Photo by Sarah Ansell
A real man of the match performance from AB de Villiers won England the first T20 international against South Africa. The greatest sportsman who ever lived ate up 58 balls in making an unbeaten 65.
If the innings hinted at a two-paced pitch, England’s batsmen only noticed one of them and weren’t unduly troubled by the other.
For all the adulation, it’s worth remembering that de Villiers isn’t actually all that good at T20, one of the two formats he still deigns to play. Nor has he done a right lot else in recent times.
De Villiers’ last Test hundred (do we mean ‘most recent’ or ‘final’) came in January 2015. His most recent one-day international hundred came in January 2016.
This isn’t to talk him down. He’s been an extraordinary batsman, but we’re starting to wonder whether he ever will be again. He’s supposedly fully focused on the 2019 World Cup, but in the Champions Trophy he looked like a man short of cricket. You wonder whether he might want to broaden out his tunnel vision a tad.
In this match he looked like a man playing with a hollow bat.
Jason Roy isn’t in great form either. His body is – as one stout over of straight-batted thonking proved – but his brain is not.
Refusing to stick to the methodology that had started to reap rich dividends, Roy for some reason backed himself to play someone else’s natural game and unfurled a suicidal reverse sweep.
Clearly Roy feels he has something to prove. That proof will probably only come once he feels differently.
Bob from Twin Peaks (via YouTube)
We said you were going to start noticing everyone going mental about Mason Crane. Today marks an obvious step-up in mentalgoing as it seems highly likely the leg-spinner will make his international debut.
Indirectly referring to him, AB de Villiers grappled with the meaning of the word ‘unknown’.
“A few of our guys have played with the unknown guys in the English side. There’s really good information shared over those meetings and there’s also video footage and analysis of all of those players so it’s not completely foreign to us – we know more or less what to expect.”
There was also good news regarding more familiar players. Speaking about Jason Roy, Eoin Morgan observed: “He is still the same fella.”
Here at King Cricket we are glad that an assessment has been carried out as we were starting to fear that Roy had been possessed by Bob from Twin Peaks. This view was based on nothing more than our current habit of morphing everything we see on TV into one impossible-to-follow storyline featuring sportsmen and David Lynch characters – but it was still a concern.
Jason Roy edges two cricket balls (ECB via Twitter video)
After snatching the second one-day international, England decided to test the notion that they can now win from any position by giddily launching themselves towards 20-6 in the third.
Now 20-6 is definitely a score you can win from, but ideally you’d be fielding when it occurred. South Africa got this part of the equation correct and duly won the game.
On the telly, they said that England’s slump was due to an outbreak of ‘hard hands’.
Skincare is just the sort of marginal gain they really should be on top of. To address this weakness, we recommend that they stock up on E45 cream and/or take up nice cushy office jobs that don’t require them to do any heavy lifting.
We were quite keen to be first off the mark in using the word “choked” to mean “lost a cricket match” in reference to South Africa this summer.
Hopefully we have achieved our aim. When you see the term deployed by others in the weeks to come, be sure to let them know that we were there first.
England’s victory again hinged on their conviction that they should be trying to take wickets throughout the innings.
Chris Woakes was the most wicket-takery bowler on the day, as he quite often is these days. He deserves it for his bowling action alone.
A lot of people coo over the aesthetics of a perfectly executed cover drive. These people have clearly never seen Chris Woakes bowl. He’s like one of those finely calibrated production line robots, only made out of honey.
South Africa choked on honey. It can happen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.