Protea brand stands tall
Cape Town - The Protea brand is standing tall in comparison with a galaxy of overseas stars after the completion of week one of the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
There are 21 South African-born players at the tournament not counting those who have played international cricket elsewhere such as England’s Kevin Pietersen and Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands and some half-a-dozen of them are already making claims for a mythical Most Valuable Protea (MVP) award.
No doubt the financial boffins will work out an index in due course to measure performance against auction price but in pure cricket terms there have been some outstanding performances.
It is always expected that AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis should stand out in limited overs cricket and that has been the case with the former having made the third highest score (64 not out) to date although Kallis has shone more with ball in hand than with the bat.
It is remarkable that at the age of 36 he is bowling as well as he has ever done. As he showed against New Zealand and again on Tuesday this week when he captured the key wicket of Chris Gayle he has the knack of taking big wickets. His heavy ball bouncer is also a hugely effective weapon to go with his swing and variable pace.
One of Kallis’ key assets is that, being an outstanding batsman as well, he knows the length that he would least like to face himself under the prevailing pitch conditions.
What will have been particularly pleasing to Gary Kirsten and the other Proteas’ strategists back home has been the way Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn have kicked on from the New Zealand tour. Far from looking tired they have bowled with renewed zest.
Steyn produced one of the deliveries of the competition to date – a late swinging Yorker delivered in the mid-150km/h – to knock over compatriot Richard Levi’s middle stump. It was a nightmare delivery for any batsman to face. South Africa’s spearhead has an average of 7.4 and an economy rate of 4.6 for the tournament to date. Both these figures place him right at the top of the pile.
What has been particularly pleasing as far as Morkel is concerned was his match-winning performance against the Kolkata Knight Riders when he took two wickets in two balls with successive Yorkers, one of which accounted for Kallis. He has often struggled to adjust his length in the past and the fact that he is getting this delivery spot on target most of the time is an important addition to his arsenal.
Another big plus has been the opportunity granted to Faf du Plessis to open the batting for the champion Chennai Super Kings. It has brought him face to face with some of the best new ball bowlers around the world and will give him invaluable experience and enable him to tighten his technique where necessary.
Du Plessis has a yearning ambition to make the Castle Lager Test squad and this could help him along that road. A No 6 batsman with the ability to handle a second new ball is very useful.
Away from the IPL there is no doubt who is the most valuable Protea in England right at the moment. Vernon Philander took seven wickets on his county championship debut for Somerset and they were almost exclusively top order players.
There is also a trio of batsman waiting to make their respective marks in Alviro Petersen (Essex), Jacques Rudolph (Surrey) and Ashwell Prince (Lancashire) when the second round of matches gets underway on Thursday.