This is not the time to be soppy. It's a time to be relieved.
This is not the time to be soppy. We’ve already spent plenty of soppy energy saying goodbye to Jacques Kallis. The time for all that schmaltz was for his final test match after announcing his retirement from that format on Christmas day, when Kallis gave a bittersweet tang to all our trifles as he tried as quietly as he could to interrupt tables of happy families countrywide as if to tap a glass with a fork and say “Excuse me, sorry, can I have your attention for a bit?”
It’s definitely not a time for shock either. Again, the time for that was Christmas day last year. We’ve all had our moment of being taken aback by a Kallis retirement. Sure, he might’ve been a 38-year-old legend who’d pretty much achieved it all, but up until then, the idea of Kallis retiring was based on the somewhat questionable premise that he was mortal.
It’s not even time to bring up the ‘greatest cricketer ever’ debate. It doesn’t seem that important to Kallis. He’s always seemed sheepish when thrust into the limelight anyway. Just stop comparing him to Sir Garfield Sobers and let the man play some golf.
Instead, it’s a time to feel relieved that the timing of this retirement from one-day international cricket didn’t get worse.
After all, he only continued to play ODI cricket for South Africa in the hope that he had enough left to win a World Cup next year. However, it was becoming awkwardly clear that he didn’t have another year left in him. In the last ODI series that took place in Sri Lanka, he didn’t bowl one ball and averaged 1.67 with the bat.
His final innings for the Proteas showed us all a glimpse of future problems if he chose to stay on.
The Proteas were batting, had gone off to a fine start and used it as an opportunity to take the batting powerplay and the fielding restrictions that go with it. Hashim Amla then went out, so Kallis came to the wicket with the score on 118 for 1 after 21.3 overs. A great platform to cash in on.
Unfortunately, he scratched around for a couple of singles, wasted valuable powerplay hitting time and then went out to an absolutely plumb lbw appeal. To make matters worse, he conferred with his batting partner as to whether he should use the only review available to the team. Of course Quinton de Kock said yes. You try and be a 21-year-old teammate and tell Jacques Kallis that his wicket isn’t worth it.
It was a match contribution that symbolised a lot. It was clear that hanging on to Kallis was holding the team back, but no-one wanted to tell him.
So Kallis trudged off for the last time. While it isn’t everyone’s idea of ending off on a high, it’s not that sad in retrospect. His 115 in his final test in Durban provided more than enough goodbye goosebumps. There’s no way a scratchy innings of 4 in Hambantota is going to overshadow that.
It’s a relief that he called it a day before the selectors brought him in for an awkward chat. Or has that awkward chat already taken place? Oh, just stop roping him into controversy and let the man play some golf.
In a way, it almost feels like Kallis needed his second retirement to have less limelight. The previous retirement seemed to have too much attention for a man who prefers his statistics to do the talking. All this emotion drenched with a “What are we going to do without Kallis?” fear permeating around the country. Just stop trying to guilt trip him and let the man play some golf.
In the aftermath of a very successful tour of Sri Lanka, with all national braai side talk being filled with positivity around a new era, this is a perfect time for Jacques Kallis to tap a glass with a fork and say “Excuse me, sorry, can I have your attention for a bit?”
1) Some problems in a rugby game go beyond tactics. 2) There is no baggage of what happened previously in the season going into the final. 3) The Waratahs defence can be the defining factor in knockout rugby. 4) It looks like Ewen McKenzie has a lot to work with. 5) Oh well, there's always Sevens.
1. Some problems in a rugby game go beyond tactics.
If you struggle in the scrum, lose plenty of your lineouts, struggle to catch the high ball, fail to find touch from penalties and put in some awful kicks in your exit play, you will lose in Christchurch and most other places regardless of what your tactics are.
These factors were part of the sad reality of what the Sharks had to deal with in their semi-final defeat. None of them were tactical blunders. No-one goes into a rugby game without the intent of executing the above effectively.
The Sharks weren’t themselves. Whether being themselves would’ve been enough to give the Crusaders a real run for their money is a different debate. Maybe a well executed Jake White blueprint of suffocating opponents through a territory based game would’ve been too limited to win in Christchurch in a semi-final. While pinpointing that as a facet to address in the future could well be worthwhile, the most important general problem to rectify is how the team weren’t capable of executing their game to their ability in a Super Rugby semi-final.
Maybe it would’ve been different at home and maybe it was one flight too many for a tired team. There will be many moments in the season that should haunt the Sharks that could’ve prevented the dreaded flight over the ocean. That grubber kick against the Stormers, the belting received at home against the Highlanders...pick your one key moment that could’ve given them 2 more log points to get a home semi-final and a precious week off the week before.
Who knows? It could well have put them in a position to execute the basics better. Then we can properly analyze how effective the tactics are.
2. There is no baggage of what happened previously in the season going into the final.
So many months in this rugby tournament, so many games played, so much excitement that we have finally got to the final. For an added refreshing treat, the final will be a match between two teams who haven’t played each other this season.
When you consider how teams trying to extract revenge in their rematches was a running theme throughout the playoffs so far (think Sharks vs Highlanders, Crusaders vs Sharks and even Brumbies vs Chiefs even though the Chiefs failed to get their revenge), the final gets a different tone setting it apart from the last 2 weeks of rugby.
It adds a bit more of the unexpected to the occasion. No-one has a marker in 2014 on how these teams fared against each other.
On top of that, the Waratahs get to host the final that’ll bring in some local energy as they try to win the tournament for the first time. They’ll be up against the Crusaders and their ever-present 7-time champions tag who are trying to end their 6-year drought (their longest Super Rugby winning drought ever).
Nouveau vs old school. It makes for a fine backdrop for a final.
3. The Waratahs defence can be the defining factor in knockout rugby.
We know the drill when it comes to the Crusaders and semi-finals. After all, this year was their 13th Super Rugby semi-final in a row (let that sink in). What was unknown going into the semi-finals was how this Waratahs side recently rejuvenated under coach Michael Cheika would go about their knockout rugby (after all, as a group, they’ve never been in a Super Rugby playoff game before).
So, what ended up being the key in the Waratahs going through to the final? Irrepressible attacking skills from the likes of Israel Folau? Nope. Beautiful linking skills from the likes of Kurtley Beale? Nope. It ended up being their defence.
Not that their defence has been generous in the competition before this. In fact, in terms of conceding points, it’s been the most miserly throughout the competition. What was a bit different in their semi-final was how all their tries came from pouncing on opportunities from turnovers created by pressure instead of unleashing their Folaus and Beales through possession of their own.
As for the defence itself, it was immense against a Brumbies team who looked like they were peaking at the right time themselves. It certainly won’t just be home advantage that’ll make the Waratahs a tough nut to crack in Sydney.
4. It looks like Ewen McKenzie has got a lot to work with.
How a nation’s teams fare collectively isn’t always an indication of how they will fare in the Rugby Championship, but it is an indication of what the national coach has to work with. By the looks of the 2014 Super Rugby season and the all Australian semi-final, it looks far more positive for Ewen McKenzie than it did when Robbie Deans was in charge.
That Australian derby was an impressive showcase of Australian rugby in 2014. Some top ball skills were displayed, defence was fantastic (coupled with some massive hits in the tackle, somewhat against the Australian stereotype) and the two teams were going at it hammer and tongs in the scrums (definitely against the Australian stereotype).
It’s looking encouraging for the Wallabies. They seemed to be gradually improving from a mighty tough teething period for the new coach last year. Now McKenzie gets to work with players for a second year and see how they kick on.
Second years are often a period where a coach gets to cash in on results more so than their first year. Just compare Heyneke Meyer’s 2013 with his 2012, or even Peter de Villiers’s 2009 with his 2008.
5. Oh well, there’s always Sevens.
Just when South African involvement comes to an end in Super Rugby and the post mortems come in for what was generally a depressing tournament for the nation, there are the Blitzbokke to inject pride into us with a display that reminds us why we love rugby, be it Sevens or the 15-man stuff.
Even if you do treat Sevens as just something to watch when there’s no ‘proper’ rugby, this team will keep rewarding you with their spirit. The Commonwealth Games team also had a fair whack of Super Rugby representation in it to with the likes of Cornal Hendricks of the Cheetahs, Warren Whiteley of the Lions and Seabelo Senatla of the Stormers. At least there’s some benefit from having only one side in the Super Rugby semi-finals in a Commonwealth Games year...
Can modern cricket at least pretend it's a fair contest between bat and ball and let some ball tampering slide?
Can modern cricket at least pretend it’s a fair contest between bat and ball and let some ball tampering slide?
In an age of shortened boundaries, flat pitches and bigger bats, let’s at least try and make the bowling profession attractive and let the odd scratch go through to the keeper.
What’s the worst that can happen? Some bowlers get some movement from the ball. Goodie gumdrops. That’ll bring the crowds in. You know what’s fun to watch? Fast bowlers getting the ball to reverse swing. You know what’s not fun to watch? 550 for 4 declared versus 640 for 5 that ends in a handshake and a draw on day 5.
Even if Vernon Philander’s fingernail exploits were key to some of the swing that Dale Steyn was enjoying in the first test against Sri Lanka, that period of breathtaking bowling can’t be begrudged after it breathed so much life into the test match. It’s akin to that scene in Gladiator when Russell Crowe turns to the packed Colosseum and shouts “Are you not entertained?”
It’s not like cricket hasn’t benefitted from ball tampering before. Waqar Younis is on the list of bowlers that have been found guilty of it at some point. He’s also on everyone’s list of most entertaining bowlers of all time.
Many people will rate the 2005 Ashes as the best series of cricket ever to be played in the modern era. A lot of that had to do with the reverse swing generated by the English bowlers, and a lot of that had to do with the sweets that were used to ‘juice up’ the saliva that kept the shine on the ball for longer (as was revealed in Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography Coming Back To Me). It was clever, quaint and brought awesome results. It was also illegal.
Earlier in the year, some of the Australian team complained when they were in South Africa that the Proteas were tampering with the ball in the second test in Port Elizabeth. In the third test in Cape Town, Australia ended up getting warned for intentionally throwing the ball onto the practice pitches to scuff it up (which, again, is illegal). Instead of bickering about who’s tampering and who’s being hypocritical, how about we just let it go and enjoy the cricket?
Just let ball tampering slide. Okay, maybe draw the line at foreign objects being used on the ball in a test match. Let’s not get too anarchic about this. Sure, that might result in some doctored fingernails, but let's not make it too easy for the bowlers to get some scuffing going.
Where does that leave a zip on the pants being used on the ball ala Faf du Plessis against Pakistan in Dubai? Tricky, but let's be safe and make that illegal in test cricket. After all, maybe the zip is on the pocket to make sure the bottle tops don't fall out.
So maybe draw the line at foreign objects, but not in one-day cricket. In the shortened formats, ball tampering should be encouraged as much as possible. Currently, there is no way that one-day cricket is a fair contest between bat and ball. Instead, it’s a fair contest between bat and the equipment that’s used to measure how far sixes went.
How about a ball tampering power play? Create a 5-over block where anything on the ball goes. Bottle tops, sunscreen, sandpaper...you name it. Maybe you can make a provision that only the ICC endorsed range of ball tampering equipment can be used. Did you hear that, Dubai offices? Ka-ching.
Not only should the ICC legalise ball tampering, they should subsidise it.