Posts Tagged ‘Dale Steyn’


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Every time I see South Africa crashing out of ICC Tournaments, I find myself placed amidst the conundrums of existentialist thoughts. I’ve always admired the way the Proteas go about their business, and my unequivocal backing was justified when AB De Villiers took over the skipper’s mantle.

Though neither wholly innocent nor wholly naïve, he admitted to his team giving their ‘very best, but simply not good enough’, albeit losing to a better unit those days. In simple words, the Proteas had complied with every facet guaranteeing victory but the opposition had more check boxes to tick – which they did in its entirety.

All this, AB dealt with persuasively – a reminiscence of what prior captains have done at the end of ICC tournaments. But for a change, his odiousness towards his team being referred to as ‘Chokers’ has taken a reversing – he’s been blatant enough to admit that the dubious tag being carried may have some substance behind its origins. Had it not been for their large funds of astonishing scorecards, history would have judged them more kindly.

History hasn’t judged me kindly either – I’m always at the receiving end of cheeky texts whenever the South Africans choke. I’ve backed them ever since I started following cricket. And when times become hard (and let me point out that I back Liverpool FC), I’m always asked that obnoxiously unanswerable question: Why?

Taking South Africa to a title triumph in limited overs formats will be priority for Kirsten and Co.

If I were to let my mind navigate around thoughts with respect to a profession I choose, I’m quite certain that such anxiety would’ve compelled me to have considered chronic job-hopping. But sport is different – and that is what makes it unique. In sport, it isn’t ideal to subscribe to the “love your job, not your company” philosophy – the minute you embed yourself to supporting a team, it is a bond that none can break.

As an Indian, I find it natural to support my nation at the International Stage. And as the old cliché goes, you can’t choose your relatives but you can choose your friends. That is one of the reasons so much of what I have come to think of as logical and passionate support was really worked out during the first few years of my exposure to sport.

I was drawn in to admiring the South Africans primarily because their fielding unit stood out from the rest. As kids, we naturally incline towards worshipping players who defy gravity to exhibit stunning catches – and the South Africans were (and still are) the best in the business. And what sticks to your mind as a kid, sticks for a long time to come – even the antics of Hansie Cronje didn’t deter me away from rooting for the South Africans – apart from India that is.

Following them has taken me through the high of witnessing a record ODI chase accomplished, and sink through the perils of D/L Math extracts that caused enough offence to sack Shaun Pollock in 2003. And their laconic trysts in the latter stages of ICC Tournaments still continue to bemuse many. Is it really as much a case of pressure as it is about ill-luck? Not always. Innings collapses aren’t necessarily what the doctor orders – it is what they have brought on to themselves. Only a D/L sheet with numbers as illegible as a doctor’s prescription would’ve caused the fiasco of 2003.

I was fortunate to meet Dr. Peter Kremer, a former Sports Psychologist with the Victoria State Cricket Association, during my stay in Sri Lanka. We met at the Premadasa during the game between Ireland and Australia. I never got a chance to talk to him about South Africa, but I do recall him mentioning a particular challenge he’d consistently faced during his tenure – players getting in to their comfort zones. The easiest thing, he said, was for a player to throw his hands up, admit that he isn’t good enough to sustain at higher levels, and continue to ply his trade in familiar waters.

Now before you read between the lines here, I don’t mean to say that the South Africans have almost swallowed a sense of inevitability that they could be the best team around without an ICC Trophy in their cabinet. You cannot question their effort, or commitment. But their ability to react to pressure has been under constant scrutiny.

Having ceded to mental issues in ICC tournaments, de Villiers will have to play a pivotal role in turning it around for the Proteas in the immediate future. Image: Reuters

You might not like the physics of gravity but you can’t change the fact that objects fall to the ground because of it. Likewise, if the Proteas cannot find a way to embrace pressure (and expectations), that elusive treasure – spelt an ICC Trophy – could be very hard to come by. I’m not qualified enough to comment on their methods, given that from a thousand miles away, I’ve got very little exposure to their system. But a consistent run of familiar collapses, less true this particular tournament given that they were straight-forward ‘KO’ed, only raises further question marks.

The current system, which is certainly better than the alternatives that seemed to have propped up during the transition stage, has undergone changes, and with Gary Kirsten at the helm, they have a player who has tasted ultimate glory as coach. Kirsten’s methods in India are well documented – he focused on three things: simplicity, simplicity and simplicity. And when you tend to fragment issues that appear complex on face value, the constituents are largely simple.  His record of 0-9 in Super Eight matches with India and South Africa now in three World T20s is a cause of concern and he will be the first to know. You can expect him and his crew to have analysed selection, approach and mindset from these games to be better prepared in two years’ time.

In Hashim Amla, they have undoubtedly one of the most polished batsmen (all three formats included) in International Cricket. He hasn’t looked out of place in any of the formats over the best part of the last two years. He exudes a certain class that few men possess, and a temperament that even fewer share. I’ve written about de Villiers before and my opinion on AB hasn’t changed – I would only wish that South Africa find a ‘full-time’ wicketkeeper in Tests, for AB is too valuable a batsman to suffer from the excess baggage of having to keep in Tests. But again, Test Cricket is out of context given the theme of this piece.

Similarly, the bowling department boasts of the most lethal fast bowler in international cricket, ably supported by resources who wouldn’t find it hard to walk in to the playing XI of other nations. Their bag of big hitters – from David Miller to Albie Morkel – is aptly full, and their spin department could do with a bit more flair. Tahir, at best, has looked average when compared to his counterparts from around the world. If there is an inert area of concern, it is only the quality of their spin bowling.

Kirsten’s box of worries appear complex when judged on face value, but when you break it up in to pieces, the end result is a list of fifteen odd players possessing immense talent. They have performed cohesively as a unit – they’ve won dramatic games together, and they’ve crashed out of tournaments together. They’ve performed well at home, and they’ve performed better (in some cases) away from home.  What they’ve probably not done is to avoid playing the game of dominos together.

But the camouflage could well be the fact that the team isn’t greater than the sum of the individual parts. And that, ultimately, is Kirsten’s challenge.


 Goutham Chakravarthi

 20 August 2011


In what has been a series that has been played in the right ‘spirit of the game’, England, it was assumed showed great support to the India cause by sending a night watchman in at the fag end of a day where they pummeled close to 400 runs. But, Anderson riled up the Indian high lords by announcing that he had done enough bowling for the series and wanted to bat out the remaining three days and ordered the chickens hiding behind him in the batting order to support him as the senior batting partner in his endeavour to bat out the remaining 18 hours of this Test.

Srikkanth announced that India has summoned Steyn, Morkel and Bollinger into the Indian team based on their IPL performance

Not to be outdone, the Indian chairman of selectors, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, in a radical move announced the replacement of India’s pace-battery in England for the third day’s play with high performing domestic stalwarts. His statement said, “Given the abject performance of the Indian pacers, we have decided to pick a new set of fast bowlers. ECB and the English team are fine by the decision and they laughed off the suggestion saying that replacements cannot be any better than the ones that are here. After a not-so-long deliberation, we have decided to replace Ishant, Sreeshant and R.P. Singh with Rajastan Royals’ Morne Morkel, Deccan Chargers’ Dale Steyn and Chennai Super Kings’ Doug Bollinger. They should arrive in time for start of play on the third day.”

The English press called it “talent poaching” and “highly unethical”. Simon Briggs, covering the press conference for The Telegraph called it “blasphemous” and not even England’s recent poach of the Irish quickie, Boyd Rankin, to play for the English Lions, they claimed, came close to the coup Srikkanth and team have managed to pull off.

To the English uproar, Srikkanth has said, “England have recently poached Rankin of Ireland and made him play for England Lions. If England can pick an Irishman based on his domestic performance for the Lions, so can we!”

England's Irish batsman Morgan could represent India in this Test

Rankin’s former Irish team mate, Eoin Morgan, who happened to be at the press conference to explain why he chickened out and opted for a night watchman was now engulfed in a totally different dilemma post Srikkanth’s statement on Rankin. He wondered, “So, Rankin might get selected into the England Lions side based on his performances for Ireland and Ireland pick him to play against England in the one-dayer based on his England Lions performance. I wonder what’ll happen if I get a hundred batting first for England in that game! Does it mean Ireland will pick me to bat for them when it is their turn to bat?”

When asked for an opinion from Srikkanth on the implications of his decision, he only said, “We might pick even Morgan to bat for us based on his performances for the Kolkata Knight Riders come the fourth day!”

He signed off by saying, “We have ensured that these players will be playing newly selected bowlers for England that they have given me the privilege to pick as a return for the spirit of the game shown by our boys. After careful examination, I have picked these bowlers to play for England based on their county performances: Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha and Murali Kartik. Kartik has been advised to bowl right-arm chinaman.”


John van der Westhuizen

Johannesburg

22 February 2011

The South African squad selection for the CWC 2011 was not without controversy. Albie Morkel, Mark Boucher and David Miller were just 3 of the notable omissions. That all 3 of them are considered valuable lower-order hitters has raised special concern though, with Johan Botha now poised to bat a position higher than I think any Proteas fan would like him to. AB de Villiers taking the gloves is in theory meant to free up a batting space, Albie Morkel as an all-rounder has leaked way too many runs off his bowling in the last 18 months, and David Miller did not do enough in the India series to warrant leaving any of the selected players out. It is what it is, as they say – and barring any injuries, SA will have to do without them.

To focus on the players that were indeed selected, is to notice almost immediately the number of tweakers in the line-up. With Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir as frontline spinners, and the part-time yet useful skills of Duminy and Faf du Plessis, it is clear that the selectors have already stepped out of their comfort zone. In the past SA has been reluctant to veer too far away from almost total reliance on their seam attack. Since 1992, this has resulted in ZERO World Cup trophies. It was Albert Einstein who said “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time round is the very definition of insanity”. This fresh approach to the make-up of the SA attack can, to the optimistic Proteas fan, make it seem like we are in for a fresh, as yet unachieved result. First Round? Done that (2003). Quarters? Done that (1996). Semis? Done that (1992, 1999, and 2007). I am of the opinion that if SA make the final and lose, the squad would have done the nation proud. They would have conquered a new frontier, taken us further than ever before. If SA lost in the final it would obviously take 12 months to get over the heartache before coming to so rational a conclusion out loud, but I am preparing the emotional hedge, getting my mental affairs in order, just in case I have to deal with so tragic a scenario.

Of the 3 specialist spinners in the squad, I would expect to see at least 2 of them employed in every game, along with the 2 part-timers. On wickets that have shown a tendency towards taking more turn than usual though, it would not surprise me to see 3 specialist spinners picked, with Steyn, Morkel and Kallis bowling seam-up for the variety. Imagine a South African seam bowler picked for the purposes of providing variety? What has this world come to? Peterson has shown good form getting 6 wickets in the 2 warm up games against India and Australia. Tahir too has been among the wickets. Botha has proven himself to be SA’s premier spinner in this format. While Tahir is more of a strike bowler, the other 2 are more than capable of doing a holding job. Of the part timers, Duminy would most likely try to keep an end tidy while du Plessis would be more attacking. The balance on paper is frighteningly good. Throw into the mix Tsotsobe (leading wicket taker in the SA/IND series, ranked 10 in the world), Morne Morkel (ranked No. 2 ODI bowler) and Steyn (ranked No.1 Test bowler, ranked No. 8 ODI bowler) and it becomes clear that this attack is not the worst ever to wear SA colours in a World Cup.

As far as the batters go, on current form Smith is the weak link in the top order. Amla and de Villiers are ranked 1 and 2 in the world. Their prolific form in the last 18 months has been well documented elsewhere and long may it continue. Duminy has averaged 61 in ODI’s in since Jan 2010. And then we have Kallis. Someone who should know a bit about cricket, a certain Kevin Pietersen, recently described Kallis as “the greatest player ever”. For the purposes of this insert, I’ll take that as a valid remark. I will mention though, that in his last 20 ODIs, JK averages 52.5 – so he does have a vague idea how to hold a bat.

Now for the ‘weak link’: Apart from Faf du Plessis, SA appears to have no recognised finishers or big hitters for the latter stages of the innings. If the opposition get 5 wickets, the SA batting line-up appears to offer very little in the way of players capable of scoring 10-12 runs an over in the last 5-10 overs. The SA tail is exposed a little earlier than would normally have been the case in past world cups, with players like Klusener and Pollock coming in at 8 and 9 and making the closing overs count. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but as good as the trundlers mentioned earlier are at their chosen craft, they have yet to scare international teams with bat in hand.

The approach will most likely be one of seeing off the new ball, while making at least 50 in the first 10 overs, and then setting the stall for the accumulators to do their thing. Duminy and du Plessis should be able to add good runs more often than not at the end, but wickets will need to be preserved. I would imagine that at any given stage, 1 of the 2 batsmen at the crease will be tasked with batting through.

That’s the theory, all wrapped up. The skills are there, the support is there. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s just get the squad to stick to a liquid diet in the play-offs, avoid solids completely – and please, pretty please: I hope they’ve all had training in basic first aid. Knowing the Heimlich Manoeuvre could come in handy.