The Kallis conundrum

Jacques Kallis turning his arm over at ODI level is an increasingly rare, if not extinct, sight.

The ICC Champions Trophy (and thankfully the last ever) will be held in England in June this year.

While it is a tournament that the world cricket calender never needed, it still has enough credibility for the big cricketing nations to take it seriously. 

South Africa would be hoping to win their first piece of ICC silverware since the 90s (after triumphing at the 1998 edition). While the South African squad we saw in action against Pakistan over the summer looked to be the line-up that would do battle in England, two names were missing that will probably be in the team sheet. 

The first is JP Duminy, who really started to look like he had cemented his place in both the Test and ODI sides. Following his injury in Australia last year that has ruled him out for quite some time, his return to fitness is important for the balance of the team, given his off spin bowling is of a very useful standard.

The major question mark remaining is that of Jacques Kallis. No longer available for bilateral one day series, Proteas coach Gary Kirsten is reportedly doing his best to convince Kallis to return for the tournament.

There is a notion doing the rounds in the republic that Kallis should not be drafted straight into the starting XI given his relative lack of action at ODI level. While it certainly would have implications on his form, it is a no-brainer to bring Kallis in given the outstanding balance he brings to any side he plays for, plus his experience.

He bats at three, is a reliable close in fielder and can carry 10 over if need be with the ball. As his career winds down, the Proteas have rightfully prioritised Tests as the arena where Kallis’ efforts will be focused. However, if they can bring him in for the Champions Trophy, South Africa will be the better for it.

It will likely serve as King Kallis’ last ODI appearance given that the next World Cup is two years away and by then he would be verging on the same age as Sachin Tendulkar, who it should be said, should have retired after India won the 2011 World Cup. The Little Master has decided to carry on, to the detriment of his reputation and his legacy.

Kallis on the other hand has appeared to get better with age, and with the generation of South African batsmen that followed him, in the form of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith and Duminy, having taken up the scoring reigns and removed the burden of carrying the team as he did in the last 90s and early 2000s, Kallis has gone on to become a better batsman staggeringly as he has gotten older. He has triumphed in his career dual with peer Ricky Ponting, and along with Shiv Chanderpaul and Tendulkar, is the last player to have made his debut in the 1990s. The man represents an epoch in the sport.  

Jacques Kallis playing for South Africa in any format is a massive advantage the Proteas should take advantage of, before the great man leaves the field for good. If he is in the team, the Proteas should be seen as the favourites given how conditions in England will suit South Africa better than their Asian. Australasian and West Indian couter parts. England? They might be distracted by the upcoming Ashes battle. 

Axing of Australian players from over report seems a bit much

Shane Watson is on his way back to Australia after being disciplined for not handing in a report. Will this mark the beginning of the end for his Test career, or Mickey Arthur?

I wonder how many of Australia’s former cricketers are either rolling in their graves or shaking their heads in dismay at the news that vice-captain Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson have been axed from the Test side for their third encounter against India for supposedly not handing a report in on time.

This does not seem like the Australia we know. The Australia world cricket knows does not take such dramatic action then broadcast it to hammer home the point. While details of why the players have been axed probably would have leaked out anyway, it seems a bit harsh for a minor error. Cricket players are paid to play cricket, not write reports.

Look, there is probably a lot more to it than just not doing as asked, but Watson flying home is a bad look for Australia considering he is the vice-captain and one of Australia’s more experienced players. Considering how they have been outplayed on their Indian tour thus far, Australia need all the help they can get.

Watson is more motivated returning home since his wife is expecting, but his words to the Australian newspaper do not make great reading for cricket officials Down Under.

Watson: “Anytime you are suspended from a Test match, unless you have done something unbelievably wrong . . . I think it is very harsh,” he said. “In the end I have got to live with it . . . I am at a stage where I have to weigh up my future with what I want to do with my cricket in general, to be honest.”

One also wonders what sort of effect this might have on feelings about Mickey Arthur being the man at the top. Not a universal choice, and a South African to boot which the Australians deep down inside don’t like (or trust perhaps), he is struggling for credibility. However, this latest diktat will only boost the call for his head ever louder, regardless of whether his job is at stake at all.

 

The only ones mildly amused by this would be India, who now look ever better favourites to finish the series off with a match to play in Mohali, starting on Thursday. Michael Clarke’s involvement in all this will also fall under the microscope, but given he is the only man essentially keeping the Australian batting order together, he has other problems on his plate. 

South Africa show the beginnings of a long reign as No. 1

Kyle Abbott’s seven wickets on debut is the second best ever by a South African on debut.

South Africa just keep rolling on. Another three day demolition, this time Pakistan the victims, shows that the Proteas spell as number have the depth that is key to longevity at the top of the world’s Test pile.

Having lost both Morne Morkel, and crucially Jacques Kallis, the man who has given South Africa balance year after year after year, Rory Kleinveldt was drafted, as was Kyle Abbott for his Test debut.

Perhaps seen as more a steady performer than the sort of bowler to blow sides away, Abbott bowled and excellent line and length, akin to the sort of stuff Vernon Philander normally dishes out on a regular basis. This, aided with his above average bounce saw his pick up the best ever 1st innings debut figures for a South African bowler, and the second best of all time for the Proteas, behind Lance Klusener’s eight in India over 10 year ago.

After posting 400 plus, the Proteas bowling once again showed its class. It would be heartening since Kleinveldt seems to have the chops for Test cricket, while Abbott’s performance means there are now three high quality replacements when needed if the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander aren’t fit.

It also gave a glimpse into what the team’s future will be like when Kallis does eventually call it a day. Given the strength of the top six, South Africa at this stage can afford to pick five bowlers, with all of them able to hold a bat while Philander and Robin Peterson are more than capable of making regular contributions.

This focus will now shift to limited overs cricket as South Africa have some time before playing another Test. As things stand, this is the first time South Africa have swept three Test-plus series (ignoring Bangladesh, ZImbabawe and New Zealand) since the West Indies in 1998. 

The signs are good for a long reign at the top. 

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

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.

Alistair Cook destined for greatness

Alistair Cook has scored five centuries in his five Tests as captain, with three in a row against India on the current tour

Five Tests as skipper, five centuries. Alistair Cook has now established himself as an England legend by becoming the leading Test centurion for England, with his 23rd Test hundred in Kolkata surpassing Kevin Pietersen, Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott. Pietersen might still catch up, but with Cook 27 and Pietersen 32, time is on the side of England’s latest Test skipper.

It is fitting that his record-breaking century be scored in the country where he got his first, in Nagpur in 2006 on debut. I lived in Australia during England’s all-conquering 2010/2011 Ashes tour where Cook scored over 700 runs, including a fine double century in Brisbane. The man’s footwork was sound and exact, his technique efficient and well-understood. The man never looked like getting out, and it has so proven since, where lean patches between 2008 and 2009 and mid-2010 have been coupled by a deluge of runs, especially when he has the (c) next to his name.

With a batting style reminiscent of Gary Kirsten in many ways, except slightly better (which is no insult to South Africa’s current coach), Cook understands his game inside out, which is the key to his batting. He knows his strengths and his weaknesses, making him an extremely difficult player to bowl into in that mistakes are rare.

While he perhaps underperformed when South Africa visited England earlier this year, like Michael Clarke, the captaincy has seemed to make him even more focused, with bowlers around the world giving a collective sigh.

Alistair Cook will soon be Sir Alistair Cook, no doubt. Especially if he leads England to victory in India, which is looking increasingly likely. interestingly enough, he is the youngest man to ever score 7000 Test runs. Whose record did he beat? Sachin Tendulkar’s.