Category: South Africa (page 1 of 22)

Tom Latham can see the future (+ video)

Tom Latham, Timelord

That is the only half-decent explanation for this catch.

Far and away our favourite part of this footage is seeing Bruce Oxenford visibly embarking upon a gasp towards the end.

Even as the ball was en route to bat, Latham was off and running. We don’t know how many times he stopped time and rewound it before he got this right.

We’d guess one million times.

AB de Villiers slowly coming to terms with Test retirement

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Very slowly. He’s not yet at a point where he’ll accept that his final Test was in January last year.

Earlier this week, de Villiers made himself unavailable for selection for the upcoming Test series in New Zealand in March. Today he ruled himself out of the Test series against England in July-August.

Future withdrawals and unavailability for five-day cricket will be announced as and when series are scheduled.

Vernon Philander is there if you need some seasoning


We’ve spent much of the morning trying to work out what kind of a vehicle Vernon Philander is. After much thought, we’ve concluded that he’s not a vehicle at all – he’s a pepper grinder.

South Africa have a lot of whizzy, fancy kitchen gadgets. Dale Steyn is the luxury coffee-maker you always look forward to putting into use; Kagiso Rabada is a new vegetable juicer – novel and good for you, but might yet break down; and Morne Morkel is a big gallumphing lankatron of genial ferociousness who would do all the chopping and dicing you asked of him even though his rampant gigantism puts him in a decent position to say no to anyone at any time.

Philander, by contrast, is a low-key functional object who does his job perfectly.

You need some pepper? Use the grinder – there’s some pepper.

You need someone to bowl at the top of off stump, hitting the seam with every damn delivery? Use Vernon Philander – there’s 152 Test wickets at 21.65.

Philander was away for a while. When he returned, he looked solid-of-midriff and you got the impression that surely now his logic-defying brand of medium-pace would be found out.

Not so. It just never seems to work out like that. People always expected his Test bowling average to swell like a spacehopper at altitude following a few series away from home, but it never really did.

His home record is superior – as it is for almost all players – but his away record is 57 wickets at 25.35. That is, basically, earth-shattering. If it’s built on wickets taken in New Zealand and England then only in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe is his record actually outright bad – and that’s only three Tests.

Vernon Philander endures. Toastie makers and waffle irons may fall into disuse, but pepper will always be ground.

Clinical dobbery can take a bowler a very long way.

Mop-up of the last couple of days – Angelo Mathews still has work to do

For a good long while you could accurately gauge Sri Lanka’s score by whether or not Angelo Mathews was walking out to bat or not. If he was, they were 22-3. If he wasn’t, it was some other score.

A couple of recent batting finds had encouraged the notion that Mathews would no longer be obliged to be his team’s Shivnarine Chanderpaul as well as serving as captain and doing a load of bowling. This optimism may be unfounded, for against South Africa it has been business as usual.

Mathews appears to be back to leading by example regardless of whether or not anyone shows the faintest interest in following. It is at least very thoughtful of the rest of the cricket world to limit his workload by refusing to schedule many matches against his team.

Down in Melbourne, Pakistan are still batting and no-one really knows what it means because it’s still the first innings. Whether theirs proves to be a good team score or not, Azhar Ali’s unhurried rise continues.

Vehement letter-C denier AB de Villiers also renounces (c)

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

AB de Villiers has stood down as South Africa Test captain. Faf du Plessis has filled the void, much as he has been doing for quite a while now.

This decision makes sense to us for two reasons. Firstly, de Villiers hardly ever plays cricket for South Africa at the minute, while du Plessis does. Secondly, de Villiers is a bad captain, whereas du Plessis seems quite a good one.

They’ve emphasised the first reason in the announcement.

De Villiers always seemed to look upon captaincy much as a schoolboy does, for some reason equating hand-eye co-ordination with aptitude for strategic thinking and man management.

Whether he has actually been disabused of the notion that he should captain his country because he is the best batsman is unclear. Like many skilful cricketers, we suspect he’ll always believe that his physical ability will directly translate into more cerebral activities connected with the sport. A career as a commentator surely awaits.

How to dismiss Faf du Plessis – make friends with him

Faf du Plessis is a competitor. That’s the kind of thing people say. It’s a shorthand way of saying that he only seems capable of playing to his full potential when there’s a stronger taste of conflict to proceedings.

Performing in what is never called the crucible of county cricket, du Plessis didn’t really make any runs. Quite often he fails to do so in Tests too.

Then there are the good days, when he looks cut from a different cloth. Nothing silky. It would be some sort of high quality durable fabric, possibly with water repellent properties and a rough finish.

Psyched up for his Test debut, he made 110 not out off 376 balls to earn South Africa a draw after they’d been 45-4. Today, having spent the week being harangued for being a ‘guilty‘ man, he made a hundred in a day-night Test when everyone else struggled.

This particular adrenaline-sharpened form of Faf didn’t even get hit in the nads.

Mop-up of the day – guilt, great promise and grey trivialities

‘Du Plessis found guilty’ reads the Cricinfo headline. We don’t really feel it necessary to add much to your likely response to reading that. The effect of imposing black and white morality on the sport’s grey trivialities could barely be clearer.

Here’s something we wrote last time Du Plessis buggered about with a cricket ball. It’s still relevant.


“If he does come in I think he’ll give it his best shot,” said Trevor Bayliss about the likely inclusion of Jos Buttler in England’s third Test team instead of Ben Duckett.

We’re rather hoping to see plural shots, but England are in no position to impose such lofty expectations on a man who presumably thinks of red cricket balls as being exclusively reserved for use in the nets.

At the same time, Buttler is a player for whom his first-class record appears to tell but the smallest fragment of the story. We’re excited about his return.

Had England brought him back into the team for a home Test match despite almost no first-class cricket in recent times, there’d had been an outcry. Plucked from an emaciated touring squad, his inclusion can more easily be justified.

Perhaps it was always a deliberate ploy to take Gary Ballance on tour only to instantly drop him.

Series appraisal

Basically still what we said after the first day of the second Test: “On pitches that deteriorate over the course of a five-day match, England are capable of having the better of things when they bat first. When India bat first, they are good enough that they seem almost certain to dominate. That appears to be the difference between the sides.”

Given a pitch that deteriorated quicker, England could have won the first Test. Given a pitch that didn’t deteriorate so much, India could still have won the second. The tourists need a lot more things to go their way than the home team to win Test matches here.

We’re going to stop writing about grey trivialities now.

Australia should probably stop doctoring their own pitches

Giant house of cards (CC licensed by Tjflex2 via Flickr)

Giant house of cards (CC licensed by Tjflex2 via Flickr)

Playing Australia is like playing Jenga with a house of cards when each of the cards is drunk.

Before they played Sri Lanka, David Warner spoke of batting “well into the next day” but the team repeatedly folded as if prepared by Miura.

Against South Africa at the Waca, they built a little first, almost as if they wanted to deliver a more spectacular collapse. As falling Lego bricks bounced off the carpet, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that this maybe wasn’t just a spin thing.

That has now been confirmed. In the second Test in Hobart, they folded like junk mail in the first innings before buckling like a belt in the second, losing their last eight wickets for 32 runs.

As you’re no doubt aware, Australia only ever collapse because the pitch has been ‘doctored’. Somehow the playing surface is always tampered with in such a way that the opposition can bat completely normally while the poor, honest, play-by-the-rules Aussies go down like round-bottomed skittles placed on an icy slope.

Quite why Australia have started preparing their home pitches in this way is beyond us.

Australia fold like junk mail

Junk mail (CC licensed by Farouq Taj via Flickr)

Junk mail (CC licensed by Farouq Taj via Flickr)

Any batting side can fold like a Bargain Booze leaflet pushed through the door, but it takes a certain amount of preparation to do this when it’s really expected of you. Confronted with a robust hard-to-open letterbox, Australia crumpled impressively.

We watched the first six overs of their 85 all out against South Africa. Vernon Philander’s first over was a heap of shit – none of his first six balls were within 18 inches of the stumps – but still David Warner managed to depart. Kyle Abbott started more consistently and he too took a wicket off the last ball of his over.

Pretty soon after, we went to bed. South Africa had taken a wicket with dross and now they’d found their line, this wasn’t going to take too long.

Playing at home usually cures Australian batsmen of all their ills, so they’ve really had to build up to this. The Sri Lanka tour knocked out one supporting pillar and the one-day series against South Africa knocked out another. This allowed a third pillar to fall despite early reconstruction efforts in the first Test. It seems like they’re trying to build on sand now.

You wonder whether this level of failure would have been possible without those preparations. It might seem ostensibly irrelevant, but we reckon Australia would have made a half-decent total had they picked some bowlers people had heard of for that South Africa one-day series or had they perhaps just not played it at all.

Mop-up of the day – Batting collapses don’t just come against spin, apparently

A true collapse comes after a start. Throwing a load of Lego bricks over the floor is just a mess; putting them together to build some sort of tower before watching it keel over – that’s a collapse.

Like England last week, Australia took the time to set the scene. A 158-run opening partnership is more than just foundations, which was just as well because they then lost 10 wickets for 86.

At least two of the culprits were predictable – Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Marsh.

Khawaja felt that he’d been made a ‘scapegoat’ after being dropped in Sri Lanka following a series of scores that read 26, 18, 11 and nought. He clearly thought he’d bottomed out and was on the way back up. This view has been entirely vindicated as he was dismissed for four on his return to the side.

As for Marsh, we haven’t seen any of today’s play, but over on Cricinfo, Brydon Coverdale said of his dismissal that “the biggest worry was the distance by which he missed the ball.”

Australia love the idea of having a seam-bowling all-rounder and they do tend to give them plenty of rope.

On the plus side…

At least they won’t have to face quite so many bowlers in the second innings. Dale Steyn has been ruled out of the series with a fractured shoulder.

Steyn seems caught in a perpetual recuperation cycle of late and one wonders what we’ll see of him in years to come. Bowlers evolve, but Steyn has always been an adrenal sort of player and if he’s unable to force his body to physical extremes, you can’t help but feel he’ll be blunted.

It says it all that his departure isn’t the body blow for South Africa it might once have been. They’d sooner have him than not, but the relentless rehab means they’re uncertain what they’ll get from him while they have solid replacements in reserve.

From what we saw, Steyn spent much of the first innings trying to bounce the shit out of David Warner and Shaun Marsh, even though the soundtrack of every Waca Test ever has been some sage old Aussie telling everyone how bowlers always get carried away bouncing the shit out of the batsmen when in reality the best approach is to pitch it up.

Back to collapses

Australia against Sri Lanka and England against Bangladesh were spin-induced collapses. With England embarking on a tour of India, many people are predicting a few more.

If you’d like some further reading, this piece on Graeme Swann’s comments about the culture of English cricket and its view of spin bowling is well worth a look. You could also watch the video if you’d for some reason like to encourage the notion that video clips are a better way of presenting information on the web than easy-to-scan text.

We agree with much of what Swann says. If spin is fundamentally something of an afterthought, there’s little point getting angry at the tweakers selected when spin bowling does come to the fore. Nor can you realistically expect a specialist coach to swan in, click his fingers, and teach the bowlers how to reliably and accurately click theirs in little more than a fortnight.

He also expresses our recurring point that English batsmen have a lot of catching up to do and that it is again because of the environment in which they develop.

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