Category Archives: South Africa

Insulting The South African Cricket Team Properly

Just so we are all clear:

In order to use the current Champions Trophy as evidence that South Africans are (and forever will be) “chokers” at ICC events, they will have to lose a game after being in a seemingly commanding position. Mere losses do not count. We should be especially swayed by moments of utterly inexplicable irrationality, preferably while running between wickets. And if South African players turn daft after being called ‘choker’ on field by opposing players, we will have a prize exhibit on our hands (I’m referring here to the excellent tactic used by the Kiwis against Faf Du Plessis during the 2011 World Cup).

It could be argued that South Africa has preempted the ‘choker’ line by losing its most formidable players to injury. To take this point of view would be charitable and reasonable, especially given that the South Africans have some of the best players in the world right now and generally deserve more praise than scorn. However, as I have yet to decide how I feel about Du Plessis, I am not sure what point of view I shall take. Time will tell.

And for the record, I’d like to see either Pakistan or South Africa come through on this one. Pakistan, because they are now (and usually are) the most interesting team, and South Africa, because, well, they’re due.




South Africa Wuz Robbed

I don’t put much stock in the ICC awards (quick question — when did we start caring about this? Have there always been ICC cricket awards? Does anyone know anything about these awards?), especially when they don’t find a place for a man like Hashim Amla. I don’t mean to put down Kumar Sangkarra, whom I like more than most Indian cricket fans, but the ICC should have just created a new award category — Best Hashim Amla Award? — and awarded it to Amla to save face.

I suppose the larger question is: Do you feel, of the big four, that South Africa is the least appreciated country? We know that India will always hold first place because of its market share, and we know Australia’s influence will hold (at least for now) because of success and aggressive style of play. We also know that England, as the birthplace of cricket (and the reason we all follow the game), will matter…but South Africa? Even now, at the head of two ICC rankings, it’s hard to feel like South Africa will move cricket, hold on to its heart, the way the other countries can (and have).

Is it just because of that missing ICC trophy? Or do we still feel that they’re the new kids on the block?

Rahul Sharma’s Alleged Drug Use Makes Me Confused

I still haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about Rahul Sharma’s alleged use of marijuana, so I wanted to go through the list and hear your opinions:

1) Samir Chopra talked with me today about his Pitch post on the subject. Essentially, he argues that the margins between ‘recreational drug use’ are extremely small, and so there is little substantive difference between whisky, cigarettes, alcohol and, in this case, dope. The quote:

From the back of the police wagon that carried them off to the thana that night, Rahul and Parnell might have glumly wondered why their buddies could drink beers in dressing rooms with opponents and be praised for doing so, while they would be forced to donate their bodily fluids as evidence of criminal wrongdoing. They would wonder why there exists a category of forbidden substances called ‘in-competition prohibited substances’ that includes marijuana, but not alcohol or tobacco.

I’m almost there with Samir, but not yet. For one thing, cricketers are not always praised for drinking, right? We know from the Andrew Symonds and Jesse Ryder episodes that while drinking may be part of a team’s culture, excessive drinking that leads to ruptures within a team, bar brawls, or laziness isn’t completely tolerated. So there’s room for regulation here. Secondly, even if you think most of the industrialized world’s policies on drugs are silly, they exist — if Sharma’s tests do indeed test conclusively positive (which hasn’t happened yet, mind you), then he must be sanctioned according to Indian law. If you want to use this episode to argue for a change in the law or the BCCI’s drug policy, that’s fine with me. But I’m a little wary of dismissing this episode by simply saying, “Boys will be boys, am I right?”

Which brings me to 2): Spend enough time on a privileged American college campus, as I did, and you will have ready access to marijuana. I want to explain to you why this makes me uneasy, and I want to do it without sounding judgmental because while I have never smoked, I don’t want to spoil anyone’s party. Here’s the thing: a) It bugs me that legalizing marijuana gets so many people riled up (and is usually the No. 1 policy suggestion on online petitions to President Obama), but dealing with, say, the unbelievably punitive laws on cocaine/crack/etc. or reducing America’s exploding incarceration system or building more drug courts rarely get buzz. It also annoys me that poor minorities in New York City, where I live, can have their lives ruined if stopped randomly by a ‘stop-and-frisk’ cop, but rich kids get to talk to me all the fucking time about their favorite strand of marijuana, how they “know a guy,” and the funny contraptions that they use when they smoke. When is personal drug use recreational, and when is it another affirmation of wealth and privilege? Is marijuana seen as less threatening now because of its chemical qualities, or because it is increasingly associated with innocuous college white kids and not (as it once was) crazy Mexican immigrants hell bent on unleashing reefer madness? Or am I a buzzkill who thinks no one can enjoy themselves in a world full of misery and injustice?

I don’t want to sound like a narc, because, really, I’m not. 3): These “rave party” raids are terrible. You can read about their hilarious and convoluted legal justification in this post, which argues that technically speaking, even if you invite guests to your home and give them a drink, they could be arrested for not having a permit on them. I was in Bombay after the first bust went down, and the tone in the press was unbelievably offensive — there were dozens of photos of women with their faces covered, as if they had just been accused of a heinous crime that brought shame on their family. The slut-shaming theme was explicit, and the sight of Indian policemen pushing these women into vans for drug testing en masse was nauseating.

So where does that leave me? One, if the rules exist and are broken, Sharma/Parnell should have known and followed them. Two, I have all these weird feelings about marijuana and I don’t know why. Three, the legal instrument used to catch Sharma/Parnell seems like the worst possible use of limited police resources. Fourth, this seems like a such a trifle to derail promising careers.

Comments, please.


This is stupid:

India will travel to Johannesburg to play a one-off Twenty20 match against South Africa on March 30 at the Wanderers. The match, ESPNcricinfo has understood, was planned well in advance though it comes on the back of lengthy and hectic touring by both teams.

That’s all.

UPDATE: See “You Have Got to be Kidding Me” for more.

When Bob Woolmer Used Gary Kirsten As A Mannequin

I recently started to play cricket again and, not surprisingly, I’m terrible at it. In desperation, I turned to the Internet and found the ghost of Bob Woolmer to guide me. He did a series of videos — from the graphics, I’d say during the mid-1990s — and the ones that focus on batting have a starring role for Gary Kirsten’s perfect technique. Watch:

It’s not surprising that these videos have more than 100,000 views each. Woolmer comes across as exceptionally clear, brief and personable; the tragedy of his untimely death in 2007 becomes that much more poignant. I shudder when I think of all the politics and rivalries and bureaucracy this man had to deal with in Pakistan.

One more note: watching these videos, I also gained a finer appreciation for just how difficult “batting technique” is. This is the difference between Virender Sehwag and Ian Bell; the former relies chiefly on instinct and hand-eye coordination, while the latter relies on years and years of practice and forcing the human body into textbook shapes and figures. There’s obviously room for both models at the crease, but I now see what all the fuss is about.

The Best Cricket Board Website

I’m doing some web design work in my current job (don’t ask), and the task nudged me to do some Internet ‘research.’ Like, which cricket board has the best website? Surprisingly, the results weren’t bad on average (except the Pakistani one, which looks like it was developed in the 1990s).

But I give my award to the ECB, which seizes the future and a) offers to sell English cricket kits and gear and jersey online; b) includes interactive links to encourage fan participation (like, podcasts and other Internet thingies). But too many of these websites advertise the wrong things — the latest game fixtures and results, or news from the national team. I doubt many fans go to cricket board websites for this sort of stuff. And why not include information on where to learn cricket, and where to play the game, and where to hire a coach, and how to get tickets at venues if you don’t have a personal connection to a VIP? The good ol’ Kiwis have some of the answers.

Anyway, you decide: England, India, South Africa, Australia, West Indies, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand

A Screwy South Africa Schedule

News from Cricinfo:

South Africa’s home Test series against Australia will be played over just two matches – as opposed to the customary three of recent times – with a packed international cricket calendar being offered as the reason.

One of my bigger cricket regrets is missing the scintillating South Africa-Australia Test series of the mid-2000s. So it irks me, now that I do have time on my hands, that this latest series will be cut to just two Tests. And what do cricket fans get in return? The T20 Champions League and, of course, an ODI series against West Indies. Ugh.

The South Africa Sport Boycott

Anyone in New York City this evening? Anthology Film Archives is re-screening Connie Field’s excellent apartheid documentary, Have You Heard From Johannesburg? It’s in eight parts (!), and today, comes this excellent episode:

FAIR PLAY (95 minutes)
An international sports boycott takes shape when African teams refuse to compete in the Olympics with South Africa’s all-white teams. Only SA’s world champion Springboks rugby team remains on the field.

Hope to see everyone there.

UPDATE: So, the episode described above was more about rugby than cricket, but it was still fascinating. What struck me was how much opposition proposed boycotts stirred — in tiny New Zealand, the documentary implies, the question nearly provoked a civil war (on many levels: some Maori groups, who take their rugby seriously, had no problem playing the South Africans; others, obviously, felt this was an ‘Uncle Tom’ stance). It then reverberated around the world. So, N.Z. allowed the Springboks to tour, which led African countries to boycott the Montreal Olympics in protest.

A crucial question is whether or not it was fair to express opposition to apartheid on the rugby players, some of who appear on-screen to say they had no political leanings one way or the other. And, really, looking at what these players faced — mass protests featuring sarcastic chants of ‘Sieg Heil’; unions that refused to fly them around countries, host them in hotels, or drive them to stadiums; game interruptions — well, it’s hard not to feel a tad sorry for them. On the other hand, South African apartheid apologists admit near the end of the episode that the boycott, as well as all the unrest it stirred elsewhere, forced white South Africans to squarely confront the nature of their regime.

The Problem With South Africa’s Choking Reputation

The problem with the choker tag is that it’s very, very difficult to dispel. Say you’re accused of being a rash batsman, always looking for the shots. You could easily take it easy for a few balls in your next innings, while commentators scratch their heads and call you “unusually sedate.”

Not so with choking, because the dynamic works like this: you lose a few high-profile games. Your reputation is, ‘Talented, but can’t handle pressure.’ Then, next tournament comes around, journalists begin the queries: Will you handle the pressure? How will you handle the pressure? Aren’t you worried about the pressure? (Meanwhile, other teams get asked routine questions, like, Are you worried about X batsman’s form? Will your bowlers perform at the death?) Then, say you do end up in a pressure situation. Now you face not just the match at hand, but the added problem of having an entire audience’s question aimed at you. Pressure’s hard on its own; the pressure of pressure is debilitating.

Corrie van Zyl said as much recently. Ruminating on South Africa’s shocking loss to New Zealand, he said:

“All the disappointments of the past World Cups have caught up with us,” he said. “That’s where the pressure starts piling up. We must remember that most of the squad that played in this tournament weren’t part of those campaigns, but we make them part of that by constantly reminding them of previous failures.”

It’s a vicious cycle. Everyone knows the solution: stop choking. At some point, South Africa will do that; they’re just too talented to go on like this. And when they do win, their batting collapses will be treated with the same discourses as other teams’. When India or Pakistan collapse, for instance, we blame inconsistency or unprofessionalism or lopsided batting orders or particular faults in technique. When South Africa collapse, we call it choking. This is what reputations are about, and the only way to dispel them is confront them head on.

A Tough Question For Graeme Smith

Over at CRIC-SIS, Shridhar Jaju highlights a particularly tough question at Graeme Smith’s post-match press conference. (See below at 2:18):

As a former reporter, I know the tightrope that must be walked when asking sources difficult questions. On the one hand, these types of queries usually yield the best (i.e., the most interesting) answers. They challenge personalities and fulfill a basic responsibility of journalism (i.e., ask the question that the public wants answered). On the other hand, there’s no reason to be rude. It’s clear from the video that the reporter’s first language isn’t English, and perhaps he thought his joke (“Instead of chokers, you should be called jokers”) would lighten his tone, but humor rarely works in such situations. In this case, it clearly didn’t ;Smith just says, “I think I’ve got your question” to cut the reporter off.

There’s a broader issue: what is the point of post-match press conferences? I’m not a sports writer, and quite frankly, I don’t read much sports journalism (other than Cricinfo) but it seems the best writing I come across relies the least on these events. Their only use is to fulfill the requirement that articles record responses of a player — but if the player doesn’t have any insights, why does that merit precious column  space? Maybe I’m being too dismissive; perhaps reporters just need to ask more useful questions, like what players were feeling and thinking at particular moments in the match (E.g., Yuvraj, did you plan that magnificent Brett Lee over, or was it spontaneous?). This is the difference between asking, “What is your typical day like?” and “What did you do yesterday?”

And, really, what rational person can explain what happened to South Africa? Who can explain the intangible effect pressure has on good players, so that against, say, Bangladesh, their risks and talents turn in their favor, whereas against New Zealand (in a quarterfinal), they don’t? That’s why I like the first question from this press conference: Graeme, can you tell us how you feel? The answer isn’t that great, but when Smith’s face falls briefly into his hands, you understand.