Summer snooze for Proteas
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Is it just me or does it seem as though the first half of the 2011/12 season is being marked by some unusually easy living for the national Test cricket team?
Of course it is not far up the drag on the calendar anyway, but some of the Proteas squad must think it’s Christmas, so limited have been the demands on them in terms of honest “middle” time for either country or franchise.
Put it this way: the campaign has been highly unusual thus far for the manner in which it has precluded batsmen from the possibility of quite literally occupying the crease all day or bowlers from running in for 24-overs-a-day stints beneath an unforgiving sun.
Those are tried and trusted ways, let’s face it, of getting cricketers into an acceptable groove, yet the season has been very stop-start – with a stronger emphasis, I would argue, on the “stop” part – and unevenly weighted in favour of limited-overs fare when there has mercifully been some activity.
Keep in mind that even the insanely short Australian Test series didn’t produce as much cricket as might have been anticipated – the Newlands one lasted three days, including an 18-over completed Aussie second innings, although that is obviously no crime on the part of the host nation.
Not too surprisingly, many of the Proteas players have clearly cashed in gleefully on the amount of recreational time that has been generously afforded them.
That’s not my thumb-suck view: the very public world of Twitter tells you much of what you might fancy knowing about personal schedules and down-time priorities of sports stars these days.
Captain Graeme Smith even saw fit to introduce a tongue-in-cheek element to a tweet a few days ago: “Looking forward (to) Dec ... Schalk Burger’s wedding (and) Christmas ... love Christmas! Yes, yes, also the cricket, before I catch it again.”
The last bit, of course, was obviously a jocular reference to his copping it a fair bit from the South African public when he didn’t return from another failed World Cup campaign, in India, with the rest of the troops much earlier this year, opting instead to go to Europe before returning to our shores.
Still, it was good to know that the imminent visit of Sri Lanka, for a lengthier itinerary in South Africa than experienced recently when the Australians were here, hadn’t completely escaped the mind of the seasoned Test leader.
The world’s No 1 fast bowler Dale Steyn hasn’t exactly been over-stretched, either, although there was talk, in fairness, that he saw out the surrendered second and final Test against the Aussies last month with a back problem, so a limited work-load in the lead-up to the three-Test Sri Lankan series has perhaps not been a bad thing.
He recently tweeted some pictures from a break at Victoria Falls and this weekend revealed that some crayfish fishing was on his time-off roster.
Fellow head-hunter Morne Morkel, meanwhile, had a weekend request for his Twitter followers: “Need a (Nedbank Challenge) golf update please ... on my way to Kruger Park for a couple of days.”
AB de Villiers revealed that he was spending some time in Cape Town, and lamenting the typical summer south-easterly wind: “CT the new windy city ... definitely not playing golf today ... quick brunch then the TV to watch Charl Schwartzel dominate.”
In defence of the players having a bonus “jolly”, after an unusually long off-season preceding the disappointingly squared Aussie mini-series, the timing of the CSA domestic scheduling this summer has been utterly lousy in the way in the way it has served – or rather, not served – the cause of Smith’s team.
There simply hasn’t been enough SuperSport Series four-day cricket available for the cream of the national squad to knuckle down to, whilst some have had less game-time than others toward the climax of the 1-Day Cup – the Lions, Titans and Dolphins did not advance beyond the round-robin phase.
Fortunately several Test stalwarts will presumably be in earnest preparation mode this week for the final of the 50-overs competition on Friday, featuring the Cobras against the Warriors at Newlands.
That group should include Smith, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn (Cobras), as well as the Warriors’ Ashwell Prince.
It will be fascinating to see whether Vernon Philander gets a game in the domestic showpiece – he was man of the series for his 14 wickets in the Tests against Australia but not yet been used by the Cobras in the 1-Day Cup where Rory Kleinveldt and veteran Charl Langeveldt have done well with the ball up front and they also have Steyn to call on at present plus plenty of all-rounders.
Philander is a classic case of a Proteas Test player who remains underdone for longer-format bowling mileage despite the season supposedly so well-established. Imran Tahir, entrusted with that tricky art of leg-spin, is certainly another.
Frankly, it’s high time a solid, intensive spate of cricket broke out.
Here’s hoping the Proteas are trim, fired-up and ready to hit the ground running in time for the first Test against the limited Lankans at Centurion (they finally reconvene as a group next Sunday) from December 15.
Has everyone been pulling hard enough in the hiatus?
Hmm, hope so ...