Amidst all the controversy surrounding the Indian cricket tour of South Africa, we interviewed a BCCI official who wished to remain anonymous.
Amidst all the controversy surrounding the Indian cricket tour of South Africa, we interviewed a BCCI official who wished to remain anonymous.
Q: What exactly are your grievances against Haroon Lorgat?
A: I am not at liberty to publicly discuss our grievances against the infidel.
Q: Okay, but surely you feel somewhat guilty for shortening the agreed tour of South Africa, not granting them a new years test and effectively costing CSA millions?
A: Initially I felt bad, but then I just found it funny. It’s hilarious when you get threatened and then begged by someone who knows they are powerless against you. I still have a voicemail from the infidel saved on my phone that I listen to when I need cheering up. It says “Hey, I’ve asked you BCCI guys nicely to uphold our agreement. Now you leave me no choice but to ask you nicely again”.
Q: Aren’t you worried about how this will affect the BCCI’s international image?
A: No, we don’t concern ourselves with such things. The international market is so small compared to our domestic market, and we have measures to keep our image in check amongst the locals. For instance, whenever an article is written that damages our image, we make sure that all the newspaper billboards are blocked by posters of MS Dhoni drinking a Pepsi.
Q: Even so, don’t you think it’s a bit over the top to arrange a West Indian tour of India at the last minute so that Sachin Tendulkar can retire at home instead of bowing out while playing the best test team in the world?
A: We didn’t plan the test series against the West Indies around Tendulkar’s retirement. It was a coincidence. At the time, we didn’t even know that he was planning to retire.
Q: Oh come on. At the time, he’d just turned 40, made 198 test appearances, and you’re saying it’s just a coincidence that the next two Indian tests were hastily arranged to be in India with the second in his home town of Mumbai?
A: Yes. At the time, we had no idea he was planning to retire. Yes, he’s old for a cricketer, but the idea that Tendulkar can’t play forever works on the somewhat questionable assumption that he is mortal. Anyway, he deserved to leave test cricket on a high and on his own terms. There's no better way to do so than batting in your home town against the 6th best test team in the world on a dusty pitch against a sub-standard pace attack with no UDRS.
Q: Speaking of UDRS, what is your problem with that?
A: We remain unconvinced of its accuracy. We prefer cricket to be umpired the way it was supposed to be - by human umpires who are sure of their own decisions and when they are not sure, the benefit of the doubt goes to Sachin...I mean the batsman. Plus, do you have any idea how much it costs? About $57,000 a day. There are better uses for that money elsewhere. It’s scandalous to spend so much on technology when there are still so many average all-rounders in the world without an IPL contract.
Q:Surely the IPL is generating enough money for you not to worry about finance?
A: You’d think so, but no. Sponsors are becoming impatient. We think it’s because the attention span of the viewer is shortening even more. We are devising a new tournament and format to combat this. It’s called 1PL. It’s 1-over a side with powerplays in place for the first 2 balls of the over. Naturally, it will be exciting in the first 2 balls during the fielding restrictions and the last 2 balls when the slog is on. We just haven’t quite decided how to spice up the inevitable, boring middle period.
Q: Don’t you think that an even shorter format would compromise the integrity of the game, possibly even the spirit of cricket?
A: Don’t you lecture me on the spirit of cricket. That means nothing to me. If we wanted to show the spirit of cricket, we'd ask Ravi Shastri to run around with a sheet over him while he says “Whoo-oo-oo”.
1) A blueprint for playing rugby in Europe has taken shape. 2) It's been a pretty good tour for revealing tighthead depth. 3) At the moment, there isn't a 'Good France' and a 'Bad France'. There's just a 'Bad France'. 4) No milking, please. We're rugby fans. 5) Heyneke's good 2nd year has put him in good stead to tackle the cursed 3rd year.
1. A blueprint for playing rugby in Europe has taken shape.
Just like last year, there were 3 Springbok tests on the end of year tour and 3 wins. Even better, none of the European games gave the Springboks any scares like last year.
On this tour, there were no half time deficits that needed to be overcome (like the 9-point one the Springboks had to overturn against Ireland in 2012) and there weren’t any 1-point wins like last year's against England. On this tour, no winning margin was less than 9 points (or a ‘two-score lead’). Even the fixture against Scotland got upgraded from an 11-point win in 2012 to a 28-point one in 2013.
The most striking feature was the team’s defence. Only one try was conceded in the 3 tests this year and the team even had the satisfaction of a clean sheet against Scotland. One wouldn’t be surprised if the team motto of the tour was ‘None shall pass’.
The final match against France gave a real example of how to go about an ‘ugly win’. With a sound defence, some brutal close-running and a committed kick/chase combo, there wasn’t any need for the team’s attack to go up a gear. France couldn’t offer enough to really threaten (in fact, despite scoring 10 more points than Scotland, they were in the Springbok 22 less than they were).
On a late night on the final game of the year, the Springboks were more than happy to take the ‘ugly win’ on offer. It was the first away win against France in 16 years, so that made it seem a hell of a lot prettier.
A lot of Heyneke Meyer’s pre-tour talk revolved around using European conditions on this tour to prepare for a European World Cup. This year offered a fine blueprint to keep some victories fuss-free and can’t be too far away from the team’s philosophy of ‘finals rugby’ in general.
2. It’s been a pretty good tour for revealing tighthead depth.
While no-one wanted to wish any harm on Jannie du Plessis, it was getting to the stage where it was clear that the only way we were going to expose some tighthead depth is if he got injured.
It’s awful when it gets to the stage that a part of you is happy when one of the best South African players in their position is unavailable, but hey, that feeling is going to happen more with modern rugby schedules if there's limited player rotation, so as long as Dr du Plessis doesn’t look like he’s in too much pain in the SuperSport studio for the test, let’s use the opportunity to happily look beyond him.
Coenie Oosthuizen’s start was highly anticipated. In fact, after 13 tests on the bench, he just ended the Springbok record of most tests played without ever being in the starting lineup. He came through the test just fine, and not just in his general play (where his ability isn’t in question), but his scrumming too. When the scrums weren’t being reset repeatedly on the broken up mounds of the French ‘pitch’, he held his own more often than not.
Add in Frans Malherbe getting two starts without the right side of the scrum ever looking exposed and you could say that arguably the biggest question around Heyneke’s Springbok squad was answered on this tour, and the answer is that tighthead depth is not that bad.
3. At the moment, there isn’t a ‘Good France’ and a ‘Bad France’. There’s just a ‘Bad France’.
We all know the drill when we play them. We all spend the build-up shrugging our shoulders and say “You never know with France” while we wait for kickoff to see if Good France or Bad France comes out to play.
Well, the first 90 seconds of the game made it pretty clear which team we were dealing with. France managed to manufacture being offside from their own up and under and then conceded a calamitous charge-down try after Morne Steyn’s kick from the penalty didn’t find touch. It was as if they said “I’ll see your poor kick and raise you. In fact, I’m all in.”
In a fixture that usually tends to psyche up the Good France in them, they ended up not pitching in it for the first time since, well, 1997 really.
While we all admire the good 2013 the Springboks have had, France’s 2013 is revealing. They only enjoyed 2 wins out of 11 games to give them their worst win percentage for a calendar year since 1980. Yes, they played a great All Blacks team a lot, but they only managed to scrap out their successes against Tonga and Scotland while failing to do so against all their other 6 Nations counterparts.
At what point do you say that currently, there’s no such thing as Good France? Sure, they managed to push the All Blacks a bit at home, but is that what the great temperamental nature of France has come to? That the best they can do is kind of push the best teams at home?
Their current play under coach Philippe Saint-Andre is threatening to curb one good record they’ve had for years, namely their tendency to win the 6 Nations in the year after a British and Irish Lions tour. They’ve done it on the last 4 occasions when their British rivals have been nursing the after-effects of their workload the year before.
That looks a longshot with this group, but no doubt everyone will say “You never know with France”.
4. No milking, please. We’re rugby fans.
When it comes to the incident of Thomas Domingo getting yellow carded for spear tackling Bryan Habana, it all looked a bit too footbally for our liking.
From our vantage point, it sure looked like Habana threw himself back in the tackle somewhat, thereby ensuring he went beyond the horizontal and made the tackle fall within the definitional elements of being a spear tackle.
It’s hard to call it a dive, because there was contact. It’s hard to call it simulation, because that’s just an awful technical term created to euphemise the concept of diving. Instead of splitting hairs over semantics, let’s just go with that it looked like he milked it.
Now now, Bryan. Naughty naughty. If we wanted to see our teams do that, we’d switch over to SuperSport 3. Don’t forget that one of the best things going for modern rugby viewership is that it’s not modern football.
5. Heyneke’s 2nd year has put him in great stead to tackle the cursed 3rd year.
All in all, a good year. You don’t want to call it a great year until the All Blacks have been beaten, but some great upward steps were taken. With a well-publicised win rate that’s over 80% for the year, Heyneke is in good stead with the public.
Next year will be his third year at the Springbok helm, and that's the year to fear when you look at yearly cycles of past Springbok teams. Every coach that has lasted longer than 3 years has had a horrid third one.
Jake White followed up a more than agreeable 2005 with an awful 41% win rate in 2006 (including that 0-49 against Australia that none of us are ready to talk about). Peter de Villiers followed up all the historical exploits of his 2009 winning team with a pretty smelly 57% in 2010 (including one of the cardinal Springbok sins of a loss to Scotland). After defeating all comers in 1997 and 1998, Nick Mallett’s 1999 side will ultimately be remembered (somewhat harshly) for a World Cup run that only got as far as the semi-finals and for the ignominy of still being the only Springbok side that lost to Wales.
So, soak it up, Heyneke. It might not be so nice soon.
1) Willie le Roux doesn't dissolve in the rain and the mud. 2) Keeping it simple and executing it well is more than enough to beat Scotland. 3) The work done in coaching the Springboks at the breakdown is looking better by the day. 4) Playing conditions in Europe are not just different. They're awful. 5) TMO communications have inconceivably hit a new low.
1. Willie le Roux doesn’t dissolve in the rain and the mud.
Before this tour, we could all see that Willie le Roux’s rugby was pretty damn sexy in the dry, hard fields of home. There was a fear that the rain and the mud of a European November would turn him into a liability - his effectiveness being diluted into a puddle of failed chip kicks, knock-ons and head shakes.
This wasn’t the case. Not only did he not dissolve, he looked trustworthy and our Scottish hosts voted him man of the match nogal. Okay, one has to factor in the gawping and open-mouthed awe they no doubt had for this mesmerizing, decision-making alien they were watching (they don’t get many Willie le Rouxs in those parts), but hey, man of the match is man of the match.
While Scotland didn’t provide the most sustained barrage of high quality pressure for a fullback to deal with, le Roux gave more than enough to show that he deserves another crack in these conditions next week and of course should still be high on the list of possible World Cup fullback options.
2. Keeping it simple and executing it well is more than enough to beat Scotland.
Just make them tackle, pin them in their half and take advantage when plenty of space opens up.
So much of this approach was embodied by Willem Alberts’s game. With all his simple, brutish ball-carries, he was as effective as he was predictable, which was very.
Even with such simplicity, the Springboks have more than enough brute strength and skill to break down Scottish resistance and score every now and then (the 2013 Springbok vintage more so than most). As for defence, as the score shows, you won’t give anything away against Scotland if you, well, don't give anything away.
It’s a blueprint that has sometimes been blurred by Springbok teams in the past either through dodgy selection, inaccurate execution (namely kicking and rucks) or an approach that almost self-consciously thinks that a Springbok team should be doing more (it doesn’t).
Scotland are in South Africa’s World Cup group for 2015 and this is a simple, no nonsense blueprint that will cause no stress to deal with them then. Scotland could well improve after Vern Cotter joins them after coaching Clermont and their playing resources will improve after the ink dries on the 2015 passports of Josh Strauss and WP Nel, but it won’t be enough to make up 28 points.
3. The work done in coaching the Springboks at the breakdown is looking better by the day.
Cast you mind back to how scrappy so much Springbok ball was against Scotland in the Mbombela Stadium 5 months ago. Now compare that to Sunday at Murrayfield. It’s clear that a lot has been learned in between.
One mustn’t get too carried away when comparing how the Springboks tried to spoil Scotland possession in each game, because it’s only fair to point out that there are major personnel differences in their pack for both games. Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen were all missing in Mbombela. Any 2013 Springbok team that’s missing all three of them and refuses to pick Heinrich Brussow will be a lot lighter in the fetching/spoiling department.
Rather focus on how much better the Springboks were on their own possession. Some decent cleaning of their own rucks and usable ball was the norm at Murrayfield, not the exception as it was in Mbombela. Did you catch yourself swearing at Alasdair Strockosch once on Sunday? While Jerome Garces was no Romain Poite (as we had in June), Garces certainly provided enough imaginative breakdown interpretations to let Strockosch shine if given the chance.
It’s been a sterling year of improvement in this department, and a major reason for the improvement in Springbok performance. Take a bow Richie Gray and all the coaches dealing with forwards.
4. Playing conditions in Europe are not just different. They’re awful.
It’s not just that it rains a lot and it’s not just that it’s cold. Sure, those factors make a game of rugby uglier, but they can still provide a platform where a contest of rugby fundamentals can take place.
However, if your pitches can’t hold together, that’s not just different rugby playing conditions. Those are poor playing conditions. Sunday’s field was making it terribly hard to scrum and even had a part to play in the odd maul going down.
Yes, a new found parasite emerged at Murrayfield in the week, but this is hardly the first time in recent times that the playing surface has been awful there. It’s been clear for a while that a peek at some different ground-keeping methods are necessary.
Looking around, playing surfaces breaking up are widespread throughout top rugby venues in Europe (with notable exceptions to Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium). Not only is it shoddy for rugby, it’s counterproductive for their strengths. How can you cash in on a scrum dominated playing culture on surfaces that make it hard to scrum?
These problems can be solved, and have been solved by people in the world with far less money than the budgets given to the facilities in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Paris. Newlands improved drastically after synthetic grass was sewn into the surface at the turn of the noughties. New Zealand is a pretty damn wet, cold and dreary place, yet they still provide far better conditions at their top grounds. Shoot, even Saracens enjoy more playable conditions with their plastic pitch.
To illustrate the madness of it all, all of the above solutions or similar would come to less cost than what was spent to put a retractable roof on the Millenium Stadium and all of them would make having a roof unnecessary.
5. TMO communications have inconceivably hit a new low.
Below is a transcript of the dialogue between French referee Jerome Garces and Irish TMO Marshall Kilgore, along with a critical analysis of the dialogue.
To set the scene, we have just had what's felt like 87 replays showing that Bryan Habana (the defender) has taken the ball over the tryline and the threat of a Scotland try has been snuffed.
- Marshall Kilgore: “The ball was knocked on”
Fascinating interpretation of events as well as physics. Let’s ignore for a moment that a knock-on is the wrong ruling (after all, maybe he misspoke). Focus on the lack of useful information. “The ball was knocked on”. Which team knocked it on, Marshall? It’s definitely not obvious, and knowing which team did it would come in handy.
- Jerome Garces: “The restart?”
- Kilgore: “The restart? I think it’s a scrum”
You “think” it’s a scrum? Okay, let's go along with this crazy, parallel universe you’ve created whereby there was in fact a knock-on. You don’t know it’s a scrum, you only think so? Is that kind of phrasing sufficient to pass the IRB officiating test? That you think a knock-on equals a scrum? Oh, and you still haven’t told us who did it.
- Garces: “Scrum for who?”
- Kilgore: “5”
We presume Kilgore means 5 metres, as if that answered the referee’s question. This is a good time to point out that English is Kilgore’s first language and Garces’s second, not the other way around.
- Garces: “Wait...repeat again”
That’s a fair enough command from the referee (let’s let the tautology slide, shall we?). It gives the TMO a chance to gather his thoughts and correct his obvious wrongs.
- Kilgore “The ball was knocked on”
Nope. Back to square one in this Rubik’s cube of a conversation. So much for the ‘he might’ve misspoke’ theory. He’s just clueless. Oh, and we still don’t know who committed the alleged knock-on.
- Garces: “Knock-on by blue?”
- Kilgore: “No, green. On his way through”
Garces looks perplexed. We all are.
- Kilgore (clearly irritated) “It’s a scrum 5”
Whoah, steady on, Marshall. No need to get snippy with Jerome. He’s trying his best to understand . The viewers are trying their best to maintain the will to live. Oh, and thanks for still keeping mum on who the scrum is for. Wouldn't want to speed this process up or anything.
All this ends with the referee giving the scrum to green, only to be corrected later by the touch judge. Someone please hire Garces and Kilgore to perform an interpretation of Abbot and Costello’s routine Who’s on First?
Fortunately on this occasion, the TMO picked the wrong rugby law at random, but as luck would have it, the mystery box still gave the correct result. Will next week’s contestant be so lucky? Join us again next week for another episode of Try or No Try.