So said South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk after her team had conceded a world record 216-1 in a T20 against New Zealand and then a few hours later conceded 250-3 against England.
“An area of concern” is a great way of putting it. “An absolute liability” is just that little bit too straightforward, while “absolute dog toss” isn’t a very diplomatic way of rating the performance of your team-mates.
“We spoke between games about what we wanted to do, but did the complete opposite,” she added.
She didn’t say why.
AB de Villiers spent rather a long time desperately trying to engineer a cake monopoly. He wanted to retain and eat The Cake of International Cricket; he wanted to retain and eat The Lucrative Cake of T20 Franchise Cricket; and he also wanted to retain and eat The Cake of Having a Little Bit of Time Off.
Sometimes a man’s desires are impractical and AB finally seems to have accepted that the world isn’t organised how he wants it to be. He’s therefore taken the decision to forego The Cake of International Cricket.
It seems odd timing with a World Cup not so far away. Maybe David Warner and Nathan Lyon broke his spirit.
Most Test tours are bad tours these days because it is rare for any team to win away from home. That said, there are different degrees of badness. We have a faint suspicion that Australia’s recently-completed tour of South Africa might have been unusually bad. Let’s try and work out whether that really was the case.
It’s important to be methodical when you’re asking a nebulous sort of question like this, so let’s set a series of sub-questions and try and answer each of them in turn. There are no points on offer here – we aren’t going to precisely quantify the badness – but hopefully by breaking down the larger question into smaller ones, we can get a clearer idea of how things went. These are questions you could ask of any tour but in this particular instance they are being applied to South Africa v Australia.
Are you ready?
Okay, let’s go.
Teams lose players all the time for all sorts of different reasons. Often, it’s not a problem, because the player in question is being deliberately discarded because they aren’t very good at Test cricket. Sometimes, however, their absence is keenly felt as the player leaves a vacuum that cannot be filled (even though nature famously finds such situations abhorrent).
Did Australia lose any significant players to injury? No, not really. Not in the long-term anyway. Not beyond the usual wear-and-tear on fast bowlers that occasionally sees one or another sitting out a game or two.
Did Australia lose any significant player to retirement? No, they did not. South Africa actually had a far worse series than Australia in this regard, losing Morne Morkel for that very reason.
Did Australia lose any significant player for any other reason? Yes. Yes, they did. They lost no fewer than three players thanks to a ball-tampering attempt so woeful and ineffective that the umpires didn’t even feel it necessary to penalise them five runs.
While all three players who have been lost could eventually return, you’d have to say that the side will be worse off for a decent enough period that their absence can legitimately be considered ‘a bit of a blow’.
As it stands, Australia have lost their best batsman and second-best batsman for one whole year. They also lost their captain and vice captain for the same period because they are the exact same people.
They have lost both their opening batsmen (although the inferior one could return slightly sooner).
It’s probably worth mentioning that they lost their coach too.
Verdict: Australia just lost over a quarter of the team and it was a rather important quarter. This was a bad tour for Australia.
Chasing 612 to win in the fourth Test, Australia were bowled out for 119. Their last seven wickets fell for 31. Two players reached double figures.
Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.
Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.
Yes. Several of them.
Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.
Just to repeat what we said four sections ago, Australia lost three players to a ball-tampering attempt so woeful and ineffective that the umpires didn’t even feel it necessary to penalise them five runs.
That, in itself, is pretty embarrassing. Throw in a bizarre and pointless fake explanation where they said they planned to use tape with dirt on it instead of the sandpaper they actually used and we have to go up an embarrassment level. Then the whole country went mental and revealed itself to be the only cricket-playing nation that had no inkling whatsoever that Australian cricketers might not actually be the sport’s ultimate moral supremos after all.
It was all very inglorious and unaware and hypocritical and a big, great overreaction. And yes, because of all of those things, the team did in a very real sense embarrass itself (and this is without even mentioning the run-out ‘celebrations’ that we’re going to come to in a couple of sections time or the whole barney-on-the-stairs thing that we’re not going to mention at all other than here in this sentence).
Oh, and then David Warner went rogue. We almost forgot that bit.
Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.
The nature of Test cricket means that the winning margin can be expressed in runs or in wickets. This can be problematic if you’re trying to make direct comparisons.
Let’s take a look at the results in this series and try and work out whether they got worse for Australia.
Clearly losing is worse than winning and losing by a greater number of runs is worse than losing by fewer runs, so the only question that remains is whether losing by 322 runs is worse than losing by six wickets.
Going off average scores, six wickets would generally result in fewer than 322 runs, so we’d say that the third Test result was worse for Australia than the second Test result.
Verdict: Results deteriorated. This was a bad tour for Australia.
This is a great way of deducing whether or not a team had a bad tour or not. By comparing the players’ general demeanour at the start and end points of the tour, it becomes easy to see what has changed.
If the team is nervous at the start and all boisterous and irrepressible at the end then it’s been a good tour. If the team starts off gobby and cocky but ends up mute and diminished then it’s been a bad tour.
Way back at the start of March, Australia had a great deal of conspicuous fun running out AB de Villiers for a duck. Nathan Lyon dropped the ball at him; David Warner’s inner chimp took control (and also locked himself in the cockpit for the remainder of the tour); and afterwards, everyone accepted their fines and resolved to carry on doing almost exactly the same thing anyway, regardless of the financial cost.
By the end of the tour, one of those players was in a different country and Dean Elgar was making reference to “the most docile test” he’d ever played against Australia.
Appropriately enough, the series ended with Nathan Lyon being run out. No-one roared in his face because Australia were not at this point credible opposition worthy of face-roaring.
Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.
We posed seven questions and after all seven of them we concluded that Australia’s tour of South Africa was a bad one. This leads us to believe that regarded as a whole, Australia’s tour of South Africa was very bad.
Here at King Cricket, we’re not at all in favour of unnecessary on-field aggro: fielders over-celebrating dismissals, bowlers getting right up in the batsman’s face and all that.
We are HUGELY in favour of adrenaline-fuelled cricket – particularly when it involves a true fast bowler and a batsman who comes across as maybe being a bit of an arsehole.
It is just such a tremendously watchable feature of cricket. In what is ostensibly a team sport, you have two guys who hate each other basically going head-to-head, the guy with the bat making the guy with the ball hate him more and more and more until finally there’s a moment of catharsis.
And you know what? Sometimes all that bad stuff that we totally don’t approve of actually helps give rise to this kind of thing.
So let’s entirely overlook the cause and instead celebrate the effect because David Warner and Kagiso Rabada had a thing today and it was very much amazing and fun.
Rabada began by hitting Warner on the arm. It was his second ball and already we had the physio on.
Strapping in place, Warner promptly popped Rabada for four next ball.
The ball after that was a leg-bye and he got off strike.
The next Rabada over, Warner was facing again. First ball he nearly chopped on and got a single. Back on strike, this is where things really went up a notch because he hit the final three balls of the over for four.
The first was a legitimate cover drive, the second was a definitely-going-after-this-guy-no-matter-what scythe thing and the third one was off his pads.
And it continued.
The first ball of Rabada’s next over was, as you might imagine, short.
It went for six.
We’re not sure exactly what you want to read into this, but Rabada’s next delivery was a no-ball.
That also went to the ropes.
So that’s Rabada v Warner, five boundaries on the bounce. What would you absolutely 100 per cent most definitely want to see happen at this point?
Just stop and think. Imagine that you know in advance that this is the last ball you’re going to see. Things aren’t going to build up any more that this. This is the finish. What do you want to see?
Cartwheeling stump! The finest sight in sport.
After that, Usman Khawaja walked out and everyone felt a bit deflated and a load of people switched off.
Honestly, this might just have been the most perfect passage of cricket there’s ever been.
AB de Villiers is very good. We’re pretty sure most of you will agree with that insightful assessment. But where do we see him at his best?
We can think of five immediately obvious environments in which AB de Villiers might be seen.
Let’s quickly run through each of these to try and work out where AB de Villiers is at his best.
Because if you want to see a thing renowned for its very-goodness, ideally you want to stand a reasonable chance of having the very qualities that define that very-goodness displayed to you, otherwise what’s the point?
AB de Villiers may well attract a certain amount of attention when he’s just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say, but we’d argue that this is merely residual attention resulting from his feats in other environments. AB de Villiers is no better at just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say, than anyone else. In fact he’s arguably worse, because he no doubt has a tendency to flee back indoors what with all the attention and whatnot.
AB de Villiers will often make slightly more runs than other people playing in the same T20 cricket match and he will generally make those runs slightly more quickly. AB de Villiers looks very good in T20 cricket.
We would argue that AB de Villiers looks slightly better in one-day cricket than he does in T20 cricket. Given more time to make runs, the difference between himself and other batsmen playing in the same match will generally become more apparent.
In Test cricket, with no real time constraints, batsmen can go about making their runs however they damn well choose. They needn’t feel rushed into playing shots they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with. They can play how they want.
Despite this, there are times when even mere survival is beyond most batsmen when AB de Villiers not only survives, but also scores runs, and not only scores runs, but does so at a rate utterly beyond most people even on a day when survival is not a seemingly unattainable goal.
We would therefore argue that ‘in Test cricket’ is the environment where AB de Villiers is at his best.
Many things happened during Australia’s first Test win over South Africa. Some of them were cricket, some of them were David Warner falling out with people. The thing that interests us the most – AB de Villiers’ second innings run-out – fell somewhere in between.
Let’s break the moment down, because it’s really quite something. We’re struggling to think of a more disrespectful dismissal.
The South Africans were near enough 200 runs behind on first innings and had then found themselves chasing 417 to win.
They quickly fell to 39-3 and so had basically lost. You wouldn’t think there was much left to get het-up about at this point, but then you’re not David Warner.
David Warner is, you suspect, the kind of man who snaps the remote in half in fury when the batteries start to get a bit low.
Nathan Lyon dobbed one down the leg-side and South Africa opener Aiden Markram nurdled the ball towards David Warner.
As Warner scuttled round to get it, AB de Villiers set off down the pitch before doing a big U-turn when he looked up and saw only Markram’s back.
Sadly for de Villiers, he’d gone sufficiently far that the run-out was never in doubt. Warner was grinning even as he threw the ball.
At the bowler’s end, Lyon enveloped the ball with his Mekon hands and duly broke the stumps.
What we didn’t mention was that AB de Villiers was on nought, having only faced one ball. Now here he was lying on his face, run-out in a match his team were about to lose.
Being run-out is always rubbish because to some extent it’s always self-inflicted. It’s worse still when you end up literally lying on your face in the dirt at the moment it happens.
Here’s AB de Villiers literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose.
What happened next was that Nathan Lyon saw AB de Villiers literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose and thought to himself: “This isn’t quite humiliating enough. I think I need to ramp this up a bit. I need to really emphasise the fact that AB de Villiers is literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose.”
So Lyon ran past, looking down at him, and to emphasise that de Villiers was both literally and metaphorically fallen, he dropped the ball near him.
You’ll note that we italicised ‘nearly’ in that last sentence. As you can see, Lyon is looking directly at de Villiers even having passed him and is dropping/flinging the ball as he does so. You could maybe, if you so chose, argue that he dropped the ball at de Villiers.
Lyon could not have executed his run-out and ball-drop without the assistance of David Warner. Warner too was hugely keen to emphasise the fact that his team was winning the Test match.
Presumably feeling that the surviving batsman had escaped lightly, he chose to convey his team’s supremacy to Aiden Markram.
Australia wicketkeeper Tim Paine said at stumps that there “wasn’t too much aggression” during Warner’s send-off (which technically wasn’t actually a send-off because Markram wasn’t going anywhere).
Here is Warner’s Hatred Face midway through said send-off. We’re pretty sure we have never been this angry with anyone about anything in our entire life.
Now we want you to understand something at this point because it doesn’t really come across in stills. Warner is aiming this face AT Aiden Markram. Aiden Markram is the subject of the hatred.
All of Warner’s team-mates came and mobbed him for doing the run-out throw and yet he physically struggled with them to ensure he retained a direct line of sight to Markram.
A direct line of sight to Markram was important to Warner because he didn’t want there to be any miscommunciation about just how much he hated him
It doesn’t really need stating explicitly, but obviously as well as making the face, Warner was saying things at Markram.
And yes, ‘at’ is the right word here. David Warner was most definitely not saying things to Aiden Markram; he was saying them at him.
With wickets falling every 10 or 20 runs in the South Africa v India series, it’s tempting to resort to the heavyweight boxer cliché. This has the two combatants going toe-to-toe, knocking lumps out of one another with neither taking a backward step.
It’s odd to think of wickets as ‘damage’ rather than the primary aim of the sport. Unlike limited overs, which is a ‘most runs wins’ game, Test cricket is essentially a race to 20 wickets. Wickets are the meaningful currency. Batsmen are necessary impediments and the game only moves forwards when they are dismissed.
In this series both teams have been moving at a ferocious pace, with India thus far not quite able to keep up. This isn’t for lack of trying however, and you wonder whether sooner or later the home team might be the one to crack.
We’ve always liked Ajinkya Rahane. He’s always struck us as a batsman who can adapt to different situations and different conditions. India like him too. They like him to be 12th man.
Rahane’s case for inclusion in the second Test against South Africa wasn’t undeniable, we’ll admit. He had a poor run of scores against Sri Lanka at the end of last year and got dropped. But surely he should be among the first names on the team sheet whenever India are away from home?
Last time he played a Test in South Africa, he made 51 not out and 96. Last time he played a Test against South Africa in India, he made 127 and 100 not out (in four innings in that match, only two other batsmen passed 50).
He averages 60 in Australia and 70 in South Africa. You could argue these are small samples, but we’d argue they are inexplicably small samples. He’s been left out of these two Tests when he could have played instead of – ohhh, let’s pick a name at random – Rohit Sharma, say.
Rohit Sharma averages 28 in Australia and nine in South Africa.
In six Tests and ten innings, Sharma has a top score of 25. The fact that he averages 85 in India seems dangerously irrelevant.
All we can conclude is that when Ajinkya Rahane brings out the drinks, they’re crisp and fresh and invigorating, and when Rohit Sharma brings out the drinks, it’s half a mug of lukewarm vegetable stock with a turd in it.