What’s going on here?

2011-01-22 00:00

WITH a World Cup just around the corner, every cricket fan around the country should be at least slightly excited at the prospect — however slim — of our boys finally doing us proud.

And yet, somehow, the start to 2011 has left most of us increasingly depressed at the idea of watching what looks to be an entirely predictable path of doom and gloom unravel.

Let us push the boardroom cat-fight aside, even though it is doing its utmost to muscle the team’s underwhelming performances out of the headlines.

Quite what will unravel between Gerald Majola and Mtutuzeli Nyoka no one knows, but nothing ever ends amicably once lawyers get involved. I should know, as I seem to have “befriended’’ my fair share over the years.

The Cricket South Africa house that was touted as being in perfect order just the other day now seems to be crumbling at the foundations, and all this on the brink of a showpiece world event.

It is mindless, and has all the timing and execution of a tail-ender’s forward-defensive shot. It is too ugly for words, really.

But let’s get back to the apple of the eye in that house of much mystery — the Proteas.

Graeme Smith was going to use this World Cup as his ODI captaincy swansong. It is shaping up to be some send-off. The squad that was announced this week looks ominously one-dimensional, which seems to be a feature of the Proteas’ play at the moment.

There just seems to be no Plan B. No room for spontaneity or creativity.

Heck, they have chosen a wrist-spinner for the first time in years, and then decided the only turning his arm will do is when pouring the energy drinks for the batsmen.

Quite what Imran Tahir has gained from sitting on the bench all series — apart from a flashy orange bib for his trips to the middle — I will never know. The last two venues looked ideal for him to make his bow, and yet the “brains trust’’ decided it was best to let him carry on his apprenticeship as a barman.

I am sorry, but I cannot see what more Robin Peterson can offer to the side that he hasn’t already shown through years of trying.

At this rate, Tahir will be handed his first cap after a month of inactivity, and then lamented when he doesn’t perform to the lofty heights he has reached this season.

And while we are at it, SA cricket need to re-examine their horses for courses approach. It has been deemed that spinners are not quite as handy on bouncier surfaces, which would suggest that Tahir won’t play many home matches for the Proteas.

And why on earth not?

I mean, England still pick Graeme Swann on every surface. India do the same with Harbhajan Singh, and Australia would have picked Shane Warne to bowl on glass if they could have.

That is because a quality wrist-spinner is priceless, capable of turning a match in one spell.

You would think, having suffered at the hands of a few oppostion twirlers themselves over the years, that the Proteas would jump at the chance of having that ace up their sleeve. But that would be far too forward-thinking.

Those who like the sport will recall that Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, based on an attacking approach with the bat that caught many teams off-guard.

Since then, Australia have won the last three events, because of their ability to perform under the fiercest pressure.

The Proteas illustrated at the Wanderers that pressure to them continues to be a bit like kryptonite to Superman. They don’t fancy it much — especially in ODI cricket, never mind the World Cup.

The squad that they have chosen for next month’s World Cup also looks to have some gaping holes. The lack of a proper “death bowler” will surely come back to haunt them, if they should get to the business end of the event.

Rusty Theron and Ryan McLaren must both consider themselves desperately unlucky to not be on that 15-man list. Bowling yorkers and well-disguised slower balls at the death is what they do best, and the skill will be even more necessary on the feather-beds that they will play on in the sub-continent.

That oversight, coupled with a very shallow middle-order, leaves the Proteas ripe for the plucking if the juggernauts at the top of the order fail.

The value of Jacques Kallis has been perfectly summed up by the chaos of the current series. His influence is immeasurable, and he will be welcomed back with both relief and relish.

Smith’s form is a serious concern, as it has forced the usually Zen-like Hashim Amla to become as reckless as a taxi driver.

The Proteas also need to get more out of AB de Villiers and JP Duminy. They both have enormous talent, as they have shown in patches this season.

But they need to start winning matches for their country, in the same style that Kallis does with the bat, and Dale Steyn does with the ball.

They cannot be considered as inexperienced anymore — the creche has new toddlers now — and they need to start placing a much higher value on their wickets. De Villiers, especially, seems to bat very well or not at all these days.

The late inclusions of both Faf du Plessis and Morne van Wyk are overdue. Both have a mountain of domestic runs, and deserve a proper chance at the next level.

One wonders, in light of the Wanderers wobble, if one Mark Verdon Boucher came up in the final discussion of the squad. After all, he has stopped many hefty lasses from belting their tunes on behalf of the Proteas.

There really are a lot of question marks regarding all things South African cricket.

But perhaps, after years of rocking up at the World Cup as favourites, the Proteas have devised a master-plan.

Maybe, just maybe, they reckon that if they can appear to be as disorganised, unbalanced and spectacularly bland as possible, they have a better chance of surprising their long-suffering followers.

Well, a desperate man can hope, can’t he?

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