Category: South Africa (page 1 of 22)

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.

Shot!

“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.


An Australia team versus a South Africa team – this time it’s international cricket

The main thing we take from day one of the first Test between Australia and South Africa is that the five one-dayers they played in South Africa recently weren’t proper international matches and so they probably shouldn’t have bothered.

Australia’s bowling attack for those matches was a recurring theme in our weekly Cricket Badger newsletter (sign up here). Plenty of players were injured, but a few were rested too, meaning Australia got to showcase the full extent of their pace bowling weakness in depth.

Chris Tremain, Joe Mennie, Daniel Worrall and Scott Boland. The names are so unfamiliar, it feels a bit like you’ve somehow found yourself reading an article about 1980s baseball players. They all got panned and Australia got panned. And what did it prove?

Ten years after we first predicted it, squad rotation is now part and parcel of international cricket. But while a rested fast bowler here or there is one thing, there is a threshold beyond which matches cease to have any real meaning. At what point is a team international in name and attire only?

Management of resources is part of the game, but with different teams taking different approaches, you’re not always seeing like pitted against like.

Never mind the mismatches, if a weaker nation beats a deliberately compromised but otherwise stronger nation, does that even count for much? If the defeated team can easily explain away their defeat, that devalues the contest and denied even the opportunity to record an unarguable victory, the weaker nation’s fixtures are diminished.

Outside of World Cups, one-day matches have always been a little more transitory, but as this Australia v South Africa Test series wears on, it’ll be intriguing to look back on the one-day series that immediately preceded it and ask whether it really was genuine international cricket.


Is Rory Kleinveldt the archetypal South African pro?

As you may well have seen, Michael Lumb and Riki Wessels shared a 342-run partnership in a one-day game last night. Even more dispiritingly for the opposition, they did it as openers while batting first.

You could easily have been forgiven for thinking that the game was essentially over even before the fall of that first wicket, but Northamptonshire bounced back well, even if they couldn’t ultimately chase down Notts’ final total of 445. After falling to 206-5, Rory Kleinveldt came in and made 128 off 63 balls. He was batting with a runner due to a calf injury – although with 10 fours and nine sixes, there wasn’t an awful lot of running to be done.

Rory Kleinveldt is very, very South African indeed. If we try and imagine the archetypal South African county pro, he is in his early thirties, a solid seam bowler and capable of lower order batting that demands the description ‘muscular’. Muscular means fairly sloggy but somehow not suicidally so – enough to average about 20.

You’d expect such a player to have played a small handful of international fixtures and while you may sort of remember them being in the team, you won’t recall any specifics.

The ageing South African pro is also liable to be carrying a bit of extra heft. You would never call him Rory Kleinsvelte.


The first 229 runs of a T20 chase are apparently the easiest

After two overs against the West Indies, England had scored five. They then added another 177.

After two overs against South Africa, England had made 44. They then added another 186.

The first two overs aren’t to be wasted.

It was an odd match though. We can only conclude that they used the wrong ball. Rather than a cricket ball, some sort of fast-rolling rubber bouncy ball was employed. Better bowling has certainly been seen, but no matter where this ball landed and no matter what its pace, it was clipped to the fence with ease.

South Africa made 229, which is quite clearly a ludicrous total. England matched it with an over to spare.

If they’d batted first England would almost certainly have made about 190 and patted themselves on their giant collective back for having exceeded ‘par’. Jason Roy would have played himself in. They’d have finished four wickets down.

Instead, Roy was forced to revert to tinder, while Root took on the role of the hot-burning log – the hot-burning root arguably. Everyone else was kindling and the blaze roared until just one run was needed. At that point, everyone lost both perspective and their shit and the flame briefly flickered, damn near going out.

Fortunately, Moeen Ali was around to duff the necessary single with a level of serenity appropriate to the match – which is to say none.


Turns out AB de Villiers is rubbish at T20 cricket

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

There’s only so many times you can hear how wonderful something is before you want to hit it with a hammer or push it down a flight of stairs at the luxury five-star hotel at which it’s staying ahead of its team’s first match at the World T20.

However, this urge should be resisted. Generally speaking, it’s not the thing itself which is so objectionable – it’s the almost mindless adulation it receives. Also, why would it be using the stairs rather than the lift? Maybe it was a schoolboy stair ascending and descending champion and wants to keep its eye in. Who knows?

Anyway, should the mindless wish to gain a mind, Cricinfo’s S Rajesh has dug out a few stats about how AB de Villiers performs in T20 internationals. Turns out he has the fifth-lowest average among top five batsmen to have scored more than 750 runs.

It’s not totally damning, but it’s a nice thing to set against all the unquestioning worship, especially considering all the talk about how he supposedly epitomises the modern game.

Maybe he does. All anyone remembers are the days when he comes off – they forget all the frenetic failures. What could be more reflective of the contemporary cricket landscape than that?

Perhaps AB de Villiers wants his cake-eating window so that he can get in a bit more practice in his weakest format.


Alex Hales cultivates a healthy aversion to failure

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

If you were starring in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and needed to act in a scene where the submarine grounded on the seabed or was attacked by some sort of leviathan, there was only one way to do it. You and the rest of the cast ran back and forth across the set as if you were being thrown about inside the vessel.

You ran to the left. And then you ran to the right. Those old school special effects. Were surprisingly entertaining.

England’s 50-over batsmen seem similarly scornful of the middle ground. A year ago, they feared failure and sank, paralysed. Now they seem to have pushed off and run over to the other side of the set.

The whole playing-positively-with-little-regard-for-the-consequences approach is certainly better than what preceded it, but they do at times appear to have rebounded too far. Cheerleaders for positivity they may be, but believing it to be the answer to everything in all scenarios is nought but delusion.

The players may well tell themselves that they’d sooner be all out for 200 shooting for 400 than making 260 only to discover that isn’t enough – but it isn’t that simple. Sometimes 260 is enough and you know it’s enough and you could have got there if you hadn’t been quite so monomaniacal about playing with no fear of failure.

Tempering positivity doesn’t equate to abandoning it. Of course fear of failure is counterproductive, but a healthy aversion to it needn’t be.

Alex Hales appears to be one player who is increasingly immersing himself in the waters of flexibility. The strike-rate may have sunk a little, but the run count has soared.

As far as Hales’ team-mates are concerned, the moral of the story is that the Gavaskar-Afridi spectrum has a broad middle and a couple of small steps in Jonathan Trott’s direction isn’t necessarily a crime.


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