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South Africa cricket may lose one of the thinkers if the World T20 ends up being Johan Botha's swansong
September 16, 2012
Understanding the mental aspects of the game, rather than brazen superiority of skill, is what Johan Botha thinks has given him a competitive edge. That edge will now be taken to South Australia where Botha will play his cricket after the World T20. He has asked to be released from his national contract to ply his trade elsewhere, potentially ending years of selfless service to the South Africa team.
How will South Africa miss Johan Botha? Let me count the ways.
Two stand glaringly, like sets of stumps at either side of 22 yards. Botha can bowl and his wily offspin has contributed to many a South African win. Botha can bat and although he is not often relied on to change the match with the willow, he can keep a cool head when it's needed.
But the third reason hides away and emerges only when the ball hits the rough. Botha is a captain without the title, a leader in regular player's clothing and one of the wisest heads in the international game.
Evidence of that was seen as recently as the rain-affected third Twenty20 between South Africa and England last week. Wayne Parnell came under attack from an aggressive Jos Buttler, who thwacked the left-armer for the second most expensive over in T20 history. Between balls, Botha was the one offering advice.
Botha functioned as a behind-the-scenes leader, even with the ball. Until recently, spin was not a method of attack for South African cricket and Botha had to learn to operate subtly but smartly to make an impact.
"It's been pretty much the same for me all the way through: keep it simple and try to stay one step ahead," he said. "That's the key, not just for me as a spinner but for anyone, to try and out-think the batsmen. Some days it doesn't work, some days you do go for a few runs but if you can try and stay ahead most of the time, you should be ok."
Playing cricket craftily earned Botha an IPL contract with the Rajasthan Royals, where he showed himself to be a resourceful allrounder. Having had a troubled start to his career, with the spectre of chucking looming at the beginning, Botha's value had finally come full circle. It translated into a short stint as South Africa's T20 captain - a role he held for 10 months before AB de Villiers took over. Stripped off the leadership role, Botha was also pipped of his spot in the XI by Robin Peterson, who had been South Africa's leading wicket-taker in the 2011 World Cup.
Botha was pushed further away, eventually as far as South Australia, where he will relocate to after the World T20. Botha has admitted the move could see him represent South Africa much less. Although he remains available for selection, Sri Lanka is likely to be his swansong.
|I think it's because the overs go by so quickly, so guys feel a bit rushed to score and to get on with it. It's always just that period after the powerplay that is key and if you can start well you can build a lot of pressure on the opposition Johan Botha|
He does not regard himself as in competition with Peterson and hopes to work with him at the tournament. "With AB keeping, it frees another spot up later in the order and that helps both of us. Both of us can bat and that also helps. Over here you want to at least have two frontline spinners and then a couple more as backup. I think management might be thinking the way of a couple of spinners," he said. "And we will still have two or three quicks playing and Albie, so there are lots of options."
Although conditions in Sri Lanka are being spoken about as more favourable to seamers than usual, Botha insists South Africa's slower bowlers will still play a big role in their quest for major tournament silverware. "As a spinner, you are always in with a chance of just missing the middle of the bat and getting guys caught," he said. "I think it's because the overs go by so quickly, so guys feel a bit rushed to score and to get on with it. It's always just that period after the powerplay that is key and if you can start well you can build a lot of pressure on the opposition."
Accumulating and applying that pressure is usually the job of a captain but it is one Botha has taken on over time. It may have been his way of showing aptitude for more than just limited-overs cricket but few interpreted it that way. Botha played just two Tests for South Africa and his hopes of any more are slim.
That is one of the main reasons for his move to South Australia. Botha explained his request to be released from his CSA contract as being motivated by a chance to prolong his first-class career. "I'm going to Australia after the T20 World Cup to give my four-day career one more big go," he said. "It's easy to take the easy option and just play T20s but all the guys still want to test themselves over five days and that's great to see."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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