Archive for category South Africa

Toeless White Mongol’s Fantastic Incredible Adventure

Martin Guptill is a man who demands nicknames. This would be true even if he weren’t a sportsman existing in an environment where everyone must be referred to by nickname (even if, as with England a lot of the time, said nickname is pretty much just the player’s actual name with a ‘y’ tacked on the end.) For one thing, there’s his unusual last name; for another, the fact that the man has only 7 toes. My old nickname for him, therefore, was ‘Guppy Two-toes’ – which, if not exactly supremely imaginative, was at least a hell of a lot more so than ‘Cooky,’ ‘Belly,’ ‘Straussy’ and the rest of them, as if the England team were made up entirely of cutesy singing dwarves.

That is a nickname of the past, from a time when the New Zealand team – and especially their batting lineup – were either plucky underdogs who never quite made it happen for themselves, or a straight-up punchline. Their bowlers were mostly immune from the criticism, on account of not sucking at their own jobs and regularly picking up the slack after each inevitable batting collapse. Practically every set of photographs taken of Daniel Vettori from that time has a couple showing him, jaw set and brow furrowed under his helmet, padded up and striding out with an air of angry resignation to bail his team out of trouble by batting for a couple of hours (in a style apparently learned from a coaching manual printed by Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks).

But things, it seems, are different now with New Zealand.  Their Atlas, Vettori, plays only Tests now, and their team lineup is suddenly bristling with fresh-faced players not old enough to know what audio cassettes are. But it’s working for them. Zimbabwe might not have been the most challenging of opponents (though they have the capacity to be much tougher than they were during this last series), but New Zealand demolished them, over and over again, at every venue and in every format.  To my obvious delight, one of the main architects of New Zealand’s dominance was none other than Chris Martin, 37 years of age and in the bowling form of his life, perhaps invigorated by reducing Phil Hughes to a bloody smear on the ground in the Australia series.  This may in some part explain why one of the search phrases used to find this blog recently was “cricket the back of Chris Martin’s head,” but that’s something I don’t really want to think too much about except to assume that someone out there has a thing for graceful bald men who can swing a cricket ball, which is fair enough.

The other standout Kiwi was, of course, Guptill. He’s always been a superb fielder, so much so that he manages to stand out in a side that is primarily known for being a uniformly excellent fielding unit. He was the third part of the Hughes b. Martin equation in addition to flinging himself all over the place taking catches and stopping runs, and when he wasn’t doing that he was batting like he’s never batted before. He’s showed flashes of this ability in the past, but never so consistently, and now he resembles a man who has ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing constantly in his head and has entrenched himself so deeply into The Zone that he probably cuts his food and puts on pants with exactly the same intensity and optimal use of technique. It showed clearly in today’s T20, the one that kicked off the start of the South Africa tour (a.k.a. the real test of the new-and-improved-now-with-40%-more-BADASS New Zealand side). After a spectacular runout of Hashim Amla that ended with both players and several stumps tangled up in a heap on the pitch and had everyone and their grandmother instantly referencing the legendary Jonty Rhodes moment, he then proceeded to carry his bat through the New Zealand innings and score most of the runs – except the winning ones, which he graciously left to James Franklin. The man seems unstoppable.

However, he is also possessed of facial hair and bone structure that, especially when he’s wearing a helmet, makes him look uncannily like a less-Asiatic Ghenghis Khan. It’s actually distracting. Yet, it might just be the source of all his powers, and so should be accorded due respect. Thus, his new nickname will now be the Toeless White Mongol. It’s not short and snappy, like good nicknames should ideally be, but I think it’s the name he’s earned. Go forth, TWM, and conquer.

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Ah, poetry

Today was a grey day.

Literally, because the weather gods, having well and truly lost their marbles, decided that pouring rain, thunder and lightning were exactly what this corner of the Middle Eastern desert needed this week. And metaphorically, because young Shakib-al-Hasan and his valiant Bangladeshi tigers once again almost won a cricket match before having it slip away agonizingly at the last minute – this time courtesy of an England player who isn’t even English. (Although, half the England side are, you know, South African, so I’m not sure what the deal is with all the fuss being made about Eoin Morgan being Irish. I just figured I ought to mention it.) I would mention his excellent steely-nerved hundred, but I kind of wish he hadn’t made it because it was the sole reason that England ended up winning, so it may take a few days for the rawness to subside before I can appreciate it for what it was.

But, courtesy of the wonder that is Twitter, I have found the key to brightening up any day – even if you’re a Bangladeshi supporter and have had to install extra drainage on account of your house being constantly awash with your own tears, and extra handrails because the constant abrupt swinging back from the edge of victory to the grim depths of defeat is making you dizzy and prone to falling down a lot.

I have linked to Dave ‘The Bard’ Bird’s cricket poetry website already – it’s over there at the right-hand side of the homepage – but one of his more recent mad genius offerings deserves special mention because he produced it totally out of the blue and it just happened to be a tribute to one of my favourite players of all time.

I have reproduced it in full below, with Dave’s permission:

Ode to Lance Klusener

-David Bird

Klusener could whack it, yes Lance,
To spinners, down wicket, he’d dance,
No defensive tricks,
He smote them for six,
The same for the quicks without prance.

Sometimes he could bowl pretty quick,
Sometimes the batsmen he’d trick.
Gave balance to the side,
Served country with pride,
All without ever being a prick.

His best score V England, remember?
Our bowlers he got to dismember.
Zulu hit it so high
Way up into the sky,
It didn’t come down ’til November.

Dave adds, as a side note: ‘Lovely Long-Limbed Lance was, challenged only by Jonty Rhodes, my favourite South African cricketer for YEARS.’

Mine too, David. He wasn’t even second to Jonty – or anyone else for that matter – in my book. I even have the song ‘Impi’ on my iPod because of him. I may go hunt down highlight reels of him playing to help me get over the match result today.

The rest of you, get on over to David’s site and immerse yourself in mad limericky genius. Go on. Why are you still here??

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Hot Fuzz

It can’t be easy being Hashim Amla.

He’s got to deal with tin-eared commentators calling him a terrorist; having his personality, batting skills and even other less singular aspects of his appearance (he’s got very nice eyes, for instance) largely ignored, and – even assuming heavy patronage of this place – what must surely be a real bitch of a grooming routine to undertake in the mornings. (Let’s not even start on the secret, bitter rivalry that I am certain would exist between him and Mohammad “MoYo” Yousuf for the title of Greatest Cricketing Beard were it not a totally imaginary award that I just made up right now.)

The beard, one might argue, seems to be far more trouble to Hashim than it’s worth, despite how important it is to him for a combination of religious and cultural reasons.

But Hashim isn’t the possessor of the only noteworthy beard in international cricket – the others might not be as spectacular, or luxuriant, but they’re attached to some pretty significant individuals. Kiwi Übermensch Daniel Vettori has sported one for a while now; ranging from ‘scruffy-librarian’ to ‘antisocial lumberjack’ in length and appearance depending, I assume, on his mood, the conjunctions of Mercury and Venus or possibly just whether or not he slept through the alarm that particular day. Mohammad Yousuf, as has already been mentioned, has a chin-shrub to rival Hashim’s. And Dutch-Australian Renaissance-man Dirk Nannes is usually seen with nifty European-style facial topiary.

The other thing these men have in common is the fact that they’re all, usually, pretty damn spectacular on the pitch (not always in the field, though. Sorry, MoYo, I calls it like I sees it.) I’m not saying that beards have the Samson-like ability to grant their wearers exceptional cricketing skill and/or matchwinning ability, but consider this: on his return from Achilles tendon surgery, the usually clean-shaven Kevin Pietersen and his natty Malevolent-18th-Century-Marquis-style goatee almost blasted England to a series win against Pakistan in Dubai.

Then, more recently, in the opening T20 of Australia’s New Zealand tour, the hosts were thumped by 6 wickets. This is what Daniel Vettori looked like at the toss, still cheerful despite the heightened risk of sunburn awaiting him in the field…

…and here’s Dirty Dirk Nannes, who took two wickets at 5.50 in a victorious cause.

Draw your own conclusions.

(Not to further bias anyone, but what other explanation could Wayne Parnell, a young man of more-than-average good looks, have for persisting with this? Ain’t because of any favours it’s doing him in the attractiveness stakes, that’s for damn sure.)

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So. many. centuries.

Petersen. Amla. Tendulkar. Sehwag. Laxman. Dhoni. Guptill. McCullum. Mahmudullah.

Three of those scored over 150, three of them were maiden centurions, one was a debut centurion, all of them were vastly different types of centuries. This is why I don’t like stats: as it stands, all those are recorded the same way, implying that they were somehow alike, which they weren’t. No two centuries ever are. I have no doubt that Tendulkar still feels the thrill when he notches up another one, but it can’t possibly compare to what someone like Alviro Petersen must feel, scoring a Test hundred on debut against the world’s #1 ranked team in an atmosphere like the one at Eden Gardens. I don’t know Petersen from Adam, but even I was overjoyed for him.

There is also, I would argue, a huge difference between scoring 115 runs and scoring 183, and so the latter should be recorded as a different level of milestone, but that’s an argument that’s been made before and I really have nothing new to add. I might just be having a Pollyanna moment, but it just seems a little unfair to the guy who’s sweated it out for two more hours and 70-something runs.

I am a touch disappointed that Shakib-al-Hasan’s name isn’t up there. He made it to 87 (insert superstitious muttering about the curse of being 13 short of a landmark here) before he edged one from Chris Martin through to the keeper. The way I feel about that is essentially the way I feel about Bangladesh v New Zealand overall – completely torn. I’m always thrilled when Chris Martin does well, as he is one of those players I am incapable of being objective about, but when he took that particular wicket at that particular moment there was a little voice in my head whispering, ‘Damn, Chris, you know I love you, but you couldn’t have done that juuust a few minutes later?’

But of course, there was V.V.S. Laxman to make everything all right by scoring his hundred. Sehwag is more fun to watch, Tendulkar is a legend and it shows, Dhoni was all grit and muscle, but there is nothing quite like a V.V.S. hundred. He doesn’t even need to score a hundred, really, for you to appreciate his batting, but you always want him to because that will mean you can watch him longer and he will be justly rewarded for putting on such an exquisite display of batsmanship. He’s all elegance, all timing; he’s just so damn pretty to watch. (And besides, Laxman being Laxman, it genuinely couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.) Everything about a V.V.S. hundred makes me happy – his strokemaking is a pleasure to watch, there’s no need to waste energy trying to separate the awesome cricketer from the douchebag personality beneath as it is so often necessary to do, and when the moment comes and he raises his bat to acknowledge the fans and his teammates, you have that fabulous smile to look forward to.

AWESOME.

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Being Paul Harris…

…apparently means that the day after getting excoriated in print by a famous cricket blogger, you rewrite history by setting a new record for the most wides sent down by a single bowler in a Test match innings (10, to be precise) while Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar frolic past on scores of 143 and 87 respectively.

Bloody hell.  I don’t particularly like Harris, but I almost – almost – want to give him a hug.

Also: that whole, hey-we-can-just-get-DeVilliers-to-keep-wicket-and-drop-old-man-Boucher thing is working out fabulously for South Africa, isn’t it?

…oh, wait.

Damn. Who came up with that one, again?

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Ah, sweet Schadenfreude. Almost.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

I WAS SO. CLOSE.

Here’s the thing. This is going to sound broken-record-y, but I swear to God, I do not go into every India series hoping for my national side to lose. That said, I was kind of ecstatic when Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis ran riot over days 1 and 2 of the first test – not, I should emphatically state here and now, because I have any particular love for either of them (Amla’s fine, not a Kallis fan per se) or the approach SA took towards the run-scoring and declaration (really, guys? 600 suddenly became too fatiguing a mountain for you to climb? Were you trying to get Hashim back for shedding his beard hair all over the place by calling him off 24 short of the highest score ever by a South African? Verily, Graeme, you are a mystery wrapped in an enigma encased in a shell of WTF.)

No, the reason was this: I have been waiting (oh, how long have I been waiting) for Harbhajan Singh to fall flat on his face. He and his attitude are one of the main reasons I can’t fully throw my support behind India. He’s arrogant, obnoxious, and a diva, which is something that is only tolerable if you are someone like Aretha or Whitney, and Harbhajan is not fit to serve either of them peeled grapes let alone assume their sacred mantle of divahood. And, lo and behold, SA delivered. Ha-ha, Harbhajan! If Nelson Muntz were available for hire and not a fictional character I would pay vast sums of money for him to follow you around pointing and doing his Nelson Muntz laugh.  Ah, the satisfaction.

And then Dale freakin’ Steyn had to go and ruin it.

If I disassociate the bowling spell from the bowler responsible, I would be duly admiring. It was a hell of a performance. It would actually have enhanced my satisfaction at India being shown up for their bizarre selections and complacency. But this is Dale Steyn. He’s almost as bad as Harbhajan, for different reasons. For one thing, I can’t look at him without thinking, “‘Roid rage.” I cannot stand the angry, snarling, firebrand-who-shows-no-mercy routine that certain fast bowlers pull. STOP IT. You are not being impressive and fearsome, you are being ridiculous pricks who are, lest we forget, playing a freaking game. This is not the heat of battle, you are not King Leonidas, this is not bloody Sparta. Calm the fuck down and show some respect and restraint. I cannot appreciate your talent or your achievements because you are such a RAGING JERK who makes people assume you must have a teeny manhood because why the hell else would you be so damn angry all the time and so desperate to prove your ultimate supremacy to everyone?

And you went and ruined my schadenfreude moment, you bastard.

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Hurts so good

Bangladesh v. New Zealand.

This is not, I will admit, a contest to set the world on fire. Certainly not in comparison to India v. South Africa, which starts the day after the first ODI at Napier and will in all likelihood draw the attention of most of the cricket-watching world, including probably a good number of less-than-patriotic Bangladeshis and Kiwis. (Yeah, you know who you are. Shame on you.)

Logically, it shouldn’t have been a tough call, which series to watch. On one hand, my national side, riding an unprecedented wave of not-being-crap, facing a wounded, cornered tiger of a South African team: one supremely confident side on home turf facing one with a severely dented collective ego to rebuild and an extremely large point to prove. Both high-ranking teams with explosive, brilliant players. There is no way that this series will fail to entertain.

By contrast, there is New Zealand facing Bangladesh – the perennial runners-up versus the eternal optimists. New Zealand are, as has become the norm for them, without several of their key players because of injuries – Jesse Ryder, Shane Bond, Kyle Mills and one of my personal favourites, Grant Elliott (yes, really. Shut up! He’s awesome), are all MIA, which has the effect of making the series much less interesting (to me, anyway) while affecting the probable outcome very little. Because Bangladesh have just been pounded into the ground, then dragged back out only to be fed through a meat grinder and then tossed down a mine-shaft by India, and New Zealand have turned winning ODIs while shedding players like autumn foliage into something of an art form. Making predictions in cricket is a fool’s game, but you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing rationale for this being anything other than a series weighted heavily in the Kiwis’ favour.

So, no contest, right? India-SA all the way. Unfortunately, no. Because I love NZ, and I love Bangladesh possibly even more, so I’ll be watching every moment, if not necessarily from the edge of my seat. This might seem like a good thing, in that either way a side I like is going to come out on top at the end of it all, but in actual fact it’s an extremely surreal feeling. I’m not entirely sure that I like it. When New Zealand pummelled Bangladesh to a pulp at the T20 in Hamilton, I experienced something of an epiphany: this must be what genuine, bona fide masochism feels like. There’s the pleasure of your side sailing effortlessly to a thumping win, mixed in with the simultaneous anguish of your side suffering a thorough walloping.  It’s probably not quite on the level of whips and chains and weird arrangements of rope, but I’d be willing to bet it’s on the low end of the same scale.

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