SA in New Zealand
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Levi’s huge challenge ahead
Cape Town - Wow, it didn’t take long for “lightning” to strike in Richard Levi’s international career, did it?
He catapulted to most talked-about cricketer on the planet on Sunday, courtesy of his multiple record-smashing century for the Proteas against New Zealand in the second Twenty20 international before a shell-shocked full house at Seddon Park in Hamilton.
And that’s quite something for a 24-year-old (he turned that last month) playing in just his second game for his country.
Commentators, writers and tweeters have no doubt exhausted all the traditional superlatives already as they describe his 117 not out, 51-ball carnage against the Black Caps, which saw South Africa romp to a handsome eight-wicket victory with four full overs to spare.
As series-levelling wins go, this was as emphatic as it gets and the pole-axed hosts, you feel, will do incredibly well now to climb off the canvas and claim Wednesday’s decider in Auckland, again at 08:00 SA time.
Still, T20 is a funny old game and it is on that score that Levi - another product of Wynberg Boys’ High for their pupils past and present to crow over, even as they continue to glow with pride over the broad cricketing exploits of Jacques Kallis
- will have some thoughts to chew on after the back-slapping eases.
For he is in a relatively unique position, perhaps realising before too long that just his second outing for South Africa may never be personally emulated again.
To use the expression “it’s all downhill from here” might well sound unnecessarily negative and overly dramatic, but in statistical terms that might well be very much the case for Levi, at least as far as the T20 arena is concerned.
Think about it: his knock was so freakish in its levels of devastation that even when a hopefully lengthy career at the top flight comes to an end one day, February 19 2012 on the North Island of New Zealand may yet turn out to be his most memorable occasion in the green shirt.
Not for a second am I suggesting Richard Ernst Levi will come to be known as a one-knock wonder - quite clearly he has some special qualities as a limited-overs opening batsman - but he is probably going to find it hard, at least for a while, to live up to the giddying, meteoric hype he created in this match.
People will flock to see him in one-day combat - there’s got to be at least a fair chance he will somehow winkle his way into the Proteas’ ODI plans on this very tour - and be “disappointed” for the short- to medium-term future whenever he gets out for a cracking 45 or 50: that’s how quickly expectation can take hold in sport.
It is also the inadvertent price he will pay for rewriting cricket stats so sweepingly at pretty, postage-stamp Seddon Park where even his mis-hits had spectators fearing for the safety of their skulls and, almost as importantly, watermarks on their beer cups.
Fastest T20 international century of all time, most sixes in an innings, highest score by a South African... these are rare landmarks to boast.
And while the beefily-built Levi (even those who frown on slightly excessive girth by professional sportsmen may well excuse him that phenomenon at present) failed by one run to stand alone for highest score in the format, sharing the company of established T20 super-leaguer Chris Gayle is hardly to be sniffed at.
The big left-handed Jamaican, some eight years Levi’s senior, ironically achieved his own pyrotechnical 117 - dismissed, mind - against South Africa, in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 on our shores in September 2007.
Comparisons are interesting: Gayle used up 57 deliveries in total at the Wanderers, six more than Levi did, and 88 of his runs came in boundaries to the Cape Cobras favourite’s quite amazing 98 (13 sixes and five fours). Gayle’s strike rate was 205; Levi’s 229.
Rather demoralisingly for Gayle at the time, presumably, his epic innings wasn’t enough as the Proteas still roared over the line against West Indies by eight wickets - at least in Hamilton Levi was the match-winner by a mile.
Encouragingly from Levi’s perspective, perhaps, Gayle’s performance came in just his fourth T20 innings for West Indies, yet he has stayed one of the hottest properties in the code since, albeit that the lion’s share of his involvement more recently has been as a hired gun for various franchises worldwide.
Fortunately, too, Levi has already served a couple of educative, “difficult” years as a cricket professional generally, and come out of the relative darkness commendably unscathed: he had once been touted with almost unreasonable gusto by some critics when he was a SA under-19 batsman and once out of age-group level found the going tough at times.
So it is unlikely that he will make the mistake of letting Sunday’s sublime showing give him a swollen head - he came across as pleasant and measured in his immediate post-match television interview, which was gratifying to see.
Some credit must go, I believe, to Gary Kirsten
and company for the gradual nature of his filtering into the international environment: selected for the SA squad for the pair of T20 games against Australia earlier in the season, he didn’t see immediate service but would have learnt much just being “in the room” for a while.
Especially in a post-Gibbs era for the Proteas, South African fans have every right to feel excited about this hard-hitting new boy on the top-order block.
Just don’t expect three figures to be raised off 45 balls by Richard Levi every day. With a bit of luck, he won’t be spooked by that not happening, either ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing