The cricket season finally gets some meaning

2014-11-15 00:00

IT is difficult to get excited about a cricket season in which the domestic scene has been so disjointed and all the action, thus far, for the Proteas has been off shore.

On top of this is the disquiet that the scheduled West Indies tour of South Africa still has to surmount some tricky pay negotiations between the Windies board and their players. The supporters of cricket in this country have had little with which to stoke their enthusiasm.

The most depressing aspect of our cricket is the absence of exciting young players who are putting their names forward to succeed the ageing generation of present Proteas.

The gaps filled by the retirements of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis were, like the potholes on our roads, never going to be readily filled, but the sad truth is that their successors are not even specks on the horizon.

At any given time there are a maximum of 66 cricketers playing what is rather clumsily called franchise cricket. I challenge any readers of this publication to name me just four of these players who will go on to represent South Africa with distinction. I am tempted to extend that challenge to include those players outside the Test squad who are nevertheless currently wearing the Protea colours.

The bald fact is that there is not one young cricketer in this country who can cause the frisson that accompanied the early sightings of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn. It is all but 10 years since these three made their Test debuts against England in Port Elizabeth. We lost that match, but many pundits who were there knew that it was only a matter of time before all three became world stars of the game.

It is an unwelcome truth that our domestic game is cluttered up with experienced, still-good has-beens who will never play for South Africa again; and an undue proportion of quota cricketers who have little hope making it as top-class players. This leaves a handful of aspiring youngsters who have a chance of playing for the Proteas, but of this bunch it is difficult to pick any who are suggesting themselves as future world-class cricketers.

On top of this problem, the franchise coaches are solely interested in results for the good reason that their jobs are safe only in the event of their teams winning trophies. The development of future Test players is not on their job specifications. The system is storing up problems for SA cricket.

Apart from JP Duminy and perhaps Quinton de Kock, who are in the Test squad, none of the T20 players who did duty in Australia enhanced their reputations in a losing series. Admittedly, that form of the game is so brief and frenetic that it is difficult for newcomers to make anything that resembles a lasting impression. I thought the bowling of Kyle Abbot was good in the circumstances, but four overs a match is a meagre helping for any bowler.

There were, however, too many in the T20 series who confirmed that they have some distance still to travel before they can be considered international cricketers. Some of them have been given many chances without displaying the consistency that would confirm their places in any of our teams. Others have simply been given enough chances and must be sent back to their provinces to improve or they will spend their careers becoming additional clutter.

I have also been surprised at the slender amount of cricket played this summer by AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla.

Surely a professional batsman wants to play as much cricket as he can until his body tells him it is time for a brief rest. There is nothing like regular batting and the weight of runs to keep a batsman in form, yet none of these three has played a first-class match since the brief August Test series in Sri Lanka. Cricket South Africa cannot be accused of over sweating their assets.

I suppose the one-day series that started yesterday can be the first real indicator of the Proteas chances in next year’s World Cup.

The team will be without Duminy, who has been one of the linchpins of the team in recent times. His place has surprisingly been taken by Farhaan Berhardien, who must consider himself fortunate to have been given yet another chance after failing so often. Clearly, the selectors see something in him that is not discernible to less learned minds.

It will be interesting to see if De Kock can maintain his one-day form against an Australian attack that will be keen to establish a dominance over one of the players who has given added balance to the Proteas. The Aussies know that it will be an important psychological blow if they can dent De Kock’s confidence. I feel that this brief series will be an important examination for the young man and that no other personal battles over the next few weeks will have such an influence on the outcome of the Proteas’ 2015 World Cup.

With Michael Clarke promising “undiluted aggression from Australian teams” following their demolition by Pakistan, this could be a fiery rehearsal for the World Cup. The South Africans are unlikely to take a backward step in the face of verbal intimidation from the Aussies, so it may just be that the summer’s cricket is about to ignite.

Back home, cricket is mired in the middle of the domestic T20 season, in which a large number of foreign players have found lucrative employment as local teams seek the golden odyssey of a place in the IPL’s Champions League finals. I cannot think of a greater waste of scarce financial resources than paying large sums of money to players who are little more than hired guns.

Thus does the Indian Premier League spread its insidious virus.

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