Sri Lanka in SA

Prince seems a grumpy camper

2011-12-30 12:38
Ashwell Prince (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Consciously or subconsciously, veteran Proteas batsman Ashwell Prince may be burdened by a personal perception of past injustice that is clouding his ability to flourish at present for the Test cause.

That is my niggling suspicion, admittedly without the benefit of access to the national team’s dressing room environment and the various personalities and dynamics at play.

I have long been an admirer of his gritty qualities in the middle order, especially at times - certainly in the not terribly distant past - when South Africa have been tottering or close to that.

For a long period, he had worked himself admirably into a position as part of the furniture at his favourite No 5, just prior to the really pronounced emergence of AB de Villiers.

Then fate suddenly intervened, with the diminutive left-hander arguably on the brink of peak performance for his country as the Proteas prepared in Perth for the first Test of 2008/09 against Australia.

Prince had just come off six Test matches in which he recorded three centuries: successive ones in England at Lord’s and Headingley that were very influential to a maiden post-isolation series win there, and then a career-best 162 not out against Bangladesh at Centurion, ahead of the passage to Australia.

But the day before the first Test at the WACA, disaster struck as a delivery from Makhaya Ntini cracked one of his thumbs at the nets. It led to a hasty debut for one JP Duminy ... and the rest, as they say, is history.

Suddenly Prince was on the outside looking in, and when opportunity finally knocked for him once more, he was shuffled about with some abandon – initially asked to occupy the highly unfamiliar and clearly undesired slot of opening batsman, where ironically he posted a high-quality first-up 150 against the very Aussies at Newlands, and then primarily repositioned to No 6.

Some say, with fair logic, that this is perhaps one slot too low for him - a place where you are more often likely to have to “advance the game” with some measure of swiftness rather than graft patiently toward the intended first-knock platform, which is Prince’s strongest suit.

I have considerably sympathy over his plight as a reasonably unsettled, “bumped around” part of the mix since his return to fitness from the Perth mishap.

It seems clear that he cherishes continuity and similarly a sense of belonging, and quite often in press conferences over the past year or so, he has not been too shy to hint at - or occasionally more than that - his disenchantment over his post-2008 lot.

I do wonder if it plays damagingly on his mind, distracting his focus as he tries to convince everyone that, aged 34 and boasting 66 caps, he is not, in fact, a fading entity.

He is yet to set alight a Test match this summer (though few of his fellow batsmen are), looking crabby and indecisive and, even while seemingly beginning to get his eye in, looking vulnerable to nicks through or over the slip cordon or gully.

Is the irritation and sense of injustice I believe he still harbours detrimental to himself and possibly even, to some extent, team harmony?

If Prince can somehow free his mind of old wounds, his currently stuttering stats might yet return nearer to commendable levels past, although the sands of time are just beginning to conspire against him.

Arguably, he did himself no favours in the squad popularity stakes with his notably rigid refusal to answer Hashim Amla’s call for a single - unnecessarily risky though it was - in the second innings against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead, where any run-out was going to be criminal, considering the grave situation.

Daft decision by the Dolphins favourite or not, the fact is that Amla was the more senior, in-form batsman; Prince should have shown greater preparedness to sacrifice himself rather than see his more established partner trudge back dejectedly to the pavilion.

Somehow it seemed an act of near-rebellious defiance.

My recommendation: try to lighten up a bit, Ashy P. It could do you greater benefit than you possibly realise.

I know I would be happy to see further, meaningful productivity from one of my favourite nuggety battlers at the crease.

Or will he even get the chance at Newlands, where a recall for Alviro Petersen at the top of the order is being whispered, with Jacques Rudolph perhaps getting a crack in Prince’s spot?

That might only send AG Prince’s questionable humour into deeper levels of failure ...

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