Faf du Plessis will not be drawn into a social (or any other kind) of media battle over his form or comparisons with other players, specifically Temba Bavuma, who continues to crop up in conversations despite not playing in South Africa’s ongoing series against England.
Bavuma was dropped for the Newlands Test after recovering from a hip injury that kept him out of the first match, and has been sent back to play on the domestic circuit. At the time, du Plessis explained that “weight of runs,” was the only way for Bavuma to work his way back into the XI. While that made sense from a cricketing perspective – Bavuma averaged 19.84 in 2019 – it struck a nerve with Bavuma supporters. They argued on two fronts: dropping Bavuma robbed the country of its only black African batsman and so diminished representation and further disenfranchised the majority, and that du Plessis himself had been through a dip, with no scores over 30 in his last seven innings.
Du Plessis knows that. He knows that his performances are not quite where he needs them to be. He also knows that as the person who most offers delivers explanations for team selection, he will bear the brunt of the public’s anger if they disagree with the playing XI. And he also knows that as a white captain, working under a white head coach and a white CEO in a country where the majority is black African, his public statements need to be nuanced and non-polarising and that more often than not, they won’t be. It comes with the territory.
“You are used to it. When you have played international cricket for as long I have, it comes with media for you and media against you. And to read to much into it, for and against – it’s really important for any player not to get sucked into it too much,” du Plessis said. “I am not getting in a battle with myself and Temba over who plays and who doesn’t. My performances also need to go up in terms of scoring. Temba has been put in a position where he needs to score runs to get back into the team and if he does that, he will.”
“We are as close as we have been before. There is a real direction and purpose for this team. The outside noise will always be there. It’s almost like a good story to read that its not going well and there are a few things going wrong in the camp, which they are not.”
FAF DU PLESSIS
Importantly, du Plessis identified the ongoing debate as an issue that has the potential to severely impact a cricketing career. Like other controversies (think sandpapergate or an affray charge), the race debate in South Africa is serious and there are no easy answers. Du Plessis is caught in the cross-hairs at a time when the landscape of the country’s cricket is changing, so he faces as much pressure off the field as he does on it. He has worked hard on ways to deal with both in order to ensure longevity to his career. “The difference between players who play at this level for a short time and those who play for a long time is how they can cope mentally with the pressures that come with it,” he said.
Du Plessis has been an international for nine years and the Test captain for three-and-a-half. He has overseen South Africa’s redemption from the back-to-back series losses in India and against England in the 2015-16 summer, their first home series win over Australia since readmission in 2017, their first home series loss against a subcontinent side (Sri Lanka 2019) and two disastrous tours to the subcontinent (Sri Lanka 2018, India 2019). He has outlasted three coaches, Russell Domingo, Ottis Gibson and Enoch Nkwe, and seen all his team-mates from his debut call time on their careers. He is the storm.
And he also believes there is a rainbow that the rest of us cannot see. While divisive rhetoric surrounds the South African side, they remain unified and committed. “We are as close as we have been before. There is a real direction and purpose for this team. The outside noise will always be there. It’s almost like a good story to read that its not going well and there are a few things going wrong in the camp, which they are not. There are no issues. The team is going well,” du Plessis said.
He emphasised that the team’s morale has improved since their whitewash in India but stressed that there are still things that need fixing, apart from his own form. “For a very young team to have put in performances that we have in the last two Tests, shows really good signs. From where we were in India, as a team, very low on confidence, we have shown huge steps in the right direction to become the team that we need to be,” du Plessis said. “But myself and [Mark] Boucher said that a few times, it does not happen overnight. Things like this will take time. We need to get some caps under our players, we need to get some experience and in a year or two’s time, hopefully this team would have made the increase in performances and could challenge to be in the top three in the world.”
By then, du Plessis will also have retired and if you believe South Africa’s assistant coach, Enoch Nkwe, Bavuma could be in charge of the side. If that happens, South African cricket and its media wars will have reached a truce.
Pakistan target growth and maybe an upset
Over the years Pakistan have not quite managed to reach a level that would see them rank among the favourites. However, several individual players have forged their reputations, and each World Cup, Pakistan have gone in aiming to be a better side than they were last time. It hasn’t always worked out that way, and there remains plenty of distance to travel before they can legitimately call themselves a world-class side.
This year, for the first time since 2009, Pakistan will play a World Cup without Sana Mir. She was left out on the basis of her form over the past two years with the ball. In the recent domestic T20 Women’s Championship, Anam Amin was the leading wicket-taker with seven strikes at 13.71, while Mir managed four wickets at 30.25.
Mir’s omission means Bismah Maroof will take charge of this side for the first time at a global event. Experience as captain should be no problem at this level for the veteran, who has already led her country in 36 T20Is. The core of the side is much the same as it was at the last World Cup for Pakistan, with the recall of Muneeba Ali’s and Aiman Anwer after absences of longer than a year a couple of the more notable changes.
It’s tough to make predictions about where Pakistan might end up this time around, but there is no doubt they have individual players coming into form at the right time. The side still relies heavily on the experienced hands of campaigners who have been on this journey a number of years, with familiar names such as Javeria Khan, Nida Dar, and Maroof herself among the key players for the side. Youngsters like leg-spinner Syeda Aroob Shah and left-arm orthodox Sadia Iqbal are exciting additions, while Dar, Aliya Riaz and Diana Baig combine to form a formidable bowling line up.
Bismah Maroof (capt), Aiman Anwer, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Ayesha Naseem, Diana Baig, Fatima Sana, Iram Javed, Javeria Khan, Muneeba Ali, Nida Dar, Omaima Sohail, Sadia Iqbal, Sidra Nawaz (wk), Syeda Aroob Shah
February 26: West Indies, Canberra
February 28: England, Canberra
March 1: South Africa, Sydney Showground
March 3: Thailand, Sydney Showground
T20 World Cup history
Since the first T20 World Cup in 2009, Pakistan have played 24 games, winning only six. It took until the third edition for them to notch up their first win, although some might argue the opposition it came against may have been worth the wait; it was a one-run win against India in Galle in 2012 that snapped an eight-match World Cup losing streak. Since then, they’ve picked up a few wins in the competition without ever really threatening the stronger teams, with the five wins that came over the last three editions not proving enough to take them beyond the group stages.
It’s been a somewhat mixed time for Pakistan, and, in truth a rather predictable one. The highlight came when they beat South Africa in the first two games of a five-match series, only for much of that good feeling to evaporate when South Africa came back to win 3-2. A 3-0 defeat against England in Malaysia was disappointing, if not unsurprising, while when Bangladesh came to visit Lahore for a three-match series, Pakistan did register a clean sweep at the tail-end of last year.
Nida Dar had a productive season with Sydney Thunder in Women Big Bash League, picking up 13 wickets at 16.92. She became the first Pakistan woman to have played in a foreign league, and her experience at the WBBL should stand her in good stead for this tournament. She is already the leading wicket taker for the country with 92 wickets, and just two games away from joining a select group to have made 100 T20I appearances for Pakistan. Bismah Maroof is the only Pakistan batter to score more than 2000 runs, while her 11 half-centuries are more than any player from Pakistan has managed in the format
What would be a success at the tournament?
Pakistan continue to develop, but as with developing sides, consistency proves elusive. Successes against weaker opponents have been aplenty, and they have run stronger teams close; wins against South Africa and West Indies in the past twelve months is testament to that. Progress beyond the group stages would count as a very successful tournament for Pakistan, while should they win against any side in addition to Thailand, they’d be well within their rights to term it a very respectable campaign.
What Shardul Thakur tells himself if he leaks runs
Shardul Thakur topped India’s wickets charts in their T20I sweep of New Zealand, taking eight in five games at 19.62. In the three ODIs that followed, as New Zealand returned the favour, blanking India 3-0, that average of Thakur’s went up to 56.75. And through both series, when he was striking regularly and when he was not, Thakur was not the most economical of India’s bowlers by a margin – overall only Shivam Dube was more expensive in the T20Is, only Kuldeep Yadav in the ODIs.
Asked about where he went wrong in the ODIs and how he dealt with leaking all those runs, he came across as positive and practical in his self-assessment at an event in Mumbai on Monday. “It’s okay to go for runs. Not every time will you end up bowling extraordinarily,” Thakur said. “But if you’re going to win the game… I think this way, if I’m going to go for 20 runs [in an over] then how can I cut it down to 16 or how can I cut it down to 14 or 15.
“The difference of four-five runs, if we are defending, in the end the [opposition] team instead of needing 10 runs will need 15 runs, or if we’re bowling first then we’ll have to score those many runs less. That’s how I motivate myself, that’s what I keep telling myself.”
The dimensions of grounds in New Zealand made the tour more challenging for Indian bowlers, he said, but he was confident in his “learnings”. “Every ground is different there. If you see Auckland [Eden Park] it’s very small in the front [straight boundaries] and in the sides [square boundaries] it is decent – not big, not small, it’s decent. Whereas Wellington [Westpac Stadium] was very small on the sides, Hamilton [Sneddon Park] was small on three sides and only one side was big. So these were the challenges we had to face there.
“I think I did well on the tour. One or two games had been up and down for me, but that’s okay as long as I learn from it. Whenever I get an opportunity to play there again, I’ll make sure that I don’t repeat the mistakes that I made now. I don’t consider them as mistakes, I will consider them as learnings as it was only my first trip to New Zealand.”
Next up for India is a home-ODI series against South Africa, before the IPL kicks off. Thakur, who will turn out for Chennai Super Kings, said hitting form in the IPL would set players up for the busy season ahead but his main focus remained the T20 World Cup in Australia in October. And, he made it clear, he was upbeat about his chances at the show-piece tournament.
“Definitely the IPL is important, and the momentum we gain from IPL will be crucial. There are Sri Lanka T20s coming up after IPL, we’re going to Zimbabwe as well, then we’re playing the Asia Cup, then we’re going into the T20 World Cup. But certainly I have my eyes on the T20 World Cup.
“I believe that the positivity that I bring into the game and the amount of confidence that I have and the way that I’m passionate about the game will certainly help the team to win the World Cup, or at the very least do the job fairly.”
Manish Pandey returns for Karnataka quarter-final fixture
India batsman Manish Pandey will join Karnataka’s squad for their Ranji Trophy quarter-final fixture against Jammu & Kashmir which starts from February 20, while KL Rahul will rest during the round. Both Pandey and Rahul have been with the Indian limited-overs sides since they helped Karnataka clinch the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in December. Neither has played in a Ranji Trophy match this season as a result.
Pandey captained Karnataka to both the Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali titles this season, and is the designated captain in the longer format as well. But Karun Nair has been leading in his absence and will continue to do so against J&K.
Rahul, who has been in top form in limited-overs cricket, starting from the Vijay Hazare Trophy in October last year, has recently sealed a place in the Indian middle order in ODIs as well as at the top of the order in T20Is. He has featured in all of India’s last 11 matches across formats, and done so as a wicketkeeper on each occasion, having filled in midway through a match for Rishabh Pant in the first ODI against Australia in January. That is eleven matches in just under a month with the additional duties of keeping wickets.
Elsewhere, Bengal have named fast bowler Ishan Porel in their 15 for their quarter-final against Odisha. Porel was on tour in New Zealand with the India A squad, alongside Bengal captain Abhimanyu Easwaran, but did not feature in their last match, in which Easwaran did.
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