United Need to Not Aim High




This may sound bizarre, but believe me, I do have a point. If Manchester United, and David Moyes, want to get back to challenging for the title next season, they need to remain pretty average for the rest of the season. The only way they are going to qualify for the Champions League is by winning it, they are so far off 4th place, and even with Arsenal faltering, there seems little chance of them getting there, especially with the likes of Everton and Spurs playing well enough to stay just outside that coveted spot.

So what’s left for United? A top 6 finish could get them in the Europa league, a competition they’ve only played in once, and that was after failing in the group stage of the Champions League. Would they really want that? There’s an argument that Europe is Europe and they should strive to play in the bridesmaid of European club football, but the reality is they would be better served by missing out completely.

The Europa league starts when preseason should start, meaning the break between seasons is hardly there, players don’t get a full preseason, new players get less time to settle in, and players who feature at the World Cup get almost no break. The plus point of competitive matches early on meaning a more energetic and battle ready start to the domestic season is soon outweighed by tired legs, injuries and too much rotation, as the Europa League qualifying, and then league games start to take it’s toll. Add to that Thursday matches, with little recovery time before the weekend, and the old European hangover becomes a more likely story than United running away with the league.

Perhaps the best case for United missing out on the Europa League comes from their most bitter rivals – Liverpool. Liverpool are enjoying perhaps their best league season in over 24 years, and it’s precisely because of a lack of European action. Past Liverpool sides have not been able to juggle the strains of a league tilt, cup run and European matches with squad boasting less numbers and quality than the usual big four. This season however, unbridled by mid week action, they have kept their first 11 fit, fresh, and better prepared than most of their rivals. They’ve enjoyed less injury problems than United and Arsenal, and will probably just miss out on the league title because of Chelsea and CIty’s bette, and bigger, all round squads. Take nothing away from them though, they have played great attacking football, that’s proved effective as well as pleasing, and wherever they finish this season will be a big step forward from their recent past.

All that meaning that United need to win and play well in their last 9 games, as players play for their futures, as the club plays for pride, and to bring a certain amount of momentum into their start next season, but they also need to hope that those above them carry on winning, ensuring that Europe is just out of their reach. Then maybe Moyes will have a better chance at lifting United to the expected heights and challenges next season.

Don’t Hide Your Match Winners




South Africa have been accused, and with some reason, of being too one dimensional in the past. They have a plan, and they stick to it, and generally execute it well. It’s why they have risen to the top of Test cricket, and been ranked first in both ODI and T20 cricket in the recent past. It also may be why they’ve never won a World Cup.

Despite going into tournaments as the form team and favourites they’ve always fallen short, losing a key moment that sees the dreaded “c” word thrown around. At the last T20 World Cup they decided to change things a bit and went in the complete opposite direction – too much flexibility. They had a fluid, floating batting order, with the opposition, and it seems the players themselves, never knowing who was coming in next. Balance has always been a buzz word in teams, and this is what the Proteas need, balance in their approach, balance between structure and flexibility.

Although the recent T20 series against Australia was spoiled by the weather, it did give an alarming indication of what the Proteas plans may be in the World Cup – a regression to the past inflexibility. They seemed to have had everyone down from 1-11 and nothing was going to change that. In the opening game, with it being only 7 overs each side, they sent their usual openers in with Faf Du Plessis in at 3. All indications were that JP Duminy would be in next if needed. No AB De Villiers, David Miller or Albie Morkel in a 7 over shoot out? The next game saw AB in at 5, followed by Miller and then Morkel. The batting order is going to lose South Africa this World Cup.

AB de Villiers is not only South Africa’s best batsman, he’s the best in the world. So why is he coming in at 5 in a 20 over game? Because he does it for his IPL team and has been a destructive finisher with a quick 30 and the occasional 50. This is a World Cup, and they have a chance of finally winning one! The batting order should be built around AB, with him coming in at 3 to face as many balls as possible, and everyone batting around him. If AB bats for over 30 balls you generally end up with a good score. At 5 he either has to come in and have a slog after a good platform has been laid, or perform a rescue act if it’s been a bad start. He’s wasted at 5, and needs to bat at 3. It’s that simple.

The idea behind the Proteas batting lineup is that the foundation is laid by the openers, Faf and JP, and AB, Miller and Albie are the finishers. Sound logic, but this is T20 cricket! Get AB in their sooner, and you still have JP, Miller and Albie to finish! That being said their is a case for Miller to be moved up the order too. He’s a match winner, and can’t win matches facing 8 balls, batting at 6. He bats at 4 for his franchise the Dolphins and has been amazingly effective there. If wickets are lost early, hold him back, send JP and Faf in ahead to work the power play, but then get him in after the 6th over. He’s a destructive batsman, but not from ball one, give him an over or two to play himself in, and then sit back and watch the fireworks.

AB and Miller are South Africa’s match winners. Don’t hide them at 5 and 6, get them in earlier, let them control the game, and then take it away from their opponents. The weapons are there, use them correctly and the Proteas could just win a World Cup at last.

Who’s Next?




The Protea’s don’t play another Test until the middle of the year when they take on Sri Lanka, the last team to beat them away from home, back in 2006. The selectors and board, rightly, have decided not to name the new Test captain, the man stepping into Graeme Smiths enormous shoes, until they’ve weighed their options.

Those options have been spoken about in great detail since the shock announcement of Smith’s retirement. In the 23 years since South Africa re-entered the Test arena they have only had 4 official Test captains, Wessels, Cronje, Pollock and Smith. So who will be the 5th man to lead the Proteas Test team, and look to continue their reign as the number one ranked team?

By all accounts there are only two options. AB de Villiers is the vice captain of the Test team an captains the ODI team, and Faf du Plessis is the T20 captain. Within those in the current squad Hashim Amla and Alviro Petersen have also captained to a degree at domestic level, and Amla has captained on occassion and been vice captain of the national side. However Amla relinquished his role as vice captain because of his wish not to take up the full role when it became available, and to concentrate on his batting. Petersen’s role in the first eleven isn’t as automatic as would be needed to captain, so he would be ruled out. So really there are only the two choices, AB or Faf.

AB is the natural choice, and as vice captain the progression should see him step up to the full role. He’s been the ODI captain since 2011 and although he has struggled with the change and demands the role requires he has matured and grown into it, and has worked closely with Smith for a number of years. The problem with AB captaining is the triple demand it throws on him, as captain, top order batsman and keeper. He won’t be out of the game at all, and the mental drain could have effects on his batting and keeping. It’s not to say it can’t be done, MS Dhoni does it for India. The difference being AB bats at 5 and Dhoni at 7, and AB is his teams best batsman, while Dhoni has that responsibility shifted to those up the order. It could be done for a short while as they identify who the next keeper will be, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see AB don the gloves in Sri Lanka, keeping in the Subcontinent is a lot different to keeping in SA, and the new keeper be introduced at home against the West Indies in December. What that doe suggest though is that AB will have to give up the gloves if he is to captain the team. It’s already happened in the shorter formats, AB was the keeper but did find it difficult setting fields, rotating his bowlers and keeping up with the pace of the game while keeping. He has twice been warned and suspended over slow over rates. As captain it’s often easier to up to speed with the game and the batsman when fielding at mid on for example rather than standing behind the stumps. The ODI and T20 gloves have been handed to Quinton de Kock, and outrageously talented young batsman, who is surely destined to be one of South Africa’s next great batsman, but a young keeper non the less. He’s only played 21 First Class games, and has not kept in all of these. With him looking to play a big part in the Proteas plans for the next World Cup, there is a school of thought that says don’t throw the Test keeping burden on him just yet. He made his Test debut against Australia and showed his youthful inexperience when throwing his wicket away late in the day to give Australia an opening. However you only need to go back to Mark Boucher, who was thrown in at the deep end as a young keeper in Pakistan to make his debut, with many saying his keeping wasn’t up to the standards of an international Test keeper. He ended his career with 999 wickets as a keeper (and one as a bowler, giving him 1000 international wickets) and the Test record for keepers. With South Africa losing the experience of Boucher, Kallis and now Smith in the last two years it may be the perfect opportunity to blood someone like de Kock. De Kocks first class average of 48 also means he’d fit the balance of South Africa playing 7 batsman, and allow AB to even move up to number 4, where he’ll get more chances to play longer innings. The balance of the team won’t be effected, de Kock will get time to grow into an international keeper, and AB will bat higher – all good for the team, and all good for AB’s case to be the next captain.

The case of Faf would be built more on the lines of AB staying as keeper. Although he does have a lot of respect within the team as a leader, and has done a good job of leading the T20 team. This months T20 World Cup may be a reason why the selectors have decided to wait in naming the captain, as a Proteas win, their first in a World Cup, would be a strong case for Faf to take over the Test team. He’s also captained the Titans at domestic level, something AB has not done. The counter to that would be him not having a settled slot in the Proteas batting line up. Having batted everywhere from 4 to 7 in is short career, you’d want him to establish a role within the team before throwing the captaincy at him. He was earmarked as taking over from Kallis at 4 in the batting line up, but was then moved down the order 3rd Test against Australia. A lot will depend on how he handles the pressure of captaining a South African team at a World Cup in the next few weeks, the outcome of which could have a baring on which way the selectors lean.

Both are strong candidates for the job and will not let anyone down. However if I were asked to decide today, I’d hand the captaincy over to AB and get de Kock the gloves, and usher in a new era in South African cricket, with a new captain, and a talented young batsman-keeper who could end up being the next Gilchrist. We’ll have to wait a while before we know which way the selectors will go though!

When Home Ground Advantage Isn’t An Advantage




When you play in the subcontinent you’re going to get a pitch that looks like a day 10 pitch on day 4. It will be a dust bowl, devoid of grass, and turning sideways, with inconsistent bounce. When you play in England you’re going to get a pitch that’s conducive to swing, a pitch that moves the game forward quickly with play lost to to rain expected. When you play in Australia you’ll get a fast bouncy wicket. You don’t know what you’re going to get in the West Indies these days, anything from a fast and bouncing track, to a flat road. Home ground advantage is expected and pitches are prepared for the home team. It’s why the Subcontinental teams are tough to beat at home, but travel badly, it’s why England do well at home, and not really anywhere else, and it’s why Michael Clarkes Australian’s hadn’t won away in years. So why don’t South Africa prepare pitches to favour their team?

It used to be because of “fairness.” We’ll play on what’s in front of us, and it will be an equal contest between both sides. Just like cricket should be. Then it was, “yes everyone else is doing it, but we won’t stoop to that.” The time has come to stoop. It’s the way the game has gone, and not just the modern game, but the way it’s been for a while now. This Proteas team has prided itself on being the best, the most consistent team, and rightly the number one ranked team. A loss to Australia didn’t really dent their rankings such was the lead they had racked up. Their away record has been particularly impressive, having not lost an away series since touring Sri Lanka in 2006. The ability of the batsman to play in all conditions, to adjust their technique to the pitch, and quickly, coupled with the attacks ability to get assistance from even dead tracks has been reflected in their climb to the top, and their hold on it for 20 months now. If they actually started getting help from groundsmen at home they’d be up within reach of the West Indies team of the 70’s and 80’s and the Australian team of the 2000’s.

The Windies were unbeaten for 15 years and 29 series. The Australian’s unbeaten in 16 series. This Proteas team falls into 3rd spot with 14 series unbeaten, before Australia come to South Africa and beat them 2-1. Australia bookend their run having also won 2-1 in South Africa in 2009. It could have been different had South Africa got pitches to suit their team. Instead of pitches that assisted Vernon Philanders subtle movement, Morne Morkels bounce and Dale Steyns swing, they got a Mitchel Johnson track in Pretoria, a pitch that helped no one at St Georges Park, and a Newlands deck almost allowed them to escape with a draw with its flatness on day 5.

In the old days you’d come to South Africa and have a seamers paradise on the green top in Durban, a pitch that offered some turn for the spinners in Cape Town, and a good batting pitch with some bounce and carry in the Highveld. Something for everyone. It’s time South Africa started preparing pitches to suit their attack in every match. Groundsmen should be consulted early enough in the season and told what type of pitch to prepare for the match, given the season, climate and opponent in mind. It’s not because everyone else is doing it but because it should be done and there’s nothing wrong with it. You should have an advantage when playing at home. You shouldn’t lose to an Australian team when preparing pitches to suit Mitchel Johnson who’s just destroyed England at home. You shouldn’t be looking at the stats after a series and seeing that Vernon Philander, the number two ranked bowler in Test cricket, has gone for over 50 and has had the worst bowling record in a series of his career.

South Africa may be way in front at the top of the Test rankings, but there are some things they can still learn from the other teams. Let’s hope the next time they play at home they’ll enjoy South African conditions.

How Australian is Clarke?


South Africa v Australia - 3rd Test: Day 5



So South Africa, despite beating Australia away in their last two series there, are still to beat them since readmission at home. They came pretty close to another drawn series, 4 overs close, but Australia struck at the end to win the series, a series that really should be longer than three matches.

What’s really stood out for me in this Australian side, bar one idiot, has been the spirit and class which they have played. All three Tests were hard fought and took the on field battle to the edge at times. Australia don’t play quiet, it’s one of the reasons they have been dominant in the 90’s and early 2000’s – a mental disintegration of there opponents that takes place before and during each match. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s South Africa have had teams that could compete skills wise with the all conquering Waugh and Ponting teams, but mentally were found wanting in the 50/50 plays that decide matches and series. This is an altogether tougher Proteas team, thanks to Smith, and crossing that barrier has lead to series wins away in England, Australia and the sub continent. So to see the emotion and fight out on the field between the two teams was evidence of the passion they have for their countries and their sport.

Knowing where the line is, is as important as knowing when to attack and fight, and when to step away. This is where Michael Clarke has lead by example, and bar David Warner, the rest of his team have followed suit. Mitchel Johnson and the attack would try and take your head off, snarling fire and were never short of a suggestion to the batsman, but each milestone passed by the batsman was met with applause and a handshake when they walked from the field. They recognized the spirit of the game and gave respect to who they were playing. This class within the team was no more evident than after Warner had made a few stupid remarks about AB de Villiers treatment of the ball in a press conference, and Ryan Harris later told reporters he didn’t think the Proteas had done anything wrong, they were just better at executing their skills than Australia were in that lost Test. On the perhaps the tensest day of the series, the last day of the deciding Test, after Australia had a decision overturned on review, emotions were high, with South Africa doing a brave job of battling for a draw and Australia tireless running in trying to get the win, their were a few words said between the Australians and Dale Steyn, with Clarke getting involved and the umpires having to separate them and have a word with Clarke about their behaviour. In the next break in play Clarke was seen going up to Steyn and apologizing. In the heat of a passion and emotion filled day things are said, and lines crossed, but recognizing when you’ve stepped over and addressing that is a class move, and Clarke showed plenty of that throughout the series. At the post match press conference he was again apologetic and took full blame and responsibility for it.

Teams have been used to be sledged, bullied and pushed around by Austalian sides in the past, sides that had the beating of others in terms of skill, but also on the mental side of the game, not allowing soft teams an inch. It has left things bitter in some regards, there’s no love lost between Harbajan Singh and the Australians, but when a side lead by someone like Clarke, and a side that follows his example, plays in the correct spirit, hard but fair, you can’t help but show a bit of admiration. Even if they are Australia.

Smith Has Earned Our Respect




There’s been a tendency amoungst South African’s to not give our sports stars due respect. We tend to hide behind the bumbling line of keeping them humble and grounded. It’s the casualness of the South African spirit that leads us to want to treat everyone as equals when the rest of the world hoists them as high as possible. It’s that sense that they, as sportsmen and women, are doing what we’d love to be doing, and getting paid, so why should I look up to them. We’re a sports mad country that likes nothing better to do then have a braai and watching our teams. That’s the meat of it. We support our team, and not the individual. 

Sometimes individuals bring teams together, sometimes they rescue teams, and sometimes they lift a nation. The team ethos is admirable and comes from a good place, but why not show pride and respect to our heroes? We’ve had the world greatest all rounder, and our best ever batsman, Jacque Kallis retire recently, and he’s the prime example, a player who was revered more outside his own country than in it. Now that he’s no longer playing and we move forward trying to fill that gap cricket fans in South Africa will begin to realise just what a special player he was. 

The same can be said for Graeme Smith, probably the most divisive cricketer in the country. Picked as captain at just 22, the brash opening batsman who would go on to lead his country to the number one ranked test team, became the first captain in the game to lead in over 100 tests, set records for fourth innings winning chases, and captain for an unbelievable 11 years, yet Smith has never been the most popular player amongst the South African public. His stats have been rehashed all over the broadcast media, TV, print and online, and there’s no need to delve into the numbers again here, but it’s safe to say as a player he was amongst the best, and as a captain he was the best. Some might point to that last statement, particularly those in Australia who would suggest Waugh and Ponting would claim that accolade, and like anything in sport, it’s all opinion based. What I would say though is his record in fourth innings chases can’t be beat, he opened the batting, the most difficult position, for his entire career and still laid the foundation through weight of runs for South Africa’s victories, and the most important element I think, he took his team to number one in Tests, and has been unbeaten away from home since 2006 (incidentally Smith missed this series, Ashwell Prince captained the team that lost to Sri Lanka, so Smith has not lost an away series in over 8 years) and did it all without a Shane Warne, a luxury both Waugh and Ponting had. He also captained for 11 years. The mental toll that will take on anyone can not be underestimated, and the toll it can take on a South African captain, who has the added pressure of racial politics, World Cup failures, and a less than supportive public to deal with. 

Through all this Smith has been dignified and represented his country with pride and honor. As a cricket he is due respect, and gets that from the rest of the world, but as a man he has earned it. The tide has changed with a new generation in South Africa, players like AB De Villiers, Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla are getting the trust and support that the public never gave to Kalls, Boucher and Smith. Lets hope that continues and that South African’s learn that it’s okay to support your own stars. For now though lets show Graeme Smith, a Proteas legend, the respect and admiration he was denied as a player. 

Dolphins Mean Business



The Dolphins, the Durban based franchise, have announced the signing f West Indian batsman Chris Gayle for the 2012 Pro 20 Series.

The east coast team had a successful period in the mid to late 90’s, under current coach Graham Ford, when players like Malcolm Marshall, Jonty Rhodes, Andrew Hudson and Pat Symcox were joined by a clutch of highly talented, energetic and eager young guns, lead by Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusner and Dale Benkenstein. The team won the domestic double in the 96/97 season. Four day competitions were won in 94/95, 96/97, 01/02, 04/05, 05/06 as well as limited over triumphs in 96/97 and 01/02, with the team being trophyless since 2006. They have yet to win the Pro 20 Series.

A number of experienced players have been released in the last two seasons, including HD Akerman, Johan Louw, Andrew Hall, Alfonso Thomas and recently Jon Kent, as the Dolphins have decided restructuring is needed to get the team back in a title challenging position. Youngsters such as Dave Miller, Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Kyle Abbot are the teams future, and when available Protea’s players Hashim Amla, Imraan Tahir and Loots Bosman, should make the team competitive. However it’s the signing of Gayle and Aussie speedster Shaun Tait that signals their intention loud and clear.

T20 cricket is where the money is. The finalists in the Pro 20 Series will go on to the Champions League and the domestic riches to follow. This is where the Dolphins have decided to focus and pin their hopes on. They have gambled on overseas players before, Ravi Bopara had a decent run in the Pro 40 Series last season, whule Sanath Jayasuria has been less successful in his Pro 20 games for the Dolphins. Gayle and Tait should prove less risky than the Sri Lankan who was rapidly approaching the end of his career. Gayle showed in the IPL this year how much he enjoys the T20 game, and the relaxed beach city of Durban should be just what he needs as he travels the various world leagues playing T20 cricket. Shaun Taits body may not hold up to the rigors of longer formats, but he remains a supremely destructive T20 bowler.

While the signings are no doubt expensive, and mean the team will have to supplement the squad with youngsters, it may prove just what the franchise needs. A technically and tactically astute coach like Ford, who’s no stranger to nurturing young talent, the potential of Dave Miller, and the proven talent of Gayle and Tait, could fire the Dolphins to the Pro 20 Series final and with it the Champions League. One trophy is all it takes to get back on track with a winning mentality breeding confidence and added attraction for future stars. This is one gamble that looks more calculated than sure than some may think. The season could be the one the success starved Dolphin fans have been waiting for.




pic from cricinfo.com

Protea Selectors Miss Point



As I begin writing this post the ODI series between South Africa and India is poised at 2-2, with India needing to chase 268 from 46 overs to take the series. No easy task, but within their capabilities. Of course this series is just a warm up to the big event next month in the sub continent when the two giants will face off again in a group game at the World Cup.

On Tuesday night, after India again won a tight encounter, the Protea’s named their World Cup squad. The squad contains a good mix of youth, experience, pace, spin and the potential surprise of Imran Tahir – who’s yet to play a game for his adopted country.

In truth most of the squad picked itself. If you’d asked a bunch of people to pick the squad a few months ago, with the proviso so Tahir would qualify, you’d have most people picking similar squads with perhaps 12-13 of the 15 common across most lists. With that said an inclusion that most may not have had is that of Morne van Wky. Always a performer at domestic level, the Eagles opener and keeper is a great tactical choice by the selectors. When Smith pulled out of the T20 before the ODI series van Wky was given a last minute call up. He took his chance to impress brilliantly and was the only Protea batsman to really show up. He’ll fulfill the role as back up to de Villiers behind the stumps, as well a backup batsman, able to bat anywhere in the order. So that’s the positive from the squad.

Where the selectors have failed is in not picking David Miller or Albie Morkel. The middle to lower order collapses during the current series have been alarming. What is clear though, and was very evident today, is that the Protea’s don’t have anyone in the middle/lower order who can come in and clear the boundary. The batsman they do have are all very good and can fulfill roles of keeping the scoreboard ticking, rotating strike, and rebuilding an innings, but arent finishers. Past South African teams have been spoiled for choice with the likes of Lance Klusner, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Nicky Boje and Albie Morkel. This squad is clearly missing a trick.

Miller was identified as that player once the selectors decided that Albie Morkels form had declined. Yet instead of sticking with the young player they have balked at the first hint of panic. It became clear after Faf duplessis made a debut 60 that Colin Ingram and Miller were playing for one position. As good as a player as Ingram is the selectors made the wrong choice. They’ve gone for a number 3 batsman to bat at 6 or 7. Ingram is a backup to Kallis spot and nothing else. He’s not suited to anything lower and it’s unfair to expect him to be called on to finish off an innings. That’s the role they picked Miller for and the role he should have been persevered with. If anything it made more sense to take the youngster with and have him part of the World Cup squad, even if he didn’t get on the field. Instead he’ll be watching from home, confidence shattered, having to rebuild his reputation, while the Protea’s struggle with finish off an innings.

If Miller was seen as to green to take to the World Cup, then why not go with Albie Morkel? He has the record, the experience, and has been out of the team for a period to warrant coming back hungry. His record in the IPL bares testament to how he performs on Indian pitches. That match winning late swing bowling that turned a loss into a win against Pakistan in Pakistan a few seasons back shows just how good he can be. His big hitting needs no justification. On his day he can’t be touched.

With Miller and Albie sat at home it would make more sense to have van Wyk come in at 6 or 7 if need be than Ingram. Ingrams time in the top order will come, he’s a very talented run accumulator, but at this stage, for this particular role, the SA selectors have erred big time.

A final thought – if not Miller or Albie….why not Davy Jacobs?

Yes or No to Tsotsobe?


With the Boxing day Test between South Africa and India a day away, both teams have a few selection issues to think about. The choices should be easier for India, who will have to make changes to the woeful performance first time out. Zaheer Khan will come in for any of the seamers, none did enough to suggest they are ahead of the others, and Pujara could come in for the misfiring Raina. For the hosts there is only one possible change. To play Tsotsobe or not?

The conditions at Kingsmead, where there is expected to be some grass on the pitch, and over cast weather, could be the ideal time to play an all seam attack for South Africa. This could mean Mclaren or Parnell coming in for Harris, or both coming in for Harris and Tsotsobe. The likelihood though, no matter how seam friendly the pitch and conditions are, South Africa will retain Harris. The current Protea’s team, unlike the 90’s teams, will almost always go into a Test match with a spinner. So it becomes a shoot out between McLaren, Parnell and Tsotsobe.

Tsotsobe was the weak link in the attack in the opening Test. He was unlucky, with drop catches and mistimed shots, edges, all finding gaps, but the drop in pace, after facing Steyn and Morkel, meant that he was targeted by the Indian batsman. The same could have happened to anyone who played the 3rd seamer role. The danger here is that in the deeply political let up of South African sport, Tsotsobe is made to feel like a token non white player rather than a bowler of merit. Be sure that he is just that – his performances in the ODI series against Pakistan highlighted just what an affective bowler he is, but the longer he goes in Test cricket without picking up wickets the more people will cynically whisper. They did it to Hashim Amla when he first started and struggled with Test cricket. He’s now one of the top batsman in world cricket. So patience is the key here.

On form Mclaren is the right choice. Domestically he’s been brilliant, both with the ball, where he opens the bowling, and with his batting in the lower order. Mclaren would give the batting lineup depth that we havent seen since the Pollock, Klusner, Boje years. The selectors have said that they would reward domestic form, and with that Mclaren should be the obvious pick.

However Tsotsobe was picked for the opening Test, and it would send the wrong message to him where he to be discarded after one poor match. The potential is there, and having picked him they should stick with him. The pitch in Kingsmead may be more to his liking.

Potentially, Parnell is the best option. He offers both pace and swing, can bat, and is a future star of world cricket. He has however come back from a long injury, has not played much cricket since, and has remodeled his action somewhat. There needs to be a point where South Africa pick him, and stick with him. An attack led by Steyn, Morkel and Parnell has the potential to be lethal. Perhaps this is too soon for that however.

The best option would have been to pick Mclaren for the opening Test and stick with him. That didn’t happen and Tsotsobe was the man chosen. Having done so the selectors should be consistent and stick with Tsotsobe. He needs confidence and dropping him would not be the way to build that. Expect an unchanged Protea’s 11 tomorrow.



pic from cricinfo.com

50 Up for Hashim, the search for a new coach, and India’s spirit tested



The boxing day Test in Durban could potentially be the turning point for this Protea’s team. Two years ago in Australia they secured their first ever Test series win in Australia with a win in the Boxing Day Test. What should have been the start of a dominant period for the Protea’s turned on its head after that. They lost their next 3 Tests, losing the return home series against Australia, and then failed in both the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy. While 2008 was great, 2009 was not.

SO they now have the chance to launch themselves again. Last weeks thumping thrashing of the number one ranked Test team has given South Africa the chance to claim the series in Durban, and potentially set up a 3-0 whitewash which will take South Africa to the top ranking in Test cricket. While India have been steady and impressive in reaching the number one spot, there was always the feeling that they had to win outside India to justify the position. They’ll need a lot more fight to make up for the thrashing the received in the first Test. Zaheer Khan’s return should give the bowling a bit of spirit, but in truth they’ll need more of their attack to stand up, and not expect Zaheer to take on the South African’s on his own.

Hashim Amla will play his 50th Test match at his home ground of Kingsmead this Boxing Day. His brilliant form this year will be tested at a ground where he is yet to have an impact on the international scene. When Hashim scored a century at Lords in 2008 he stated that the ultimate would be a ton at Kingsmead, his home, rather than Lords, the home of cricket. The form he’s been in this year, he’ll have all the opportunity in the world to fix his poor record in Durban, and get the achievement he deserves in his 50th Test. It would be a just and fitting end to a great year for the star batsman. How they work the ICC rankings is baffling. While Amla’s form has seen him rise up the ODI rankings to number 2, the century he scored last week saw him climb to number 9? Surely he should be way higher than that?

This series will also see the South Africans begin their search for a new coach. Corrie van Zyl will step down after the World Cup and go back to his role at the High Performance Centre. Van Zyl has done a great job since taking over from Arthur, but always made it clear that it would be a temporary appointment. Those who are being talked about include former captain Kepler Wessels, Richard Pybus, who’s had a successful time in South African domestic cricket, and has coached internationally with Pakistan, and most interestingly, current India coach and South African legend Gary Kirsten. Kirsten will not be renewing his contract with India, and the timing does fit perfectly. Someone who has not been mentioned, but who I think would be a great choice, is the former Protea and current Dolphins coach, Graham Ford. Ford took over from Bob Woolmer in 1999 and lead the team to 8 series wins in 11. He was unlucky to be on the receiving end of two thrashings by Australia which cost him the job. Australia were thrashing everyone at that time so it was harsh to say the least. He deserves a fair crack at the highest level again, and his coaching and tactical knowledge would be perfect to ensure the team doesnt lose focus, as they did in 2009.

All that having been said, lets hope the weather doesnt ruin what should be a great match this week. The rain in Durban over the last month and a bit needs to take a bit of a break and give everyone what we need – an enjoyable festive season.



pic from cricinfo.com