T20 Challenge

Too soon to laugh off Impi

2012-03-06 11:50
Paul Collingwood (Gallo)

Cape Town – On the hardly unimportant grounds of performance on paper, it is tempting – and some critics have already taken this route – to dismiss the New Age Impi as a notably failed experiment by Cricket South Africa.

The newcomers, a novel seventh team to this year’s domestic Twenty20 competition, don’t sit terribly pretty on the table as things stand, after all ... although they’ve played more matches than anyone else (eight), every single game has been surrendered and their log-points tally is a conspicuous zero.

It could almost be argued by sporting wags that there are certain parallels between them and Powerlines FC, those unfortunate lower-tier souls hammered by a rugby score (24-0) in soccer’s Nedbank Cup by established PSL powerhouse Mamelodi Sundowns.

But are they really that bad?

Don’t mistake me for some sort of CSA apologist on this score, but I believe it is premature to summarily dismiss the “extra team” experiment.

I would suggest that the Impi were always likely to struggle in their first “season” (I use that word with deliberate caution, given that they were hastily assembled for an intense period amounting to only several weeks) and that we should hardly be surprised by the established outfits prospering against them.

It must be incredibly difficult for coach Vincent Barnes and his lieutenants to muster some sort of genuine team ethic when you are going to draw from “surplus to requirements” players across the various franchises and also be permitted a greater quota of “ringers” from abroad than the other sides.

The captain, Paul Collingwood, for instance, has basically become one of those wandering minstrels (and I’m not knocking that) of the booming global T20 circuit in his late cricketing life; he is 35.

He came pretty much straight out of the Big Bash in Australia and has, unfortunately for the Impi cause, seemingly taken time to adjust to South African conditions in late summer on a few tired-looking tracks: it would clearly not have been their wish that their richly-experienced acquisition average only 17 with the bat thus far.

The Impi have the further drawback of not being part of traditional cross-franchise rivalries (and the useful extra edge that can give all the combatants), no established support base and a rather nominal, soulless home venue -- with respect to the friendly folk of Benoni – of Willowmoore Park.

Also in mitigation is the fact that of their eight defeats, only two have been by genuinely large, near-embarrassing margins: by nine wickets to the Titans at home and a 61-run loss to the Lions at Potchefstroom when they were skittled for a paltry 92.

They did come within an agonising four runs of beating the Dolphins, thus far the worst-faring of the more traditional outfits.

And here’s at least one positive which cannot be disdainfully brushed under the carpet: the creation of the Impi has allowed a bright young prospect like off-spinning and top-order batting all-rounder Khaya Zondo, 21, to fast-track himself to some prominence instead of quite possibly languishing in the shadows at his home Dolphins franchise.

Zondo has amassed 249 runs in the MiWay T20 Challenge thus far at an average of 41.50, including a searing century against the Cobras at Paarl, and it is hard to imagine that the street-wisdom of a character like Collingwood, England’s victorious captain at the last ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, hasn’t rubbed off on him to some constructive extent.

Of course comparisons between the Impi and Impalas, another cobbled-together team in a previous South African cricket environment, the popular Benson & Hedges night series of the 1980s and early 1990s, are inevitable ... but also instructive.

Yes, the Impalas (their players drawn mostly from the then “B-section” ranks in the domestic game like Griquas, Boland and Border) tended to play second fiddle a lot in the 45-over competition, for much of their 10-year duration between 1984 and 1994.

They were especially whipping boys in their first year of activity, losing all five scheduled matches to EP, Transvaal, Northern Transvaal, Natal and WP respectively – again, a couple by fairly gruesome margins – but did later topple a big gun on occasion and effectively gave a broader pool of South African players exposure to an elevated tier of the game.

It’s worth keeping in mind, for instance, that in their very first match as the new kids on the block, a certain 17-year-old by the name of Daryll Cullinan smashed 80 out of a total of 200 all out for them in defeat to Eastern Province at the former UPE cricket stadium, and a 23-year-old Corrie van Zyl shared new-ball duty with England fast bowler Greg Thomas.

People are entitled to be concerned about the poor showing of the Impi so far, I don’t deny that.

But don’t completely lose sight of some bigger-picture merits this team may just have ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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