Posts Tagged ‘Hashim Amla’


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.


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

November 13, 2011

The real story of test cricket has little to do with what was exposed in the newspapers on the morning of day three of the Newlands Test, and has everything to do with us fans – some who’ve challenged the entertainment plausibility of having to watch 450 overs of cricket spanning five days. The articles and reactions to the second day of the Newlands Test were only the meekest ghosts of a summary that the numbers depicted.

The build up to the clash between the Southern Hemisphere’s cricketing giants now seems inadvertent, given the fact that this battle would have given the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 a run for its money. It had taken the British only 45 minutes to overthrow Khalid Bin Bargash, when five warships of the Royal Navy opened fire to commence and complete what would become one of the shortest wars fought in the history of the world.

Just as one began to wonder the chronic consequences of not having played test cricket in over ten months time, the residual effects of which were blatantly vivid during South Africa’s first innings, the landslide that followed painted a bizarre picture on how the art of temperament has gone for a toss, without doubting South Africa’s resilient response and character. It is, in one way, ironic to imagine that the teams that had once been involved in the highest ever run chase in ODI history had to enact a drama that would dubiously place itself at the other end of the spectrum.

The emergence of shorter formats seemed to have stamped its presence when a few Aussie batsmen – the main culprit being Brad Haddin – appeared to have played shots that they’d never want to see replays of. The entertaining form of attacking batsmanship was decisively rejected by the challenge posed by Test Cricket. It would now seem ironic to quote Michael Clarke in the past tense – a common ploy used by many who know that the words of the captain will appear on print post the result – just after the toss when he’d said he would have batted on this wicket.

Australia now finds itself in the middle of a two match series, with many believing that by stating the complexities of an ‘insidious’ wicket, the visitors can hope to bounce back after a break. A large part of Australia’s problems lie within their own camp – from the ineffective, unguided missiles of Mitchell Johnson to the questionable form, but not the class, of Ricky Ponting. To add to this heavy bag of questions exist a very fragile opening pair, whose lack of efflorescence against the moving ball would have undercut the post mortem’s storyline.

The Aussies certainly did well to ensure that their Trans-Tasman rivals held on to their dubious Test Record of the lowest score in an innings

Historically, the Australians are believed to be constitutionally averse to strategies adopted by other cricketing nations. If form-based remedies are displaced by class-based remedies, the number of young Australian cricketers staking a claim to play test cricket will fall incredibly. However, the recent trend scripts a contrary story, and rightly so – David Warner’s call up to replace the injured Shaun Marsh adds fuel to this theory.

Mental toughness has always been embedded into the DNA of Australian sport, but for once, ability seems to be posing a colossal question. But knowing the Australians well, they cherish pride and victory way too much to let it slip away – and no one would know that better than the set of men who’ve thrown their hats hoping to fill the vacancy left by Tim Nielsen.

In this process, the other side of the contest has been overlooked. If it probably weren’t for Amla and Smith’s centuries, it is for anyone to guess whether the other South African batsmen would have been found wanting, as they were during the first innings. But debutant Philander’s baptism of fire certainly prevented what otherwise would have been a very unpleasant courtroom featuring the batsmen responsible for a collapse during South Africa’s first innings on home soil during the month of November since 1921.

The Law of Large Numbers states that the result of performing the same experiment a large number of times would yield the expected result. The method adopted by Steyn, Philander and Morkel was to constantly hit the channels on and around off-stump – and the expected results were obtained.

The result has Australia in free fall now. Unlike gravity, a bad result can often push a team to the extremes of possible reactive decision making. There will be a temptation to replace the misfiring Johnson with the young and quick Pat Cummins – but as the late Peter Roebuck wrote in his very recent article: “Ambitious selectors and captains understandably seek players of high potential to replace time-servers, but cricket is also a game of skill, stamina and experience, and it takes time to learn its lessons.”

Sun Tzu’s Art of War states that what the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. Certainly, the South Africans wrapped up the game so. And they’ll look to repeat the same, excluding the first innings debacle, in Johannesburg.


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?