Everybody knows that cricket has changed an awful lot in the last 20 years but very few people, in whatever capacity they follow the game, are able to stay up-to-date with just how radically different conditions are today than when our 45-year-olds were in their prime.
In the last calendar year two batsmen, Mohammad Yousuf and Ricky Ponting, have scored 15 Test centuries and totted up over 3000 runs between them. The Australian captain has wracked up 10 hundreds in his last 22 Test innings. The figures simply bear no resemblance to the game that mere mortals have played for two centuries.
South Africa’s national captain, Graeme Smith, had his own never-to-be-forgotten Bradmanian moment three years ago with back-to-back double hundreds which galvanised the country’s embattled and embittered supporters to such an extent that his batting over that fortnight will forever be remembered as an epoch in this country’s sporting history.
No wonder national selection convenor Haroon Lorgat has been even more worried about Smith’s recent form slump than the rest of us. Fortunately for Smith and the rest of us, Lorgat belongs to that very, very select group of forward-thinking administrators who recognise the fact that, for all the game’s changes, there are still far too many facets of the game which remain obstinately stuck in a time warp.
Unfazed by the criticism he knew he would receive, and undeterred by the resistance he knew he would encounter from his fellow selectors, administrators and the clueless buffoons who masquerade as the media, Lorgat drew up a five-point proposal (before the fifth and final one-dayer) for Smith to regain form that was so far ahead of its time it might as well belong in the 2050s.
First, the captain was to cease all net practises with immediate effect. Everybody has known for over a century that nets are boring and tiresome but Lorgat was the first senior administrator to have the courage to say so. Smith was becoming worn out by all the bothersome training between games and that had contributed to his loss of form.
Second, Smith was to be given three ‘lives’ in the next round of first-class Supersport Series matches. Umpires were to be instructed to ensure that Smith had reached at least 50 by the time his third life was used up and that under no circumstances were they to give him out lbw as that could have a very damaging effect on his confidence.
Third, opposition bowlers would be required to signal what sort of delivery they intended to bowl to him. A raised arm at the top of their run-up would indicate a short delivery and a lowered arm would indicate a full length delivery. Should they sneakily try to trick the national captain by bowling a different delivery to their signalled one, the umpire would be under instructions to call no-ball and the bowler would have to bowl the next ball underarm.
Fourth, Smith would only be required to field at slip, and only if he felt like it.
Fifth and finally, a reclining leather arm-chair would be installed in the Cobras change room so that Smith wouldn’t have to sit on those damn uncomfortable benches that have plagued cricketers hamstrings and lower backs for over a century.
Unfortunately, Lorgat’s peers were unable to share his vision of the future and therefore voted against his proposal leaving the convenor with little other choice than to withdraw his captain from the Supersport Series. As he so rightly pointed out, “what would happen to his confidence if he played in the less pressurised atmosphere of the Supersport Series and failed again?” Indeed. That would have left the skipper feeling very gloomy indeed. Best not to risk that. Rather he went into the first Test match just feeling low on confidence and form rather than very low on confidence and form.
Smith said two days before his face-saving 79 in the final one-dayer that he would happily play in a club game just to spend some time at the crease. He even admitted after the 79 that the decision not to play in this week’s match for the Cobras “would have looked peculiar” if he had followed his scores of 0, 1 and 0 with another low score on Sunday.
But Lorgat has made yet another very, very big call this season by withdrawing the captain and ensuring that he will have played no first-class cricket this season before the first Test against India at the Wanderers.
Finally, allow me to say that I would never be able to write a column such as this without the knowledge that Lorgat really is that rarest of fusions – an accountant with a sense of humour! Many people, including me, have questioned his selection methods and motivations in the past but he has proved to be correct more often than not.
Hopefully, he will be proved right once again. A decision that flys so directly in the face of conventional cricketing logic deserves to succeed!
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