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. 

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

South Africa look difficult to stop at no.1

South Africa legitimised their no.1 status in Perth

South Africa, in brutally crushing Australia in a fashion reminiscent of the way Australia dealt with the Shaun Pollock-led tour of 2001, have locked in their place as the world’s no.1 ranked Test side.

While they should count themselves lucky for Faf du Plessis’ unstoppable resilience in Adelaide (who know what might have happened at the Gabba if a day hadn’t been lost), their performance in Perth is one of the best by a South African side, if not the best, in the modern era.

Such was the efficiency and ruthlessness of Australia’s defeat, by over 300 runs, there has been barely a whisper from the Australian press, normally so strident when the Proteas visit their shores, contesting South Africa’s status as the best Test team in the world.

They came close twice, but in the end South Africa took their opportunity when it arose in Perth, where the bowling performance on the second day being the key one of the series. Australia, in bowling out South Africa for 225, could have perhaps done better conersidering it was South Africa’s lower order that bailed them out of trouble, with Du Plessis’ fine undefeated 78 supported by Robin Petersen’s 31 and Vernon Philander’s 30.

Then, Day 2 was where it all happened for Steyn, Philander and co, knocking over Australia for 163. Then by amassing 569, with Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers scoring big centuries, and assisted by captain Graeme Smith’s fifty, South Africa truly arrived, and subsequently bowled the hosts out 322 wining the game with a day to spare.

It seems Smith himself has grown more comfortable with the no.1 tag, and Gary Kirsten has re-energised him as a leader. South Africa’s leader now carries with him an aura of authority and achievement that South Africans have trouble seeing because he is their captain, but rest assured, the cricketing world sees Graeme Smith, and his team of cricket playing South Africans, as a looming juggernaut in the five-day game.

For Australia, Ricky Ponting’s retirement (and timed correctly), wasn’t enough to inspire them against their old foes. Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey aside, their is an element of inconsistency in their batting line-up, with it being not entirely settled, especially now that Ponting has gone.

Michael Clarke should really consider moving up to no.4 at least, if not no.3. Michael Hussey should stay at six with his experience vital to the lower and middle order. Ed Cowan looks to have the right stuff, scoring a century and 50 in the series against the Proteas. Dave Warner is explosive all right, but he doesn’t offer that consistency that a Justin Langer, Alistair Cook or Gautam Gambhir offer. Shane Watson personally should bat at five, if Australia want to be really serious about using him as an allrounder.

It would also suit Watson’s style of batsmanship, protecting him from the swinging ball early in the innings that often sees his front foot square in front of the stumps. Of the replacements, Usman Khawaja seems to have the best temperament, but whether he gets selected is another matter.

On the bowling front, Chris Pattinson and Peter Siddle look the right partnership, with Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson perhaps in the rear. Nathan Lyon has what it takes to continue as Australia’s best Test spinner, and will get better with experience.

South Africa next face New Zealand for two Tests and Pakistan for three over the African summer. South Africa will beat New Zealand, no doubt about that, regardless of Ross Taylor’s teams’ fine second Test performance in Sri Lanka. Many others have also dismissed Pakistan as a threat, which would be foolhardy as they have always proven tough opponents than South Africa give them credit for. South Africa should be able to beat Pakistan, but should not underestimate them one bit, considering that talent has never been a problem for the sub-continent nation, rather applying it.

The real South Africa stand up on Day 2

Hashim Amla should be doing this again on Day 3 against Australia

Now that is what you call a turn around. Following a mediocre Day 1, South Africa drove straight through the gate and into Australia’s proverbial house in Perth on Day 2 of the third and final Test.

With Faf du Plessis ensuring South Africa had something to defend on Day 1, it was left to Dale Steyn, at his rip-snorting best, and the rest of the South African attack to bring the Proteas back into the game, and they did that with gusto.

Steyn’s four wickets, combined with two from Philander, three from a highly improved Robin Peterson and one from Morne Morkel, saw Australia bowled out for 163. To follow that up, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla punished the Australian bowling attack by hurtling along at more than seven runs an over to leave South Africa 230/2 at the end of the day, with a lead of 292 with three days to play.

Smith was out to a fantastic catch by Nathan Lyon for 84, while Amla finished the day unbeaten on 99. With so much time left in the game, South Africa can smell a series victory. The delivery to remove Michael Clarke was the best of the series, and perhaps this is the reason why Australia offered two rather lifeless pitches at the Gabba and Adelaide before finally producing a more reputable Test wicket. South Africa’s attack, highly talked about before the series and disappointing in it until today, showed how South Africa, in part, ascended to number 1.

It’s been a wonderful series thus far, and while Australia are extremely unlucky not to be 1-0 up, the way South Africa have scrapped to get this far shows the mental strength that used to elude the Proteas whenever they faced their fabled nemesis from Down Under.

Long live Test cricket. South Africa to push on and win the game.

On a side note, Ricky Ponting’s departure from the game is a sad note, leaving only Jacques Kallis, Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sachin Tendulkar as the four remaining international players who made their debuts before 2000.

Like in the Lord of the Rings, where the destruction of the ring in Mount Doom saw the Third Age of Middle Earth come to an end, once these three titans of the game depart, cricket shall find itself in a very new era.

Atlas Smith carries his team’s hopes…again

Graeme Smith’s 26th Test hundred once again gave South Africa hope after a terrible start to the second Test in Adelaide

Considering how badly South Africa were looking after Day 1, Day 2 ended with skipper Graeme Smith once again showing there was still plenty of room to carry the hopes of a nation after another nerveless hundred (111*) away from home.

If the statistics are to be believed, now that Smith has notched up his 26th Test century, South Africa will not lose. When Graeme Smith has scored a century, South Africa have not lost the game, and won the majority of them (17 ).

On a pitch so lifeless, making a graveyard look like a club with pumping house music, Smith went about his business knowing that with Jacques Kallis only coming in at number seven due to injury, it was up to him to ensure his side made it to the end of Day 2 with minimal fuss.

He had a couple of close encounters, with James Pattinson throwing his toys once again after Smith got his dismissal via an edge reversed, but all in all South Africa while still deep in the abyss, can see the light above.

217/2 would sound a lot better at 217/0 but due to Alviro Petersen’s careless and frankly unacceptable dismissal (how at international level can you be that naive and not ground your bat?), and Hashim Amla yorking himself against the part time spin of David Warner, Jacques Rudolph now has a chance to save his Test career with a defining knock where he can bat all day.

Imran Tahir’s Test career hang’s on a knife edge, following his dismal display of 0/180 in 23 overs at 7.82 runs an over. What is even more galling is part timer Faf du Plessis looked the better of the two leggies, registering seven over for 34.

Hats off to Michael Clarke for another outstanding knock (230), and to David Warner and Michael Hussey once again making South Africa pay with centuries of their own. The Proteas managed to haul themselves back by taking the last five Australian wickets in the morning session, but many will ask whether South Africa prepared hard-enough after their much publicised break between Test matches, where the squad went their separate ways.

However, I don’t think Gary Kirsten and the break is to blame, but rather the Australians entering the game the more motivated of the two sides, and following another disruption with Vernon Philander being unable to play on the morning of the match, plus Tahir who is suffering a confidence crisis (along with fellow bowling cohort Rory Kleinveldt), Kirsten and co will have much thinking to do before the last Test.

I doubt you will see Tahir play, with the calmer Robin Petersen given the spin duties.

For now however, if Smith and South Africa can continue their vigil, the Proteas still have a good chance of drawing this match and going to Perth for the third and final Test at 0-0 all, even though they will admit to themselves that Australia have had their number thus far.

Word to the groundsman, who should have done better than produce a tar road for a Test pitch, late spin or not.

Short balls to Clarke?

 

Michael Clarke…on a bad day

I’ve read talk about South Africa intending on sending down many a chin-warmer against Michael Clarke, the Australian skipper, following his fine 259* not out against the Proteas at the Gabba.

Something tells me that isn’t quite going to happen, more of a bluff perhaps? The best way to get Michael Clarke, is the same way you get the very best out, and he is now one of those. Put the ball into the channel, bowl a good length and keep probing away, ball after ball after ball. Fuller rather than shorter.

Yes, Clarke will receive some bouncers chin-music, there can be no doubt about that. However, to think that in his current form that they will pepper him with short balls all day, seems too blunt an approach for Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith and the bowling attack in general. Yes, the Gabba was a bad day at the office, actually three, but South Africa have not become number through bowling the same way series by series.

There is a reason the Proteas haven’t lost an away series since 2006 especially. It’s because Smith’s attack has learned and more importantly learned to adapt to the situation around them.

The ball that will get Michael Clarke out will be fullish, outside or on off stump. Why would this happen? Because that’s where good bowlers get out good batsman.

On a separate note, it feels Ricky Ponting is only two bad scores away from being dropped? Of those batsman who made their debut in the 90s, Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar (89 for him), Mahela Jayawardene, and Jacques Kallis are left. While Kallis and Jayawardene have been more consistent, Ponting and especially Tendulkar have looked vulnerable. This could be Ricky Ponting’s last series if we’re not watching.