South Africa to Experiment

31/10/2008

The big picture for South African cricket right now is over hauling Australia as the best Test and ODI team in the world. That will mean beating the top ranked Aussies in their series, in Australia and then South African, starting in December. Before that there are ODI’s against Kenya and Bangladesh, followed by two Tests against Bangladesh. While South Africa will not take their opponents lightly, they did so in the last World Cup, where Bangladesh beat them comfortably leading to South Africa facing Australia in the semi finals, they will however use these games as warm ups for the Australia series.

The past has seen South Africa fail to capitalise on the opportunity to experiment, especially in Tests, and put out a perceived strongest eleven at all times. While this approach is not without merit, it puts added value on Test and ODI caps, and ensures that the best team is always put out, giving more respect to opponents and the paying public. It does however have many failings as well. On South Africa’s last tour, to England, they managed to win the Test series, something they did for the first time in England since the 1960’s, and had the opportunity to give those who had not featured a game in the final Test, a dead rubber. They did not. They lost the Test and followed that up with a trouncing in the ODI series. The intensity was missing from the final Test, with a feeling of mission accomplished permeating through the team. JP Duminy and Monde Zondeki had been rewarded for strong domestic form with places in the touring squad. Yet neither played. Zondeki was not part of the ODI squad and so went home after a few months of touring and carrying out the drinks. Had they been picked they would have raised the intensity of the squad, as they had something to play for if the others did not, as well as gaining experience that may be needed down the line. It would have also been Duminy’s Test debut. South Africa failed to utilise that opportunity.

Which ever way you look at it the resting, or dropping, of Ntini and Nel gives South Africa a chance to plan for the future. And that is what this series is about. They had hoped to introduce Ryan McLaren to the international fold, but that was but on hold my Kents refusal to release him from his Kolpak contract. Zondeki, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn will use these games to showcase their ability with the new ball. Hashim Amla will put forward his case for inclusion in the ODI team, and to show that he is far more than just a Test batsman. Justin Ontong will be given a chance to show that he is better than his international record suggests, while Herchelle Gibbs will be out to prove that his international career his not over just yet. And Johan Louw will be given his international debut against Kenya on Sunday. With Kolpak contracts robbing South Africa of much of his cricketing depth, Louw will be out to show that there are experienced domestic performers who have much to offer when called upon.

While it is good that South Africa will be using the ODI’s to give chances to those on the fringes and to try things out, they must not stop there. The Tests should also be used to move South Africa forward. This means giving Duminy is Test debut, and a starting place in both Tests, and giving Zondeki a chance to stake a claim for a Test bowling place. It would have been an ideal time to introduce Tsotsobe to international cricket, but they young opening bowler will have to wait longer for his taste of international cricket, but the chance to give Duminy and Zondeki game time must not be wasted. Duminy can not be expected to make his debut in Australia should injury keep any of the current Test batsman out.

While South Africa should win both series against Kenya and Bangladesh there is much still to watch, particularly on an individual front.

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Louw Called Up

29/10/2008

Dolphins all rounder  Johan Louw has been called up to the South African squad for the forth coming ODI series against Kenya and Bangladesh. This is Louws first ever call up to the national team.

With Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn expected to miss the two matches against Kenya, but will feature against Bangladesh, and Ryan McLarens call up blocked by Kent, the Proteas would have been down to just 11 players for the two games against Kenya. Louw had been part of a training camp with the national team and has been officially added to the squad.

The 29 year old bowling all rounder has been in great form for the Dolphins in the last few seasons, as well as performing well in county cricket with Northamptonshire.  Although Louw has featured in county cricket as a Kolpak player he is eligible to play for South Africa without breaking any county contracts as he was Northamps overseas player last year, and not a Kolpak player.

Louw has over 1000 runs and 150 wickets to his name in limited over cricket, both in South Africa and England. He was the Dolphins leading wicket taker in all forms of the game last season, returning impressive figures of 77 wickets at 16.68 in the four day competition and 24 wickets at 14.62 and an economy rate of 3.92 in 12 limited over games. He was also the Dolphins leading bowler in the Pro20 Series.

Louw is an opening bowler who relies more on variation and skill rather than pace, and is a useful lower order batsman. At 29 he has waited a long time for recognition but has never given up hope of playing for his country. It’s always pleasing to see domestic form rewarded with national honors and if Louw and Zondeki are given the new ball against Kenya it will be just rewards for the two leading domestic bowlers over the last couple of seasons.

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South African Cricket News

27/10/2008

The Proteas have a new selection panel that will be headed by a new convener of selectors, ex South African all rounder, coach and current ICC match referee, Mike Procter. Procter is joined on the panel by  ex Protea vice captain Craig Matthews,  Winky Ximiya, and Mustapha Khan. The squads for the next two series, featuring Kenya and then Bangladesh have already been chosen, so the new panels first job will be picking the team to go to Australia in December.

Proteas coach, Mickey Arthur, has had his contract renewed until after the 2011 World Cup. The last season has been the South Africa’s most successful in terms of Test series wins, culminating in their first ever series win in England, and will have gone a long way to giving CSA faith and belief that Arthur was still the right man to lead the Proteas. The next season will be a testing one, with a double header, away and home, series against Australia coming up from December, and Arthur will have been pleased that his future was sorted out before that series.

Dale Steyn, South Africa’s number one strike bowler, has been passed fit for the forthcoming matches against Kenya and Bangladesh, having suffered from a mystery virus. Steyn is not yet match fit yet and may be left out of the games against Kenya in order for him to gain fitness and to give Monde Zondeki a chance to get some game time. The first match against Kenya is on Friday the 31st of October, while the start of the Bangladesh series is on the 5th of November.

A CSA Franchise Review committee has recommended that the current 6 Franchise teams be increased to 8 for the 2009/2010 domestic season. The two new Franchise teams would come from Border and Griqualand West, and would mean a split from current Franchise teams the Eagles and the Warriors. There are financial conditions that will have to be met if the two new Franchises are to come into affect. The news will lead to other cricket boards appealing to be one of the new Franchises, such as the North West districts which currently are part of the Lions Franchise with Gauteng.

South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have announced that they hope to form a franchise based T20 competition based on the IPL. The new competition will look to be launched by 2011. The concept is still in the early planning stage but is believed to compromise two sections, an African section and a Australasia section, with the winners meeting in a final. Their is also a want to find a schedule away from the IPL to allow players involved in that competition to feature for the new franchises. A tri nation T20 competition featuring international teams, India, Australia and South Africa was talked about last month. Cricket boards have since denied that any competition is being planned and this franchise based set up looks to be a more feasible option.

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Amr Zaki

23/10/2008

Egyptian forward Amr Zaki has made a prolific start to his English Premier League career, leading the early scoring charts with 7 goals in 8 games. A few months ago no one in England knew who Zaki was, now the forward, on loan at Wigan, is being chased by Liverpool and Manchester City, with Real Madrid obviously mentioned too.

Amr Hassan Zaki was born in Mansoura, Egypt, on the 1st of April 1983. His club career started with his home team, Al-Mansoura,  where his prolific goal scoring, 20 goals in 20 games, caught the attention of bigger teams. He moved on to ENPPI  where he found the net 16 times in 41 games, and took ENPPI to their best league finish ever when they ended the 2004-2005 season as runners up. They also won the 2005 Egyptian Cup, their first trophy ever. Impressive performances in the 2006 African Cup of Nations alerted European clubs to his talent and Zaki signed for Lokomotov Moscow for a reported $2million. His first taste of Europe turned out to be nothing short of a nightmare as the Egyptian striker lasted only 6 months in Russia, without featuring for a single minute for his new club. Zaki returned home to Egypt and signed for El Zamalek. Once again he found his scoring touch and eroded the disaster of Russia with 22 goals in 54 games for Zamalek. That scoring form, together with his international exploits, Zaki has netted 29 times in 48 games for Egypt, alerted Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, and a deal to take Zaki to England, on loan for a season, was completed.

There is no doubting the talent of African football. Drogba, Essien, Toure and a host of others in England’s top teams are testament to that. But for every massive hit there are many misses, as the climate, culture, language and home sickness make settling into European football difficult. Indeed even the best players need a settling in period before we start to see the best of them. Many African players take a similar route to European football success, moving to France first, where the league is full of African players, and in terms of the North African players, language is not a problem. After cutting their teeth in France for a few seasons they are ready to move on to England, Spain and Italy. The likes of Drogba, Essien, Kieta and many others have followed this path. Yet Bruce took a gamble on a player who’s only other European experience had been a failure. And it was a gamble that has so far paid off handsomely.

Zaki has needed no time to settle in. He scored in pre season games, and just carried on scoring in the regular season. He is top of the English scoring tables, and has all the top clubs watching him carefully. A quote from his Wigan manager, Steve Bruce, probably best describes why he has been such a success so far.

When you look at this lad and his build, he is the same height, weight, everything about him, he is like Alan Shearer. He has the same confidence when he gets the ball, he knows where the goal is, he doesn’t need to look up, he has this instinct. Strikers like that have an instinct as to where the goal is. You can’t describe it, you can’t give it to anybody.

Zaki seems made for the English game. The toughness and combativeness that takes many new comers by surprise are part of his game. He is an English type forward who seems to have found the best style for his play.

While all has gone well for Zaki the true test will come from December. Not only will he no longer by a surprise package to the league, but the colder weather will test the mettle of the Egyptian sun reared player. Should he come through that period there can be little doubt that suitors will come knocking on his door.

Bruce has Zaki on load until June. He will do well to tie him down to a permanent deal before then. However the stories doing the rounds linking Zaki with moves to City and Liverpool may give the player more options for his future. He must remember though that Bruce took a gamble on him, showed faith in him, and can guarantee him first team football. In time his talent may prove to big for Wigan, but for now he is at the right club.


India Crush Australia

21/10/2008

India swept to their biggest ever run margin of victory in Tests as they beat the number one ranked team Australia by 320 runs. This thrashing was also Australia’s biggest loss since 1990 when the were beaten by the West Indies.

Australia had thus far survived the post Warne/Mcgrath/Gilchrist period without being tested too much. With claims, and hopes, that Australia would struggle without the legendary trio they have actually managed to get on with their tasks and continue winning, be it less brutally then before.

This weeks bruising defeat could tell a different story. Australia are defeated in a Test series very rarely. In this decade only defeats to India, in India a few years back, and the famous Ashes defeat to England in England come to mind. Australia almost immediately wiped away the memory of that Ashes defeat by trouncing England 5-0 18 months later. In any case even when Australia do lose a Test match, on that rare occasion when it does happen, it tends to be in a dead rubber after the series has already been won. This happens more than you’d think.

There are still two Tests left in the series, so Australia still have a chance to win or draw the series. But it is the manner of this defeat that will leave questions about the fallibility of the once mighty Australia. India rescued a draw in the first Test after Australia had been the better side. Many would have expected Australia to power on from there and sweep the series, with India folding as they had done before. But in the face of selection questions, over the aging legends of Indian cricket, India responded in brutal style. They batted brilliantly, in both innings, and restricted the Aussies to modest scores in their two innings, even turning down the option of having Pontings men follow on, as they instead went about setting a daunting target that was never going to be reached.

Indeed there was something very Australian in the Indian approach. The way they never allowed the opposition to recover from a bad first innings, and kept digging the hole deeper and deeper, until Australia had to lay down and give in. This was typified in the Indian second innings, when they batted at over 5 an over, scoring quickly and taking the game further and further away from Australia. Dhoni’s decision to capitalise on the brisk start by his star openers by coming in at three was inspired and full of intent.

India have a selection headache of their own going into the third Test. Kumble, who missed this match, will be fit again, but the  performance of MIshra, on debut, was one of the keys to the victory. Dropping him would be harsh. But the Test captain should play. It’s a hard selection issue and one that will have to be made bravely, with the series perhaps decided by that one selection.

What is paramount though, for India and world cricket, is for India to strike again and not allow Australia back into the series. A strong display is needed by India in the third Test, one that will ensure that the series is won before the final Test. World cricket will be behind India. The strength of Australian cricket will be tested in the two Tests to follow and they will not lay down and allow India to begin their dethroning without a fight.

We’re in for a battle. One that will be watched and enjoyed by all.

pic from cricinfo.com


Rooney’s Back

16/10/2008

It was reported just before the international week that England manager Fabio Capello wanted to make Wayne Rooney the goal machine they hoped could fire them to the world cup. Rooney, after a prolific start to his international career has found goals harder to come by in the last few years. That all changed this week with Rooney firing in four goals in two games. Added to that the goals he has scored for Manchester United in the last three club games the forward is on a prolific run.

Rooney has tended to get his club goals in bursts, followed by a dry spell, and then another burst. However his international goals have not really coincided with any club bursts. That all changed this week with the ease he is now finding the net.

Sir Alex stated that Rooney has sacrificed himself for the team for much of his career, being played out of position, doing a lot of tracking back, and not getting the chances that a true forward needs. What Rooney showed this week, and in the last couple of weeks counting his United goals, is that he is a striker and given the chance to score he will take it. Whereas he has tended to be the player doing the dirty work and letting someone else take the goal scoring glory, Ronaldo at club level, Rooney showed that if you put him upfront, increase his supply, and he will score.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the reinvention of Rooney as a scoring threat has come with Capello partnering him with Heskey. Heskey has a terrible goal scoring record for his country, but critics look to far into that. You don’t pick Heskey to score you goals – he won’t. You pick him to get your team, and his partner goals. Englands best strike partnership of the last decade has been Owen and Heskey. Heskey spent the last three years out of the international fold and Rooney’s goals dried up. He came back and Rooney can’t stop scoring. What England have missed is not the Rooney isn’t a goal scorer, he is, it’s that he needs the right partner. A big man like Heskey works for England, with the little and large formula that worked with Owen suiting Rooney as well. Not to say that Rooney is only effective in this way, his partnership with Tevez, both small men similar in style, shows that he is not a one trick pony.

England, and Rooney, under Capello are a far different side to any we have seen in the recent past. They have their problems, the Lampard, Gerrard partnership still doesn’t work, they don’t always impress in performance, but they are winning. Four wins from four in the World Cup qualifying is testament to that. There is a belief there that has seldom been seen in England and they may have just found the right man to take them to within a realistic chance of glory at a major tournament.

Rooney and Capello could take England all the way in South Africa in 2010.

pic from teamtalk.com


South African Spin Hope From Pakistan

15/10/2008

Since readmission to international cricket in 1991 South Africa have been in need of a spin bowler who can win them matches. Their weight may finally be over next season when Pakistani spin bowler Imran Tahir qualifies to play for South Africa.

There were times early after readmission when South Africa went with an all pace attack, no matter what, often not choosing a spin bowler at all. They realised that variation was key to success and began their search for a spin bowler. Pat Symcox, Paul Adams and Nicky Boje were the bowlers that made the biggest impact but often found themselves being used defensively rather than as wicket takers. They were used to tie down an end or to give the quickies a rest. It is fair to say they were not utilised to their best ability.

In Paul Harris, in Test matches, and Johan Botha, in ODI’s, South Africa have identified two spin bowlers who will be given opportunities to play significant roles in the team. With the next World Cup in the sub continent the need for spin bowlers to play an active part in the team have increased, if South Africa hope to make any impression in the tournament.

Harris and Botha have both done good jobs for South Africa and have been fixtures in recent Test and ODI teams. However this should not stop the search for a match winning spin bowler, in terms of bettering the squad, and increasing competition. That search has brought forward Imran Tahir. The Pakistani spin bowler, capped at “A” level, has been playing for the Titans for the last few seasons, has settled and married a South African wife, and as of next season will be eligible to play for his adopted country.

Tahir has been a success in South Africa, where he plays with Harris for the Titans, and has just come off a fantastic personal season in English County cricket. His first class bowling average is an impressive 25,07 with a best of 8/76. Clearly South Africa would do well to draught him in as soon as possible. Whether it is as a front line spin bowler, used in an attacking manner, or as part of a spin duo with Harris on spin friendly pitches, the adopted South African is an exciting option for the team to look forward to.

South Africa famously lost KP to an adopted country, one he now leads, it seems like they will be taking advantage of the same system to increase their spin options.

pic from cricinfo.com