Neil McKenzie shows the way

2012-10-20 00:00

AFTER the wordsmiths of the English Cricket Board spent hours trying to save the face of their chief executive, an acceptable apology was finally issued to CSA in respect of the slanderous comments made by David Collier on the role played by the Proteas in the Pietersen affair. Apparently the threat of legal action against the ECB if a suitable apology was not received by a given deadline eventually provoked some sense from the Brits.

Agreement was not reached on who actually initiated the exchange of texts, but it has been accepted that the texts were not part of an underhand plot to undermine the England team. The apology did not make reference to any responsibility for the leak of the infamous texts which, to my understanding, came from within an England team who are fed up with Pietersen. So good luck to them all with Kev’s re-insertion.

Last week, the Proteas squad for the tour of Australia was announced. As expected, AB de Villiers has been slotted in as wicketkeeper despite the many contra-indications of the northern summer. I am afraid that this is a case of not being willing to face up to the Australians with six batsmen rather than the seven that did duty against England.

The point is that an unencumbered De Villiers is a batsman capable of making the big hundreds that win Test matches. The dribs and drabs that he produced in England are of no use to a Test team unless they come from someone who bats at seven and is primarily in the team for his ’keeping. Thami Tsolikele, chosen as the reserve keeper, is quite capable of producing that kind of contribution with the bat.

Cricket selections are not always easy. This is one of the charms of the game. Sometimes tough choices must be made in the inevitable search for balance but the national selectors have again shied away from the De Villiers problem even though he is currently out of action with a bad back. Go figure, as they say in Obamaland.

In the meantime, several of the Proteas are in action during the IPL Champions League, which crept into town with all its bling and noisy sideshows. As we live just within the radius of its disturbance, my wife and I decided to stroll down to the Wanderers on Sunday evening to watch the local team take on the Mumbai Indians.

The stadium was not full to bursting, but a decent crowd had turned out on a balmy spring evening. White faces were in a clear minority, which is the sort of phenomenon one has been hoping to see at the Wanderers for some time. The early indications were that most of the crowd had come to support the visitors but, as the match hurried on, many of them transferred their support to the Lions in another example of the ambivalence a great number of South Africans with alien origins feel towards the country of their birth.

With some reluctance, I must admit it was an intriguing game of cricket. Since the early days of the IPL when it was all about sixes and fours, T20 cricket has come some distance. Many of its better performers have developed a new range of skills that are suited to the shorter game and which have made it a much more watchable spectacle.

On the night in question, the spectators were treated by Neil McKenzie to as good an innings as one could see in any form of the game. He came in when the Lions had made a stuttering start and proceeded to show his erstwhile colleagues in the Protea team just how to go about a match-winning innings in T20 cricket.

For one thing, he did not try to hit any sixes, thus eliminating the most common mode of dismissal in all forms of the game. McKenzie stayed still at the crease, kept the ball on the ground and steered it through the gaps in the field. His batting was simple, effective and highly skilled.

He played a wide range of strokes, most of which were entirely orthodox. Once settled at the crease, he toyed with the bowlers but was smart enough to realise the dangers posed by “Slinger” Malinga and played him with appropriate caution. He gave a master class to the promising young Quentin de Kock at the other end, showing him that a full range of strokes serves a batsman just as well if not better than the ability to swing sixes over mid wicket.

McKenzie is now 36 years old but what an inspired choice he would have been to captain the Proteas in the recent T20 world cup, where the team displayed little idea how to cope with the fast evolving T20 form of the game. He knows T20 cricket and he knows how to play it. I hope that some one in authority saw McKenzie’s innings last Sunday and is now wracking his brains on the best way to use McKenzie’s nous and know-how to the benefit of South African cricket.

During the week, the names of the five nominees to fill the position of independent directors of CSA became known. Without exception they seem to be characters of impeccable impartiality. So far so good, but the real problem will be which five provincial presidents win the political shenanigans that are taking place for seats on cricket’s governing board.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Jacques Faull at the Wanderers. He has been sitting in Gerald Majola’s seat these past months. By all accounts, he has done a splendid job under difficult circumstances. There is no substantial reason why he should not receive the post on a full time basis. He is young, smart, hard-working and has considerable presence. In other words, he resembles an administrative version of Graeme Smith, circa 2003.

The only reason that Faull may not get the job is that, like Smith, he is white.

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