New Pastures, different conditions

One of the hardest things to understand for those who don’t, or haven’t, played sport at the highest level is all the talk of ‘conditions’.

After all, cricket is about bowling a round piece of leather at another person holding a bat. Pretty simple, really. Bowl it, hit it. All the talk of ‘conditions’ can appear to be nothing more than a pile of excuses.

The greatest sportsmen and women, without doubt, are those who have won in all conditions. It is virtually impossible to explain to the non-cricketer how different grasses, and soil, can affect fielding, let along batting and bowling.

Monde Zondeki, the bowler, played one of the most astonishing innings in South African cricket history in England in 2003 when South Africa were on the verge of losing the Headingley Test match on the first day. With almost no batting pedigree whatsoever, he showed extraordinary reserves of temperament in partnering Gary Kirsten in a stand of 150 which transformed the tourists’ first innings from 142-7 to 292-8 and, eventually, a match-winning total.

He was signed by Warwickshire this season as their overseas professional on the basis of his stunning Supersport Series season and there were great hopes at Allan Donald’s county (he is now the bowling coach there) that Zondeki might spearhead their challenge to return to division one of the county championship.

Without meaning to be unkind to Zondeki, he was a disaster. Ten wickets in five first-class games, including over 30 no-balls, was not what Warwickshire had paid the big bucks for. Then, a hamstring tear. He is now returning home with his tail between his legs. Reputation, such as it had been rebuilt, is now in tatters – at least in England.

“We’ll work with him here in South Africa and rebuild his confidence,” said Proteas coach Mickey Arthur. “He is a very fine bowler and he’s an important part of our squad for the England tour. Things obviously didn’t go his way in Birmingham but we can sort that out. He’s a fine bowler – we all know that” Arthur said.

Another man moving on to different pastures is the great fast bowler Vintcent van der Bijl. Variously head of High Performance and Amateur Cricket within Cricket South Africa, his success in changing transformation figures in first-class cricket was verging on the spectacular.

Yet he is now leaving. Fed up? Disillusioned? No. Instead, he is deemed too old. CSA has a ‘policy’ which makes retirement compulsory at 60, an age when many of the best sports administrators are just reaching their peaks.

It is hard to ignore the fact that several other CSA employees, notably CEO Gerald Majola’s right-hand man, Chris Day, and Logistics Manager Brian Basson, are beyond 60. They are very good at what they do. But are allowed to stay. Van der Bijl was very good at his job, too. Shame. Pity.

Still, as seems the norm these days, SA’s loss is the ICC’s gain. Big Vince has been appointed by the game’s global governors to take charge of umpires and match referees. Given the crises involving Darrel Hair and Steve Bucknor in recent years, the big boys obviously don’t agree with CSA that 60 is too old.

There can be little doubt that Zondeki will come right again and South Africa will benefit, hopefully. And equally, few will doubt that Van der Bijl will make a success of his new job. Just a pity that he wasn’t allowed to continue his career in his native land.

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