South Africa

ICYMI – February Flashback

 

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

RETIRING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

The day was coming, you would think. Given the increasing relevance of social media in cricket today, it was about time some player used Twitter or Facebook for something other than copy-pasting philosophical quotes and informing us what food they “smashed” recently. Kiwi batsman and pioneer freelance cricketer Lou Vincent drew curtains on a very unfulfilled career by  tweeting the ‘only’ useful stats us cricket fans are interested in and informed his followers about his decision. While scoring a century on debut in Perth against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warner will remain as the highlight of his career, using all of his allotted 140 characters to tweet his retirement is no less feat.

“This is the face of ruthlessness. Fear me.”

FROM KING OF SPAIN TO RUTHLESS COACH OF ENGLAND  

England’s newest cricket coach, albeit only in the limited-overs version, Ashley Giles has made a promise to maintain a stiff upper lip while it comes to choosing the right combination of players for the Champions Trophy in June. With the success of their new star Joe Root, England are in a dilemma as to which player to leave out of their top order – KP, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Root. This is complicated by the fact that Trott and Bell are former team-mates of Giles at Warwickshire. My advice to Giles would be to ask himself the question – ‘What Would Dhoni Do’. Then go ahead and pick a combination that no expert will be able to understand. Also pick more Warwickshire players in the squad.

“Ineffective? Gulity as charged. You got me!”

THE CONTRASTING FORTUNES OF SINGH AND SUPER KINGS

MS Dhoni had a dream test at his second home, as India packed off the Aussies in the first test. He scored a double century and his spinners sealed the fate of Clarke and company. Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja rose to the occasion at a ground they should be knowing very well by now. On the other hand, Harbhajan Singh returned to the venue where he sealed a famous win against the same opponents 12 years ago, only to highlight his declining effectiveness, even on a helpful track against inexperienced batsmen. Harbhajan is now the Ashwin of two months ago, and Ashwin is now the Harbhajan of twelve years ago.

“I got the wicket of Harbhajan…that counts, right??”

CAN MOISES LEAD THE AUSSIES ACROSS THE INDIAN WILDERNESS?

Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and now Moises Henriques. If it is an Australian tour of India, you can rest assured that it will kick-start an Aussie cricketer’s career, or at least rejuvenate it as in the case of Hayden. While Clarke was always the known threat for the Indian bowlers, they wouldn’t have expected resistance from a 26 year old Portuguese born  cricketer playing his first test ever, let alone his first on the subcontinent. 280 balls faced, 149 runs scored, 11 fours and 2 sixes later, the Australian top order excepting Clarke might have just found a template on how to tackle spin for the remainder of the series. And no, you cannot request to “re-debut” against the Indians now.

“This international cricket is easy-peasy…yawn…”

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ABBOTT-ABAD

It is not even funny anymore. As if facing Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not bad enough as a batsman, there is a new South African pacer on the block. Kyle Abbott, all of 25 years and 38 first class games old, made a stunning debut against Pakistan, picking up 9/68 at the Centurion test.  Granted, it was against a brittle Pakistani line-up and his pace hovers in the mid-130s kph; but his modus operandi is very much similar to Philander, and look where the Vern is now. If there is any cheer for the opposition, they can breathe easy as Abbot is only the sixth choice bowler for the Saffers. Yup, with the likes of Steyn and Philander to terrorize you, why worry about him? Yet?

“You mistake me…I eat only the red ones!”

THE RETURN OF AFRIDI: THE SEQUEL TO THE TRILOGY

I don’t know which is funnier – that Shahid Afridi is making his umpteenth comeback or the words of chief selector Iqbal Qasim, “this is Afridi’s last chance and he has to perform”.

“Vaas” my name? It’s Chaminda

SRI LANKA IS “GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” 

Sanath Jayasuriya is chief selector, Chaminda Vaas is bowling coach and Muttiah Muralitharan is a special adviser. Hey Sri Lanka, the late 90s called and they wished you best of luck. After all, these are exciting times for the island nation, as they start afresh under new captains, and who better to show pointers than a bunch of cricketers who were responsible for their golden era?

“This knock should help….urm….uh….my team to win!”

CHRIS GAYLE TWITTER STAR

Gone are the good old days when Gayle garnered sympathy for his stand-off with the WICB. Now that he is back, he is expected to exhibit that annoying trait expected of any cricketer worth their salt – “consistency”. After a disastrous run over the last two series against Bangladesh and Australia, the Jamaican Hulk decided that he had enough, skipping the one day series against Zimbabwe to take a break. If you thought that Gayle takes this break to spend some quiet time with family or work on his game, you obviously don’t follow his Twitter account. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps ship and becomes a Reality TV star.

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 28, 2013]

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Four Quotes That Explain Dale Steyn

Dale Steyn’s bowling figures in the first innings of the on-going Test match against Pakistan in Johannesburg:

8.1 overs, 6 maidens, 8 runs, 6 wickets

What else is left to say about the best bowler on the planet right now?

Here are four quotes that explain Dale Steyn best:

He likes fishing, horror movies, all the gory stuff, you know. I think it comes out in his bowling sometimes.

Graeme Smith

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Where else in the world do you get the opportunity to basically kill someone with two bouncers an over? Or try, legally.

Dale Steyn

“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”

I just said to him, I am 20ks quicker than he is so he shouldn’t bounce me

Dale Steyn on what he said to Neil Wagner on the second day of the Port Elizabeth Test

“I feel the need—the need for speed!”

I’ve said many times before, a 150 or 145 km yorker is absolutely no different whether you bowl it here in Nagpur, Chennai, Johannesburg, Perth… It’s the skill behind the delivery, what the planning is behind the delivery, that is what counts at the end of the day

Dale Steyn on their tour to India in 2010

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Keep living on the wild side, Mr Steyn. May the force be with you.

11 Thoughts on Cricket from January

The first month of 2013 is almost over, and already it has shown signs of what to expect in the coming months. Here are 11 stray thoughts on the month that is (not quite) gone by:

1. NEW ZEALAND IS THE NEW WEST INDIES 

"If that is true, we will win the next T20 World Cup...huzzah!"

“If that is true, we will win the next T20 World Cup…huzzah!”

Get bowled out for scores of 45 and 121 en route to a crushing Test series loss to the Saffers before turning the tables on the hosts during the ODI series, which included a 1 wicket heist in the opener (from 105/7 while chasing 209) and a match winning ton from future great Kane Williamson in the second game. Only a last ball six from McLaren in the third game prevented a series whitewash. The average Kiwi supporter must have gone through the full range of emotions possible, in the past month.

2. MIKE HESSON IS THE NEW JOHN BUCHANAN

"That is a low blow, Mr Bullet"

“That is a low blow, Mr Bullet”

Problems with team’s star player and favorite punching bag for all? Check. It makes perfect sense that the former Australia coach is responsible for Hesson’s appointment as New Zealand coach.

3. ENTER THE FAF

"Move over Jacques, there is a new rock in town"

“Move over Jacques, there is a new rock in town”

In the span of three months, Faf du Plessis has gone from being a replacement in the Test squad and a fringe player in LOIs, to a certainty in all formats of the game. It culminated in him becoming captain of the ODI side in their series against New Zealand after de Villiers copped a ban for slow over rate in the first game. Despite the loss, he is already being talked of as future captain in all three formats. This proves that good things happen to those who play for Chennai Super Kings.

4. DE KOCK WILL GIVE ‘RISE’ TO NEVER ENDING PUNS

"The name is de Kock. The 'de' is silent"

“The name is de Kock. The ‘de’ is silent”

South Africa’s newest member and interestingly named Quinton de Kock is a talented and hard-hitting batsman, who is capable of keeping the momentum flowing at the top of the order. As a keeper, his soft hands and ability to let the balls come to him instead of grabbing at it make him a valuable addition to the team. Any puns detected in the previous sentences were intended.

5. MAHELA IS THE PAST, ANGELO IS THE PRESENT AND PERERA IS THE FUTURE

"Bad boys..bad boys..what you gonna do? what you gonna do? when they come for you......"

“Bad boys..bad boys..what you gonna do? what you gonna do? when they come for you……”

Dilshan, Sangakarra and Jayawardene are on their way out; but Lankan fans need not despair as the next generation take over. In Angelo Mathews and Thissera Perera, they have their next stars who seem destined for great things. Nerveless batting, attacking bowling and electric fielding – they are the new age cricketers, as it was always meant to be.

6. TO ROTATE OR NOT TO ROTATE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

"Psst...Mickey...don't look now...but the KFC sponsor guy is coming over and he doesn't look happy"

“Psst…Mickey…don’t look now…but the KFC sponsor guy is coming over and he doesn’t look happy”

If it’s Australia and January, it is ‘talk about rotation policy’ time. Last year, India took the heat for theirs, and now it is the turn of Clarke’s men…or Bailey’s. Their one day series against Sri Lanka ignited a fresh debate over the polarizing topic, throwing up references to A-teams and B-teams and free publicity for McDonalds after a bizarre put-down of George Bailey by the Channel 9 chief. Lost in all this hullabaloo was Phil Hughes’ impressive start to his ODI career, Kulasekara’s deadly bowling and a farcical abandonment of the 4th ODI. At the end of it all, the debate over rotation continues to rage.

7. THE WORST BEST DEATH BOWLER IN ONE DAY INTERNATIONALS

"The Girl with the Ridiculous Tattoos"

“The Girl with the Ridiculous Tattoos”

He is supposedly the death overs specialist for the number one ODI team in the world (before the conclusion of the series against India). Like Shakira’s hips, statistics don’t lie though: In 22 ODIs, Jade Dernbach has 30 wickets at an economy rate of 6.28, which is the highest for any international bowler who has bowled over a thousand deliveries; and this is the same man, Nasser Hussain said that India would desire to have in their side. No thanks, Nass. We already have Sreesanth.

8. JOE ROOT IS THE REAL DEAL

"Size doesn't matter"

“Size doesn’t matter”

After playing a supporting role in England’s historic Test series win in India last year, Root took the center stage for the English in the ODI leg of the tour. He emerged as the find of the series for them as his reliable batting and disciplined bowling was all they could take away at the end of it all. Unlike a few others in the side, he seems grounded and is set for greater things ahead.

9. ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

"Next stop...Test cricket!"

“Next stop…Test cricket!”

Positives: India won an ODI series against previously top-ranked side after a disappointing loss to Pakistan earlier, and in the process found quality seamers in Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed, while reiterating Suresh Raina’s value to the team.

Not-so positives: Gambhir continues to throw away starts, Kohli’s purple patch is over, Rahane and Yuvraj appear clueless against pace and spin respectively, Rohit booked his place for the next year after a solitary fifty while Pujara warms the bench till Tiwary returns.

10. WHAT IS ASHWIN?

"Pictured: Highly intelligent player who talks a good talk. Not pictured: An Indian spinner the opposition dread to face"

“Pictured: Highly intelligent player who talks a good talk.
Not pictured: An Indian spinner the opposition dread to face”

When Ashwin came on to the scene, most Indian fans breathed a sigh of relief that an alternative to Harbhajan Singh was found. After disciplined performances in LOIs, he made a stunning entry into Test cricket by decimating the West Indians and Kiwis at home. That was as good as it got. Against England on the subcontinent, he has failed in Tests, T20s and now ODIs to pose a threat to an opposition ripe for the picking, as he has been comfortably out-bowled by ordinary bowlers like Tredwell and Root. It’s a matter of time before the Indian selectors and management decide if they want to persist with Ashwin in their plans – as a batsman who can bowl part time spin. In that case, the Turbanator can confidently say, “I’ll be back”.

11. MOVE OVER SHIV, TAG IS IT

"The cricketing world waits with bated breath to see if the gene for the crab stance has carried over"

“The cricketing world waits with bated breath to see if the gene for the crab stance has carried over”

From the maker of countless bore-athon knocks apart from the odd whirlwind ton in Tests, comes “Chanderpaul 2: Tagenerine”. Junior is said to be a carbon copy of his illustrious father, and as he makes his first class debut for Guyana at the tender age of 16, the WICB will hope that he turns into a future star capable of saving many Test matches for the team.

 

 

Mark Boucher – He is Legend

Anything to do with Mark Boucher will never be straightforward.

He made his international debut thanks to a finger injury to incumbent keeper Dave Richardson.

He contributed to South Africa’s tragi-comic record in World Cups, when in the 2003 edition, he defended the last delivery of the final over in a rain-affected game, thinking that SA had done enough to qualify for the next round. They had actually needed one more run.

In 2006, he hit the winning runs in a record chase of 434 against Australia.

And most recently, he was forced into early retirement when a bail struck his eye and ruled him out of his final series.

In between, he has saved and won games for South Africa, played 75 consecutive Tests at one point and has taken a record 999 international dismissals as keeper.  More than all these, he has been a cherished team-mate, respected opponent and a loyal friend to many for the past 15 years. He was one of the last good guys in international cricket and with his retirement, the game has lost one of its most loved players. Here’s wishing him all the best for all his future endeavors.

Fighter. Champion. Legend. Mark Boucher.

Where Them Future Stars At

Peter Roebuck recently wrote an article on CricInfo, asking a simple question – ‘Who are cricket’s future greats?’. Unfortunately, apart from a statistical look at the modern greats and an expressed fear for the future, he didn’t really talk about any future stars in particular. So, I decided to make up a list of players from each Test playing nation, except Bangladesh, whose progress I am following and who I feel are more likely to be international cricketers of great caliber in the next ten years or so.

PS: I apologize in advance for the mangled statistics table!

KANE WILLIAMSON

Country: New Zealand

Age: 20 years

                Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
Tests 5 9 0 299 131 33.22 698 42.83 1 2 28 0 1 0
ODIs 15 14 2 352 108 29.33 514 68.48 1 0 22 3 3 0
First-class 29 49 2 1998 192 42.51 3732 53.53 6 9 242 12 27 0
List A 46 43 10 1537 108* 46.57 2054 74.82 4 7 105 15 18 0

I noticed Williamson for the first time during a nondescript tri-series in Sri Lanka last year. It was his debut series and he looked so out of depth at the international level that I wondered what the fuss was all about, as he was touted as the next big thing in New Zealand cricket by the experts; but it was during the Test series against India later, when I was won over. The way he tackled the spinners and batted with a calm assurance indicated a mature head, and while tours of South Africa and England will be challenging in their own right, I foresee a great future for him; I wouldn’t be too surprised if he is the Kiwi captain when the 2019 World Cup rolls around.

DINESH CHANDIMAL

Country: Sri Lanka

Age: 21 years

          Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
ODIs 4 4 2 143 111 71.50 168 85.11 1 0 9 5 4 1
T20Is 5 4 0 59 29 14.75 58 101.72 0 0 2 2 0 0
First-class 33 52 7 2733 244 60.73 3653 74.81 9 13 306 56 62 11
List A 42 41 5 1010 111 28.05 1266 79.77 1 8 73 25 35 2

Early last year, when India sent a weakened team to Zimbabwe under Suresh Raina for a pointless ODI tournament involving the host nation and Sri Lanka, they had their bottoms forcefully kicked by both teams. Apart from that, I remember the tri-series for a brilliant century by Chandimal against the Indians in just his second ODI innings. Later, I found that he has a stellar record in First class cricket, while there is scope for improvements in the short formats. Still, he has impressed many with his attitude and leadership skills right from the U-19 stage; and with the likelihood of Sri Lanka losing the services of stalwarts Sanga, Jayawardene and Dilshan in the next few years, the spotlight is going to be focused on him for the foreseeable future.

RILEE ROUSSOUW

Country: South Africa

Age: 21 years

               Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 39 69 1 2967 319 43.63 4675 63.46 9 13 431 22 45 0
List A 48 47 2 1656 131 36.80 1786 92.72 4 9 186 24 26 0

I have to admit that I have not seen much of his actual game, but in the few matches I have seen him play for his domestic team, he has looked the part of a quality player. I noticed him first during the 2008 U-19 World Cup where he turned in some decent performances, and then saw him again during the initial Champions League T20; and I came away with the feeling that he is steadily improving as a player. He could very well turn out to be a major batsman in Gary Kirsten’s new Proteas. Like the previous players in this list, he has every chance of becoming the future captain of his country.

BEN STOKES

Country: England

Age: 20 years

                Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 26 38 5 1541 185 46.69 5 5 16 0
List A 19 19 3 509 150* 31.81 540 94.25 1 2 40 14  5 0
                   Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
First-class 26 32 1398 1046 28 6/68 7/145 37.35 4.48 49.9 2 1 0
List A 19 9 236 207 14 4/29 4/29 14.78 5.26 16.8 1 0 0

Stokes fulfills the first criteria to become an English player – He was born outside the country 🙂 …. specifically in New Zealand, where his father played rugby for the Kiwis. Once he moved to England and started playing cricket though, people started to take notice. Like most others in this list, I noticed him first during the last U-19 World Cup, where he scored a century against India. Apart from being an aggressive batsman, he is also more than a handy performer with the ball; he has already put in some eye-catching performances this season before a dislocated finger brought an early end to his season. Still, he looks to be the most promising young cricketer in England and it seems to be a matter of time before he makes his debut for the senior English team.

ABHINAV MUKUND

Country: India

Age: 21

          Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 40 61 3 3446 300* 59.41 6207 55.51 13 9 435 17 29 0
List A 28 28 1 1550 130 57.40 1869 82.93 5 10 151 10 16 0

Such is the strength of the Chennai Super Kings, that they could afford to leave out one of the best batsmen in the country from the playing XI throughout their victorious campaign. Mukund is well known throughout the domestic circuit for his gluttonous appetite for runs. Along with his opening partner Murali Vijay, he has decimated many a new ball attack in the country. For his consistent performances throughout the last two seasons, he has won himself a place in the Indian Test squad to the West Indies in the absence of Sehwag and Gambhir. Don’t be too surprised if he edges out Vijay for the third opener’s slot when the two return to take their places.

JAMES PATTINSON

Country: Australia

Age: 21 years

                Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
First-class 6 11 1156 560 19 4/52 5/76 29.47 2.90 60.8 2 0 0
List A 15 15 760 659 26 6/48 6/48 25.34 5.20 29.2 0 1 0

It would be an understatement to say that there are not enough quality bowlers out there today. It doesn’t look too bright for the future as well. One bowler who might prove to be the odd exception is James Pattinson. While his elder brother shot to prominence first with an infamous debut for England in 2008, it was always the younger Pattinson who was being talked up as a future star. With the gift of swing, he is slowly working his way up the ranks, from the U-19 side for his state, to the Australia U-19 to Australia A, and now to the senior squad. Even as Australia struggle to retain top position in the international rankings, they would do very well to look at a fresh crop of players, with none more promising than the young Pattinson.

JUNAID KHAN

Country: Pakistan

Age: 21 years

                Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
ODIs 7 7 288 223 9 4/12 4/12 24.77 4.64 32.0 1 0 0
T20Is 1 1 12 15 0 7.50 0 0 0
First-class 35 63 7110 3562 167 7/46 13/77 21.32 3.00 42.5 6 13 3
List A 34 34 1590 1279 46 4/12 4/12 27.80 4.82 34.5 3 0 0

Who else but a fast bowler would be the most promising young cricketer for Pakistan? While I would have normally gone for Mohammed Amir, I will settle for a less controversial choice in Junaid Khan. Like Amir, he is a left arm pace bowler who has been turning heads with his impressive ability for pace, swing and success in the domestic scene. Playing for the now famous province of Abbottabad, who are supposedly one of the weaker teams in Pakistan, he has built up an impressive reputation for himself. It was going to be only a matter of time before he made his debut for the senior side, and sure enough, he made his debut in ODI colors against West Indies a couple of months ago. His performance in that series indicate that with the right guidance and care, he can turn out to be one of the best fast bowlers in international cricket within the next few years. As long as Ijaz Butt and cronies don’t come up with an ingenious way to screw his career too.

DARREN BRAVO

Country: West Indies

Age: 22 years

              Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
Tests 5 8 1 313 80 44.71 767 40.80 0 4 30 6 1 0
ODIs 26 23 3 635 79 31.75 872 72.82 0 4 46 15 3 0
T20Is 3 3 0 83 42 27.66 75 110.66 0 0 9 2 0 0
First-class 23 35 2 1231 111 37.30 3 6 22 0
List A 48 44 6 1491 107* 39.23 2 10 10 0

Even if you have not been following West Indies cricket for the last year or so, you might be knowing that Darren Bravo bats like his famous relative Brian Lara. Fortunately for him, he has a decent record at both First class and Test level to back that fame…somewhat. While his half brother Dwayne has been an integral part of the senior side for a while now, Darren has earned a name for himself on the international scene only in the last two years. While his domestic records don’t scream run machine, his short stint in Tests and ODIs so far, indicate there is substance beneath the style. At the moment, he is not in the best of form, but for a team which comprises of batsmen who struggle to cope with quality international bowlers, his progress to a fully fledged champion batsman can’t come soon enough.

Letter to South Africa

So near and yet so far...

Oh South Africa. Your best chance in 19 years to win the World Cup and you ‘Faf-fed’ it. I am not going to say that you choked; because everyone else will, anyway.

This was your year. You had it all. Two of the world’s in form One day batsmen. A world class all rounder and a tough captain. You had two of the world’s most feared fast bowlers. To top it off, you even had three different kinds of spinners! Most importantly, they even managed to turn the ball…

You rolled over all opposition in the league stages, except for England. In fact, the only two games you struggled were the one against England and in the close win against India. Still, everyone believed that they were aberrations. That this was the World Cup where you could go all the way. After all, you have managed to get knocked out of major ICC tournaments in every possible way. Get knocked out due to bizarre rain rule. Check. Get knocked out due to bizarre understanding of bizarre rain rule. Check. Get stuffed by a team who rarely win any games. Check. Come within one run of a final, and then lose your head in a ridiculous run out. Check. Only the 2007 World Cup semi final loss was the result of a superior team having its own way with you. Still, you managed to make it easy for them with some daft shot selections.

So what could you possibly do this time? You had an easy quarterfinal match lined up with the Kiwis, who had 5 overs of mayhem against Pakistan to thank for their one meaningful victory in the league stages. Their big players were coming off injuries, and they could have been forgiven for just wanting to compete with you on an even scale before getting knocked out. It was no horror pitch, even as it was slow; and the bowlers were disciplined while not threatening. Their fielding was brilliant, but it was always going to be the case.  There was no sane person outside New Zealand, who would have predicted that you could screw this up.

Well, as it turned out, you did. From 108/2 to 172 all out, it was the same old story. In 1999, I watched with disbelief and shock as you squandered a golden opportunity for your first World Cup triumph. This time, I watched with resignation and a little amusement as you contrived to do it again. While I was not as gutted for you as I was then, it was still sad to see the best team in the competition go out.

What now? Who is going to take over the ship? Smith did a fine job for the last 8 years, and he can hold his head high; but someone else will have to stand up, and start from square one. As much as you hate the term ‘chokers’, there is only one way that it ever gonna go away. Win a World Cup.

Well played guys, and thanks for the entertainment against England, India and New Zealand. Cheers!

Yours truly,

tracer007

England is the new Pakistan and South Africa are still South Africa

Move over Pakistan. Take a hike, India. There is a new ‘mercurial’ team in town. In their last three games, they have tied, lost and won matches in thrilling fashion. They managed to lose to an associate nation despite scoring 327, and against a tournament favorite, they won despite scoring 171. Their ground fielding and catching in this tournament belong to the blooper reels, while their batting revolves around just four batsmen. Their team consists of players who would make a traditional Pakistan team proud – a flashy strokemaker prone to implosion at the sight of a left arm spinner, a stolid batsman who at one down is the most consistent batsman in the line up, and a spinner who has to score runs lower down the order so that he may some runs to bowl with!

Single handedly, they have brought the World Cup alive and made Group B the hottest ticket in town, thereby making matches in Group A bland by comparison (It doesn’t help that Pakistan has become weirdly consistent and shorn of drama, while Australia seem to have retained a bit of their old clinical efficiency). While the ICC and rest of the cricket world have been busy breaking their heads over the 10 team World Cup planned from 2015, the English cricket team has gone to ‘bat’ for the cause of the Associate nations, by narrowly avoiding a loss to Netherlands and losing in thrilling fashion to Ireland.

They have also quietened debates over the merits of 50 over cricket, and shown that as long as you have brilliance balanced with mediocrity in the same team, there will be no lack of excitement in the games your team plays. England might not win the World Cup, but there is no doubt now as to which team you should follow for an exciting game of cricket!

As for South Africa – just when I was beginning to think that they were the only team capable of winning this World Cup, they ch****.

A message to Botha, Duminy, de Villiers – who all, over the course of the last few weeks had gone out of their way to stress that this team was different from previous World Cup squads – “Nice try, but you have fooled no one. The tag will remain with you till you win the World Cup. So, might as well embrace the ‘C’ word and get your thought process straight. Remember – after denial, comes acceptance!”

Lessons from the Castle Lager Test series in South Africa

  • Gautam Gambhir: Everyone knew Gambhir has been a brilliant opener for India at home and abroad against weaker teams; but the question was how he would fare in Tests against tougher opponents in countries like England, Australia and South Africa. He took a big step towards answering that by performing creditably in the two games he played. He faced the might of Steyn and Morkel at their furious best, and survived to ensure that India would walk away with a share of the series spoils. Dravid might be out of the team soon, but in Gambhir, India has a batsman who can battle through the tough times to see them through.
  • Virender Sehwag: Possibly, the biggest disappointment of the series. There was big anticipation for the clash between him and Steyn, but there was no contest really. In conditions favorable to the bowlers and against a pumped up pace attack, Sehwag could only manage 144 runs in the series at an average of 24 and a shockingly low SR of 70.24! He will be keen to put this series behind him and come out, all guns blazing in the World Cup at home.
  • Rahul Dravid: In an earlier time, Dravid against this attack and in these conditions would have seen a couple of marathon knocks atleast. Instead, all we got was the sad sight of seeing him struggle to get 120 runs at a SR of 33 and a highest score of 43. He played his part in saving India on the last day of the series, but there is no doubt, that the end is near for a wonderful career.

  • Sachin Tendulkar: In a series featuring the two top teams in the world, it was appropriate that there was a shoot-out for the best batsman in the world today, as well. Tendulkar might not have scored the amount of runs that Kallis did, but his performance was equally awe inspiring. In the first Test, he instilled self belief in the rest of the batsmen over the course of scoring a 50th Test ton, and at Newlands he faced one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling one will ever see, and came out with an innings which made sure that India were on level terms with South Africa. After 21 years in International cricket, there is no end to his gluttonous appetite for runs.
  • VVS Laxman: In a year featuring many classics from this man, the 96 he scored in the second innings of the 2nd Test was perhaps the most important of them all. In the company of the tail, he rescued his team from a precarious situation and gave them a total to defend. In the process, he helped them secure one of their most memorable wins in Test cricket. Its time, India and the rest of the world treasure his batting skills for as long as he is around.
  • Cheteshwar Pujara: It was always expecting too much from Pujara, to face the likes of Steyn and Morkel in their own backyard and come up trumps. Still, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In the second innings at Durban, he played the most important innings of his brief career so far and weathered the bowlers for close to one and a half hours while giving Laxman valuable support. He would have learnt a lot from this tour and still remains an exciting prospect for the future.
  • MS Dhoni: He came within one wicket of securing his most famous series win yet, but Dhoni will take the eventual scoreline. After all, he has yet to lose a test series as captain. As a captain, his tactics were criticized and his handling of Sreesanth was also open to debate; but as a batsman, he did a decent job and as a keeper, he was safe without being spectacular. This series might have got away, but he can look forward to England and Australia with confidence.
  • Harbhajan Singh: It has been quite a while since he topped the bowling charts for India, and Harbhajan will be satisfied with his performance after receiving a lot of stick from fans and media alike, prior to the series. At Durban, he hastened South Africa’s demise in the first innings; and at Cape Town, he gave India its best shot at a series win. In the end it was not to be, but for once he starred with the ball, rather than with the bat.
  • Zaheer Khan: He was sorely missed at Centurion, and on return at Durban he made his presence felt. He might not have the speed of Steyn or bounce of Morkel, but he has plenty of guile and variations to make up for it. Once again, he had the wood over Graeme Smith so much that Smith asked his opening partner to take first strike against him. He faded ever so slightly on the 4th day at Cape Town, which allowed Kallis and co to take command; but overall, he led the attack very well, and will be a vital weapon for India in 2011.
  • I Sharma: While Zaheer and Sreesanth featured in the news throughout the series, Ishant had a relatively quiet series. A horror match at Centurion was followed by a modest one at Durban and he finished the series with another quiet performance at Cape Town. These were conditions tailor-made for him, but he was thwarted by some good batting and his own indiscipline. Still has problems with no-balls, and I have no idea why Eric Simons has still not found a remedy for that.

  • S Sreesanth: There’s something about South Africa that brings out the best and worst in Sreesanth. One moment, he is bowling vicious snorters to get rid of one of the best batsmen in the world; and the next, he is in trouble with the opposing captain, his own captain, the match refree and the crowd – all for his behavior. He is supposed to be an experienced bowler for India by now, but he is more of an enfant terrible at the moment. He has the talent, but can he maintain his focus in 2011?
  • Raina, Vijay and Unadkat: None of them grabbed the opportunities that came their way, and they have only themselves to blame for that.
  • Graeme Smith: A poor series with the bat, where he could not kick on to make big scores; was more in the news for his poor track record against Zaheer and clash with Sreesanth. Before the series, he made comments alluding that India cannot be considered top dog if they can’t win in South Africa. Forget India, he will do well to remember that South Africa has not won in South Africa for the last three series. By his standards, that’s not the stuff of champions either.
  • Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince: Apart from a good innings here and there, did not do much to put their detractors at bay.
  • Hashim Amla: The bearded one had a modest series by his standards. He resumed his love affair with the Indian bowling at Centurion by scoring a century, had a quiet match at Durban, and scored a rapid fire 50 at Newlands before succumbing to a self described ‘sugar rush’. Still, he was the third highest run getter in the series, and he looks in the best of touch. Yousuf might be fading away, but another bearded batting master is taking his place.

  • Jacques Kallis: In a long and distinguished career, Kallis has played some important knocks against top quality bowlers in demanding conditions; but I doubt that any of his previous innings would have given him as much satisfaction as the one he played on the 4th day at Newlands. South Africa was in trouble at 130/6, when he played a vital innings which was as painful (due to injury) as it was gutsy. This was following the century he had scored in the 1st innings to get South Africa to a challenging score. Fair to say, if it wasn’t for him, India would be toasting a historic victory now. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate run-out and a ripper of a delivery, there is no saying what the eventual result could have been. Along with Tendulkar, he proved that age doesn’t matter when you are in a purple patch for as long as anyone can remember, and ignited a debate as to who the better batsman is. Ponting can only look over, with envy. Oh, did I mention that he scored his first ever double century at Centurion?
  • AB De Villiers: Like Amla, he started brilliantly at Centurion with a bruising ton which deflated the Indians, but couldn’t sustain the form for the rest of the series. He was a surprise disappointment of the series.
  • Mark Boucher: If it wasn’t for his fighting half century in the 2nd innings at Cape Town, this could have been his last Test for South Africa. Instead, along with his long time friend and accomplice, he took the game away from India in true gritty manner. If it does prove to be his final innings, he would have signed off in typical style.
  • Paul Harris and L Tsotsobe: While Harris was ineffectual as expected, Tsotsobe was the surprise package. While they were on the look for respite from Steyn and Morkel, Tsotsobe rarely released the pressure, and only uncharacteristic dropped catches prevented him from getting more wickets. He held a phenomenal catch at Centurion to boot.
  • M Morkel: Along with Steyn, great things were expected of him before the series. While Steyn stole the headlines, Morkel did his part. After routing the Indians in the first innings at Centurion, he handed over the honors to Steyn for the rest of the series. He continued to bruise the Indians with his awkward bounce and ended up as the 2nd leading wicket taker in the series. If this was supposed to be a contest between the world’s best batsmen and the world’s best pace attack, there is no doubt who was the winner.

  • D Steyn: While two batting legends set about enhancing their reputations and breaking new ground, there was only one bowling legend in this series. If anyone had any doubts as to the greatness of Steyn, they should watch his bowling in the 3rd Test at Cape Town. Speed, swing, accuracy…he had it all. He had some of the world’s best batsmen at his mercy, and it was only his presence which forbade the Indians to entertain any hopes of chasing down 340 to win. He ended the series as the leading wicket taker with 21 wickets and an average of just above 17. He single handedly nullified the Sehwag threat, and along with Morkel established themselves as the top bowling pair in cricket, without a doubt. Now, only if he could replicate this form in the shorter formats…

Overall, for the third successive time a contest between these two sides has ended in a fair stalemate. It may not compare to the Ashes in terms of history and prestige, but for the pure joy of watching top quality, competitive cricket, this is one clash always worth looking forward to.

Best moment of the series:

Quote of the series:

We’ll need two goats to feed on this grassy pitch.

Harbhajan Singh, that delightful pitch expert, comes up with a novel idea to make the Kingsmead track more batsman-friendly

For my review of the Ashes, click here