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South Africa’s Test future is unclear as the SCG challenge looms.



Dean Elgar

Recent results and upcoming schedules aren’t good for South African red-ball cricket, but this old team still has a chance to win the WTC final.

Is this the first sign that South Africa may no longer be a top-tier Test nation?

It might seem like an overly dramatic question, since they are still in the running for the World Test Championship (WTC) final in June, but the outlook before and after that is not good. The Sydney Test is the end of the last three-Test series South Africa will play until 2026. From 2023 to 2025, they will only play two-Test series. South Africa will only play four Tests in 2023, and three of them will be before March and one will be in the last nine months. They won’t play any Tests in England or Australia, two of their biggest rivals, until 2027. They will also only play one series in India.

South Africa was never one of the “Big Three,” but because their Test team has been so good in the past, they were thought to be just below that level, both in terms of their reputation and the amount of money they brought in. However, their recent bad results and the new schedule show that everything has changed. In South Africa, it’s clear that the new T20 league, the SA20, which starts in a week, is getting more attention than the Test team. Local news about the ongoing Test series is filled with ads for the tournament, and it’s clear that it’s a lot sexier than what’s going on Down Under. How could it not be? The Test team has trouble putting together 200 runs.

South Africa’s problems with hitting the ball are well-known and even mostly understood. The first-class structure, which has gone from 10 games per team per season to 7 games played outside of the summer, hasn’t been able to produce enough batters who can easily move up to international cricket, and that’s not likely to change soon. It could hurt the growth of the longest format, but South Africa’s players can’t do anything about it, and Test captain Dean Elgar knows that.

“I don’t think many things are going to work out for us, but we have to deal with what we can. A lot of players are disappointed that we won’t be playing more Tests this year. They wish they could play much more, “Before the third Test against Australia, he said. “We can’t make those decisions. It would be nice to have a lot of say in them, but I guess the administrators think we need to set something up so that we can make money in the future. In a few years, we might be able to add more Tests to the way we do things.”

South Africa is scheduled to play nine Tests a year in 2024, 2025, and 2026, which is closer to what they are used to. However, there are questions and worries about how good their red-ball game will be by then. At least we can say for sure that it won’t be much like what’s being used now.

Elgar is 35 years old and hasn’t hit a century in his last 31 Test innings. He is under some scrutiny as a batter, and he may not be around for that whole time. Most of his top six won’t either. Only Kyle Verreynne is under 30, and none of the specialist batters South Africa sent to Australia have a Test average over 40. This means that the next few Tests, or even the next one, could be one of the last chances for these batters to show why they should stay.

“Talk is cheap right now, and we need to show what we can do. We are in a time of action, and we need to make things right “Elgar said. “It’s very frustrating to know that we brought some really talented players with us, but things didn’t work out this time. We’ve had a lot of injuries, especially in our batting, but the players have to take advantage of their chances when they come. I see this Test and the two more we’ll play at home against the West Indies in the near future as huge chances for those guys if they get to play.”

There will be a lot of attention on Elgar, his opening partner Sarel Erwee (who tends to play loosely outside off stump), and his vice-captain Temba Bavuma (who said he needs to add to his one century from six years ago if the team wants to do better). There will also be a lot of attention on whoever replaces Theunis de Bruyn. Rassie van der Dussen, who made his debut three years ago and was becoming one of South Africa’s most reliable players but has since lost his way, and Heinrich Klaasen, who hit a 240-ball 292 in a first-class match right before this series, are both candidates. Regular No. 3 Keegan Petersen is on the road to recovery after tearing his hamstring last year. This means that van der Dussen or Klaasen need to do well if they want to stay in the running for the Test team.

On the day before the game, Elgar didn’t know which one would be in the XI. If South Africa feels confident enough with four bowlers, they may even make room for both. “Rassie has been a Test player for a long time, so you could say that he brings more experience to the job. Then you look at someone like Henrich, who is very talented and might deserve a chance, and maybe even a longer chance “Elgar said. “I hope that no matter what we do, we can make a better show than the last two games.”

In fact, the last four. In seven of the last eight Tests, South Africa was bowled out for less than 200 runs, and they haven’t shown any of the fight they are known for. And their attack hasn’t helped them stay in it. But, at least for now, there is some hope that they won’t go away completely. If they win in Sydney and beat the West Indies in March, they will be in the running for the WTC final. For Elgar and the others, who know that big changes could be coming soon, this means there’s something to play for.

“When it comes to the June final, we also have a lot to play for. That’s a huge reason for us to do it. I think you should play every test as if it were your last “he said. “I think we only have 12 games left to play in the next two years. We used to play 12 Tests each year, which was fun. Whether you have six, eight, or ten tests a year, you should use each one to its fullest. Every game, whether it’s six or fourteen, needs to be played as if it were your last.”


De Zorzi now has a chance to become the star he has always wanted to be.




De Zorzi

Tony de Zorzi returned to the Wanderers eight years after he was captain of King Edwards VII, one of Johannesburg’s best schools, and seven years after he led South Africa’s Under-19 team to a World Cup where they were the defending champions but finished in 11th place. He found friends he didn’t know he had.

There were a few of my friends here, and it’s always nice to have my mum watching,” de Zorzi said. “Some people said they were my friends, but I’ve never met them.”

Natasha raised de Zorzi on her own, and he has always wanted to be the best he could be for her. She doesn’t watch him play much anymore because he took the long way to become an international cricket player. He went to the same school as Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith, then to Pretoria, and finally to Cape Town, which is 1400 kilometres away from where he grew up. In a way, it was good for de Zorzi to play his first Test match on the Highveld and get his first fifty while Natasha was watching.

He said, “She always sits in the same spot, so I knew where she was.” “Since I’m in Cape Town, she hasn’t been able to watch many games. I hope I can get three figures the next time she comes.”

De Zorzi has set high goals for himself. In the last two years, only one of his teammates has scored a hundred at home, and only two others (Sarel Erwee and Kyle Verreynne, neither of whom is playing in this series) have reached 100. But because he has let people down in the past, he knows this is his chance to step up.

“My life has changed a lot since I played for SA under-19,” de Zorzi said. “I was captain, but I wasn’t the star of that side,” he said.

Because Wiaan Mulder did it. When De Zorzi came back from the World Cup for his age group, he had to go back to club cricket and “start over.” He played for the University of Pretoria team, which was led by Kruger van Wyk, who is now the fielding coach. Then he got a job with Northerns, where he kept getting better and better and averaged almost 80 for the second-tier provincial team in the summer of 2016–17. In the summer of 2020, he moved to Western Province, where Ashwell Prince was the head coach. Since then, he has been made captain.

This summer, he is averaging over 100, mostly because of his unbeaten 304 against the Knights, when Gerald Coetzee was part of his attack (though admittedly not many other big names).

“It’s been a long process, and I’m glad it’s come to this,” said de Zorzi. “It also reminds me of where I came from and to not get too far ahead of myself because I had to do a lot of dirty work to get there. Some guys start getting it a little bit earlier. Mine is starting to come true right now.”

After averaging over 48 in three of the last four seasons, de Zorzi was hard to ignore in this Test squad, but it took a change in leadership for that to happen. He got his chance because the new red-ball coach, Shukri Conrad, also acts as a selector when there isn’t a panel. “We knew it would be a new start when the coaches changed,” de Zorzi said. “If everyone took a chance and did well, you knew there would be a new set of eyes and maybe even more chances. That was a lot of fun. Dean Elgar, who was captain at the time, used to say that the number of runs you scored would get you into the team. Guys knew that they had to have a good season if they wanted to move up. There was nothing else to do.”

De Zorzi
De Zorzi is especially good at the cut shot, which is how he scored almost a third of his runs in this innings.

But now that it has, players like de Zorzi need to take control of their space. He showed West Indies’ attack what he was made of in the first Test, and Kyle Mayers saw it. “This guy seems to have everything together,” he said. “He is square of the wicket and strong.”

De Zorzi is very good at the cut shot. In this innings, he got almost a third of his runs with the cut shot. However, the West Indies had already figured him out from the first Test. At the SuperSport Park, they tried to give him less space. De Zorzi said, “They stick to the basics a little bit longer.” “You might get a few less bad balls, but international cricketers who do their homework are going to do it. I could tell they had different plans based on how they bowled to me today compared to how they did it at SuperSport Park. They can make it harder for you to score. And, of course, the intensity is a little bit higher. When I got out, I was really tired. It is not easy.”

But so was de Zorzi. During the free-flowing afternoon session in South Africa, he played well. Natasha sat still in the Memorial Stand the whole time. De Zorzi made his first sign to her when he hit Alzarri Joseph out of the ground with the 82nd ball he faced. She would have been incredibly proud, no doubt. As the pitch got faster and West Indies made a comeback, De Zorzi faced 73 more balls and scored 35 more runs.

They lost five wickets for 64 runs after tea, so the game is now tied. If South Africa can’t score more than 350, West Indies might be able to fight back. If you give up on that, on a pitch that is already starting to turn, the game might be over. Either way, it’s set up to bring in people who didn’t know they liked cricket, especially during a mid-week Test match when only a small part of the stadium is filled. But it’s important. And de Zorzi knows that better than anyone else.

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The collapse that never came at Hagley Oval involving Sri Lanka




Angelo Mathews

The skies are gray and heavy, like a wet blanket that will soon be thrown over the whole series. The field is so full of plants that animals that live in the woods have moved in. The outfield is wet, and sometimes a cold drizzle falls on biting winds. And while the local bowlers, who are all big and tall, are nimble and strong in their warm-up overs on the practice pitches, the Sri Lankan batters, who are covered in wool sweaters, face throwdowns and look like they are about to be sacrificed on an altar of seam bowling.

Get the coin. Put Sri Lanka in. Watch the ball jump gleefully off the edges of the bats and into the hands of the slip cordon as batter after batter falls like marionettes, the scoreboard showing 45-3, then 67-5, and a few swipes at the end pushing the total just over 100. Here are the usual parts of Sri Lanka’s day one story on a ground like Hagley Oval.

When they were here before, they didn’t have to bat first, but they were still out after 138 runs. The last time, they had players like Kumar Sangakkara on their team, but they still lost by 104 runs. Unless Sri Lanka pulls off a near-miracle in the second innings, which they do from time to time, these are game-changing messes. (Then New Zealand will go up to bat and put on half a million for six while smiling politely, which will only show how bad they were before.)

Then this happened. Four years after the last time they played a Test in New Zealand, where they were beaten by 423 runs at this same site, they had an amazing day of batting. Of defensive play that was mostly okay and technique that was pretty good. Had Sri Lanka’s batters done the work to figure out where their off stump was before they started a Test on foreign soil? Any Sri Lanka fan should feel a tear of pure pride just thinking about it.

Kusal Mendis, who may have been the best player in the XI, took the lead. The most important part of his 87 out of 83 was how he judged length on a surface that was a bit bumpy. When it was on a good length, he defended close to his body, almost always with soft hands, so that when the ball came in and took the edge, it bounced short of the slips. Most of the time, though, he defended inside the line, mostly using his bat to block balls that could hit him in front of the wickets or get past him to the wickets.

When New Zealand’s bowlers bowled fuller and tried hard to get an edge that could be caught, Mendis gave his all to his front-foot strokes, sometimes driving it with authority, other times sending it squirting off the face of the bat through backward point, and other times flicking it deliciously off his pads.

Angelo Mathews
Although Angelo Mathews mainly scored 38 out of his 47 runs through the leg side, his driving down the ground was particularly beautiful to watch.

He got 50 runs off of 40 balls, but New Zealand’s bowlers didn’t have a great morning. 44 of those runs came from fours. He and Dimuth Karunaratne, who was just as steady but less aggressive against balls that could be hit, put together a 137-run partnership at the second wicket that was the key to Sri Lanka’s progress on day one. They would get out in consecutive overs, but when they did, they were often replaced by better batsmen.

Angelo Mathews waited for the shorter balls and scored 38 of his 47 runs through the leg side. He also hit a couple of fours off his pads when the ball was close to him. Dinesh Chandimal liked to hit the ball to the off side, and he did so six times. As Dhananjaya de Silva batted with Kasun Rajitha near the end of the day, he made boundaries whenever he could.

Their scoring areas were different, but almost all of Sri Lanka’s top seven batters covered the stumps, didn’t rush at balls until they were set, didn’t mind when deliveries beat their bats, and didn’t chase seaming balls outside their stumps. Even when bowled at (mostly by Tim Southee and Matt Henry), they didn’t give up, which is something they often do when the ball is turning.

Given Sri Lanka’s long tail and lack of experience in the field, which New Zealand can easily take advantage of, 305 for 6 is not a great first-day score. It is possible that New Zealand will win the match. But given the situation, Sri Lanka were good enough. And it’s not often that you can say that about Sri Lanka on the first day of a match in New Zealand.

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India’s trust is rewarded by Bharat’s skill behind the stumps.




KS Bharat

Sometimes almost everything that makes up a Test match is found in a single ball. One of those balls was the one that knocked Pat Cummins out of the game on the third morning in Delhi. It had the blunt precision of the Indian spinners, the deadly glide that made this pitch so hard to play on, and the sweep, a high-risk, high-reward shot so controversial that a thousand autopsies were written about it.

And there was one more thing. After the ball slipped under Cummins‘ bat, it hit the inside edge of the outside stump, bounced off the side of the middle stump and landed in KS Bharat’s gloves.

The ball didn’t spin sharply, but it didn’t go all the way with the arm either. After it was thrown, it straightened just a little. It also stayed low before bouncing off the stumps twice. Bharat had followed the ball all the way, even as Cummins took a wild swing, and he had collected it cleanly.

It didn’t matter because the ball was dead by the time he reached it, but he did a good job with his glove.

Later that day, when India had lost four wickets and were 27 runs away from their target, Bharat was moved up the order and scored a brilliant unbeaten 23 off 22 balls, including three perfectly timed fours to cover and a solid knock with a slog-swept six.

In his first two Test innings, Bharat had scored 8 and 6 in the first two games of this series. He must have felt much better after that start because he played on Sunday. Some watching from the outside might have even thought he was trying to save his career with that performance.

But India probably wouldn’t have seriously considered taking Bharat out of the game after Delhi, even if he had done nothing in the second innings. They probably know that anyone can score a number of low scores on difficult pitches, and they may have seen glimpses of Bharat’s counter-attacking potential during his brief stint with the Indian national team

In Nagpur, Bharat got rid of Marnus Labuschagne with a sharp stumping.

It took a long time for these things to happen.

In May 2018, Indian senior team officials selected Bharat as the goalkeeper for the four-day tour and Rishabh Pant as the goalkeeper for the 50-over tour. The Indian senior team was also touring England that summer, so the A tour was a shadow tour. At the time, officials felt that Bharat was India’s best pure goalkeeper and Pant was an exciting batsman whose glovework needed work.

When Wriddhiman Saha got injured and could not join the England tour, India included Pant in its Test team in place of Bharat. The genius is going in his own direction.

But Bharat remained an important player in India’s second team. Since the beginning of 2018, he has played 19 first-class matches for the India A team, which is more than any other player except Abhimanyu Easwaran, who bats first. In those India A matches, he has scored 971 runs at a rate of 48.55, including three hundreds.

Last year, when India took Saha out of its test team, Bharat took his place. So it made sense that Bharat made his debut when Pant was injured. The Indian team management may have been tempted by Ishan Kishan’s competing claims, but they chose Bharat at the start of this Border-Gavaskar series.

At the start of the 2019-20 home season, India dropped Pant from the Test programme XI and brought back Saha for a series against South Africa. Virat Kohli described Saha as the best goalkeeper in the world and they felt his good glove work was important on India’s winding tracks. They felt that Pant still needed to work on his goalkeeping. Pant worked on it and became a world-class goalkeeper when India played England in early 2021. Until then, however, Saha was still the first choice for home games.

At the start of this series between India and Australia, the same idea was in play. India appreciates how good Bharat is with the bat, but they know he is their best goalkeeper when Pant is not around.

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