Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’


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.

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Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

I guess in hindsight, to get 14 overs of cricket yesterday at Hambantotta was a bonus in itself. We’d arrived in the Southernmost District of Sri Lanka the previous day only to witness a night almost entirely full of rain showers.

There wasn’t enough evidence of sunshine to support the thought of the ground drying up, but we probably didn’t end up giving this a thought. So we found ourselves on a taxi to the stadium, the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium – the newest of its kind in the nation. The misnomer here is that the stadium is not located in Hambantotta – but a good 45 km away from the town.

Dark Clouds and Rain delayed the start by over two-and-a-half hours © Badrinarayana Vengavasi

The ground seemed a very modern arena, although the rain gods didn’t show any mercy the moment we crossed the security check. We were surprised to find that the entire playing area had been covered; therefore removing any lingering doubts over the time it might take to get the ground dried up. The rain, merely, had to stop for play to commence.

Ranjan Paranavitana’s views

We’d managed to get an appointment with Ranjan Paranavitana, a popular Premier Division coach and journalist in Sri Lanka, who’d coached the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Dilshan Munaweera – current Sri Lankan internationals. We took a detour to the Press Box, rather to the building where it was, and met him outside the Media Box Complex.

Ranjan, in a chat with Goutham Chakravarthi, mentions his delight on how the tournament has been panning out so far. He seems pleased with the level of interest generated amongst the younger locals – a factor that he highlights as one of the key motives behind the tournament. His dream, clearly, is to groom more youngsters who can step in to the international arena and perform for Sri Lanka.

In particular, he singles out Dilshan Munaweera’s rise to fame through a string of outstanding domestic (and SLPL) performances. He is certain in suggesting that the youngster is likely to have a long stint at the international level – unlike other young, promising cricketers who’ve historically played the game of musical chairs.

On the other hand, he feels that it was a mistake to not take Akila Dhananjaya, the young mystery teenage spinner, to Australia for the Under-19 World Cup. Dhananjaya’s story is well documented – a kid who was hand-picked by Mahela Jayawardene while the latter was observing the youngster bowling in the nets. Dhananjaya is yet to play a first class game for his province – a tale that would remind Indian fans of a certain selection of Parthiv Patel almost a decade ago.

With Ranjan Paranavitana, a leading Premier Division Coach

Although Ranjan is extremely excited by the potential Dhananjaya has, the speed of his rise, he feels, may be an inhibitor in times to come – especially during the longer formats. The premature influx of cricketers in to the international setup (via camouflages in IPL, local T20 leagues), for one, is an argument that Indians have probably done more to precipitate than any other nation around. But that doesn’t deter Ranjan from having the confidence in the young spinner to succeed at the highest level, albeit extenuating circumstances.

When asked on his favourite team to lift the trophy this tournament, he picks South Africa, India and Pakistan as the teams to watch out for – other than his home country. Specifically, when requested to pick a favourite, he mentions Pakistan without a hesitation. On their day, as we all know, they can be world beaters.

We signed off around the time we suspected play might begin and Ranjan graciously handed over an autographed copy of his book to Goutham, in appreciation of his efforts to get in touch with him and drive all the way to Hambantotta for a chat. On that note, we headed back to our stand hoping to catch some action.

When Play Resumed

79 was always going to be a challenging target in a 7 over game. Skipper AB De Villiers’ blitzkrieg innings tipped the scales to favour a South African win. Munaweera’s catch of Richard Levi, in the first over of the game seemed to have got the home fans’ spirits up – given what we know of Richard Levi and his devastating hitting. Shorter the format, more valubale are players like Levi.

Play Resumes © Badrinarayana Vengavasi

Nothing much happened when the Sri Lankan innings got under way. Oh, we know there was a lot of music and cheering from the local fans – but unfortunately, in games of reduced formats, there isn’t too much of a room for percentage cricket. The odd boundary was cheered for, but the game slipped away from the home team with every ball bowled.

It was a convincing victory all right, but in a 7 over a side game, you must be mad (or possess voodoo magic) to place bets.

P.S. The video of Goutham chatting with Ranjan will be uploaded shortly.


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.


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.


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.