Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Dale Steyn is back!

Dale Steyn made such a spectacular return to Test cricket in the home Test series against New Zealand, that he made the other bowlers look mediocre. While Quinton de Kock won man of the match for his runs on a difficult pitch in the second Test, Steyn took a five wicket-haul and returned figures of eight wickets for 99 run in the match, and 10 wickets for 102 runs across the series. The 'Steyn Remover' has passed famous Pakistan bowler Wasim Akram in Test wickets, and with 416 Test scalps, Steyn's only compatriot with more Test wickets is Shaun Pollock (421).

Guess who is back to taking wickets and winning matches for South Africa. Photo from From

I previously blogged that Kagiso Rabida would be the deciding factor in the series. Little did I know that Steyn would be back to his amazing self, and Vernon Philander would, in his return Test, heap huge pressure on the other end to force batsmen to play against Steyn. From a bowling perspective, it was beautiful. Our first batting innings in the second Test was excellent, especially when you consider that New Zealand won the toss and sent us into bat. The first five batsmen all scored at least half centuries, including a fantastic hundred by Faf du Plessis. The pitch deteriorated quickly near the end of the first day, which goes to show how impressive and important the innings was.

There are so many positives South Africa can take from this series, being their first series this cricket season, and playing against New Zealand who walked over Zimbabwe just before it. Next up is an One Day International against Ireland in Benoni on 25 September, and then a five-match ODI series against Australia, starting in Centurion on 30 September.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Proteas must rely on Rabada

Only the best will stand out when South Africa hosts New Zealand for two Test matches, starting on 19 and 27 August. The Proteas have lost captain AB de Villiers and bowler Morne Morkel due to injury, which will not help them against an in-form Black Caps squad which is ranked one place higher on the ICC Test rankings (fifth).

Bowlers Steyn and Philander have recovered from long-term injuries and will look to mark their return in a big way when they first take on the Black Caps in the familiar Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, Durban. But I believe the pressure lies more heavily on the shoulders of world number seven ODI bowler Kagiso Rabada. New Zealand already have the accomplished bowling pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult, to counter our Steyn and Philander. Both batting line-ups are also strong, with New Zealand's probably better because of AB's injury. This is why it is up on Rabada to tip the balance in our favour.

The 21-year-old has shown such great potential. He already has better bowling statistics than Boult and Southee, although the number of matches played is a factor. In six Tests, he has already taken three five-wicket hauls in an innings and one 10-wicket haul in a match. His Test bowling average is an impressive 24.70, and in ODIs he has taken 37 wickets at an average of 21.45. 

I cannot stop blogging about this guy. He is the next great South African bowler, and the outcome of this series, and indeed of many more to come, are at his mercy.

Kagiso Rabada holds the fate of the Proteas in his hands. CC Search image.

This is the South African team for the series: Faf du Plessis (captain), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Stiaan van Zyl.

Tuesday, 07 June 2016

Cricket bat size: What's the big deal?

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is considering limiting the size of cricket bats. This after the Marylebone Cricket Club conducted research on the increasing size of cricket bats, and brought its findings to the ICC asking it to balance the battle between bat and ball. All cricket fans can agree that in recent years, the enlarging of bats has helped batsmen clear the boundary more easily and post enormous totals. Thin edges, blocks and nudges off the bat have also had greater effect of late, and dot balls are soon becoming a thing of the past in limited over games. Batsmen are certainly dominating cricket at the moment, much to the chagrin of bowlers. But must this change?

JP Duminy sports a striking pink willow.

In centuries past, bats were slender and batsmen had to work hard for their runs. Sixes were struck only by the most skilled and powerful batsmen generally when it was worth the risk. Batsmen had to be clever about guiding the ball into gaps in the field, and actually had to run between the wickets in order to reach a century.

Bowlers could be legends in those days – think of Dennis Lillee, Frederick Spofforth, Malcolm Marshall, Wasim Akram, and more recently, Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock (my bowling hero growing up). Nowadays, only batsmen make the headlines. Everyone wants to see AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, David Warner or Virat Kohli smash the opposition bowling attack out the park. Sixes have become as common as dot balls. The plan now is to swing hard throughout the innings, and too often fielding teams become mere spectators when a batsman gets going. After all, with the size of bats these days, it is almost impossible for the batsman to miss the ball.

Statistics show that batsmen are currently enjoying the game more than bowlers. Not only are innings scores reaching new heights, but records for the fastest centuries and half centuries are up for contention regularly. Batsmen's averages and strike rates are always improving while bowlers' averages and economy rates are getting worse. Just compare Shaun Pollock's ODI economy rate of 3.67 runs per over to the current number one ODI bowler, Trent Boult's economy rate of 4.81. Boult's average is better than Pollock's at the moment, but Boult has only played in 32 ODIs, so this will likely change as his career progresses. Two of SA's regular bowlers, Chris Morris and Kyle Abbott, have economy rates of 6.10 and 4.82 respectively. Morne Morkel's is worse.

It is obvious that larger bats have helped batsmen. Is the answer for bowlers and fielders to 'man up' and work harder for wickets? 

It is not so simple: The size of fields has also been reduced in recent years to encourage the high scores match organisers seek. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of bowlers, fielders and umpires when batsmen are able to launch hard projectiles at deadly speeds. If bowlers are able to injure or even cause fatal harm to batsmen wearing protective gear, imagine what batsmen can do when they strike the ball with even greater speed toward less-protected fielders in the 'silly' positions just off the pitch?

One proposal is that bats should not be allowed to be larger than their current size (generally 96.5cm long and 10.8cm wide). I like this idea. It is already too late to reduce the size of the bats, as it would bring into question all the current records and statistics, and not to mention cause many a future batsman to complain that they were given the short end of the stick (no pun intended). 

Bats should be restricted to this size, and then the situation should be monitored. If injuries occur, the bats can be made smaller. If not, the situation can be reassessed.

Wednesday, 04 May 2016

SA drops to sixth in Test rankings, rightly so

South Africa has dropped to sixth place in the recently released ICC Test rankings, the Proteas now on 92 points behind Australia (118), India (112), Pakistan (111), England (105) and New Zealand (98). In recent blogs I mentioned that the Proteas are not nearly as good a squad as they used to be. The rankings released on 3 May confirm this. I also said that the most recent performances suggested a return to winning ways.

Proteas captain AB de Villiers has a lot to do to renew the public's faith in the team.

The ICC is very accurate with their rankings, and takes into consideration how recent the matches were, under the period of review. When the new rankings were released this May, all Test results in the 2012/13 season no longer counted. Furthermore, the results from the 2015/16 season were regarded more highly. Both of these changes affected our rankings. While we held the number one or two spot in recent years, we now languish only four points above Sri Lanka in seventh place. There are several reasons for this decline:

Our greats of the game have retired, or are still playing but without much support from the rest of the team, or belief in themselves. Only Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock are new players worthy of wearing the green cap. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla are expected to do most of the scoring with the bat, while the rest of the batting line up is continuously chopped and changed as selectors desperately try to find players with enough talent, consistency and mental strength to perform. 

The fact that some pundits regard Kyle Abbott as our best bowler is quite sad, as his figures are average, and he usually does not trouble batsmen. The ageing Dale Steyn is usually injured, or when he does play, bowls without much confidence . Imran Tahir is bowling well, but the 37-year-old's age will soon catch up to him. Other than KG and De Kock, no new players are knocking on the door at domestic level.

I believe that our new Test ranking is accurate. We are on the bottom half of the table. But I also believe that we can once again become a force to be reckoned with. It does not happen overnight, and must start at the domestic, schools and U19 levels.

Monday, 04 April 2016

The best team won the World Cup

The West Indies won the ICC World Twenty 20 India 2016 after they beat England in the final on 3 March. This World Cup was a topsy turvy one, with surprises and upsets throughout. Yet the winners proved that they were the best team in the tournament, showing up their opponents on all fronts (except when they lost to Afghanistan). From the start, the Windies proved that they were a force to be reckoned with, and were fiercely determined to win. Now they are the first team to win the T20 World Cup twice.

The West Indies did everything right to win the ICC World Twenty 20 India 2016. Photo from

With bat, the Windies proved that they could destroy any bowling lineup – despite Kieron Pollard not playing in the tournament, and Chris Gayle getting out early in most of the matches. The mere fact that their number eight batsman, Carlos Brathwaite, hit four sixes in a row in the last over in the final, under inconceivable pressure, to win the World Cup – shows that anything is possible for this team.

While West Indies did not have the most impressive bowling attack, their bowlers were clever. They varied their bouncers, yorkers and slower balls throughout the tournament, always leaving the batsmen guessing. The spinner always came on at the right time, and bowling changes suited the stage of the innings.

While not perfect in the field, the West Indies were no worse than than any other team in a tournament which saw too many dropped catches and missed chances. At one point in the final, it seemed that the Windies had left too much to do too late. But the West Indies showed us that anything is possible for a team that believes despite all odds.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Topsy turvy World Cup

Surprises and upsets have surfaced at the ICC World Twenty 20 India 2016. Some of the jack in the boxes included India being bowled all out for 79 to lose to New Zealand by 47 runs, New Zealand defending 142 against the mighty Australians, and England chasing a whopping 229 against South Africa. Furthermore, surprise qualifiers Afghanistan nearly beat Sri Lanka, and gave South Africa a run for their money in their group matches. Overwhelming pride felt by some fans has been reflected by heart-break in others. In the end, some teams will progress and others will not. It appears that some highly-ranked countries might not make the cut this time, but that does not make the show any less exhilarating.

Image from

Right now it is anybody's guess how things will turn out. Teams attaining high scores are not necessarily defending them. And teams slugging out meagre totals are pulling rabbits out of hats to everyone's astonishment. In my opinion, West Indies look like the strongest team at the moment, proving themselves with bat, ball and in the field. New Zealand have also proven that they are title contenders, with great performances. The three that usually make the top of the favourites list – India, Australia and South Africa – have fallen behind. India and Australia have both lost matches that should not have been lost. South Africa's bowlers lack confidence and discipline. They gave 26 extras away against England!

Champions Sri Lanka do not look as good as they used to. It seems that as time goes by, Sri Lanka's bowling attack gets weaker. It is hard to expect that their current bowlers could follow on from where Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas left off. Pakistan are not as good as they were a few years ago – without Saeed Ajmal or Younis Khan.

Whatever happens, I believe this World Cup will be entertaining for all. And a little drama never hurt anyone.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Proteas are back to their winning ways

I previously blogged how the South African cricket team found itself in a precarious position after losing the home Test series to England, and appearing to lack confidence. I can now safely say that the Proteas are back to their old ways (beating opponents comprehensively in all facets of the game, while playing with belief in their abilities).

Yes, the Test series losses to India and England prove that our Test squad is not what it used to be. But after winning our last five limited overs matches against England – three One Day Internationals, and two T20s, to win those series – things are definitely looking better. We will play against Australia next, in three T20s starting on 4 March. To be honest, I do not think we will win, as Australia look very good at the moment, but we must not let this get us down. We have done well to recover from where we were. After that, we will compete in the T20 World Cup.

Proteas fans can celebrate now that the team is winning again.
I took interest in a recent Graeme Pollock column. The SA batting legend said that room must be made available for Quinton de Kock in the T20 squad, event though we won the T20 series against England without him. I wholeheartedly agree with this. A slight injury kept de Kock out of the T20 series, and because of it, I felt nervous looking at our batting line up before each game. De Kock is a confident, talented and aggressive opening batsmen, with sublime timing and shot selection.

Pollock believes that de Kock is better than David Miller and Rilee Rossouw, and to fit de Kock in the side, one of those two would have to sit out. With this, I concur, although it would be a hard decision. Both have played well for South Africa in limited overs.

Another difficulty would be in deciding which opening pair to go with – with AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock all able and available. De Kock and AB are both explosive players who play extravagant shots. They have not opened together before, but there is a first time for everything. I think our management should try it out. Hashim appears to be more subdued, but can still score at a good rate with clever stroke play.

 I will end off with de Kock's batting statistics as of 23 February, courtesy of

Batting and fielding averages
List A969443601138*40.01384893.581311402571159