Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Morne van Wyk’s time in limbo

Last week saw the retirement of several distinguished batsmen. Michael Clarke left the stage at the age of 34 and his teammate Chris Rogers along with Kumar Sangakkara gave up international cricket for good at the age of 37 after vastly different careers.

In the middle of that age bracket at 36  but less well known to the average cricket fan, is Morne van Wyk, who made his international debut in the same year as Clarke, but never went on to the same heights. In the twelve years since 2003 he’s had six different spells in the South African ODI team and five in the t20 team. Those spells have given him 25 international caps, an average of two and a half games between each time he’s dropped, making the South African wicketkeeper the definition of the fill-in player.

His debut was the immediate prelude to four years out of international cricket, and when he came back, he was dropped from the ODI team after a duck two games later. That was 2007 and later in that year, he was brought back for one match, and a another duck  This year he was even dropped from South Africa’s t20 team the game after scoring a hundred. Last in, first out.

Until that hundred, the South African selectors couldn’t be blamed for their stance. Indeed, van Wyk flunked his big chance and longest run in the side, playing five of the seven games at the 2011 World Cup, without anything more substantial than 42 against Ireland.

That was his last international game for nearly four years. His next chance came in January this year, because of an injury to Quinton de Kock, and worries over AB de Villiers’ workload, rather than anything in his own form or skill that suggested a man ready to make an impact at the international level.

His chance may be closing, as de Kock’s three consecutive ‘A’ team hundreds have confirmed his readiness to return to international cricket and with de Villiers also able to take the gloves for limited periods. The South African selectors are unlikely to take a third wicket-keeper batsman to next years World T20, and van Wyk looks set to be the unlucky third man, as he was earlier this year for the 50 over World Cup.

There’s a chance today’s ODI against New Zealand may have been his last international match. He would have been relieved when his top-edged pull was put down by Doug Bracewell at fine leg while he was batting on 17.

Despite that reprieve and a confident start to the game, as his innings went on, he got more and more stuck, only scoring 16 singles, and playing out 71 dot balls overall. Eventually, Grant Elliott made one bounce marginally high on him and he edged to slip. 58 off 100 balls in an ODI will not endear you to the selectors even if it’s his second highest ODI score, that being a reflection of his paucity of playing time more than anything else.

When you’re 36, there are always younger men snapping at your heels. Dane Vilas was the man who replaced him on the tour to Bangladesh, and the 30 year old may have van Wyk’s fate in his future, filling in for the occasional match when de Kock’s injured and de Villiers doesn’t want to take the gloves.

Van Wyk may have looked at this match for one last flourish. His international chances have all come at four year intervals. A debut in 2003, limited chances in 2007, World Cup ignominy in 2011, and finally intervals of filling in for a man 14 years his junior this year. In four years time he will be 40, and that will prove a step too far. It’s now or never for Morne van Wyk.

He looks every inch his 36 years, if not more. The picture in his Cricinfo profile shows him with flowing blonde locks, but his hair isn’t flowing now, and it’s more grey than blonde. All his runs can do is keep him in contention, however many he scores, the younger de Kock and indefatigable genius of de Villiers will outrank him.

He might not mind bowing out from international cricket at at Kingsmead, the site of his one shining moment for South Africa, that t20 hundred in a meaningless dead rubber in a series his team had already lost. It’s also his adoptive home in domestic cricket, playing for the Dolphins the last two seasons. It’s a fitting way to go out, a player who wasn’t quite good enough, playing an innings that wasn’t quite good enough. Maybe it didn’t matter to him, maybe he’d already had his moment.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Scout Report: George Worker

With the World T20 in India seven months away, teams are ramping up the number of T20 matches they play. New Zealand are on a limited overs tour of Southern Africa, starting first in Zimbabwe, and after that moving on to South Africa. After taking the ODI series in Zimbabwe, a single T20i against the same team precedes by two against South Africa.

With Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee and Trent Boult all skipping the tour and Ross Taylor ruled out through injury, there’s room for fringe players to step up, and with Mitchell Santner injured as well, a space opened up for a left-arm spinning all-rounder and 25-year-old George Worker was called up for his first taste of the international game.

Despite having been around the First-class arena for nearly eight years, he only averages 24, so he don’t expect to see him around the Test team any time soon. His limited overs records show more promise, so it was odd that despite usually opening in the format for Central Districts, he was pushed down to three, with Williamson moved up to open.

That decision worked on Williamson’s side, with the Kane train getting off to a rollicking start before derailing for 20. That brought the left-handed Worker to the crease. He struggled to get going early on, not scoring off his first seven balls, twice missing out on pull shots off the bowling of Chibhabha.

With a slightly crouched stance and low grip on the bat, he has a preference for the leg side which may have worked against him in First-class cricket. Indeed, his first ten balls included just one shot into the off side. Against the spinners and medium pacers he liked to sweep and slog-sweep and hit the odd pick up shot off his legs.

Some of it may have been a function of the bowlers trying to bowl straight, but even when he got balls on off stump he often tried to work them into the on-side. With that leg-side bias, Graeme Cremer’s leg-spin just fell in his arc, and the first ball he faced against the bowler was hoisted over long-on.

After he settled into his innings, he began to expand his game, despite his clear leg-side bias, he also cut well behind point and eased into a few workmanlike drives, and he continued to pepper the leg-side boundary, bringing up his fifty with a six driven over long-on.

Not content with sixes, he even managed a seven, running a suicidal third on a lofted cover drive, with the certain run out thrown away by Chakabva the keeper as he shied at the stumps, and with it four overthrows.

With the spinners and Utseya’s slow medium dominating the middle overs, he wasn’t overly tested against pace and it was spin which got him in the end, charging down the track to be bowled by Sean WIlliams for 62 off 38 balls.

Unlike Santner whose place in for in the squad he took, Worker is more of a batting all-rounder than a bowling one, and he didn’t get a chance to bowl as New Zealand ran through Zimbabwe’s batting. Still, based on his batting alone, it was an impressive start, capped with a man of the match award, but against fairly limited bowling. Harder tests are yet to come, starting with South Africa next Friday.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Stuart Broad's Ashes miracle

The look on Stuart Broad’s face when Ben Stokes plucked the ball out of the air behind him to give England their fifth wicket, was pure disbelief. He wasn't the only one dumbfounded by an extraordinary morning of cricket.

If the first three wickets were good, this was great. Adam Voges pushing out in front of his body, the ball flying wide of the fifth, yes fifth, slip, and then Ben Stokes sticking an arm out, diving at fulls stretch, hauling the ball in behind his body. Yeah, there’s gonna be some disbelief.

21-5 is a ridiculous score, but what was so ridiculous about this was the speed in which the wickets came. The fifth went down in the fifth over, as the runs flowed (mostly off the inside edge) and the wickets flowed just as much. Most scores of 21-5 will be a slow dirge with the bat as the bowling team pile on the pressure and the batsmen start to just try to survive. This was a hurricane, as wickets fell, runs scored and Australia crashed their way to 60 all out. 

As the Australians subsided, your thoughts could easily turn to Clive Rice. Before play, the former Nottinghamshire all-rounder who passed away recently got a minute’s applause at his home ground, and the Sky team reminisced about pitches so green you couldn’t tell them from the outfield. This wasn’t quite that green, but Australia are so discombobulated by movement and the sight of green below them or white clouds above them, it doesn’t bear thinking what Hadlee and Rice could have done against them on a 1970s green mamba. 

It bears saying again that this wasn’t an unplayable pitch or devilish bowling. The pitch offered help, and the skies offered swing, but it was mostly Australia’s fault that at 29-6, the top scorer was extras with 12.

Chris Rogers and David Warner got good balls, but Steve Smith played at one he didn’t need to touch. Adam Voges pushed too hard at a ball that needed playing, but Shaun Marsh and Michael Clarke were both culpable, the captain most so, slashing at a wide half-volley which was taken head high at slip. 

With the wicket of Clarke, Stuart Broad had a five-for before lunch on the first day, better still, a five-for before 11:40. The last man to do the first feat was Sydney Barnes back in 1913, who coincidentally also took eight in the innings (whether Broad can match Barnes’ 9-103 in the second innings is yet to be seen). When you’re ever talked about in the same breath as SF Barnes, let alone surpassing him, you’re doing something right: this was an Edwardian morning of cricket.

At 47-9 it felt like groundhog day. Stuart Broad bowls, and Mitchell Starc guides one to Joe Root at third slip. Stuart Broad bowls and Mitchell Johnson guides one to Joe Root at third slip. Perhaps it was best that Mitchell Marsh was left out.

Broad has made a habit of Ashes clinching spells. In 2009 he sealed the urn and in 2013 the series win, with virtuoso performances at The Oval and Chester-le-Street, and this one will be the most special of the lot. The urn may not be in England’s hands yet, but the pendulum has swung far enough for England to catch it and hold on to it. 

This is how England broke the cycle. Win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win… hand out an absolute shellacking. It takes a lot to break a cycle that was so entrenched, this was a lot, a whole hell of a lot. 

The records just tumbled. Stuart Broad had his best Test bowling figures by a distance and the quickest five-for in balls bowled ever. Nine wickets went down caught behind the wicket, whilst one was bowled. Broad had the cheapest eight-for since the nineteenth century, and the 21st best innings figures in history. The only better bowling figures for England versus Australia were Laker’s twin efforts in 1956, and this was the most wickets before lunch on the first day ever in a Test match. Add to that the humiliation of the quickest any team has ever been bowled out in the first innings of a Test, and the stats rain down humiliation on Australia. 

Just compare him to the man he’s drawn level with on the England wicket takers list: Fred Trueman. He also had an eight-for, but his came against India, at the time an unproven Test team uncomfortable against true pace, Broad did it in the heat of an Ashes battle. 

Compare it to day one of 4th Ashes Test in 2010 for certainty of scorecard. Then England finished the day on 157-0 after bowling Australia out for 98. This time it’s compressed, 60 all out followed by 13-0 at Lunch. It’s pretty certain, as was the lead of 214 England held at the end of day one. 

With the game how it is at the end of day one, it would take a comeback of Headingley ‘81 proportions for Australia to steal a win here. They won’t do that. This will be Broad’s match, Broad’s Ashes perhaps. England’s almost certainly.