there’s a roof over my head.

“Sometimes the conversation about cycle lanes and special types of traffic lights and redesigning our kerbs forgets the context in which we live. Maybe these things aren’t mutually exclusive but right now I would prefer the city to get social housing closer to the city. 

“For recreational cyclists, it’s a choice — what time and where and how. It’s a choice about blowing as much money as you have to beautify this thing and yourself, and to do all these cycle races that take money to enter.

“For Joe Soap it’s really about livelihoods and making every rand stretch as far as it can go to cover food, lodging, transport, clothing and school fees.”

Not that she foresaw carfree streets, just more fair, less mean streets: “We live in a country where the public transport system is grossly inadequate. So it’s ridiculous to assume that from tomorrow we can have all South Africans either cycling or using public transport.”

“I’m not wielding a bat saying vanquish all motorists. But we have already laid tarred roads, and more of us can use them differently and not just in a four-wheeled vehicle.

“Every time a motorist is more mindful of a cyclist, they’re more mindful of their own safety. If we make the roads safer for cyclists we’re making them safer for everyone who uses them.

“If we have lower speed requirements, narrower lanes that make drivers feel squashed, that slows them down automatically, and that’s good for all of us — pedestrians, motorists as well as cyclists. Because it means that we all travel at a speed that is healthier for the city and means we’re less likely to be reckless. We can share the road better.”

Mokwena is not an elected or an appointed official — “I doubt the city knows I exist,” she said on her first day in the role — but part of the Bicycle Mayor Programme, an advocacy group that has placed people in similar positions in nine other cities around the world, including perhaps unusual outposts like Baroda and Beirut.

Their task, according to the organisation’s website, is to “work with citizens and city stakeholders to ensure all voices are responded to”.

Serving as Cape Town’s bicycle mayor is only part of what Mokwena will be up to in the near future.

“I’m four months pregnant. I can’t imagine stopping cycling. I’m looking for a ‘baby on board’ sign, but I can’t think where I’ll put it on my bike.”