Rob Houwing

Richards blows hot, cold in Test

2012-03-09 09:03
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town - Barry Richards is one of those cricketing icons you just have to respect, plain and simple.

I was too young - only just, mind you - to recall his stellar lone series for South Africa, the immortal 4-0 whitewash of Australia in 1969/70 when he tellingly averaged 72.

But then isolation struck and he became something of a cricketing nomad, although I did get the pleasure of seeing some Currie Cup innings for Natal by the sublime right-hander before he switched base more profoundly to England and Australia, depending on summers.

Despite his mere quartet of Tests, he is the lone South African in Don Bradman’s much-touted Dream Team, named shortly before his death in 2001; that’s how good BA Richards quite clearly was.

Most recently he has been industrious in the TV commentary box throughout South Africa’s all-formats tour of New Zealand, generally acting as an essential balancer to some of the host nation’s more Black Caps-inclined voices behind the mike.

I’ve had some mixed feelings about 66-year-old Richards’s presence, because on the slightly negative side he does seem a little out of the loop with South African domestic cricket (he has had a lengthy residential link with Perth, although I gather he spends more time back in South Africa at present, in the Knysna area).

For instance, in the early stages of the Dunedin first Test, he seemed oblivious to Vernon Philander’s credentials (at least at franchise level) as a genuine all-rounder, effectively suggesting on the first day that the Proteas offered negligible ability with the bat below the steadily improving Dale Steyn at No 8.

While it is true that Philander has let his batting go a bit with his dramatic emergence as a strike bowler, he averages almost 27 with the blade in first-class cricket (to Steyn’s 15), was once fairly confidently stationed at No 6 by the Cape Cobras in SuperSport Series combat and has a top score of 168.

But where Richards is a cut above most co-commentators is in his uncanny ability to predict bowlers’ next deliveries: so often he gets it spot-on in speculating what a particular player’s “follow-up ball” after an eventful prior delivery will be.

Plus I don’t mind admitting that I felt quietly smug when, seconds after I had harboured that very thought, Barry the Great said: “It’s Morkel, not Steyn, who should be attacking Vettori from around the wicket ...”

On the whole, I’m still more than happy to listen to him, especially given ... well, just who he is, I guess.

Rob’s Awesome Foursome

1. New Zealand v South Africa, 1st cricket Test
Dunedin, ongoing to Sunday 23:30, SS2 & SH2

This was written prior to knowledge of day-three events, so I can’t take a stab at the weekend winner (if there is to be one, of course). But if the ding-dong trends of the first two days at charming University Oval are anything to go by, we could be headed for a nail-biting climax. The two sides basically neutralised each other on the first innings, so we were left with a three-day slug-out on the respective second knocks to determine supremacy. New Zealand commentators have been quick to emphasise that the pitch at the venue often doesn’t crack up to a great degree ... but with the Black Caps batting last, was that just to make themselves feel better, I ask mischievously?

2. Bulls v Blues, Super Rugby
Pretoria, Saturday 19:10, M-Net, SS1 & SHD

The last time these foes met at Loftus, two years ago, the home side had their fans in ecstasy by running up an astonishing 29-point lead with not even as many minutes reflected on the scoreboard! Then the Blues bounced back to a fairly dramatic degree, before a late flourish ensured daylight once more as the eventual champions won 59-26 and by a crowd-pleasing seven tries to four. Maybe things will be a little less helter-skelter this time, but recent form tends to suggest Pierre Spies’s team will prevail on the Highveld. I tip them to sneak it by three points. Mind you, they have only played SA opposition and the Blues only fellow-New Zealanders thus far ... might we see some sort of “levelling” under those circumstances? I don’t deny that a successful Blues raid is quite possible!

3. Sharks v Lions, Super Rugby
Durban, Saturday 17:05, M-Net, SS1 & SHD

Considering the length of the Super Rugby calendar this year, consecutive defeats at the start of the season constitutes a setback, not a train smash, for the Sharks. They haven’t had the opportunity yet to play in front of the home faithful and ... well, this is it at last. Several of their players will still harbour bitter memories of the Currie Cup final, and that could be an additional motivator even if we all know that the Lions tend to be rather less formidable in Super Rugby. The return of Butch James to his old stomping ground for a start at No 12 for the Lions adds some spice ... will those arms swing above the shoulder in the tackle at times? I’ve tipped the Sharks to belatedly get out of the blocks here, and begin their climb up the conference table. 

4. Arsenal v Newcastle, English Premiership soccer
London, Monday 22:00, SS3, SHD3 & Maximo

The Gunners are suddenly vastly-improved, aren’t they? Just when some observers thought Arsene Wenger was flirting with the axe, his charges saw off all of Tottenham, Liverpool (in the “Prem”) and AC Milan in the Champions League at the Emirates, even if they still surrendered the two-leg tie 4-3 on aggregate after a mighty 3-0 rearguard effort at home. Now they entertain resilient, surprise packages Newcastle in arguably the most attractive fixture on the latest programme. Toon snatched the corresponding game 1-0 last season, but even this black-and-whites diehard admits things could be trickier here, considering Arsenal’s form. Ouch, it’ll be 2-0 and probably with that man RVP on the scoreline if he’s fit ...

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