January 22: Adelaide Strikers v Melbourne Stars in Adelaide
Our XI: Alex Carey, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Jake Weatherald, Jonathan Wells, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Rashid Khan, Adam Zampa, Peter Siddle, Liam O’Connor
NOTE: Zampa and Handscomb return for the Stars and Carey for the Strikers after Australia’s tour of India.
Captain: Travis Head
Head’s 79 in his last game against the Hurricanes was a top knock, but since he has joined the Strikers’ set-up he has been among the wickets as well, with three wickets so far while trying his hand at opening the bowling. Among the big-hitters on view in this game, Head is a risky as well as sensible choice for captain.
Vice-captain: Glenn Maxwell
The first time the two teams met this season, Maxwell hit most the of Strikers bowlers out of sight during a 25-ball 43. He’s lost a bit of shine in the past few games, but being a good player against spin, he could be the man to counter the threat of the in-form Rashid Khan and Liam O’Connor.
With 16 wickets in the bag including a hat-trick in Adelaide this season, do you really need a reason to pick Khan?
BBL’s leading run-scorer so far is another unmissable pick. He comes into the game on the back of a 37-ball 62 against the Sydney Sixers and, really, could be an option for captain for this game too.
The bowlers have ruled the roost in the past three games in Adelaide and in Zampa, the Stars have Australia’s best bowler from the India ODI series. He could create a bit of havoc.
Liam O’Connor: In the worst ten-wicket collapse in BBL history, when the Strikers shot the Brisbane Heat out, the chief wrecker was Liam O’Connor, who surprised the batsmen with his deceptive legbreaks. That game was at the same venue, so you simply can’t ignore him.
Jake Weatherald: Without Haris Rauf in the side, the Stars bowlers look a bit out of shape and Weatherald, who has a strike rate of 142 in the season so far, will be eager to dominate. He’s been the Strikers’ second-highest run-getter behind Wells, and his explosive opening combination with Phil Salt could prove decisive.
Point to note
The last three BBL games in Adelaide have been low-scoring encounters, so take a punt on your bowlers and middle-order batsmen.
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.
Faf du Plessis gave his all to South Africa – but he couldn’t take anymore
It takes an astute individual to know how much to share with others, especially those they don’t know. Do you tell them about yourself, your hopes, your anxieties and your personal life? Or do you keep those things private and leave them to guess and Google their way around you?
Trust South Africa’s most charismatic captain, Faf du Plessis, to have usually known the answer. (Spoiler alert: it’s a bit of both.)
On debut, during his first press conference as an international player, du Plessis told the story of how his foot slipped out of his boot and he ended up tangled between shoelaces, his batting pads and the urgency of needing to get on to the park to avoid being timed out. He told it to a room full of mostly Australian media during a Test match South Africa were well behind in, and he told it with the refreshing honesty of someone new to the spotlight, who didn’t mind a bit of self-deprecation even if defeat was looming. Then he went on save the game and set South Africa up for a series win and we all wanted to know a little bit more.
It took us four years to really find out.
Du Plessis’ first period at the highest-level coincided with South Africa’s last as the best traveling Test team around. His career began as Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith’s ended and while AB de Villiers was positioning himself to take over the leadership in all formats. In that time, du Plessis became a reliable presence, sometimes stepping in to skipper the T20 side when de Villiers was being rested and many times stepping in to steady the Test side through his presence in the middle order.
While de Villiers yo-yoed between wanting to be the best batsman in the world to wanting to keep wicket, to having a bad back and not wanting to keep wicket, to wanting to support Hashim Amla as Test captain, to admitting to feeling let down that he wasn’t named captain, to threatening to retire early because of his heavy workload, to taking a sabbatical, du Plessis was there, consistently being consistent. He took on the T20 captaincy when South Africa still treated the format like it didn’t matter and turned it into something that did. Under du Plessis, South Africa talked about T20 strategy more than under any other captain.
He was organised and efficient in the way he led so when de Villiers had to miss a home Test series against New Zealand in 2016, it was not surprising that du Plessis was asked to act as a substitute. At that point, South Africa were in turmoil, although looking back, perhaps that is too strong a word, given what’s happened in recent months.
The 2015 World Cup had ended badly and they lost back-to-back Test series against India and England, which saw them tumble from No. 1 on the Test rankings to No. 7. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were going through the revolving doors of injury, and a transformation target policy was going to be implemented in a stricter way than ever before. It was not an easy time to take over but du Plessis has always preferred the hard way. He earned his national cap via a Kolpak deal, after all.
The series itself was unremarkable. A wet Durban outfield meant that the Centurion Test was a straight shootout and South Africa won easily. Du Plessis scored a century and something about the way he conducted himself made it clear that he was a better candidate to captain than de Villiers.
“Du Plessis mentioned a ‘perfect world’ in which he would lead the Test team for the rest of the season and also at the T20 World Cup, which suggests it was not entirely his decision to step down”
Fortuitously, de Villiers had not recovered from an elbow problem in time for the series in Australia three months later so du Plessis carried on, and how. That tour was his most memorable, as he absorbed the pressure of losing Steyn to a broken shoulder on the second day in Perth and the scrutiny of being caught with a mint in his mouth in Hobart. His hundred under lights in Adelaide turned boos into cheers and South Africa won a third, successive series Down Under.
By the end of the year, de Villiers gave du Plessis his blessing to keep captaining and we all knew the most important thing about him: he had the team.
South Africa played for du Plessis and he played for them. Their performances in Australia in 2016 and against Australia and India in the summer of 2017-18 are the best proof of that. Du Plessis led with dignity, especially when the Australia camp imploded in the aftermath of sandpaper gate, and South Africa’s back-to-back series wins put them back on the track du Plessis wanted them on. He mentioned the No. 1 ranking often and it was doubtless a goal of his, but lack of resources let him down.
Series defeats to Sri Lanka, away in 2018 and at home in 2019, blighted his Test captaincy record but nothing would have stung as much what happened from the World Cup onwards, on and off the field.
South Africa’s worst showing at the 50-over flagship was marred by selection controversy when de Villiers made himself available but was refused a comeback, and followed by administrative unraveling.
It was then that du Plessis’ leadership was taken to its edge. It was then that it would have been easy and obvious to walk away. Du Plessis is understood to have had offers but turned them down because he felt a sense of duty to a team in transition. When Amla and Steyn retired, his own role only became bigger, as the last link to the golden generation and the only one brave enough to go back to India.
Despite not being consulted about the team director and being left out of the T20 squad, du Plessis ploughed through a three-Test series that got worse as it went on. The wounds from 2015 were reopened and South Africa were exposed as being more than just a team in transition; they were a team on the brink of falling apart. Again, it would have been easy for du Plessis to walk away but duty brought him back home to try again. And he started by sharing.
Du Plessis appealed, publicly and on multiple occasions, to CSA to clean house and provide clarity as it lurched through crisis after crisis. He went unheard, and it took sponsor withdrawal, board resignations and a hard-handed attempt at censorship to force a change at head office. Before that happened, du Plessis had already turned to humour.
He created a social media storm as captain of the Paarl Rocks, when he revealed a little too much about why fast-bowler Hardus Viljoen was not available for selection. “He is in bed with my sister,” du Plessis said, straight-faced, explaining that Viljoen had married his sibling the night before. And that was where the fun ended.
The Mzansi Super League final, which du Plessis’ team won, may have been the last time we saw him truly celebrate and be celebrated as a captain. While the two candidates being trialled as his replacement, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma, led teams that finished last and second-last in the tournament, du Plessis took a team of nobodies to the title. That was the strongest statement he could have made that he was the man to take the national team to this year’s T20 World Cup, something he maintained he wanted to do all summer and seems to still want to do.
In his statement on Monday, du Plessis mentioned a “perfect world” in which he would like to lead the team in Tests for the rest of the season and also to the T20 World Cup, which suggests it was not entirely his decision to step down. So who or what might have pushed him?
The evidence points to a perfect storm of loss of form, public and media pressure and politics, none of which are entirely his fault.
In seven Tests in the 2019-20 season, du Plessis averaged 20.92. Only the 2015-16 season, the one before he took over, was worse but that didn’t collide with what he has faced this time.
In an increasingly racially polarised climate, du Plessis found himself swept up in sentiment following the dropping of Bavuma from the Test side. While no one could argue with du Plessis’ logic that Bavuma, who averaged 19.4 in 2019, needed to force his way back in through “weight of runs”, du Plessis’ comment about the team “not seeing colour” was in poor taste for a country that sees little else. It is not for du Plessis to answer why the South African system has only produced one Test-ready black African batsman but it was his job to discuss transformation in more nuanced terms. He got that wrong, but it should not have cost him his captaincy. In all likelihood, it didn’t.
Towards the end of the Test series, as du Plessis maintained his stance that he wanted to continue until the T20 World Cup, acting director of cricket Graeme Smith said he would have a “robust” discussion with du Plessis to discuss his future. Those talks are believed to have happened at length. Ultimately, the decision was taken fresh ideas were needed as South Africa enter a new era. De Kock will inject new energy into the white-ball teams and the Test captaincy successor will be named in the winter. But du Plessis remains duty-bound.
He has not given up the international game and is willing to share more of himself with a commitment to playing in all formats, mentoring the next generation and making it to that T20 World Cup. In all that, du Plessis has shared more than just his batting and leadership skills with South African cricket. He has shared his character, his compassion and the best years of his career and for that, this country should always be grateful.
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