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Week 5

March 30, 2017

Just 30 minutes left in this generous and beautiful country before the long journey begins. Once again, the hospitality has been exceptional and many more memories created. Can’t help wondering how many happy memories the Australian players made on their tour of India.

Faf du Plessis and Kane Williamson epitomised everything that ‘hard’, competitive sport can be without ever feeling the need to sledge or abuse each other, and their teams followed suit.

It seems to me the Australian players just don’t want to move on from the snarling, aggressive, personal confrontation style with which they won so many series and tournaments. The problem is, it is outdated and no longer works, never mind whether it is appropriate or not.

“What happens on the field stays on the field.” Really? How backward is that? Fine in the 1970s when television barely zoomed in closer than the boundary, and maybe even in the 1980s. But by the turn of the millennium things had changed. Stump microphones, social media, instant communication… everything changed, and continues to do so.

“We should all be allowed to behave as disgustingly as we like in the privacy of a cricket match.” Is that what they’re saying? “There should be no ramifications and repercussions for anything we say because we’re playing cricket, and that’s how cricket works!”

“And something else, if the opposition team refuse to come and drink beer with us afterwards and have a bit of laugh and slap each other on the back, then they’re not real men.”

New Zealand and South Africa decided at about the same time that playing cricket by ‘Aussie Rules’ was no longer what they wanted to do. It may take a ‘real’ Australian man to be abusive and laugh it off over a beer, but it takes a real man to say no to that caveman mentality.

Bat hard, bowl hard, snarl and curse the misfortune and failure on which this game is built and, for those who enjoy and desire it, have a beer of six together afterwards. Damn right! They taste so much better in an atmosphere of respect.

Just ask the Black Caps and Proteas.

March 29, 2017

Faf du Plessis had the grace and humour to concede that “saved by the rain” was an entirely accurate way to describe his team’s fate on the final day of the third test in New Zealand. After the disappointment of the first test also losing its fifth day to rain, it seemed the weather was particularly punitive against those hoping for some excitement.

“The first test could have been a great finish on day five and today might have been very exciting. I was going to play my 'blockathon' and Quinny might have reversed the pressure back on the bowlers because you can’t expect him to play that way. If we’d lost a wicket early in the morning then it would have been very difficult to save it but, with the two of us there anything was possible. But with the way the match looked, stats would have to say that the rain saved us,” Du Plessis said.

“New Zealand can count themselves very unlucky. The rain came at a terrible time for them. They dominated us and deserved to have a crack at us today. We were very determined to save the test and believed we could because we have been in these situations before,” Du Plessis said.

“The series was decided by one bad session which New Zealand suffered in the Wellington test, like we had here in Hamilton. But both teams have been playing some competitive cricket and for most of the time it has been 50-50. This is now the time to challenge ourselves and each other and try to get better, not to sit back and think everything is sunshine and roses, because it’s not.”


The team were required to check out of their hotel by 10:30am which meant they had to come to the ground and hang around for a couple of hours until the umpires could officially abandon the game. They then had a little squad huddle in the quagmire in the middle of the ground to celebrate a fourth consecutive series win since August.

Then it was off to Auckland for an overnight stay before a 6am start on Thursday for the journey home, via Sydney, except for Du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada and Hashim Amla who are heading straight to India via various routes.

My routing takes me from Auckland to Perth (nine hours) and then on to Jo’burg (11 hours) before reaching Cape Town at 9am on Friday. Hopefully I can bring some of this torrential rain with me.

March 28, 2017

A penultimate run along the banks of the Waikatu River and it was at her bes,t with the last of the early morning mist hovering over the surface and hardly a breath of wind. The sun rises late at this time of the year and sets late, too, hence the late starts.

The weather forecast for the day was clear, the rain which was predicted for so much of the test match cunningly disappeared or, like yesterday, slipped neatly past Hamilton with barely a kilometre to spare either side. And so it should be. The home side deserve their chance to square the series. So many locals were of the opinion that “no Taylor, no Boult, no Southee, no chance.”

Yet they have played by far the better cricket and, although some light showers are forecast late on the final afternoon, they will surely restore some pride after the abysmal collapse at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, which saw them surrender their chances of winning a series against South Africa for the first time ever.

Or will they? There are just too many instances of South African teams pulling off the ‘impossible’ in the last decade to take anything for granted. Faf du Plessis was born into his test career in an even less likely scenario when, on debut, he took guard on the final day of the Adelaide test five years ago, with the scoreboard reading 76-4 and requirement to bat out the final day. In the company of AB de Villiers for the first five hours, he duly did so to finish with an unbeaten century.

Vernon Philander, next man in tomorrow, batted for the final 90 minutes of the test at the Sinhalese Sports Club to secure a draw against Sri Lanka three years ago. That, too, was even less likely than a draw tomorrow. And what about Quinton de Kock, who will resume, along with Du Plessis, on 15 not out tomorrow morning? Touched by genius and prone to obeying none of the game’s ‘norms’, he is capable of scoring a century, by which time the deficit would be erased and every run thereafter would count double, with New Zealand needing to chase them down to win.

It is possible, but highly unlikely without considerable assistance from this country’s capricious weather. Just as mini bands of rain disappear and change direction, so they form. But it is a desperate and uncharitable straw at which to clutch. If South Africa are to save a game they deserve to lose on the evidence of play so far, they should do it the hard way.

The forecast for tomorrow is for an almost full day of rain, albeit light. But then, we don’t play cricket in light rain, do we?

New Zealand sports lovers enjoy nothing more than winning – they are underdogs in everything except rugby and netball – but if they can’t win, then Australia losing is usually a very acceptable alternative. So, even as the Black Caps were knocking over the Proteas top order late in the afternoon, it was essential to have a streaming feed in the commentary box of the final moments of India’s triumph in the fourth test. Baby fist-pumps all round.

March 27, 2017

On a day of dramatic skylines and thunderously threatening clouds, Hamilton somehow managed to dodge all of the worst downpours to complete an uninterrupted day of play once the start had been delayed by an hour-and-a-half until midday.

It was a special day for Morne Morkel, who became just the sixth South African bowler to reach 250 test wickets following Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Allan Donald and Jacques Kallis.

“When I think back to how nervous I was bowling to Sachin Tendulkar and my debut, I’m feeling very proud to have reached 250, but we are under pressure in this game now and we know that,” Morkel said. “I still get nervous but you learn how to control it, that’s why we play the game,” he said.

“It is up to us, the bowlers, to buy some time tomorrow and even knock them over, but they are in the lead with six wickets in hand so it will be up to the batsmen to lead us to safety. I can’t take anything away from the way they batted, Kane was exceptional. It was a fantastic hundred from a top quality cricketer,” Morkel said of Black Caps captain Williamson’s unbeaten 148.

Of less pride on the day was the umpires’ decision to change the ball after the Proteas’ repeated attempts to scuff it by throwing it in on the bounce from the boundary in an attempt to manufacture reverse swing. Slightly less impressive was Morkel’s attempt to play ignorant by suggesting that the umpires had changed the ball because it was “going out of shape.” Umpires have no right to make such a decision. They may only check the ball’s shape if asked to do so by the bowling side.

Australian umpires Rod Tucker and Bruce Oxenford took the decision to change the ball, after repeated warnings to the fielding side, because they continued to throw the ball on-the-bounce into the dry, hard, old wickets ends. Faf du Plessis held a couple of lengthy conversations with the umpires after their decision.

“All I heard was that the ball lost shape, just at a crucial stage when we got it to reverse a little bit, so that cost us a bit of momentum and it was about 15 overs before we could get back into the game, but that’s part of the game,” Morkel said.

Really? The umpires said they chose to change the ball because it was out of shape? Even though that’s not their job?

“That’s what they mentioned to us, yes,” replied Morkel.

Continuing his beguiling sense of naivety, Morkel even suggested that the fielding side should have a say in the choice of the replacement ball having been deemed to have misbehaved with the original: “You choose your ball to start the game but when they replace it, they choose the ball. That doesn’t add up to me. They could maybe look at that in future, maybe give you three balls to choose from. But I’m not going to make any excuses. I won’t blame my tools,” Morkel said.

It will be exceptionally challenging for the Proteas to save the game from here. Certainly not beyond them, but New Zealand have the desire and the foundation from which to launch a famous series-levelling win. The thing is, you never, ever bet against a Proteas team with their backs to the wall. Rain or no rain – of which there is almost none predicted for day four.

March 26, 2017

Batting coach Neil McKenzie is better placed than almost anyone to comment on the talent of Quinton de Kock, having been a teammate and mentor to him at the Lions for the majority of his still fledgling career.

Yet again, De Kock responded to a tense situation with an innings of counter-attacking brilliance which changed the shape of the third test against New Zealand.

Having made 91 in Wellington, he added another 90 today to help the Proteas' total reach 314.

“Quinton is pretty much a unique player, he knows his game really well for a young guy. He is expansive but technically gifted in how he hits the ball, especially late through the off side, and he has the ability to take the attack to the bowlers.

“Plenty of batsmen look at him and think… well, he’s just a genuine talent. He’s had a huge year for us after a great series in Australia and this was yet another top innings. We could have been bowled out for 200 and he came up with a quality 90, again. The last two tests have been innings under pressure, which just shows the quality of the man,” McKenzie said.

“We were really happy with 314 but not so happy to see them 67-0 at stumps. Jeets (Raval) and Tom (Latham) played extremely well, a couple of play and misses but that’s the nature of opening. But if you’d offered us 300+ at the start of the day we’d certainly have taken it.”

With De Kock losing his wicket yet again with the possibility of running out of partners, McKenzie was naturally asked whether he – and the team – would be better off batting at number six.

“Number seven is the ideal spot for him with the personnel we have in the team at the moment. Of course he has the ability to move up, if we wanted to play another all-rounder for a fourth seamer option, but right now it gives the guys a lot of confidence seeing him walk in at number seven, especially if we are in a bit of trouble,” McKenzie said.

One of the starkest differences between the teams during this series has been the number of runs accumulated by the lower order batsmen and tailenders. McKenzie was loathe to take credit but the results speak for themselves.

“We have targets for the guys to achieve and they include not being a ‘gift’ as a wicket. They have all responded well and worked very hard against the short ball and also against spin. I’m very happy with how the tail has been wagging.”

Another former Lions teammate, Stephen Cook, finished his tour of New Zealand in disappointment as he was dropped for the final test.

“Nobody takes it better than Stephen. He was running around, contributing wherever he could, as he always does, looking to help and give throw-downs to whoever wanted them. Hopefully it’s not the last we’ve seen of him, that’s certainly not the talk,” McKenzie said.

Finally, the "crazy" catch by Latham at short leg to dismiss Faf du Plessis... Anticipating where the ball might go as the Proteas captain went down on one knee to play his trademark "flick sweep", the fielder took two giant strides to his right and stuck out a hand – and the ball stuck. It has already been acclaimed as one of the greatest short leg catches ever.

“Haha! It was a good catch, wasn’t it? All credit to him. He’s had a tough time of late and it looked like it sparked something because he batted beautifully in the late evening. Good athleticism and reading of the game and, if you get out sticking to your game plan, with a shot which has brought you a lot of runs, you just have to pack up and wait for the next innings,” McKenzie laughed.


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