A week of interesting decisions

2014-02-15 00:00

WE are in the middle of an intriguing Test match between the two best teams in the world, Australia and South Africa, the pretenders and the champions.

In a scheduling disaster that finds me in Hermanus at a meeting of fellow Royal and Ancient members for a few days of casual golf, I have found myself a thousand miles from the action, which is taking place 25 minutes and a couple of e-toll gantries from my front gate. The waning habit of using a diary and calendar has exacted an expensive toll on my emotions, conflicted as they are between wanting to be in two places at the same time.

First, however, a few words are needed on the two events that unfolded beyond these shores. The outcomes of both were not surprising in that they could have been foreseen by anyone with a brain larger than the squirrel that is chirping at the bottom of the idyllic garden belonging to the beautiful home that has been so kindly lent to us for a few days by close friends of my eldest daughter.

Round the matter of the successful takeover bid of the ICC, there has been expended an awful lot of hot and pompous air by a disparate group of “wise” men — none of whom have ever been confronted with the dilemma faced by CSA and their fellow dissidents. As I have written in an earlier column, CSA had nowhere else to go in the face of the coup d’etat carried out by the new Big Three of world cricket.

When you are armed with a bow and arrow, it is best to pay close attention when the other parties are carrying the latest weapons of mass destruction. This has been the law of the jungle long before The Lion King hit our screens and will remain so for all eternity. There are critics of CSA who believe that international cricket as we have known it all our lives has now been doomed by the folly and greed of the Big Three, but they are mistaken in their simplicity.

What has actually happened is that the subcontinent coalition with Zimbabwe that previously controlled the game has been replaced by one involving just England, India and Australia. It is my submission that steadier hands are now directing the tiller of cricket rather than that of a sycophantic group in thrall to the Indians.

South Africa has nothing to fear from the new order of world cricket as long as we continue to produce and prepare a national team that is competitive with the best of the rest. It should go without saying that this means all our cricketers should get a fair deal from CSA. That any form of racial discrimination now threatens the local game as never before should be obvious even to my noisy little squirrel, but much that is glaring seems to have eluded many new masters in the rainbow nation.

My final word on the matter is to say that CSA have negotiated the first part of the new deal in cricket with enough common sense to give us some hope that they are not oblivious to the challenges that lie ahead.

The eventual demise of English cricket’s Dumbslog Millionaire has been on the cards for half his Test career. The only surprise is that it took so long. It should have happened two years ago after the textgate saga that illustrated that Kevin Pietersen has never owed any loyalty to anyone apart from his own narrow interests.

His history is one of broken loyalties to so many teams that it almost seems unnecessary to point out that he emerged as a cricketer during the most sublime time in the history of this country, the land of his birth. Apartheid had been vanquished and South Africa was building its first truly multiracial national sporting teams.

What sort of man did not want to be part of that process and the burgeoning hope of the time? The answer is a most colossal prat who failed to understand that talent alone is not enough. Wherever he has gone he has been a source of division and unhappiness. All of Natal, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and now England first embraced his promise and then waved him away without regret other than a wistful pang of unwanted waste. His loyalty, they have found, is no deeper than his hypocritical tattoos.

However hard KP tried, he struggled even to pay lip service to his British passport. A few years ago, he was asked if he had ever received any weird fan mail. Often, he said, he was sent topless pictures of women. When told that this was outrageous, his true self emerged. “I know,” he jeered, “but it’s your country, not mine.”

Test match cricket was the medium of the game best suited to KP. Vast unpatrolled boundaries gave him the chance to play the kind of thrilling innings that emptied bars. When he came off he was a wonder to behold but increasingly his vast ego got the better of him. The better teams began to play on that ego and in the end his “glory or bust” attitude in every circumstance did nothing for him.

No doubt he will find a home of sorts in the T20 circus but in a game when fours and sixes are commonplace there is little thrill to be had in doing what others are also doing all the time. He will have plenty of time on his hands “to rage against the dying of the light”.

If I have left little space for the happenings in Centurion it is only because I have not yet come to terms with Graeme Smith’s decision to put the Australians in to bat when he won the toss on Wednesday morning. Given the clear blue sky, a fast bowler, Dale Steyn, who was clearly not completely fit and the advantage of batting first when your best batsman is also your wicket keeper — what on earth was he thinking?

Smith, himself, has made a career out of fronting up to every challenge thrown at him so he couldn’t possibly have been nervous of facing Mitchell Johnson on a greenish wicket. Or was he? Was this the first sign of a captain a little less certain of himself and his team in the first Test match of the post-Kallis era?

The immediate explanations that Smith gave for wanting to bat first lacked both conviction and plausibility. There was even just a hint that Smith was failing to convince himself. When Clarke was dismissed with his team at 93/4 there were some who might have thought that Smith’s decision had hit pay dirt but all of the batsmen dismissed thus far had contributed to their own downfalls.

By the end of the day it was clear that a mistake had been made. It looked for all the world that South Africa would spend the rest of the match trying to avoid defeat and that the consequences of Smith’s decision could reach beyond the result of this match.

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