The crows and ravens squawked as though they were being strangled behind the wall separating the Colts Cricket Club from the rest of the city but, in fact, they were delirious with joy as a rubbish truck emptied some bins and spilled foul-smelling but evidently delicious contents by the side of the road.
AB de Villiers was talking about becoming a serious bowler and, despite not yet having bowled 100 first-class overs, was contemplating delivering between 15 and 20 overs in a Test match starting on Thursday. Perhaps it was just the ravens, but there was a certain madness in the air. Not a nasty, dangerous madness, but more the hysterical giggling sort.
Mickey Arthur was speaking about the problems the team faced in losing Jacques Kallis and whether to replace him with a batsman or a bowler. The answer, of course, is to play six batsmen and just four bowlers. But just four bowlers? And what if Nicky Boje is belted out of the attack in his first spell and has to be taken off? You can’t expect Makhaya Ntini, Andre Nel and Andrew Hall to bowl all day. Although you won’t find three players more willing to try anywhere in the world.
“Just four bowlers,” mused Arthur again. “It’s not ideal.”
“You mean five, don’t you?” prompted a journalist nodding at AB as he wandered away to the team bus. Squawk.
“Oh yes, of course,” Arthur said breaking into a big, mad smile. “And what about Jacques Rudolph and his leggies? That’s six! And then there’s Ashwell’s off-spinners! Seven! What are we worrying about?” Squawk.
“And Hashim, too?!” rejoined the journalist, remembering Ray Jennings’ mad attempts to turn the bearded one into a quasi off-spinner in India a couple of years ago. Squawk, squawk.
“No way!” shrilled Mickey, eyes bulging a little, “we don’t want any more elbow problems!” Cue mad laughter. Squawk.
The match referee for this series is Chris Broad, the same man who effected an end to Johan Botha’s international career after one Test. He isn’t a fan of bent elbows. Botha was his fifth victim. Squawk.
In South African rugby madness is common place amongst Springbok coaches. Even if they start sane, the marbles are usually rattling around like a pneumatic drill after a year or two. Carel du Plessis, bonkers. Harry Viljoen, cuckoo. Rudolph Straueli…gjkytrrbldt. Poor old Jake White. So sensible to start; an even tempered, calm demeanoured school teacher, for goodness sake. Now he’s barely a fortnight away from the green and gold, Springbok-emblazoned straight jacket and padded cell.
Last season Mickey coined the phrase “brave cricket”. That’s the way he wanted his teams to play. That was the style he and Graeme Smith chose. The trouble is, the old farts in South African cricket laughed. ‘That’s not the way Test cricket is played’, they said. And every time things went poorly, as they so often do against Australia, the old cynics laughed and asked: ‘Is that what they call brave cricket?’
For the first four sessions of the match against Sri Lanka ‘A’ South Africa scored at over four runs an over. Amla used his feet against the spinners, Rudolph drove into gaps with confidence and authority and all the others played their part in grabbing the game by the throat until it surrenderd at lunchtime on day two. It was great to see. The fact that it was a warm-up match against Sri Lanka ‘A’ doesn’t matter in the slightest.
“We’ve spoken about the gameplan we want to implement, we’ve discussed it and analysed it, we’ve done everything. And then we put it into practise and it worked,” said a satisfied Arthur.
Self-doubt crept into even Arthur last season, not that you’d ever see it publicly because he’s the most optimistic and positive man in world sport. But it hurt last year when his former colleagues and mentors laughed at him and now he’s cautious about his own creation, ‘brave cricket.’
“Maybe it’s an old cliché now, this ‘brave cricket’ thing, but we don’t want to be tentative, we don’t want to be ponderous. The way forward in international cricket is to come out and hit the ball and keep the game going forward. We’re still going to have faults and problems along the way, of course we are, but that’s the way we need to play if we’re going to challenge the top teams in Test cricket. We have to be doing that,” Arthur said.
And don’t forget it, Mickey. Or you’ll go the way of your rugby counterparts. Squawk.
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