Joltin’ JP bringing it home to Newlands

Duminy seemed fuelled by rage as elegant as it was eloquent as he sculpted his strokes with lasting intent.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

WHERE have you been, JP Duminy? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you …

You have to be old enough and know something about baseball for that to make sense.

In 1968 Simon and Garfunkel, an American folk rock duo, released a song called “Mrs Robinson” that featured the line: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

DiMaggio played for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951, becoming one of the best batters baseball has yet produced; a marvel of elegant, eloquent rage.

He was also married, tempestuously, to Marilyn Monroe from January 1954 to October 1955.

But even if you knew none of the above you knew, if you watched Duminy bat against India in Centurion on Wednesday, that you had seen something not often seen.

Duminy hit four fours and three sixes in his 40-ball 64 not out to help South Africa win the second T20 by six wickets with eight balls to spare.

The other key innings was Heinrich Klaasen’s 69, an even more explosive effort that flew off 30 balls with three fours and seven sixes.

Do the math: Klaasen ran just 15 of his runs. The rest were a flood of boundaries launched into the drizzle that made bowling — especially the spin bowling that made India the better team in the one-day series — and fielding damnably difficult.

But we have seen Klaasen threaten to let loose like he did on Wednesday twice in recent weeks.

He faced a total of 70 deliveries for his 43 not out and 39 in the fourth and fifth ODIs and hit 48 of his 82 runs in fours and sixes.

The first of those innings took South Africa to their only win of the six-game series.

No such heroics had come from Duminy, who has been a shadow of the player he promised to be when he hit Brett Lee, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, among other, lesser bowlers, to all parts of the Melbourne Cricket Ground to score 166 and help South Africa clinch their first test series triumph in Australia.

That will be 10 years ago this December, time in which Duminy has struggled to approach those levels of excellence in most of his other 308 innings for South Africa across the formats.

Wednesday marked an exception. Duminy seemed fuelled by rage as elegant as it was eloquent as he sculpted his strokes with lasting intent. Was it something he said?

“We’ve got to come up with different ways of countering how good they’ve been,” Duminy said after his 51 — the first time he had reached 50 in 23 completed innings — shone out of South Africa’s dismal total of 179 in the third ODI at Newlands on February 7, when India won by 124 runs.

Duminy came up with that different way on Wednesday. The ball, as the cliché goes, stayed hit when he hit it. Which was often: only six of the deliveries he faced were dot balls.

He batted through four partnerships and, most importantly, led his team to victory.

They couldn’t have done it without him, which is the only measure that matters of a captain.

Duminy settled the issue with successive sixes over square leg and long-on, his follow-through on the latter moulding his body into what could have been interpreted as a question-mark, as if to ask: “Where the hell have I been all these years?”

It’s only T20 and it’s only one innings, but the way Duminy took the fight to the Indians told of a career that might have been.

Alas, it will not be. With his 34th birthday looming in April there is no chance of Duminy rewriting his script.

But he does have the chance to remind people, again, of the player he could have been when the levelled series comes to Newlands on Saturday.

It isn’t often that you can accuse T20 of poignance but this is one of those times.

Another line of “Mrs Robinson” has it that, “Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.”

Not Joltin’ JP. He’s bringing it home.

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Batsmen fail to crack SA nod despite domestic runglut

“I think our franchise system is OK. I’m not going to say it’s the world’s best. But it is what it is.” – Sarel Erwee, Dolphins batsman

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

BATSMEN have never had it so good in South Africa as this season, and that’s a fact.

After seven rounds of the franchise first-class competition you have to go 17 players down the list to find someone who averages less than 50.

If the trend continues carries we’re looking at a record runglut of a summer.

The current highwater mark for batsmen averaging 50 after a completed season is the 14 who got there in 2003-04.

There were 12 in 1996-97, 2001-02 and 2014-15, and 11 in 1999-00 and 2004-05.

So 15 and upward this summer would merit a place in the annals.

That seems likely, what with 49 centuries — three of them double hundreds, 11 others scores of at least 150 — and 101 half-centuries having been made in 625 trips to the crease.

There have been 20 declarations in the 21 matches played and only six games have not included at least one.

Three of those declaration-free matches were the only matches in the competition that have not been drawn.

“Sheesh,” was Dolphins opening batsman Sarel Erwee’s reaction to being told that, despite scoring three centuries and a half-century in his 10 innings and averaging 49.40, all of 16 batsmen were doing better than him.

He was the unlucky No. 17.

“The pitches are quite a lot slower this season,” Erwee said. “They’ve taken a lot more turn and they haven’t assisted the seam bowlers as much.

“Most of the seam bowlers aren’t as experienced as in past seasons, where you’ve had a lot of South Africa A players or even South Africa players playing domestic four-day cricket.

“This season you haven’t had as many of them.”

Five of the top six wicket-takers are spinners, and the five leading seamers have 132 franchise first-class caps between them — on average of 26.4 each.

“Also, a lot of batsmen have taken ownership and put their hands up.”

They have, but despite that South Africa’s problems against India this season have centered on their batsmen — and Aiden Markram is the only frontline batsman South Africa have capped in the six tests they have played in 2017-18.

Do the selectors not trust the system?

“I don’t think they are thinking that,” Erwee said. “I think our franchise system is OK. I’m not going to say it’s the world’s best. But it is what it is.

“Maybe the selectors are looking for that standout season from someone, where they get to the 900 or a thousand-run mark. That’s where batsmen try to get themselves to.

“The top batsmen are sitting close to 700 runs, so by the end of the season they could be in line for national selection.

“I think the selectors are probably getting it right in terms of the players they’re choosing and the players they’re looking at for the long run.”

Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Erwee’s teammate, is top of the heap with 691 runs. Pieter Malan and Rassie van der Dussen are also closing in on 700.

But, with so many batsmen among the runs, it might be difficult for the selectors to see the wood for the trees.

Success as a group could be impeding progress as individuals.

Muddied men predict ‘proper’ pitches for Aussies

“We won’t kill ourselves to go for sporty pitches.” – Hilbert Smit, CSA pitch consultant

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

A meeting of muddied men is key to the outcome of next month’s test series between South Africa and Australia.

They are Hilbert Smit, Cricket South Africa’s pitch consultant, and the groundsmen at the venues where the four matches will be played, who were due to gather last week to look back at last month’s series against India and think ahead to the Australian rubber.

The focus on pitches will be sharper than usual in the wake of the character of those on which South Africa beat India 2-1.

Newlands was spicy — too spicy, if you ask it’s creator, Evan Flint — Centurion veered towards sub-continental and the Wanderers was deemed dangerous enough for play to be suspended late on the third day.

The International Cricket Council subsequently slapped South Africa’s premier venue with three demerit points.

All of which happened not because the groundsmen wanted to see blood on the pitch, but because the home side asked for surfaces more overtly South African in nature than normal.

Except for Centurion, they got them. And if they had not won the series they would have faced stern questions about the importance of being careful about what you wish for.

India sent five fast bowlers into the fray and they performed credibly, taking 50 wickets at 22.48. South Africa’s six quicks claimed 56 sticks at 18.71.

But, as well as India bowled, the Australians, whose squad bristles with, among others, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, are likely to perform better.

And they will be more at home in South African conditions than the Indians.

So, dare the home side try to tilt conditions to that extent again?

“I’m sure, for the Aussie tour, we won’t kill ourselves to go for sporty pitches,” Smit said.

“Their team has the same qualities as ours. We going to take them on on proper pitches, I suppose.”

The Wanderers will get the chance to redeem itself in the last match of the Australian series, and it had better take it — two more demerit points will get it banned from hosting international matches for a year.

The series will move to the Highveld after the third test at Newlands, which will be preceded by trips to St George’s Park and Kingsmead.

There is, Smit concurred before the groundsmen gaggled, much for the muddied men to discuss: “We’ll reflect on what happened and see what to do going forward.

“It’s not an exact science. To leave more grass, how much is more? And it can become excessive. Then we get what happened at the Wanderers.

“So do we leave the groundsmen to carry on and do what they want?”

Hell yes: none of the players would put up with a groundsman telling them how to play.

But Smit wasn’t entirely averse to lending the players an ear, not least because, he says, South Africa’s groundsmen need guidance.

“It’s a good idea to a certain point. A groundsman should know what to do and should be an expert.

“But should is not always the case — groundsmen are not always that experienced and maybe they don’t know.”

He wasn’t ready to write off the Indian experiment as a failure.

“We tried something. We’ll review it, see how it worked, take the positives out of it and learn from the negatives.”

Besides, the surfaces saga has raised the profile of cricket’s too often unsung servants, without whom — like scorers and umpires — no match would be able to be played.

“If there was a recipe to follow it would be such a boring game,” Smit said. “What would there have been to talk about? “It’s a pity that we’re caught in the middle of it, but that’s also maar part of life.”

Finding Nino at home in Stellenbosch

“Ah, you get used to it.” – Nino Schurter, cross-country cycling world champion, on his saddle-sore bum.

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Stellenbosch

FINDING Nino was becoming a problem. He was lost. He was late. He was Nino Schurter, cross-country cycling’s world champion.

The man is Swiss, where the clocks come from. He spends his days moering through bush on a bike.

How could he possibly not find his way along the paved linear gentility of a Stellenbosch wine estate to the conference room he was supposed to have arrived at what seemed like hours before for a round of media interviews?

You could see angst curdling into worry in the minds of the PR people. Schurter had been on his bike in the great out there with a bunch of civilians — members of Diner’s Club, one of his sponsors — not long before.

And now he was nowhere.

Thirty-seven minutes after the appointed hour, there he was, as calm as someone who’s resting pulse is 49 should be, in a polo shirt, jeans and two-tone espadrilles.

His slow smile spread wider than his face. Angst? Worry? Why? It wasn’t as if he had been a callow European rambling the African wilds.

“Stellenbosch is my second home,” Schurter said slowly, smilingly, with amazing grace. Once was lost …

Last year, along with all six rounds of the World Cup and the world championship, he won the Cape Epic with Matthias Stirnemann, his first success in four attempts in South Africa’s premier mountain bike race.

Schurter will be back on his bike in Stellenbosch on March 10 for the opening round of this year’s World Cup on the slopes of Coetzenburg mountain, the first time the event has come to South Africa since 2014 — when it was, as it had been the year before, held in Pietermaritzburg.

“It’s a tough one with a lot of steep climbs and not a lot of time to recover,” Schurter said of the route, which harbours testing features like a section of roots and rocks called “Varsity Dropout” and a sharp descent named, “Howzit”.

That done, Schurter will be off to the Epic, which has its 20-kilometre prologue on Table Mountain on March 18 before disappearing into the dirt tracks of Robertson, Worcester, Wellington and Paarl for seven days, 638 kilometres and climbs that amount to 12 930 metres.

With only 1.73 metres and 67 kilogrammes to show for himself, there isn’t a lot to 31-year-old Schurter in physical terms. He might he cope with the next few weeks? But he’s worth his weight, and more, in gold.

Schurter won the World Cup five times between 2010 and 2017, seven world championships — including a team triumph — from 2009 to 2017, and he has a full set of Olympic medals: bronze in 2008, silver in 2012 and gold in 2016.

So, how long does it take for his bum to get sore in the saddle?

“Ah, you get used to it.”

It helps that he’s been riding bikes for so long he can’t remember when he was originally let loose on two wheels.

“The first time? That’s difficult to say. But I started racing at seven years old.

“For me, it was fun. I never planned to become a professional.”

Is it still fun?

“Always.”

Does he ride a bike to get around at his first home, Flims?

“Sometimes, but I live on a hill …”

Mountain biking has largely escaped the drug scandals that have ripped the credibility from road racing. Are MTB riders simply more decent than their increasingly tarred and feathered counterparts? Not quite.

“The money is not as big in MTB as it is in road racing, and where there’s more money, more people cheat.

“And a lot of our events are one-day competitions. Recovery is important but not as important as in road racing, where you go for weeks — in tours on the road it’s all about how quickly you can recover.

“We’ve also had people who have cheated but I know I’m clean.”

And found. Don’t go getting lost again.

Leading Edge: Some blacks not black enough for cricket’s new elite

Black African mafia the latest in a long line of cabals to rule the game in South Africa.

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THE dysfunction of cricket’s relationship with race in South Africa has always run deep, but it is scraping new lows.

Some black people, it seems, are not black enough. They used to be. No longer.

A hundred years and more ago the game’s controlling mafia was a jumped up gang of British colonialists, white to a man. And they were all men.

They passed the bat to English-speaking white South African men, who after a few decades allowed Afrikaans-speaking white South African men into they thought was their exclusive club.

Then came a jewish tendency, followed at last by blacks of all shades and cultures. But not many black Africans. Then Asian, mostly muslim, people earned authority and influence.

All of those mafias got a lot wrong and a lot right, and cricket survived. More often than not it prospered.

A decent argument could be made that the game is the closest thing — besides, possibly, football — we have to democracy in what remains, almost 24 years after we first had an election worthy of the name, a starkly, cruelly, disgustingly undemocratic society.

That money’s vote is still the only vote that matters tells us how dismally we have failed to build the country of which Luthuli and Sobukwe dared to dream.

And even though cricket has tried, and sometimes succeeded, to do its duty and rise above the stinking badness of all that, it is not and has not been immune to falling into the abyss of wrong.

That brings us to these sad days, when blacks who are not black African look at whites with what learned people might call “cryptomnesia”, which dictionaries define as, “the reappearance of a suppressed or forgotten memory which is mistaken for a new experience”. Whites look back at those suddenly not black enough blacks with tingles of deja vu running up and down their spines.

“This is unfair,” the blacks say to the whites.

“Welcome to our world,” the whites reply.

That’s out of order. Typically those now not black enough have done and are still doing more to unify cricket and work for its healthy future than too many whites, who even now have an unfortunate and self-defeating problem with acknowledging that all of us, whatever our race, own the game and are entitled to play, umpire, score, administer, report on, follow and love it to the limits of our passion.

Whatever bleating you may hear from whites about being drummed out of the game in this country isn’t worth the paper a Kolpak contract is printed on. Look around: cricket at all levels is riddled with white people. This columnist is among them, and has been for almost half his life.

So, who or what is causing this desperate and dangerous state of affairs? Cricket’s new elite, who will struggle to convince neutrals that they are not cynically fostering racial division to keep themselves on top of the heap.

There has been too much worried whispering in the corridors adjacent to the corridors of power to dismiss that notion easily, and last week at the Wanderers there was fire to add to the smoke.

With reporters handily present to attend press conferences before the fourth one-day international between South Africa and India, a briefing was called. The subject was an update on Cricket South Africa’s plans to recover from the mess that became the aborted T20 Global League.

Only black African reporters were invited, which made at least one of them uncomfortable: did the suits think they could get away with saying what they wanted on a sensitive issue and trust that it would be reported uncritically because everybody in the room was of the same race?

What message did they think they were sending to journalists present who were not invited and who included some of the most senior members of cricket’s press corps reporting for major publications? Some were black. None were this columnist.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for answers. The mafia doesn’t work like that.

Pass T20’s melted ice-cream …

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THREE T20s after an epic test series and six one-day internationals? That’s like melted ice-cream following rack of lamb and potato salad.

It’s also how India will end their tour, starting at the Wanderers on Sunday* before a game in Centurion on Wednesday and then at Newlands on Saturday.

T20 struggles to be relevant at the best of times. So what are we to think of these three sillinesses, especially after the tests and ODIs have given us so much to wonder at and treasure as memories?

That they are stepping stones to bigger things.

Or, as selection convenor Linda Zondi said, “The door is never closed, and Lungisani Ngidi is a prime example.

“We started him off in the T20s and then we worked him up slowly into the other formats.”

Ngidi took six wickets in his first two games for South Africa, T20s against Sri Lanka, in January 2017.

A year later, after battling back from injuries and losing 8kg of fast food weight, he claimed match figures of 7/90 on test debut against India in Centurion.

On Tuesday, against the Indians at St George’s Park, he took 4/51 in his third one-day international.

Point taken, Mr Zondi — who didn’t have eyes only for Ngidi.

“Right now Christiaan Jonker is more of a T20 player, but the door is never closed.”

The door to the 2019 World Cup, Zondi didn’t have to say.

Uncapped Warriors middle order batsman Jonker, who is in South Africa’s T20 squad, was fifth on the list of runscorers in this season’s T20 competition. That doesn’t sound too flash, except that the men ahead of him have all played for South Africa.

At 31 he would be a late bloomer, but he will still be only 32 when the 2019 World Cup comes around …

And considering South Africa’s shaky performance, particularly by their batsmen, in the ODIs against India, their World Cup squad must remain a work in progress.

“To lose a series like this gets your feet back on the ground,” Hashim Amla said before yesterday’s match in Centurion.

“When you’re playing well cracks can be covered. But when you lose in this manner, whatever adjustments need to be made, you focus on it more.”

Jonker and others of his unheralded ilk could be among the adjustments South Africa will have to make if they want to go to the World Cup with a decent chance of finally winning the damned thing.

The open door that is the T20 series starting at the Wanderers today is part of that plan.

Pass the melted ice-cream.

* India won the first T20 by 28 runs at the Wanderers on Sunday.

Big grounds poorly represented on T20 task team

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

ONLY two of the eight members of Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) T20 task team represent major playing venues.

That could raise concerns that the group, which CSA said on February 3 had been asked to “interrogate the concept” of “the future of the T20 Global League” (T20GL), is open to pressure and promises from more heavyweight figures and cabals in South Africa’s cricket powerscape.

Those fears will be heightened by the fact that the suits are in election mode — CSA’s annual meeting is on September 8.

Asked if those were potential problems, CSA president Chris Nenzani said: “The mandate of the task team is not to take decisions but to interrogate and propose options for the leadership of CSA to make informed decisions.

“I hope that the people who serve in the task team will be honest and conduct themselves with integrity.

“But the board and the members council will process and make the final decision.”

The task team comprises CSA vice-president and acting chief executive Thabang Moroe and chief financial officer Naasei Appiah, three member presidents — Northerns’ John Wright, Oupa Nkagisang of North West and Griquas’ Rihan Richards — and three member chief executives — Mark Williams of Eastern Province, Free State’s Johan van Heerden and James Fortuin of Boland.

Only Wright and Williams are part of organisations whose grounds regularly host senior international matches.

The Wanderers, Newlands and Kingsmead, the venues in South Africa’s three biggest cities, are not represented.

“There are probably good reasons why that has happened,” Gauteng Cricket Board chief executive Greg Fredericks said.

“I was surprised, but at least John [Wright] is there from our sister province up the road.”

The task team, which has a deadline of March 31, will present their findings at a workshop attended by all 12 member presidents and their chief executives along with CSA’s board.

The members forum, made up of the 12 provincial presidents along with Nenzani and Moroe — neither of whom have voting rights in the forum — will have the last say.

There is, thus, oversight built into the system. But there’s also opportunity to massage task team members to pledge their support for particular proposals in return for, for instance, seats on the board and more frequent visits to their grounds by South Africa and their opponents.

As one administrator said, “There are too many [provincial] presidents willing to bow to pressure from the top to ensure they get elected or re-elected.”