Why South Africa is in debt to English village cricket
Mohammad Amir’s rather naughty appearance in a village match in Surrey has created an understandable stir in the world of cricket. Unsurprisingly, a man who spent much of last summer making Test batsmen look like village players returned tidy figures when bowling to actual village players. Perhaps not tidy enough to have made it worth his while risking his already career-shattering ban being increased still further - even a spell of 10 for 0 would not have tipped those scales - but tidy nonetheless. And the four St Luke’s batsmen dismissed can take solace in the fact that Alastair Cook was routinely scalped by Amir last summer, and it seems to have transformed him into an unstoppable animatronic run robot. By this time next summer, expect to see several of the current St Luke’s XI firmly ensconced in the England set-up.
I hope Amir’s ban is not increased, or that any increase is at least suspended. It would be a shame if any lingering chance of one of the 21st century cricket’s greatest talents finding on-the-field redemption is reduced still further by such an idiotic offence.
The selection of “the ringer” has a long and proud history in lower level cricket. And, some would say, in the England team. In fact, the struggles of several Test nations suggests that the ICC should consider allowing the lower-ranked teams to field one ringer of their choice in each match. This would make the international game much more competitive and unpredictable. And make Dale Steyn a very tired man.
Another man in the cricket news this week can also claim to have enjoyed “ringer” status earlier in his cricketing life, albeit without either attracting quite such media attention at the time, or flouting the terms of an ICC ban.
One of Gary Kirsten’s first acts as the undisputed Nebuchadnezzar of South African cricket was to appoint a coaching team of Allan Donald, whom ESPNcricinfo readers will remember as one of the most spell-binding cricketers of the modern era, and Warriors coach Russell Domingo, whom ESPNcricinfo readers will probably not remember in quite the same manner.
I, however, do remember Russell Domingo. As a ringer. For my village team. In a mid-week friendly, in the mid-1990s. Mid-week friendlies often present serious recruitment problems for village selection committees, and on this occasion the mighty Penshurst Park CC found themselves struggling to field the traditional 11 players for the annual match away at Hartfield (a largely ceremonial occasion that was, to all practical intents and purposes, a time-killing curtain-raiser for the much more serious business of a pub crawl back to Penshurst). One of our players had already recruited a friend for the day; with the team still short, that friend offered to bring along his friend, a “useful player” from South Africa, who was free for the afternoon, and who, it transpired, was Russell Domingo.
The game proceeded at the usual low-octane, semi-arthritic pace of a village friendly, as Penshurst tootled along towards the standard tea-time declaration (as I recall, star opener Andy Zaltzman only partially troubled the scorers that day). About 15 minutes before tea, a wicket fell, and Domingo – heart no doubt thumping like a divorced kangaroo, as the magnitude of his Penshurst Park debut sank in – marched out to bat.
Approximately 14 minutes later, he was slightly sheepishly raising his bat to the pavilion to acknowledge his half-century, clouted off about 16 balls, greeted with considerable grumblings and mutterings of “ringer” from the Hartfield team, and with even more considerable grumblings from the people on the adjacent tennis court, unfortunately located just over the midwicket boundary, whose gentle Thursday afternoon mixed doubles had been interrupted by a bombardment of cricket balls plummeting from the Sussex skies via the heavy artillery of Domingo’s bat.
That innings represented the high-water mark of Domingo’s Penshurst Park career – the only water mark, in fact, as he returned to play at a level more suited to his abilities. This was, of course, neither the first nor the last incidence of an English team benefitting from selecting a South African who was far better than the local talent available. But Domingo’s career path since then suggests that the confidence gained by playing as a ringer for Penshurst Park set him on the path towards reaching the highest level as a cricket coach. If England have benefitted in recent years from the production line of South African cricket– from D’Oliveira and Greig, via Lamb and Smith, to Pietersen and Trott – now South African cricket should be eternally grateful to English village cricket for its role in developing an international coach for them. Let’s call it quits.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer