Archive for the ‘South Africa Cricket’ Category


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

It was a real shame that the first test between South Africa and New Zealand had to end indecisively with weather inhibiting a game that would, in all likelihood, have had a result on the cards. On face value, the South Africans seemed the more likely of the two teams to have had a result tilted in their favor. And the critical difference between the two teams was evident on Day One of the 2nd Test at Hamilton. For those who bothered to watch/follow it in the first place.

It is understandable that the cricket fan’s focus is on the (meaningless) Asia Cup and the prospect of Tendulkar reaching his awaited milestone against Pakistan. As honorable as that intention (or wish) is, this milestone is a skeleton which perhaps only the most loyal sympathizers of Tendulkar really think worth discussing any more.

Whether or not this assertion is debatable, the fact remains that there is a pretty good game of Test Cricket being fought down in New Zealand. Yes, being oblivious to a Tendulkar milestone is suicidal in India – but not at the cost of quality cricket elsewhere. I’d fancy watching the ball bounce and seam at Hamilton, as against dead rubbers of the subcontinent. No disrespect – just my choice.

But I’ll close the milestone topic thus: Fans. Don’t worry. Tendulkar has said that “he’ll miss Dravid in the dressing room”. And you read that between the lines, it means that he’s going to be around for a while – plenty of time to reach there (I know it has been more than a year now, but good things happen to those who wait). But it is a shame that for all the nostalgia, for all the great memories that we have and cherish of this legend, the last one year will be a slight blot on an otherwise serene landscape.

Just kidding – my friends from the media (and from thousands of other relatively unknown newspapers) tell me that they’ve had their 100 page Tendulkar supplement ready (barring Page 1) ever since he’d reached his 99th ton. There’s even a Tendulkar special Crossword and Sudoku, amongst others.

Coming back to what I started with – yes, Vernon Philander. No, I don’t think I mentioned his name anywhere earlier – but goodness me! Had this guy been Indian, he’d have been all over the news for what he has achieved/and is achieving (and, if he’d had an equivalent, literally-translated Indian name, you’d have been tired of seeing newspapers compete for ‘pathetic sense-of-humor’ headlines). Closing in on forty wickets and he’s only playing his sixth test! It is not often that you come across a bowler who looks likely to take five wickets every time the red cherry is thrown to him.

Review Time: “You must be joking. This ain’t International Cricket, Umps?”

Given that South Africa is traveling to England next, record books beware! There might arise a need to erase history and rewrite what this guy is potentially capable of achieving, having represented Middlesex in the English County circuit (he’s no stranger to the conditions there – even if he is, he’s got a contract with Somerset starting April this year). I know its early days, but we’ve made heroes out of one-week wonders – I’m not even remotely close to crossing the line. And this guy seems genuinely good.

Graeme Smith has been wise enough to look at Philander in the eye and tell him that tougher times will come. Yes, at the present moment, the game looks way too easy for him. But browner pastures of Motera and SSC (with Jayawardene potentially notching up another ton/double ton) will await him with stark glimpses of reality checks.

It is a travesty, though, from New Zealand’s perspective – the only two players who seem capable of scoring runs end up throwing their wickets once they get starts. Certainly, neither McCullum nor Taylor would be batsmen you’d be willing to put your wager on in Test Cricket, but they bat at three and four – pivotal positions that demand a penchant for responsibility. And, Rob Nicol at the top of the order seems a batsman who could compete with yesteryear Indian opener Debang Gandhi (I find it hard to rewind to an earlier era and quote a better example) in to becoming laughable parody of themselves.

It looks likely that he wouldn’t hang around the setup once Dean Brownlie is back. Or after Jesse Ryder gives up alcohol (and sheds a few tons). As won’t Kane Williamson unless he makes an attempt to prove his detractors wrong.  He hasn’t even come close to living up to the ‘next best kid since Martin Crowe’ advertisements that took precedent (and briefly aired) after his ton against India on debut at … Motera (again!).

But the bright spot – at the end of Day One – is that the South Africans are two down for 27. Dale Steyn’s stay as night-watchman didn’t last too long, while Graeme Smith is still cursing over South African exports who seem to do so well when not playing for South Africa (van Wyk’s catch to dismiss Smith was a stunner).

P.S.  On Dravid – later.

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Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

The best captains often walk a fine line between leadership and performance. And as the South Africans swept the Kiwis 3-0 in the ODI series, the moment seemed quaintly out of time. As much as the World Cup defeat last year to the Kiwis would’ve hurt them, the whitewash seamlessly fits in to the scheme of things falling under skipper AB de Villiers.

The tour to New Zealand has offered a whiff of fresh air. From Richard Levi’s pyrotechnics, to the bounce and brilliance of de Lange, the series has encapsulated many a solid performance (notably Amla’s solidity at the top of the order and AB de Villiers’ raising claims to take over the batsman-ship baton from Jacques Kallis) to throw a glimmer of hope under a new regime.

The convincing manner in which the ODI series down under was wrapped (partly due to New Zealand’s new-look outfit) has more to reveal – opening with Wayne Parnell in the final ODI is a reflection of the scales in which confidence is being measured in their dressing room. Parnell, a player who hails from one of South Africa’s poorest province, had got his break during the days when the quota system had enforced the administrators to invest in his scholarship to a sporting high school in Eastern Cape. He looks likely to be one of South Africa’s all-rounder mainstays for many a year to come, even if a few statistics point elsewhere.

3-0, easy as it comes.

In the fan’s gaze, this phase of South African cricket is in the midst of a now-familiar cycle. The foundation for their ‘success-to-be’ is likely to be built on the captaincy structures laid by de Villiers, often regarded as a paragon for versatility. Like his predecessors, de Villiers will realize that he will have no excuses for failure at all: his country has a brilliant set of athletes to choose from, even though it has traditionally found it difficult to provide the rudiments of success expected out of it in major tournaments.

The distress surrounding their ICC campaigns have historically been deeper than exhaustion. As skipper, de Villiers would do well to make efforts to escape the grilling claustrophobia of ICC tournament post-mortems. The repealing of the quota system after the post-apartheid pendulum cycle has soft-pedaled any attempt to point fingers towards cricketing structures. After all, a thorough analysis on a topic that had received most public notoriety can reveal invisible histories that the quota system, with its focus on abstraction, had hidden.

Of course, Graeme Smith’s peremptory approach during his reign had made things look a bit more secure, but did little to erase the ‘chokers’ tag that has been dubiously associated with this brilliant outfit. Smith was a captain who was pretty optimistic about the public’s perceived ability to accept excuses. But he was smart enough to know that if you’re telling the fans something they don’t want to hear, an apt convincing counter-offer was needed to balance things.

Most fans have respected the past South African skippers for their effort, but have often been left confused and disappointed by the results. It is possible that de Villiers will continue to do what worked for them in the past. Historically, South African cricket’s problems had lied largely with its administrative deficiencies. But now, with a large set of bottlenecks out of the way (at least, if the news coming out of their local media is to be believed), de Villiers has an easier road to rally his troops along.

Of course, as the battle mode shifts to a five-day mode, a more familiar leader in the form of Graeme Smith will lead his team out on the seventh of March. But it is well worth keeping an eye on AB, for he is the right man to take South Africa forward for the best part of this decade.


Goutham Chakravarthi

Bangalore

9 January 2011
Much has been written about the captaincy of Graeme Smith in the Newlands Test. Questions have been raised about the defensive tactics and if he’d missed a trick by not inserting India at the fag end of the 4th day’s play. Smith is still the same impressive man that took over from Pollock following a disastrous world cup at home in 2003. A South African team still in the doldrums post Cronje-gate turned to him. He impressed with his freshness in approach. He impressed with his performance and leadership. He had never met Hansie Cronje and therefore lay to rest any lingering doubts of his influence on him and his leadership. He said he had hoped to be a captain of his country someday and was expecting it. No politically correct answers, but plain straight talking. That showed in his leadership and his batting. South Africa had found the right man to represent it.

Two double-hundreds followed in his first series as captain. His field placings and reading of the game and tactics reflected a shrewd mind. He showcased an ability to inspire a team of elderly statesmen of the caliber of Gary Kirsten, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini and Lance Klusener. Just like that, at 22, Smith became the leader.

Some controversy followed when he didn’t shy away from calling Klusener overweight and later when he told the media what the Aussies had called him on his first tour there. Inevitably it wasn’t received well, and was seen as soft and a tell-tale by the Australians especially. Soft, he had never been. His courage was never in doubt. His start to the innings in the chase of 434 in Johannesburg showed the Australians that he was not merely a man of talk and that he backed it with deed. He was a fighter and he finally won over Australia when he walked out to bat with a broken hand in Sydney. He needn’t have and the world would have understood for the series was already won. But he strode out to the middle to support a team that showed admirable courage battling a rapid Mitchell Johnson to save the Test. He didn’t want to let down his mates who’d fought so admiringly to save the Test. A nation that saw him as a bully saw him as a fighter and gave him a standing ovation when he walked out to bat.

Along the way he has managed not to fall in the trap of stereotypes and it has showed why his team has been more competitive in India than either Australia or England. He has been shrewd to play two spinners and tie-up Australians in their backyard in one-day games and bombard Asian teams with quick and impact players when playing in Asia. Not that he has never shown ill judgment or never crossed the line. Sportsmen are allowed to lose their cool once in a while – it is inevitable when the tussle is taut and a bad decision here or a bad stroke there can bring efforts carefully structured over sessions to a nought. He has largely been controversy free and has spent less time with the match-referee than most of the captains.

Though South Africa have travelled impressively and often been successful, a major title has eluded it. Agreed that it has briefly claimed the top Test spot and has won an ICC event (inaugural Champions Trophy in Dhaka back in 1998), but is still seen as a unit that can crumble under the weight of expectation. On the back of a historic series win in Australia two summers ago, it was expected to win the return leg at home, but lost tamely to a young but resurgent Australian side. That Australia would go on to lose in England almost straight after would have disappointed Smith and his boys immensely. They were largely seen as the team to take over from Australia post that series, but it wasn’t to be.

The last two home seasons have been disappointing in that regard. They were unable to bowl out a determined English lower order twice last summer. Nor was his team able to match words with deed against the visiting Indians over the last three weeks. His tussle with Sreesanth and Zaheer affected him and showed on his captaincy in Newlands when he was defensive and perhaps missed the chance of declaring early and push for a victory.

Also South Africa have been shown to be in slight in the world cups (both T20 and ODI) over the last 4 years. Sometimes, failures can prey more on the minds. Personnel changes have be sought and tried with little success in major tournaments.

Smith has been smart enough to sense this and has called time on his one-day captaincy post this year’s one-day world cup. It is a smart move considering that he has been at the helm for eight years and captaincy and ideas last only that long. He might want to give-up captaincy to a younger man and concentrate on his batting alone. He will be 30 shortly and perhaps the next three years will be his best as a batsman.

Smith and team will try its best to win the world cup no doubt. His team stands as good a chance as any of the other leading teams and will enter it as one of the favourites. They might go on to win it. That he has already relinquished captaincy post the tournament shows that he may have recognized that he is coming to the end of the road as a captain. Smith has never been the one to shy away from reality. He will go when he knows that he no longer is the right man for the job.