Selectors giving Tsolekile raw deal

Will Tsolekile be given a chance during South Africa’s home summer?

Race, 18 years after apartheid officially ended in South Africa, still holds an essential place within the discourse of this country. If you do not live in South Africa and suggest otherwise, you are being ignorant of where race is in the current South African story.

Hence why, whenever race, politics and sport are mixed, many sports lovers get rather prickly, saying politics (read race) and sport must not mix.

Being a former politics student myself, I am of the view that politics is inseparable from day-to-day life, and by extension, sport. In a world of interconnectedness, to suggest that politics and sport are separate entities that co-exist beyond each other is naive.

This perhaps helps put the current plight of Proteas “reserve” wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile in perspective. When Mark Boucher’s career was ended through a freak injury in his first tour match on the Proteas tour of England this year (2012), many names were thrown about as to who might replace Boucher in the Test line-up. 

Many media pundits thought Dane Vilas, from the Cape Cobras (formerly Western Province, based in Cape Town) would get the nod. However, it was Tsolekile who convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson appeared to anoint as the next man to wear the gloves for South Africa.

While Tsolekile has said since that he didn’t expect to play in England or Australia, he was told that he would likely wear the gloves against New Zealand. However, he was dropped all together from the Test squad, and told that his batting wasn’t good enough to strand up to the rigours of a modern Test no.7, which he didn’t agree with. Confusing isn’t it?

Tsolekile has complained that while Proteas head coach Gary Kirsten has been clear with him, the message that he has been receiving from the selectors has been mixed.

While South Africa’s batting line-up is probably in better shape fielding seven specialist batsman, the worst thing that could have happened for Tsolekile was AB de Villiers’ scoring 169 against Australia at Perth, expunging the argument that he couldn’t bat and hold the gloves at the same time.

I still believe De Villiers would be more valuable without the gloves, which brings me back to race. With Makhaya Ntini making comments recently that Tsolekile would’ve played for the Proteas if he was white, which Tsolekile admirable distanced himself from, perhaps Ntini is right. There is an onus on black sportsman, more of a unseen veneer than an obvious deduction, that they have to prove more to find themselves worthy in the still white-dominated sports of cricket and rugby in South Africa.

While I am not suggesting that Tsolekile was simply taken on tour to score political points, his poor treatment by the Proteas selectors begs the question Ntini asked: would he have played if he wasn’t black?

It’s unfair to tell Tsolekile that he wasn’t of Test standard after previously indicating that he was the next man in line. Why pick him then, if he won’t even be given a chance?

The selectors, it could be interpreted, have deceived Tsolekile to a certain degree, even going as far as giving him a national contract, while paradoxically not even letting his boots grace an international cricket field.

Thami Tsolekile has been given a raw deal.

SABC boondoggle only benefits SuperSport

The Proteas are the world’s no.1 Test team. The SABC doesn’t seem to care

South Africa are the world’s no.1 Test cricket team, but its own national public broadcaster doesn’t seem to care.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has seen fit to not broadcast the two Tests against New Zealand at the start of 2013 in full, rather opting for two highlight packages of an hour each instead daily.

While the public broadcaster is the political lapdog of the ruling African National Congress in South Africa, as it was the then-ruling National Party’s during apartheid, their lack of foresight in rejecting Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) overtures will only benefit the monster that is pay channel SuperSport.

Media reports on the southern tip of Africa have indicated that while publicly CSA are not too unhappy with the deal, in reality they are livid with the SABC’s decision, since it impacts on CSA’s revenue and the body’s ability to reach a wider audience than SuperSport offers, as most people in South Africa cannot afford the DStv platform from which SuperSport operates.

The SABC has stated they will continue to serve the public, which is laughable, given how the organisation has been politically crippled due to oversight from the ruling party, and how they are rejecting broadcasting the world’s newly anointed Test kings as they play on home soil for the first time. They are also not fulfilling their mandate of meeting the public’s need for national sport. Given their sketchy record on soccer and non-existent one on rugby, this is not a surprise. Money is a factor, but surely there was more wiggle room?

New Zealand might not be the most glamorous of opposition, and even though the SABC said it would broadcast all three Pakistan Tests following the New Zealand series, all they are doing is pushing CSA more into the arms of SuperSport.

There was an outcry when the England Cricket Board (ECB) sold their TV rights to pay channel Sky Sports a few years back, having previously worked with the more accessible Channel 4. The ECB sighted at the time economics as the motivating factor, with Sky being able to offer more money than Channel 4. 

A similar scenario looks like it could happen in South Africa, with the SABC only having themselves to blame. And who loses the most? The viewers who love cricket, but can’t afford to watch it. That’s the real tragedy

Bafana Bafana match fixing a crime on a nation

Bernard Parker celebrating a brace in Bafana Bafana’s 2010 2-1 win over Columbia before the World Cup in South Africa. This result, and three others, were fixed

The revelation that four Bafana Bafana matches were fixed before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa has sent shock waves through the corridors of South African sport.

As a result of a Fifa probe which found Bafana Bafana’s matches against Columbia, Guatamala, Thailand and Bulgaria in 2010 to have fixed, the president of the South African Football Association (Safa) Kirsten Nematandari, it’s new CEO Dennis Mumble and three others have been suspended.

The Fifa investigation found that Safa had been infiltrated by convicted match-fixer Wilson Perumal and his Football 4U organisation.

Perumal organised referees for the four friendly games, which South Africa won through a spate of penalties and odd decisions. The results reportedly benefited betting syndicates in Asia.

Safa have accepted the report and will institute a commission of inquiry. Whatever the outcome, the match-fixing is shame and a crime against the people of South Africa, whose mood became the plaything of gamblers.

South Africa were desperate for positive results before the 2010 World Cup, and for Safa to stoop so low marks the latest and worst failure by an organisation that has a well earned reputation for administrative incompetency.

Not since cricket’s Hansie Cronje-scandal over a decade ago has South Africa’s hopes and dreams on the sports field been so emphatically extinguished by the dark reality of greed and corruption.

One of the few places this complicated country feels together, as one or as close to it as possible, is on the sports field. As such, that holy place between the sidelines has been sullied once more. Will South African soccer fans forever more be asking the question after a positive result: “Was it fixed?”

If the Cronje-scandal taught us anything, it was that soccer will more or less recover.
However, the loss of innocence regarding the Rainbow Nation’s attitude to the sporting world is now complete, if it wasn’t already.

There is no such thing as a victim-less crime.

India need to take responsibility for their own failings

India’s series loss against England has raised questions about Dhoni’s future as India captain

England’s outstanding 2-1 series win over India in India, following a draw in the fourth and final Test in Nagpur, has raised the temerity of those who feel that now is the time for change within the Indian playing group.

With the benefit of hindsight (that old chestnut), England’s victory is not too surprising given how professional there set up is, and the way Alistair Cook has seamlessly taken over the captaincy following Andrew Strauss’ retirement.

For India, bar Cheteshwar Puruja and Virat Kohli who finally added aptitude in the fourth Test to talent following some brazen dismissals, they need to look inward and realise that all is not well. For Indian fans, it is disconcerting to see all the way from the southern tip of Africa that Mahendra Singh Dhoni and co have gotten into the nasty habit of believing their own hype, and excuses.

From blaming the ball, to the pitch to conditions, Dhoni and the likes of Virender Sehwag have refused to take the appropriate amount responsibility for a poor performance. Take no credit away from England, who deserved their first series win in India in 28 years, but India didn’t help themselves through the own performances on the field.

Sachin Tendulkar typifies this. Given that the last 18 months of Test cricket haven’t been the kindest to him, his continued presence within the Indian set-up seems to be reaching Ponting-esque proportions. No matter how much Michael Clarke tells us that Ponting’s presence in the team was beneficial, his presence at no.4 during their series loss against South Africa was a drag on the Baggy Greens, with normal Channel Nine flunkie Mark Nicholas requiring the freedom of a South African commentary booth to say as much during the recent series.

Perhaps even more frightening for Indian fans is the lack of a truly world class spinner. Harbhajan Singh’s ability to take wickets has been retarded by the constant grind of flat limited overs cricket, while Ravichandran Ashwin contributed more with the bat then he did with the ball during the series.

Pragyun Ohja had a fine series, being the leading Indian bowler with 20 wickets at just over 30. Given his accuracy and control, he looks India’s best spinner by some distance, even if he appears the type of bowler that won’t run through a Test batting line-up like the great Anil Kumble could on his best days.

Will Dhoni remain skipper? Probably. Will Tendulkar suddenly retire? Nope. Change is as good as a holiday goes the old English saying, but if India can’t see the need for change in the first place, they will continue to under perform at Test level.

Given India’s playing and financial resources, a higher standard should be demanded. While the monolithic BCCI continues to boss the world game in the boardroom it is on the field, their prioritisation of limited overs cricket is beginning to take its toll on cricket’s toughest format on the Indian sub-continent.

With a growing Australia set to travel to India early next year, now is a critical time for India to take stock otherwise they could be in for another nasty surprise.

Tendulkar should walk away before it’s too late

One of cricket’s greatest ever players is nearing the end. Could it be England or will he wait till he tours South Africa next year? Probably the latter

Seasons pass, rain comes and goes,  while the circle of life, to quote a fictional lion from a Disney movie, continues. Sachin Tendulkar, the man who has scored the most centuries ever on the international stage, the most runs, and is also the most capped international player of all time, has endured 23 years of international cricket.

That is a lot of seasons.

He has seen Test cricket get supplanted by first ODI cricket, and now the devil we know all too well, T20 cricket, as the game’s money spinner. He has seen the careers of Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Shaun Pollcok, Gary Kirsten, Alec Stewart, Brain Lara, Martin Crowe, Rahul Dravid and Andy Flower come and go. He has outlasted them all. Heck, he was the very first batsman given out by the third umpire in Test crkcet way back in 1992.

He’s won a World Cup, played cricket around the world and was/is the game’s first true global superstar (Warne might argue with that, but Tendulkar got their first). He is adored by millions, anointed by Sir Donald Bradman as the batsman that most resembled him in style and technique at the crease and is even now a member of India’s parliament.

However, in Tendulkar’s last 16 Tests (and 29 innings), he has scored 951 runs, with no centuries and only seven fifties at a mediocre average of 32.79. He has very little of the fluency that used to inspire fear into bowlers, the assurance of movement that sent a message to the fielding team that he was in the sort of mood to build a house on the crease, he was going to be there so long.

During the T20 Champions League in South Africa this year, I was sitting in the press box at the Wanderers when the Highveld Lions’ Aaron Phangiso bowled Tendulkar, playing for the Mumbai Indians.

It was an ugly shot, with Tendulkar playing all round it. Phangiso was ecstatic, and I made the comment that “Tendulkar isn’t the batsman he used to be”. This caused murmurs and stirs, but why do we have to tip-toe around a subject that is clear to see. Sachin Tendulkar isn’t the batsman he used to be, and the longer he suspends his coming retirement, the more damage he is doing to his legacy, and arguably the Indian team the medium term.

India have been shown by England to be short of skill and hunger in their own conditions, which should be an embarrassment to the BCCI for the way they have neglected the first class game in India. Instead we hear excuses from the players and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, blaming everyone or everything else but themselves.

The Indian team, like Tendulkar, need to take responsibility for their performances. For the cricket world’s most populous nation to be losing so easily to an England team that is good but no where close to the level of Steve Waugh’s Australian side in the 2000s, something is wrong. Media reports today state that the selectors wanted to sack Dhoni only for the decision to be overturned by the BCCI president.

As India’s cricket exploits on the field, and the boardroom, get murkier, Tendulkar should like Ricky Ponting and Andrew Strauss this year, realise that by hanging on, the strands of rope that form his place in the history of cricket will only be stretched and distorted into a shape that a man of his once exceptional talent does not deserve.

Sachin Tendulkar should retire after the fourth and last England Test starting on Thursday. Will he? Rob Steen has an amusing crack at it…

Me? I doubt it very much.

New Zealand lambs to the slaughter on SA tour

Ross Taylor, New Zealand’s best batsman, has decided to skip his country’s tour of South Africa. A massacre looms

New Zealand arrive in South Africa as the world’s second worst Test side, the worst ODI team out of those playing Test cricket regularly, and their best batsman has accused management of lying regarding his dismissal as captain while deciding to stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Sounds like the recipe for a massacre.

With South Africa shiny from their series triumph in Australia, they could not have been served a more tantalising and tasty entree then the Black Caps. They were the team that Hashim Amla scored his first international century (149 in Cape Town in 2006), and the first team Dale Steyn took a fifer (5-47 at Centurion in 2006) and 10-wicket match haul (10-93 in Johannesburg in 2007) against.

It would not be strange if history repeated itself.

On the bright side, expectations of Brendon McCullum’s team are so low that anything but a white wash in each format will be viewed with some positivity. They have bowlers like Tim Southee and Trent Boult who know how to use the swinging ball, however it is their batting lineup that will be in serious danger of being gutted inside out by South Africa’s rampant seam bowling attack.

For South Africa, arrogance and complacency are the main risks against a team they have never lost a Test series to. Gary Kirsten, being the shrewd master of men that is, will surely eliminate all such thoughts.

On a different note, Steyn is one wicket away from the magical 300. It is remarkable Steyn, who will surely become the third quickest to the mark when the teams square off in the New Years Test in Cape Town, has not experienced the severe injury problems that have troubled other quick bowlers around the world.

His man-management, like Jacques Kallis, has been exemplary. He stands on the cusp of history, as he prepares to be the fourth South African to pass 300 Test wickets after his former opening partners Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and his current bowling coach, Allan Donald.

With Rooney on the rise, United look good for title

Rooney’s revitalization on the pitch has been steady this season, and bodes well for Manchester United’s title chances

Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Manchester City is a possible turning point in the title race. While it sounds premature to suggest the season is over after only one-third of it having passed, United breaking City’s unbeaten league home record of 37 games is a significant show from the red half of Manchester that as the matter stands, they are now in pole position in the title race.

Naysayers would shout that City overhauled a eight-point lead last season, so why couldn’t they do it this season?

The answer to that question is two-fold: Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

While Van Persie has more than justified his 24 million pound asking price from Arsenal, banging in goal after goal in this very attacking United team, it is Rooney who is the more interesting case.

He didn’t start the season as quickly as he would like, perhaps a hangover from his muddled exploits in the 2012 European Championships. And with Van Persie stealing his proverbial thunder, Rooney has not had as much expectation heaped on him as in previous years when he was United’s lone world class attacking player following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Do not misunderstand me. The likes of Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Nani (when on song), and Antonio Valencia are all fine pieces of the jigsaw, but it is in Rooney that England every two years, and United every year, have put its championship hopes and dreams.

Looking sharper and hungrier, his two goals against Reading and brace in the Manchester derby indicate that as the season reaches its manic Christmas period, United’s leading English player is hitting his stride.

For the other sides in the Premiership, that is very bad news.