We can thank Faf du Plessis for inadvertently giving us the fantastically earnest Cricinfo headline: ‘No zips on cricket kit by 2015′. This brave new world is to be created because he was caught raking the ball across a zip on his kecks, presumably in a bid to rough it up.
Well aware that cricket treats ball tamperers like war criminals, Faf has gone to the trouble of making some vague comments about the matter.
His first line of defence is:
“When the on-field umpires inspected the ball, there wasn’t a scratch mark or anything untoward on the ball. In fact, it was in excellent shape and wasn’t reverse-swinging at all. Basically, the condition of the ball hadn’t been changed, and that’s why I think my penalty was not as harsh as the sentences given out for other similar incidents.”
This says to us that he wasn’t doing his job very well. He is an incompetent ball scratcher – which can also double as an insult.
His second line of defence is:
“I pride myself on being a morally good person, and that’s why this past week has been so difficult, as people have been quick to label me a cheat.”
The thing about morals is that they are internally generated. It’s an individual thing. You can do something you consider morally wrong without breaking the law, but in different circumstances you can also break the law without feeling like you have morally transgressed.
As far as cricket as a whole is concerned, we suggest that the unwritten code is that ball tampering only becomes morally wrong at the point at which you are caught.20 Appeals
After losing the first Test to Pakistan, South Africa captain Graeme Smith said:
“It should hurt. But this team has too much ability to make this a habit.”
We immediately thought about the distinction between confidence and delusion and how the only real difference is what happens afterwards. These seemed hubristic words, but apparently this South Africa side isn’t ready to segue into cocky self-deception just yet.
Or maybe they’re just playing Pakistan. Believing you have any impact whatsoever on the outcome of a match against Pakistan could be considered delusional.
Pakistan coach, Dav Whatmore, said of his team’s 99 all out in the first innings of this second Test:
“We expected the opposition to come back strong, but I don’t think they did. We orchestrated most of our dismissals ourselves.”
It’s worth noting that last year, at the same venue, Pakistan were bowled out for 99 by England and won the Test by 71 runs. Pakistan never do the same thing twice, so they’ll definitely lose this one.12 Appeals
This is the conclusion we’ve reached. Far from being a see-saw on a roundabout in an earthquake, Pakistan cricket is actually very stable. It’s just that different branches of it have to compensate when there’s upheaval elsewhere so that the whole remains perfectly balanced.
Last month, Pakistan lost a Test to Zimbabwe. At the time, Zimbabwe weren’t even ranked bottom of the Test teams. In fact, they weren’t listed because they hadn’t played enough matches in recent years. Some people said it was an encouraging performance, but really we all know that it was just Pakistan.
Most teams would have had their confidence dented by something like that. Pakistan barely noticed. Instead, they moved onto a Test series against the best team in the world with complete conviction that they would win and are currently building a large first innings lead.
Meanwhile, their cricket board has been dissolved.
This is the way it works. It’s like air trapped under wallpaper. You squash down the chaos bubble in the Test arena and it pops up in administration. We can only assume that during the Zimbabwe defeat, the board was operating smoothly, pausing only to light joss sticks and meditate.10 Appeals
We assume this was why he was just dismissed for 15 in the first Test against Pakistan.
Last week, in the only warm-up match for this series, Smith made two against Pakistan A. The innings before that was for Surrey in May. You might think he’d have wanted a bit more time in the middle before this Test, but no, he sat out the second innings of that warm-up match.
Questioned about this decision, he went all Matthew Hayden on us:
“Not batting today was just a management process.”
This hasn’t been the only example of recent guff-talking from Smith. Before the tour, he gave advance warning that match practice wasn’t a major concern:
“I’ve upped my cricket skills in the last two weeks or so and it will be about getting mentally ready.”
The good news is that he now has plenty of time to ‘fine-tune his mental skillset’ back in the shed.15 Appeals
Have you been following this India-South Africa brouhaha over the last few weeks? Just because something’s reported as if it’s not massively childish, doesn’t mean it isn’t massively childish.
Basically, there’s a whole load of politics going on, which is sod all to do with cricket and everything to do with business, power and influence. However, a Test series may well be sacrificed in the crossfire.
Reading about this farrago is an exercise in futility because you can disregard pretty much everything anyone says about it. Most official comment isn’t even a bastardised version of the truth, it’s usually just a completely irrelevant lie presented as if it’s ‘the issue’. Quite who this official reading of the situation is aimed at is anyone’s guess because no-one really believes it.
The BCCI have some sort of roulette wheel featuring heady-sounding job titles which they spin at times like this to see who will be called upon to talk vacuous nonsense to the media. This week, it landed on ‘secretary’ which is a bloke called Sanjay Patel. It doesn’t matter who he is or what he does though. The BCCI has whole battalions of these guys. We presume that they grow them somewhere in dank, clay soil which doesn’t get much daylight.
Sanjay Patel said:
“Certain things have to be put in right perspective. Let me inform you that BCCI in normal circumstances would have done anything [for the tour to proceed]. But the protocol of finalising any series is joint declaration. But that declaration was originally done without the BCCI’s approval. So we are waiting.”
This is such a colossal waste of words.
Patel paints the BCCI as being an organisation which would do anything to ensure a cricket tour took place, which it isn’t.
He claims the problem is due to ‘protocol’, which would be absurdly trivial if it were true – but it isn’t. The BCCI claim that their gripe is that South Africa announced the series prematurely before everything was finalised. There may well be some truth in that, but you can be equally certain it’s not the full story – it’s no more than one sentence in the middle of chapter eight.
Finally, he says that the BCCI are waiting, without saying what they might be waiting for. We can only presume they are waiting for the day when Gondwana reforms in the shape of a giant boardroom table around which every remaining human will gather, wearing a suit and sunglasses. They will then discuss whether or not to take a vote for a thousand years before finally deciding that they need to launch an internal investigation into why no vote has taken place.
No-one, at any point, will question what the vote might be about. No-one, at any point, will achieve anything.12 Appeals
You know what? We knew this. We intimated as much this morning. This South African team hasn’t choked, it just isn’t really all that good. This particular XI had a couple of good batsmen and no bowlers. You don’t win much with a line-up like that.
You may point out that 80-8 is particularly bad. It is, but it’s not a choke. A choke is throwing away a winning position. This was a mediocre team failing to hit its own reasonably low standards and sort of rolling slowly downhill towards defeat as a consequence.
Look at it this way: this was a batting line-up which had Robin Peterson at three, even though he only has one fifty in 72 one-day internationals. Peterson came up against James Anderson on a day when the ball swung. With that in mind, his 30 was the overperformance of the day.
Several England players performed well, but whoever they face in the final will present a far bigger challenge. As will the rain.13 Appeals
This seems to be a common assessment at the minute, but it’s a bit unfair. They’re more polarised, polarised England – steady upper order batting and then the three dementos at five, six and seven.
Admittedly, two of the dementos – Morgan and Buttler – have mostly failed in this tournament, but no-one has hit more sixes than Ravi Bopara. Add James Anderson’s wicket-taking and England are a reasonably watchable side providing you miss the first half of their innings.
There seems to be some debate as to whether Graeme Swann is actually injured or whether it’s just a face-saving excuse for dropping him. If it’s the latter, a dry Oval pitch might give rise to rapid rehabilitation. Let’s see if both he and Tredwell play.
If we’re evaluating boring teams, South Africa surely score quite well. Take out Amla and De Villiers and the batting seems to lack something, but not as much as the bowling lacks should Steyn be deemed unfit to play.
If you’re a neutral, look at it this way: should England win, the commentators will have more to talk about during the final’s long rain delays than if South Africa were to get through.23 Appeals
South Africa are supposed to be playing the Windies today, then India play Pakistan before England play New Zealand. However, we’re away for the weekend with no plans to use the internet, so you’re going to have to fill in the gaps yourselves in the comments section.
We’re not really in the habit of predicting things because we always anticipate being wrong and if you don’t trust your own predictions, why should anyone else? However, if pushed to commit to some sort of opinion, we’d say South Africa’s bowling line-up appears to have been put together for Chris Gayle’s benefit, so maybe something will happen there should the rain relent.
As for the second match, we’ve been backing India in this tournament and so should probably stick with that. It’s a bizarre match though with a great batting line-up and mediocre bowling line-up pitted against a shoddy batting line-up and fantastic bowling line-up. Only one thing’s for certain: one team will reveal themselves as being better than the other one (unless the match is rained off).
England v New Zealand? We’re pretty confident that one will be a washout. It’s just the way these things work.39 Appeals
If we’d have bothered writing a Champions Trophy preview, we might have had India down as fair weather favourites. It’s as much the lack of alternatives as anything else.
India have their weaknesses, but despite the absence of some extraordinarily familiar faces they’re experienced and they play to their strengths. There may have been players paid to underperform during the IPL, but the India cricket team is overpaid to perform. They will make runs and they won’t worry too much when the opposition do.
Shorn of Dale Steyn – and a side strain can keep a fast bowler out for a while – South Africa look like a dilute version of India. They have a few explosive batsmen, but their bowling attack is clogged up with generic seam. They also need to beat both Pakistan and the West Indies now.
That’s right. One match in and already a major team is on the brink. In fact, there is a very slim chance South Africa could win those two matches and still go out if other results don’t go their way.
Make no mistake, the Champions Trophy is okay.2 Appeals
That is a deeply unsatisfactory title and we’ll tell you why – fire and ice are not equal.
No matter how dangerous ice can be, fire is just fundamentally scarier. Talk about fire and it conjures images of blazing infernos. Talk about ice and you think of slipping over and bruising your coccyx.
For the purposes of this article, imagine fire and ice are equally intimidatory because what we’re trying to convey is that there’s more than one way to reprimand a cat (we’ve decided to update that idiom for a modern world which has greater respect for animals).
Test cricket is particularly absorbing when teams with contrasting approaches are pitted against each other. It’s partly a test of which team is the better, but it also allows us to scrutinise and evaluate different methodologies.
The South African approach is pretty obvious. Their fast bowlers exploit the new ball; their batsmen play sensibly. This is an incredibly effective gameplan in their home conditions, but in the second Test against Pakistan, we are seeing it pitted against something rather different.
The Pakistan approach is far less reliant on the new ball. Their most threatening bowlers are spinners, but on top of that their fast bowlers are generally more adept at reverse swing than the conventional kind.
This Pakistani approach to bowling alters the rhythm of the match and the South African innings will doubtless follow a different pattern to Pakistan’s. They may well end up 338 all out as well, but they’ll have arrived at that destination via different roads.
Or perhaps they’ll score far more than 338. Fire melts ice, after all.26 Appeals