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Cricket | Pakistan tour of South Africa 2018/19

Faf du Plessis (L) & Sarfraz Ahmed © Gallo Images

Tour Diary - Pakistan in South Africa, Week 5



6 February

THE GIRLS CAN CERTAINLY PLAY

The T20 series are a thing of the past now, and they have provided a fair bit of entertainment.

A pleasant surprise over the course of the past week has been the form of the Proteas Women side.

They have undergone a bit of a structural shake-up, after a difficult winter of tournament cricket. Their run in the 2017 World Cup had made several names very familiar to a lot of people, and this trend of double header games is important for their development.

Though the crowds only come in late in their match, to make sure that they are early for the men's game, there are still enough in the ground to create a bit of atmosphere.

As for the cricket itself, Sri Lanka have not really been an ideal test. In fact, they have been pushovers, and the Proteas women have looked capable of winning from any position.

That said, there have been some excellent individual performances. Sune Luus had been dropped, but has taken the chance provide a by her recall with both hands.

Her leg-spin has been too much for the tourists, and she has bagged a hatful of wickets. Wrist spin will always draw interest, and watching Luus rip them a long way has been refreshing.

The men's game tends to be a bit of a blur, especially when it comes to the art of spin. If anything, the twirlers in the men's game seem hell bent on bowling faster and faster.

To add to the confusion, the fast bowlers are obsessed with perfecting the slower ball.

Go figure.

If there are any youngsters coming through, it is possibly best that they look at the technique of a women's player, because it is easy to try and replicate.

A lot of the technical aspects are exaggerated, so they make excellent viewing for the observant and aspirant cricketer at home.

Golf works along the same lines. We would all like to think that our swings are as fast and as consistent as Rory McIlroy, but the truth is that the average golfer is better off trying to replicate the movement a quality player on the women's tour.

The final T20 for the men was also a last chance to see Pakistan in action on this trip.

The next time we catch a glimpse of the Champions Trophy winners will be at the World Cup itself.

They have been immense, even as they lost all three series. They have pushed South Africa very close in the limited overs contests, and perhaps forced them to change their thinking in a few areas.

That is precisely what everyone wanted from the trip, and you can be sure that the likes of Shaheen Afridi and Babar Azam will feature prominently in the future.

Mickey Arthur and his men will be dark horses in the UK, but they are at their most dangerous when they have been underestimated.

Now, we turn our attention to the arrival of Sri Lanka, and a final chance for World Cup hopefuls to convince the selectors to take them as part of the 15-man squad.


4 February

COMMON SENSE REQUIRED FOR OVER RATE RULES

Rules can be over-rated, sometimes. Take the current debate about international captains being punished for slow over rates.

First, it was Faf du Plessis hauled over the coals, just after celebrating a test century and a series victory over Pakistan.

He was banned for the third test, and Dean Elgar took over the reins for the Wanderers test. It wasn't a big deal for South Africa, as the series was secured.

The West Indian revival against England has also seen the rules rise and poop the party. Jason Holder, who has been magnificent all series, has been hit with the same ban for his quartet of quick men not ticking over in time.

Frankly, it is absolutely ridiculous.

Both the Windies and the South African team rely on the time-honoured tradition of fast bowling to get the majority of their wickets.

Their histories are laden with legends who made batsmen jump - and spectators sit on the very edge of their seats.

A good fast bowler gives any match an added edge, because it is a beautiful mix of violence and poetry in motion. Speed thrills, and all that.

It is perfectly understandable that the ICC want to provide a compelling package for the viewer, which also translates to more bang for buck for the broadcaster and the sponsors.

But, you can rest assured that cricket lovers the world over would sooner see 12 overs an hour of serious pace and action, over 16 overs an hour of plodding about.

If the former takes slightly longer than the latter, it is simply because fast men draw out the drama better.

Less, funnily enough, can actually be more.

Both the Windies and the Proteas blew their opposition away well inside four days in the matches that ended in bans for the captains.

That is where the real logic disappears. If these teams are still wrapping up contests well inside five days, surely it should matter even less what their over rate was!

After all, they have provided rich entertainment in the time that they were out in the middle. That should be encouraged, because those thrills are what keeps fans coming back for more.

Test cricket, especially, is in a dangerous place right now. Given the extended time it occupies, it really needs to be a product that appears attractive to the casual observer.

Should a test team (a captain) be punished when his team secures victory well inside five days?
Yes
No

If someone wanders to the third test in the Caribbean, and is hoping to catch a glimpse of the hugely impressive all-rounder captaining the islanders, can you imagine the look on his face when told that Holder is banned for slow play?

The same Holder who has seen his team steamroll England for fun, giving hope of a West Indian revival.

Occasionally, this great game can be its own worst enemy. Some rules are meant to be adapted to the circumstances out in the middle. Different teams bring a different dimension to the field of play.

That is precisely what attracts a crowd in the first place. To ban a captain for indulging his quicks - who get the job done, any way- is to fly in the face of all logic.

Cricket needs to look at the bigger picture. Test cricket remains the ultimate format, because it's routines and rhythms linger in the memory for much, much longer.

Allow us to savour the intrigue of a compelling spell of fast-bowling, without checking our watches every three minutes!

If anything, all the modern technology takes a lot of time out of the game.

Perhaps it is time to review that!


2 February

'STRETCH' FLINT WILL BE MISSED AT HIS BELOVED NEWLANDS

There are a lot of role players in an international cricket match these days. Far beyond the 22 men on the field, the umpires and everything else that the eye can see, there is still a small army of people who make the whole thing work.

The stadium atmosphere at Newlands is one of the most unique in the world, from the ice-cream vendor legend, to the Hashim Army, and simply those who come to sit under the oaks and soak in the most beautiful ground in the world.

Stadiums in South Africa each have their own vibe, and international visitors have always commented on just how different the character of each city is. From the stunning vistas of Cape Town, the band of P.E. and the energy of the Bullring when it is packed, there are different flavours across the country.

Over the last month, Pakistan have travelled right across South Africa, taking their own, unique brand of cricket to the people. They have also been well supported, as South Africa has a clutch of die-hard fans of the yellow star.

If January was supposed to be a slow month, it certainly hasn't been evidenced in the attendances during the ODI series. Grounds have been almost full, if not at capacity, and there has been an intrigue into what Faf du Plessis and his team are going to produce.

It is clear to see that the South Africans may only settle on the actual combination when they arrive in England. Even then, there will be much debate about those who make up the starting XI, because it is in the South African nature to argue the finer details of sporting teams.

That lack of clarity may actually play in their favour. The smart money appears to be on teams like England and India, with the Proteas considered dark horses with Pakistan. That may well suit them.

20 years ago, they went to England as firm favourites, and had that dramatic semifinal. They will have to exorcise that demon, and then try to go one better. The series win over a good Pakistan side was a good fillip, because it was a pressure game that the South Africans had to get through.

The likes of Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada will certainly need to step up in May and June, but the portents suggest that they will be in the reckoning. This may well be the year. The final ODI match and the first T20 international were also the last two pitches prepared by the long-serving Evan Flint.

Affectionately known as 'Stretch' by his mates, the lanky curator is relocating to The Wanderers, and his relaxed demeanour, often in slops and sunglasses beneath the mountain, will be missed at Newlands.

The Bullring, still regarded as the home of South African cricket, certainly has gained an asset in the Pietermaritzburg product.


31 January

NEW BLOOD FOR PROTEAS MEN AND WOMEN

The ODI series has come and gone - but it has left South Africa with a few more questions than they may have wanted.

They may have eventually won the series 3-2, with sone key players finding form, but they also dis so with a team that was lacking in balance.

All three allrounders (Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Wiaan Mulder) took the field, and David Miller was the middle-order man to miss out.

Selectors can be a hard breed to read, and Linda Zondi and his fellow wise men will have some long and difficult conversations before they settle on 15 names for the World Cup.

Rassie van der Dussen could easily have walked away with the man of the series gong, given the match winning knocks that he served up.

Imam ul-Haq got that honour, and Pakistan played a full part in an interesting series. They will sign off with three T20 international matches, before Sri Lanka take over.

The T20 series also sees the Proteas women take centre stage, as they meet Sri Lanka. There is a new look about the women's side, with Marizanne Kaap and Dane van Niekerk away, and some young blood injected into the squad.

Chloe Tryon has also pulled out through injury, so coach Hilton Moereeng has a lot to look forward to. The double header practice involving both women and men's national teams has worked very well, with the two sides getting really familiar with each other.

Women's cricket has really evolved over the past few years, and they are increasingly seen as a powerful standard for newcomers to the sport.

They were in the stands on Wednesday to watch the men in action, and they often share promotional event podiums with the Proteas- as they did on Thursday at Newlands, at a fun shoot for the team sponsors.

The double header at Newlands makes it a long day for fans, but it is well worth it. The Proteas Women are on their own mission, with the T20 World Cup in Australialate next year.

The long trek towards that next dip for a trophy starts now, against Sri Lanka.

For the men, there is finally a rest for young Kagiso Rabada's weary body, and the exciting Lutho Sipamla gets a chance at international level.

That is yet another fast bowler of much promise... they keep on popping up, and they all seem to hit the ground running.

Just behind him, on the recovery table, is Anrich Nortje. He will be ready to be unleashed soon, and as the fastest bowler in the country, he will be bursting at the seams to also make his mark.


29 January

PAKISTAN TEST HAS BEEN PERFECT FOR UNDERDONE PROTEAS

Pakistan have deserved nothing less than to be 2-2 heading into the final match of a very productive series for all concerned. Both sides needed the hard match practice, and this five-match series has certainly lived up to those expectations.

Pakistan remain one of the teams perfectly capable of winning the World Cup and, deep down, South Africa will appreciate the weaknesses that the visitors have exposed over the past fortnight.

Another aspect that Pakistan have exposed is South Africa's lack of depth in some areas. Injuries to the likes of JP Duminy and Lungi Ngidi have seen key players required to play a lot more than the leaders in the team would have liked, and there is now a genuine concern over workload.

Kagiso Rabada has stated that he feels like he is operating at 60% capacity, and is in need of a break. What South Africa don't want to see is someone like that breaking down completely, and putting his World Cup in jeopardy.

The untimely loss of Ngidi has illustrated just how pivotal these specialists are to South Africa's balance as a one-day side. They have been plugging holes, and their inconsistent performances have warranted the attention of selectors to go back to their squad.

It has been intriguing to observe, and Pakistan have played a full part in that disruption. There has been a different look about the side, and even the loss of Sarfraz Ahmed has not derailed them. The arrival of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez seems to have relaxed the team as a whole, and Shaheen Afridi's return from injury has been massive.

Indeed, Pakistan have even resorted to flooding their attack with left-arm seamers, and given the Proteas considerable food for thought. They also managed to become the first side to defeat the Proteas on Pink Day, which is no small feat.

That nine-wicket victory was extremely clinical, and spoilt what has become an annual party at The Bullring. The diversity in the crowd, all dressed up in pink, certainly had a good time on Sunday - even if the result went the wrong way.

All these matches with Pakistan, then Sri Lanka soon, are building up to the World Cup. Local fans have an opportunity to see the World Cup trophy in person over the next week or so, with the cup in town.

It is the one, elusive piece of gold that South African cricket craves more than any other. Perhaps seeing it flying across the country; on Table Mountain, in Soweto, on Durban beachfront, and at major stadiums, will be the sprinkle of stardust that the Proteas need as motivation.

Before that, though, the Proteas and Pakistan have one more week of action, to finish a tour that has been colourful, entertaining and most competitive. There are two games in Cape Town, before Mickey Arthur and his troops head off to the Highveld.

The next time South Africa sees them, it will be at the business end of a World Cup meeting.


27 January

A SLICE OF HOME SERVED UP ON THE ROAD

Tours around the world can often become repetitive, given the constant zig-zagging of teams to different cities in a short period of time.

Players float through airports so often that they are immune to the novelty of duty-free and first-class lounges.

They are all means to an end. The quicker they can get to a hotel, the sooner they can practice and work towards a match.

Travelling teams to South Africa often comment about the diversity of the landscape, the cuisine and the people.

Asian teams in particular enjoy the relative freedom they enjoy when they come to these parts. Back home, they simply can't go down the street in the middle of the day.

They would get mobbed, and whichever city they are in would come to a stand-still. Be it India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan, the obsession with cricket is unrelenting.

They don't have rugby, football or any other major distraction. As one travelling Pakistani journalist explained, it's religion, politics and cricket.

And not necessarily in that order.

Players don't have a choice but to become overnight celebrities, and their lives have to become very private.

But, that changes when they come to South Africa. There is still excitement when they pull in, because they are recognised by expats residing in South Africa.

Pakistan and Indian practices in Durban especially are peculiar things. Grown men line up by the nets, in the middle of the day, and they wait dutifully for a player to come towards them.

Obligatory selfie requests follow, and the giddiness they exude is much like that of a young kid.

But, there is none of the hysteria of Asia.

Thus, these teams can go out and about. India have a favourite restaurant in Durban, which opens its doors exclusively for them when they are in town.

Pakistan, too, have a restaurant they favour. In Johannesburg's Fordsburg area.

Lal Qila in Mayfair provides them with a taste of home, and they love it. They are surrounded by mini stalls and almost anything you can think to buy, but there is a relaxed feel about the place.

Places like that are always thrilled to play host, because it is a source of pride to see their heroes in the flesh.

For the players and management, the thrill of a night out in the midst of a tough tour is also a breath of fresh air.

Long may the culture of breaking bread on the road continue, because players live for normal nights on stressful tours.

Meanwhile, Cape Town is set for a decider in the ODI series, after Pakistan's emphatic win in the Pink Day.

It was South Africa's first loss on the pink ribbon day of the calendar, and they now have to react accordingly in the final match.

There are increasingly tired minds and bodies in the home dressing room, but they might need to go hard one last time.

It is ideal World Cup pressure.


26 January

PROTEAS PACE DEPTH KNOWS NO END

The Pakistani road trip is back on the Highveld, and they have been welcomed by summer storms. The rain that his SuperSport Park Centurion in Friday night was untimely, as it altered an intriguing contest.

The South Africans might have taken a 2-1 lead, but Faf du Plessis would have far rather seen them pushed all the way to the end.

He and an impressive Reeza Hendricks were very well set, but the Proteas would have preferred another pressure test, similar to Kingsmead.

As it was, they saw Hendricks provide another piece of evidence for his inclusion in the World Cup party, regardless of who else is in the top order.

Another Hendricks, Beuran, has also come into the picture. As a left-arm seamer, he is like hen's teeth. But how on earth do the selectors find room for him when everyone is fit?

The Centurion clash saw Lungi Ngidi make an appearance on the training field, with his knee being put through the paces.

Ngidi has quickly established himself as a big bruiser in the attack, so he should should straight back into the mix when he regains fitness.

That will see see him added to a list that already includes Messrs Steyn, Rabada, Hendricks and Olivier.

The selectors also gave a nod to young Lutho Sipamla this week, for the T20 international series that starts on Friday in Cape Town.

Add Sipamla's teammate Anrich Nortje - once he too returns to fitness - and there is a truly formidable basket of quick to choose from.

The Proteas quicks in the test series were described as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but the stocks in limited overs might be even more plentiful.

Speaking of the Four Horsemen, how truly wonderful to see the West Indies show signs of old in the first test against England. Rolling over the Poms for just 77 was a throwback to the days of Holding, Garner, Roberts and Marshall.

The likes of Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel may not be as revered as the legends that came before them, but their DNA is still rich with that need for speed.

The crowds were beyond thrilled, and then Jason Holder put the cherry on top with the type of cavalier knock that was the presence of the Lloyds and the Richardsons.

Cricket is a far happier place when the West Indies are rocking, so long may the revival continue.

If nothing else, they are making for quite pleasant late-night viewing, just before the tennis kicks in.


24 January

NO HIDING PLACE IN MODERN CRICKET

For whatever reason, there are still players out there who think that can get away with utterances out in the middle.

Sarfraz Ahmed finds himself in hot water now, and all because he felt the need to say something at a point in the game when South Africa were well on their way to a series-levelling victory.

The translation of what he said in Urdu is far from ideal, and the International Cricket Council now have to react in some way.

There clearly is something in the Durban air. Last year, it was David Warner and Quinton de Kock going at It, and now this.

The absolute irony of the Sarfraz mess is that the opposition didn't even know what he was on about. Andile Phehlukwayo didn't even bat an eyelid as Sarfraz mouthed off into the night.

It must have been frustrating for Pakistan to watch South Africa dig themselves out of a hole. But, the modern cricketer must know that someone is always watching.

And listening.

The game itself was a terrific exercise for South Africa. They have had concerns about certain positions in their side, more specifically the top-order, and the crucial number 7 spot.

Rassie van der Dussen is currently providing ample answers for the first question, thanks to knocks of 93 and 80 not out.

He comes across as calm, in all conditions. That is the product of years and years of domestic practice, and he has shown that temperament for the Lions for long enough to earn his call-up.

When one goes about picking a World Cup squad, it is not all about the wickets and runs columns. Players who can keep their head, under severe strain, are the kind you want in order to go all the way.

Van der Dussen seems to have timed his run of form perfectly.

ALLROUNDER NERVES SETTLED

As for Phehlukwayo, he must want to play every game at Kingsmead. He always performs well for his country in Durban, and his career-best returns on Tuesday go a long way towards settling nerves around that all-rounder debate.

South Africa have now beefed up their squad with Quinton de Kock and Dale Steyn returning from short breaks.

Pakistan must be wondering if they kicked a hornet's nest by winning in Port Elizabeth. South Africa have formidable records at each of the venues hosting the last three matches of the ODI series.

More to the point, they beat Pakistan at each of those venues in the test series. The visitors will do well to win another match over the next week, because South Africa appear determined to build a head of steam.

They have also found space for Beuran Hendricks in the squad, adding variety to an embarrassment of fast bowling riches.

Given what they have in front of them, you almost feel sorry for the selectors that have to shift through the names and come up with 15 players.

There will be more than a couple of disappointed players in a few months, when they reveal their chosen ones for the UK. Until then, we must all enjoy the ride....


22 January

DURBAN DELIVERS ON ALL FRONTS

There are few, more spectacular sights than Kingsmead when it is full, true KZN heat is blazing down, and the sun is setting over the ocean.

It's an old ground, but one full of memories. Recent times have not always seen the Proteas dominate there, but the vibe is one that remains special in the South African game.

On Tuesday, there was also more than a fair share of Pakistan fans in the crowd, and they got really loud when South Africa slipped to 29 for three, and then 80 for five in a must-win situation.

Andile Phehlukwayo and Rassie van der Dussen did their World Cup ambitions no harm with a mature, undefeated stand to win by five wickets - and beat the notorious Durban rain!

Phehlukwayo has made a habit of playing well on his home ground, and his four wickets and 63 must have done a huge amount for self-confidence.

Batting coach Dale Benkenstein has done an awful lot of work with him behind the scenes, ensuring that he has more nuances to his game than raw power. The results of that labour may now be bearing fruit.

As for Van der Dussen, life has been a breeze at international level. A 93 and an 80 not out are exactly what you want from a number three - and he has stolen a march on Aiden Markram now.

Given what he has done, it will be interesting to see the make-up of the side for Friday's game at Supersport Park Centurion.

Quinton de Kock and Dale Steyn return, while Markram will also be itching for a return on his home ground.

At 1-1 in the series, those are good problems for the selectors. They would have left Durban well pleased with the response from the team.

Speaking of Durban, the Kingsmead Mynahs are an institution within KZN cricket circles. Their perch, on the South Stand, sees a bar well populated by former sportsmen across many disciplines, all gathered under the banner of supporting the next generation.

The Mynahs hold a monthly meeting, where they invite a special guest to speak. Countless former South African players and touring legends have held court at the Mynahs.

On Monday, Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur was the guest of honour, with former cricket and rugby star Erroll Stewart the MC.

Arthur gave fascinating insights into the three international cricket cultures he has worked with, as well as his own philosophy as a coach.

It was a wonderful evening, and continued a fine tradition by the Mynahs.

Long may they continue to flourish.


Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4




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