Posts Tagged ‘Graeme Smith’


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.


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.


Prasad Moyarath

Bangalore

25 January 2011

India playing five one day internationals against South Africa in South Africa, just one month before the World Cup in India raised the eye brows of many Indian cricket aficionados. In the past, India could never do well against the hosts in the fast and bouncy pitches there. What will Indian players gain by playing matches on fast and bouncy pitches when the World Cup is going to be held in the flat batting tracks of the subcontinent? – This question puzzled many except those in BCCI. To the Indian surprise, all the matches were held on comparatively slow pitches and the Indians came out of the series winning 2 out of the 5 matches. Only the time will tell what the Indian team gained out of this series but a post mortem of this series reveals many interesting facts.

Sehwag, Praveen Kumar and Gambhir returned to India even before the start of the series with injuries. With Piyush Chawla, Ashwin and Rohit Sharma in the squad, the first two matches were looked upon by many as chances for the Indian selectors to try out these players before declaring the Indian team for the 2011 World Cup.

Team composition for the first two matches clearly proved that the selectors or the team management didn’t have any well thought out plans. Ashish Nehra looked completely out of sorts and Rohit Sharma sent in as replacement for Sehwag batted at No.4 and No.7 in the first two matches. Indians were beaten outright in the first match but won a thriller in the second despite Dhoni’s lackluster captaincy almost presenting a victory to South Africa. Even when it was very clear that India’s only winning option was to bowl out the South Africans, Dhoni kept persisting with part time bowlers and brought back Munaf only when the South Africans were very close to a victory. Luck was with Dhoni and India on that day.

Tendulkar returned to India with an injury and Parthiv Patel was sent in as a replacement. Indian team for the World Cup was announced and that seemed to confuse the team management more. Lack of a specialist opener forced the team management to thrust the role of an opener on the World Cup discard – Rohit Sharma and Dhoni didn’t have the gumption to use this contingency to test the disaster management skills of his team. He could have opened with Kohli and promoted himself to No.3. Though India won a thriller in the third one dayer through some hard hitting by Yusuf Pathan and presence of mind of tailenders, rain denied a century to Kohli and an outright win for South Africa (though they won by D/L Method) in the fourth one dayer.

Fifth one dayer showed the display of individual brilliance by Amla and Pathan. Cricket fans wondered what would have happened had Amla been caught by Ashwin at 70 and Duminy given out in the second ball he faced and rain not interrupted South African innings. Though South Africa won a thriller as shown by score card, apart from Pathan and Parthiv Patel to a small extent, none of the Indian batsmen took the fight to South African camp. Though the official Man of the Match was Amla, there was no doubt that the fifth one dayer would always remain etched in cricket lover’s memory for Yusuf Pathan’s innings.

India lost yet another one day series in South Africa but the fact that this team went down fighting even without 3 reputed players is a consolation. Indian team management and selectors never had a plan and was confused on the selection of players. They neither selected the team with an aim to win the series nor with an aim to give exposure to World Cup players. But with days to go for the 2011 World Cup, this series also exposed many weak links in the Indian side. Ashish Nehra’s lack of form and the inconsistency of Yuvraj, Raina and Dhoni are sure to create sleepless nights for the team management and selectors. Lack of a good fifth bowler was clearly visible from the way South Africa recovered several times after an initial collapse. A world class side should be able to overcome any eventuality and this Indian side’s inability to overcome the opening problem that surfaced due to the injury to openers will pose a question mark on the quality of team selection. Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay turned out to be complete failures and it got forgotten due to the fact that they were not included in the World Cup team. Kohli, Pathan, Zaheer, Munaf and Harbhajan did something of note.

A diffident captain, a brittle middle order and a bowling attack with inconsistency written on it, this Indian side has flooded the minds of Indian cricket aficionados with doubts. “The big learning from this game is to keep wickets in hand for the last ten overs” – the parting words of the Indian captain summed up the whole picture. Did Dhoni become Indian Captain without knowing the basics of the game?