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Cricket | India tour of South Africa 2017/18

Neil's Diary - SA home season: Week 6

Saturday, 10 February

A lot of people went to a lot of trouble to ensure the sixth Pink Day was the successful occasion everyone has come to expect and they all deserve credit and recognition.

It was the small touches that made as much of an impression as the big ones, from the vase of pink roses in the reception hallway in the Gauteng Cricket Board offices to the wide variety of costumes and accessories purchased and worn by so many of the #PitchUpInPink capacity crowd.

There may have been a slightly disproportionate number of men who chose to wear pink bras and tutus but it’s not often they can dress up in women’s clothing in public, never mind women’s underwear, without attracting hostile attention, so the benefit of the doubt seems fair. It was for a very good cause.

My favourite group was the “Happy Birthday Chris” gang who bought tickets and had their T-shirts made in order to give Chris a surprise day out. Great touch, boys! Hope you had a fantastic day – and night!

The pitch immediately calmed nerves after the horrors of the test match sanction. It was a pitch straight from the good old days, an absolute belter. Interestingly, head groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi and his predecessor and current consultant, Chris Scott, received absolutely no communication from anybody about what sort of pitch was required. They were left alone to do their job.

It all looked destined to end in disappointment until it turned into a T20 finish and a new star was born in Heinrich Klaasen. Not exactly ‘born’ because he has been a star at domestic level for several years, but he performed on the biggest stage at a crucial moment and the relief that South Africa has an back-up alternative to Quinton de Kock was palpable.

India will almost certainly win one of the remaining two games to clinch their first ever series win on SA soil but at least the ignominy of a whitewash has now been eliminated. Who knows, but from 3-0 down and facing a likely target of 350, it may yet turn out to be one of the greatest and most unlikely series come-backs in the Proteas history.

Wednesday, 7 February

There had been a suggestion that Newlands might be half full given the state of the series and the Proteas’ depleted line-up but the doubters and nay-sayers obviously weren’t Capetonian – or even knew anything about Capetonians.

Newlands was again happily full of nervously hopeful locals that the national team could maintain its extraordinary record of 28 wins in 33 ODIs at the iconic venue. Even the water crisis was put to the back of the city’s collective mind as they took their seats.

Head groundsman Evan Flint was, as usual, dead right in his prediction of how the pitch would play and how many runs it might yield: “Around 280 would probably be par but the team batting first could reach 300 if they bat well.”

India did bat well, or at least Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli did – and they posted 303 for six.

Dhawan (76) and Kohli (160*) struck 26 of India’s 28 boundaries with Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar contributing a six and a four respectively.

It might have been a very different day had Kohli not been reprieved by the thinnest of inside edges when given out on nought. But ifs and buts aren’t real.

What was real were the answers JP Duminy provided to a series of probing, difficult questions.

“The wrist spinners have taken 22 out of the 30 wickets,” he offered without a prompt. “They have assessed conditions better than us, their game plans have been better than ours and we have not been able to read their googlies and variations. They’ve been too good for us so far.”

“But we’re not out of the series, we can still share it, but we will need to come up with better plans and execute them better than we have so far. But we have a strong management and leadership group and we will pull together to get through this.”

It’s hard to see how that might happen, even with the return of AB de Villiers for the fourth game at the Wanderers on Saturday.

Very hard.

Sunday, 4 February

It has become unbearably dull, the obsession with pitches. Gary Kirsten had a great view as opening batsman and coach, “Don’t bother looking, it makes no difference. You have to survive and prosper on it, so get to know it while you are up close and personal.”

It makes huge sense. But not so much when your job is to predict how the pitch might play, and what a good score might be. So I said it was “a belter” at Centurion which was worth “300+”. Which was easy fodder for those on social media.

Their sarcasm was tempered, to a degree, by Aiden Markram’s wry assertion that his team had “left ourselves about 190 runs short”.

It was a wretched batting display, with nothing to dispel it’s inadequacy. The pitch was irrelevant. The deception, and subsequent defeat, was due to the flight, elevation, and speed the Indian legspinners bowled at. It was their variety in the air that created the indecision.

Rotten, rotten day at the office. Reality suggests South Africa may do well to win a single game in this series. But then who knows…opportunity beckons for someone with a ‘desire’ for more.

Saturday, 3 February

There were rumours that Aiden Markram was being ear-marked for national captaincy duties but it was still a surprise when he was named as the replacement for Faf du Plessis.

He was an experimental pick at No 4 against Bangladesh last year and is a very long way from being a first-choice selection now. So it’s either going to be a rash gamble or an inspired moment of genius to make him captain.

At least he is clearly up for it. His comments reflect no doubt whatsoever about the challenge and the privilege, and he made it perfectly clear that he will be making best use of the knowledge of senior players, and former captains, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.

His appointment as captain does make the important involvement of Khaya Zondo a little more problematic in terms of the transformation targets. Zondo is overdue some international exposure but, now that Markram is guaranteed a place for the rest of the series, the balance of the starting XI becomes more tricky.

Markram’s elevation is, in itself, a gamble. The majority of young captains in international cricket have floundered. The fact that Graeme Smith ultimately succeeded clouds the pain and difficulty he endured as a man in his early 20s. Markram would appear to have a far easier road ahead of him. This is only a short-term, temporary stint as Faf’s replacement. It may serve him and the country well in the long term.

Meanwhile, the loss of De Villiers for the first three games and Du Plessis for the rest of the series makes India overwhelming favourites to take the series. My prediction would be 5-1. If the management’s stated desire to “work towards the World Cup in 2019” is to be embraced, then it seems a series loss is virtually accepted already.

The problem with that understandable concept, is that winning is a good habit and losing, despite its inevitability, can become contagious.

Thursday, 1 February

Virat Kohli’s record in successful run chases is bordering on illegal. In the 70 victories batting second in which he had featured before tonight, the Indian captain has made 17 centuries and 18 50s at an average of 93.64 and a strike rate of 97.32. Sachin Tendulkar is the only other one who comes close with 13 centuries but he played over the double the number of games Kohli has.

You need to be a pretty good player to rack up numbers like that but it says just as much, if not more, about his personality that he thrives as the game gets closer to its conclusion – at the ‘business end’ when the result is on the line.

He is also a little OCD which is a useful quality in allowing a batsman to organise and compartmentalise a large target into small, evenly sized pieces. Like six runs per over. Cricket is a game which especially suits the super-organised. They struggle mightily with the quirks and unfairnesses of the game, which also explains Kohli’s tantrums, but give them a chance to arrange things in symmetrical order, and there’s no stopping them.

It was all such an anti-climax after watching Faf du Plessis hold his team together with an innings of similar quality but different characteristics. It’s going to be a very long series unless de Kock and Amla rediscover some of their best form at the top of the order. Markram faces a huge challenge against quality spin in the middle overs, if he remains at No 4.

At least Kingsmead was packed to the rafters having sold out a week before the game – the atmosphere was special, despite the anti-climactic last couple of hours. I’ve never had a problem with the majority of them cheering louder and longer for India when they are the tourists. Durban is the largest Indian diaspora outside the subcontinent and many, many South African Indians I have spoken to tell me: “I am South African in everything I do, think, eat and drink – except cricket when India are playing.”

Keshav Maharaj is an obvious exception (!) and he was a welcome visitor to the commentary box during the supper break to promote Friday’s Momentum One-Day cup final, to be played on the same pitch as was used today. With that amount of wear and tear, I’d happily tip Kesh to produce a match winning performance for the Dolphins who have never won the domestic 50-over competition in the Franchise era.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5


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