Take aim with Duminy

2008-03-15 00:00

Timing in life is everything. For the second year in a row the South African cricket team is about to nick the top place in the one-day cricket rankings from the Aussies. Last year, you may remember, Smith’s team sneaked to the top of the rankings just before their ill-fated World Cup campaign began. Following two losses to Australia during that World Cup, together with defeats to both Bangladesh and New Zealand, the stay of the South Africans at the top was embarrassingly brief. By the end of the World Cup the Australians were deservedly back on top where they have remained until now.

The significance of the Proteas’ position on April Fool’s Day is that this is when the rankings close for the purpose of adjudicating the “winner” for the year. So what, you may ask? The answer is a team prize of $175 000. Last year the Australians may have comforted themselves with the much larger payout they received from winning the World Cup, but this year for some of their team there is no such comfort available should they be pipped at the post again.

All that South Africa have to do to scoop the prize is to win their last match against Bangladesh, which, while not a given, is an undemanding task against a team that is playing below its limited potential. If that mission is duly accomplished today, the Proteas will finish top of the rankings again, in a year in which they lost twice to Australia and did not play a single match against India.

It will be rather like winning the Super 14 without playing against the Crusaders and the Blues.

Although some of the Australian players might be so dazzled by their imminent harvest from the Indian Premier T20 league that they will not mind missing out on the one-day prize, one can expect a revision of the ranking system. This has not been a good summer for the Australians.

Should the Australian Cricket Board seek a revision of the rankings procedure it is likely that the ICC will be inclined to throw them a bone in order to assuage wounded feelings after the acrimonious series during which the Indian board again flexed its financial muscle in order to “protect” its players.

Such a revision will be too late to prevent this year’s spoils landing up in the trousers of Smith and his team-mates. Not that they will mind shafting the Aussies, but it is worth remembering that since the World Cup the South Africans have played five one-day series, all of which have been against teams ranked below them. Ironically, the same could be said of the Aussies after their year spent on top.

All this assumes no mishap against Bangladesh. It could happen, of course, as nothing in sport can be taken for granted. One should also remember that South Africa are not fielding their best team in Bangladesh. In the first ODI match we saw an example of this in the less than perfect display behind the stumps of AB de Villiers. Mark Boucher may not have scored the runs expected of him but his keeping has been quite superb ever since he found himself, briefly, under the tutelage of Ray Jennings.

It is common knowledge that Arendse has Boucher in his sights but De Villiers’s keeping showed that he has some way to go before he can be given that job on a full-time basis. This is yet another example of a sportsman benefitting by allowing another to show that he is not up to the required standard. Arendse will have to find another target for his veto.

The player that I have felt for these past few weeks has been JP Duminy. Quite correctly, in my opinion, Duminy was taken to Bangladesh. He is clearly one of our most promising batsmen and showed against the West Indies that he was in good form. Yet he has been in Bangladesh for nearly a month and did not face a ball in anger until the second ODI. It says much for him that, finally given a chance to bat, he played well under awkward circumstances.

Form in any sport is transitory. In batting it is particularly so. It is very difficult for a batsman to maintain form at the crease unless he is batting regularly. One innings in a month, plus the possibility of another in today’s match does not constitute regular batting. Now Duminy faces a tour of India where, barring an injury to one of the regular Test batsmen, he is almost certain to spend another month batting only in the nets. If he is chosen to tour England, which is all but certain given the need to find enough players of colour, he faces a similar prospect.

Duminy turns 24 in the middle of April. At this age most batsmen who go on to make an impact in Test cricket have already had considerable experience of it. Duminy has yet to play a Test despite the indifferent form of several established batsmen and the weak nature of South Africa’s recent opposition. Now that we are about to play India, England and Australia, all away from home, is Duminy destined to spend another eight months or more watching from the dressing room? One hopes not.

Back home, the deadly hand of transformation has thrust a spear into the big heart of Andre Nel, who has been replaced for the Test match tour of India. Some have tried to justify Charl Langeveldt’s selection ahead of Nel on the basis of his ability to swing the ball, conveniently forgetting Nel’s greater variety of deliveries. It is illustrative to compare their respective Test records to see just how absurd it is to replace Nel at this stage of his career. In 34 Test matches Nel has taken 119 wickets at an average of 31 runs each. Langeveldt, who is some three years older than Nel, has played just six Tests in which he has taken only 16 wickets at 37 runs each. I admire Langeveldt’s bowling, but he lacks Nel’s ability to disconcert opposing batsmen and his batting is awful.

The other beneficiary of Arendse’s interference is Robin Peterson, whose five-wicket gift from the Bangladeshis has allowed the arch-transformer to give the left-arm spinner yet another chance to display his much-practiced skill at carrying the team’s drinks. Before his present from Bangladesh, Peterson had taken just eight Test wickets at 50 runs apiece, hardly the figures of a match-winner. He is most unlikely to replace Paul Harris in the Test team.

The trouble, however, lies not with the selectors but rather the interfering Arendse, who appears to regard himself as the guardian only of those of cricketers brought up south of the Orange River, rather than all those that play under his care. I shall be surprised if the patient Joubert Strydom, chairman of the selectors, hangs on much longer in the role over which Arendse exerts his own brand of expertise honed during those years in which he attempted to obtain a powerbase for himself, within the structures of rugby and association football before alighting on cricket.

We shall know just how much this madness has gripped our cricket if both Langeveldt and Petersen are given a free pass to tour England later this year.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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