Category Archives: South Africa

Why England should beat a wounded South Africa

If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.

Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.

Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.

More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.

In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.

Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.

South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.

It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?

In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.

There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.

Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).

Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.

So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.

If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.

South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.

South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.

Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.

James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.

England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.

Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.

Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.

This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.

The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.

If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.

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India must find balance between home advantage and good Test cricket

India’s use of home advantage isn’t unfair, but it does produce one-dimensional and turgid cricket that nobody would want to watch. 

If Test cricket is to survive, it must be embraced by India, in such a way that makes people want to watch it. 

The most recent series between India and South Africa, blunted the Proteas usually explosive batsmen.

On the one hand, it was a brilliant assertion of Indian home advantage, as India won 3-0. But it also turned me off watching.

As a neutral, I found the cricket as I would expect too.

A little bit predictable, almost scripted, and very dry.

It was a series, engineered to be dominated by certain players.

Spinners, and by Indian batsmen who can play spin.

Neither of these facets, South Africa have in abundance.

When sides tour England, the pitches help seam bowlers and batsmen who can leave the ball.

There is, one cannot stress enough, nothing wrong with preparing pitches to suit a home side. 

But, there has to be a contest generated, or else it stops being entertainment, and begins to be a foregone conclusion. 

In the most recent series’, of the top six run scorers, five were Indians.

Only two South African fifties were scored in the duration (both by Ab de Villiers), with only one South African averaging over 30 (again, Ab de Villiers).

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The top two wicket-takers in the series, were the Indian spin twins Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja taking 31 and 23 wickets.

Nobody else in the Indian attack passed seven wickets.

Following the 3-0 victory, India should have been triumphant. But, all the conjecture was about the pitches.

Not necessarily because they were ‘bad pitches’, but because it produced boring cricket. 

In the first Test, both sides made a turning pitch look a lot worse than it was. Four low-scoring innings of 201, 184 200 and 109 suggest an inability to play the surface, as the match finished in three days. 

The second Test was of course washed out.

The third Test at Nagpur however, was rated as a ‘poor’ pitch by the ICC, whilst the final Test produced a block-a-thon.

In that final Test, in the fourth innings, Amla scored 25 off 244 balls, De Villiers 43 off 297, with the overall team going at under one run per over for 143 overs.

When asked about the state of Indian pitches during the series’, Indian spinner Amit Mishra said: “We also get seaming pitches when we go out of India. We also adjust. We don’t complain. They need to adjust.”

To an extent, he is right. But on the other hand, he is also missing the point: The brand of cricket these pitches produce is exceptionally negative.

No pitch curator would dream of creating such a surface for a T20 or ODI match, in which there is a desire to produce exciting cricket. 

The droll cricket in this series may be something one can appreciate. Especially if you’re sitting behind a screen looking at a scorecard years down the line, admiring the resilience of AB de Villiers.

But in reality, every cricket fan hopes that a block-a-thon, never happens if you’re in the ground yourself.

I would certainly be angry if I turned up at Lord’s and saw 143 runs in 143 overs. 

India need to find that balance between home advantage and producing good cricket.

At the moment, they are experts at the former, and failing miserably at the latter.

 

South Africa were a Jacques Kallis away from success

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Whilst it is easy to get caught up in South Africa’s explosive World Cup exit, what the Proteas was an unreliable set of supplementary bowlers, who couldn’t fill the Jacques Kallis gap.

For many years, Jacques Kallis was the star studded batting allrounder.

With over 25,000 International runs and over 60 International hundreds, the focus was always his runs. 

His wickets and catches made a priceless batsman into a formidable allrounder, injecting class and strength into every facet.

Although never prolific as a wicket taker with just 2 five and 2 four wicket halls, his 231 ODI wickets at a miserly average of 31 shows his importance.

The wickets also offered a rest to other senior bowlers, and his spells regularly took wickets, with one coming every 39 balls (6.3 overs) in ODIs. At under 5 runs per over in ODI cricket, Kallis was also control. 

With regular wickets, a solid economy rate, surprising pace, vast experience, and a good way of offering frontline bowlers a rest, he always chipped in somehow.

Despite playing in the Big Bash, and despite retiring from Tests to try to focus on playing in this World Cup, it was ultimately one step too far.

All of a sudden this allrounder was plucked from the South African side, and all the focus was the runs again.

Who would score his mammoth contribution of runs? No worries.

Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers, David Miller and Faf, etc, will surely do. 

In reality, South Africa were very heavily dependent upon their run scorers, because their bowlers did not actually have such a stellar tornament.

During this World Cup South Africa struggled to maintain pressure for 50 overs. There were too many weak links. Too many holes in the pipe that leaked with the ball.

In this world cup, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander all contributed, although they were all under pressure.

Imran Tahir’s nine wickets at 21 is close to his ODI career average of 20.51, and Morne Morkel’s 15 wickets at 17 is better than his ODI career average of 23.98.

But, Philander and Steyn in particular struggled. Philander averaged 33.75 which is a whole ten runs more than his career average of 23, and Dale Steyn’s 31 was also higher than 25.

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With frontline seamers struggling, and placing pressure on others, the alternative was to try other options. South Africa’s part timers had to fill in overs. 

JP Duminy took six wickets, including a hat-trick against Sri lanka. But he also went at nearly six runs per over. He was perhaps the best of the replacement-Kallis’s. 

With the exception of Parnell, who played just a single game, only one other supplementary bowler took a wicket (AB de Villiers.. is there anything he can’t do?), and only one other bowler kept their economy rate under six runs per over (Behardien) at 5.81.

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(Columns denote Games, Innings, Overs, Maidens, Runs, Wickets, B/b, Average and Economy.)

Arguably, South Africa’s front line attack of Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Tahir is as powerful as that of Mitchell Johnson and Starc, or New Zealand’s Tim Southee and Trent Boult. 

But, if one of the South African quicks fails, the pressure is piled on, and the attack seems to capitulate. 

If Steyn is not taking wickets, unlike Australia who can bring on a Shane Watson, Glen Maxwell or James Faulkner, South Africa seem to be very thin. 

As a unit, South Africa look fearsome, but they lack that depth all-rounders and range of multi-faceted players. One only has to look at India’s bowling stocks to see this is very valuable. 

There are strong options up front; Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav. But, there are also a lot of supplementary bowlers who have a role. Suresh Raina and Ravi Jadeja both bowl at under five runs per over, other bowlers such as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are made obsolete as last resort fill ins. 

India have a method. South Africa have a lot of raw energy and hope, but it feels slightly kamikaze and scattergun at times.

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When it comes down to winning, a thin-ish layer of quality cannot cover up for a lack of substance throughout the side as a whole. 

South Africa remain a side with formidable talents, like Amla, De Villiers, Steyn and Morkel. But, if they are competing with similarly talented sides, it is the margins that will win it. 

The Proteas missed that edge that gave them the final inch to get over the line. They are a fine side, with power and pace and hostility, but they were just a Kallis away. 

VIDEO: AB de Villiers smashes 149 runs off 44 balls

AB de Villiers has smashed the world record for One Day Century in the fewest number of balls.

The number one ranked ODI batsman scored 149 off just 44 balls, reaching his century in just  31 balls.

De Villiers passed the milestone against the West Indies at The Wanderers, coming to the crease when the score was already at 247-1, following a 247-run opening stand between Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw. 

5 Reasons why Graeme Smith will be Missed By South Africa

Graeme Smith was definitively tough but unassuming, and ended his career as one of the most successful Test openers and captains.

Surrounded by legends, in an era of of record-breaking greats, his often ugly and unattractive style prevents him from being considered as a truly memorable batsman. He will, however, be both remembered and missed by the team he leaves behind.

He was able to lure unsuspecting bowlers into a trap of thinking he had vulnerabilities, but with 9,265 Test runs, 117 Tests caps (108 of which were as captain), his record is undisputedly one of resilience, determination and consistency, in spite of his many flaws.

Smith helped to redefine what is successful; because he had consistent success in a completely different way to others. He did it on his own terms, and proved that the coaching manual is not the only recipe for triumph.

To celebrate this giant of Test cricket, here are five reasons why South Africa will miss the nation’s greatest ever captain.

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1. He was a tough nut

To play from such a young age of 21, is a tough challenge at any high standard of sport. To be invested with opening the batting at that age, and captaincy of a volatile and highly scrutinised team, seems unreasonably difficult.

Smith did it, and did it well. He took on the challenge and was entrusted with it for his entire career for the Proteas.

South Africa may have a captain to replace him. They may be able to fill an opener slot. But they will never replace his Steve Waugh like attitude. To get Smith out you had to work him out. Even if you hit him or exposed technical flaws, if he was still there, he would contiune. It wasn’t always pretty, but mighty effective.

Graeme Smith had to fight the media, his own team mates occasionally, his mind, his technique but most importantly other teams, and did so admirably on all fronts.

With bat in hand, his bottom handed grip often caused an unsuspecting delivery outside his off stump to be planted with a closed bat face to unintended parts of the field. In reality however, he was the ultimate example of ugly runs being fighting runs, finishing with an average of nearly 50 over 117 Tests. He was a fighter. He battled when elegence and technique was not the answer.

To celebrate his career, here is Graeme Smith refusing to give up, coming out to bat with a broken hand:

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2. His consistency

Few batsman in Test history are capable of unerring consistency across innings, batting first or second, home or away, or over a long period long time.

Smith’s frail-looking technique had a major benefit, in the sense that because he battled himself, he was thinking less about the conditions or the bowler. He watched the ball and applied concentration to the game situation, with full concentration on task.

The application he offered to innings of all kinds meant that he averaged over 50 in the first and last innings of Tests, and never scored a hundred in a losing cause. Whatever the chaos and drama around him, Smith was the one batsman that would be more concerned about staying in than performing the perfect cover drive.

There is a strong correlation between Smith not performing and South Africa failing as a team, which outlines his importance, but also how his consistency contributed to South African consistency. As a losing player, he averaged 25.58, compared to 61.34 as a victorious player and 51. 34 as a player in drawn games.

One could almost say that he is a microcosm of South African success.

To showcase his consistency, here is a clip of Graeme Smith accumulating 259 against just a week after scoring 277. His sheer appetite for runs was staggering. )

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3. He was the modern leader of South African cricket

South Africa under Graham Smith not just reintegrated itself into the rhythm of international cricket, but re-established its rich legacy and quality. He took the captaincy as a young man, and nurtured his side into one of the best sides in the world.

With the exception of Shaun Pollock who played under Hansie Cronje to, the modern greats; Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini flourished under the fantastic man management of Smith. Truly great partnerships were concreted; with the likes of Jacques Kallis as the rock in the middle, who played 98 Tests under Smith, scoring 33 of his 45 centuries. Ab de Villiers grew into the perfect decoy to the more mature batsmen, such as himself, Hashim Amla and Kallis.

He built a well rounded and compact team, and yes; it had flaws. But so did Smith. Some of the flaws Smith had to manage is that unlike India who had Anil Kumble for so long, and Australia who of course had Shane Warne, Smith never had a genuinely world class spin bowler. He had to learn to handle a team that didn’t always have the neccesary resources. Like his own batting, he got on with it, and managed it to the best of his abiltiy.

Smith represented a generation of striving for change, but striving to achieve the maximum with the ability at hand. Encapsulating this mentality; here is a clip of South Africa dismissing Australia for just 47 after being themselves dismissed for a miserly 96. Whatever they can do, we can do better.

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4. Smith determined his, and his team’s legacy

When he arrived on the scene, people thought he would never last. He was too technically flawed. He couldn’t sweep or play through the offside. He was far too young to understand the subtleties and nuances of Test captaincy.

When he, as the captain, was too young and ‘couldn’t fill the boots of Shaun Pollock’ according to so many, he took charge of his fortune.

He maintained the captaincy for over a decade, steadily growing into his role and finding his comfort zone. Even with retirement, he was not perfect, but nobody pushed him out. At 33, he could easily have continued for at least another year.

But he didn’t. In terms of modern captaincy, he has the most caps as a skipper EVER in Tests, with 109 games, and has a win percentage of 48.62, which is very respectable considering some of the key issues that had to be dealt with, such as a lack of spinner and for a long time a lack of competency against quality spin.

The fact is, that like his batting, his captaincy was a microcosm for South Africa’s attitude towards playing. They didn’t have a Shane Warne or a Sachin Tendulkar. They had their flaws, but they dealt with them, in the same way that Smith worked through a method of achieving something, even with his strange and unorthodox technique.

Here is Smith giving his final press conference as to why he retired; outlining the importance of hard work and resilience over sheer skill and ability.

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5. He liked making England suffer

The only thing worse than seeing England lose for the unsuspecting neutral, is seeing England fans gloat. Graeme Smith dedicated a career to ensuring misery for England fans in Test cricket, with a quite staggering individual record.

In 2003, he scored 277 and 259 in the space of a week, subjugating English bowling to South Africa’s mighty hammer.

He scored two centuries against England in 2008, two in 2010, and incase England were not sick of him, he snuck in a century against England on his hundredth Test, which was the final Test of the series’ and crowned his side as number one in the world. Fitting.

Smith loved scoring runs against England. He put an often arrogant England side in their place, humbling them with inside edges to fine leg, and cover drives that ended up through mid wicket. He frustrated everyone because he always gave an impression of vulnerability, yet more often than not, pulled through with great success.

To enjoy Smith’s resilience against England, here is his magnificent 183 against England in 2010 at Cape Town.