Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Graeme Smith - Excuses, Execuses & Ignorance

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When was the last time you saw so many one-sided matches in a tournament of this size? That too, after eight matches. We have all been awoken to the harsh reality that an absence of cricketing minnows, does not an exciting cricket tournament make. Starting from Sri Lanka v West Indies, right through to yesterday's South Africa v New Zealand match one side has managed to self-destruct quicker than a mission debriefing note on Inspector Gadget.

To many people's surprise New Zealand annihilated the Proteas last night. Nobody was giving New Zealand much of a chance once it became apparent that Shane Bond would be missing the match - wait for it - because of a back injury. The same back that has kept him out of action for the past few months. Just as an aside, what is it with Kiwi fast bowlers? Not one of them has managed to stay health ever since Danny Morrison retired, almost a decade ago. There must be something in the water.

Stephen Fleming proved, once again, how reliant the Kiwis are on him doing well - almost like Team India and Sachin Tendulkar in the 90's. Call Fleming a late bloomer, but he is one of the most elegant batsman in world cricket when he hits his straps. I am often frustrated that we are deprived of seeing the ultimate Stephen Fleming due to a combination of bad luck and minor lapses in concentration that contrive to cut short his innings just when we are all set for a really big one. He has taken a liking to the South African, however. That 130-odd against them in the previous World Cup was absolutely sublime.

But, I digress. Apart from Fleming nobody really stood up to the South Africans on a tricky pitch. Brendan McCullum offered 21 runs to the cause, as the next best scorer. But, if I was the rest of the New Zealand batting order I wouldn't be writing home to tell my mom about my performance.

Conversely, the Kiwis didn't really need to make much more. The South Africans capitulated without even a semblance of a fight. Although, Graeme Smith did make a spirited 42 before succumbing to the pressure of Jeetan Patel and Daniel Vettori. The Kiwi cricketing faithful had high hopes of Patel. I mean, he's got an Indian name so what use is he if he can't become a decent spin bowler? Right? Dipak Patel solidified the stereotype, but the jury is still out on Jeetan Patel.

What raised my ire was Smith's refusal to attribute any of the reasons for his side's dramatic collapse to their own shortcomings. He was of the view that they didn't play any bad shots and everything that went wrong was the fault of the Brabourne wicket.

We - international cricket captains included - have to be careful not to class a challenging or tricky batting wicket as a sub-standard or below par cricket pitch. Don't forget Graeme, that this is a game played by both batsmen and bowlers. Just because the ball doesn't bounce to hip height from a good length does not mean its a bad pitch. Just because it spins a bit more than you and your mates can handle does not imply any shortcomings on the curator's part.

There is a fine line between blindly defending your players and acknowledging the harsh realities. Graeme Smith needs to strike a sound balance, and fast. Else, South Africa are headed for a very early flight home. Judging by the way they played yesterday, maybe that is what they're after.


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