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Healthy competition, strength in depth

Future stars, experienced campaigners and fresh coaches made for a hard-fought Sunfoil Series. Apart from a lack of spinners, the signs are good for South Africa

Firdose Moonda

February 10, 2013

Comments: 16 | Text size: A | A

Faf du Plessis punches the air, South Africa v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 2nd day, January 12, 2013
Faf du Plessis was among the latest batch of franchise players to prosper at international level © Associated Press
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The health of a tree is known by the fruit it produces. On the evidence of South Africa's recently completed first-class competition, the state of the country's cricket is as wholesome as an orchard in bloom.

A closely fought Sunfoil Series finished with the Cobras wining their third title, this time under the guidance of new coach, Paul Adams. Geoffrey Toyana, also in his first season in charge, took the Lions to second place and Lance Klusener's Dolphins finished third, with the former South Africa allrounder another to enjoy a solid maiden run.

There were more positive results than in seasons past, with six draws from the 30 matches. Three fixtures were so badly affected by weather that they had to be abandoned, meaning 21 matches produced a winner. Of those, 14 went to teams playing away from home, which Test captain Graeme Smith identified as one of the biggest positives in the competition.

They have been many others, particularly in terms of how franchise players stepped up to the international scene. Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar and Rory Kleinveldt are the three most recent examples of a system that just keeps on giving. Here are a few more lessons from the summer:

Quicks come through, batting remains tough
With only nine innings scores of over 400, compared to 18 last season, it seems run scoring has become more difficult. The most number of centuries any individual batman could put together this year was a mere two.

South Africa has always been a tough place to bat and with the Test team priding itself on the power of their attack, it is possible pitches are being prepared to suit the seamers. It is has also provided a showroom for the depth of pace bowling talent in the country, of which there is plenty.

Kyle Abbott led the list with 49 wickets at 15.36 and the ability to swing the ball. Statistics like that are what got Vernon Philander into the national team. Abbott has played for the national A side and must be next in line. Warriors' medium-pacer Andrew Birch should also appear on the radar for South Africa. His tireless efforts resulted in 40 scalps at 16.07.

Ayabulela Gqamane, who grew up next door to Makhaya Ntini, is attracting attention with his aggressive, accurate bowling style, as are the Lions duo of Chris Morris and Hardus Viljoen. The former is the latest IPL rich-kid and can bowl up to 145kph while Viljoen combines pace and intent well. Together they have been lethal. Cobras' Beuran Hendricks, a left-armer, and Warriors pair Gurshwin Rabie and Basheer Walters, complete the depth at domestic level.

But is there a spinner in sight?
National team discard Imran Tahir continued to boss the domestic scene. He played in nine of the Lions' ten matches and took 37 wickets at 22.35, including a best match haul of 12 for 106. Robin Peterson continues to be the first-choice spinner for South Africa but Tahir could come into contention for trips to the subcontinent. After his performance in Adelaide (who can forget the 0 for 260), Tahir has regained confidence and pride at domestic level.

Worryingly, there is little else on the tweaking front. Simon Harmer is the lead candidate to progress to national level. The Warriors offspinner finished the summer with 21 wickets at 42.42 and managed a five-wicket haul against the touring Pakistanis. Next on the list is Roelof van der Merwe, with just 12 wickets. Titans legspinner Shaun von Berg and Dolphins slow left-armer Keshav Maharaj are two worth keeping an eye on.

The gloves are still filling up
AB de Villiers' recent form has all but put to bed the debate over whether he can continue keeping wicket and batting at No. 5 in Tests but the administrators will not want to create the same vacuum that existed when Mark Boucher was still playing. It is vital to have competition in the system and this season showed that there is plenty.

Quinton de Kock was the highest-scoring wicketkeeper-batsman, with 559 runs in six matches at 46.58, and is being touted as the future national gloveman. The experienced Dolphins keeper Daryn Smit was not far behind with 513 runs at 34.20 to finish 10th on the run-scorers' list and Heino Kuhn, the Titans keeper, was 11th with 503 runs at 27.94.

What has happened to the Titans?
Last season's champions had a torrid time this time around. They did not win a single match, only managed to score over 300 in an innings three times and took 20 wickets in a match just once.

An obvious problem was the lack of an out-and-out strike bowler. With Marchant de Lange injured for most of the summer with a stress fracture and Viljoen poached the by the Lions (which proved profitable for them, as he took 31 wickets at 21.51), the Titans lacked a quick who could do damage. Ethy Mbhalati did what he could and managed 28 scalps at 22.53 but CJ de Villiers and Rowan Richards were not adequate back-up.

Their batting should carry some of the blame too. Not one of their line-up scored a century this summer, Jacques Rudolph coming closest with 94. They missed du Plessis, who was on national duty and did not play a single game, and Martin van Jaarsveld, who gave up the captaincy to Henry Davids and wasn't contracted for first-class cricket. Although van Jaarsveld was not a huge success on his first-class return last summer, his experience seemed much needed, especially when considering the next point...


Neil McKenzie lasted four deliveries, Lions v Sydney Sixers, final, CLT20, Johannesburg, October 28, 2012
Neil McKenzie topped the run-scorers' list and helped inspire the Lions batting © AFP
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The value of an old hand
Neil McKenzie is no longer the Lions' leader by name but he is undoubtedly their frontman with the bat. McKenzie finished as the competition's top run-scorer with 776 runs from his ten matches at an average of 51.73. His two centuries and four half-centuries played roles in getting the Lions out of trouble and helping them build big leads.

What's more telling than McKenzie's form - which has improved with age - are the numbers the batsmen around him finished on. Of his team-mates, De Kock played six matches and finished fourth on the list, Temba Bavuma, the serious middle-order man, was fifth and new captain Steven Cook was in eighth position. The Lions had more batsmen in the top ten than any other franchise and it may have had a lot to do with them feeding off McKenzie.

Toyana has acknowledged the mentoring role McKenzie plays with the younger batsmen but it is the also the silent way he goes about being a role model. The first to arrive, the last to leave training, often after doing the tidying up, and the consummate professional at all times, McKenzie has shown why it is important for franchises to keep the seniors around.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by Demas on (February 13, 2013, 5:34 GMT)

Superrsport should be reading this article & bring1st class cricket coverage back to the telly. Sad that the only time we see these guys is in the shorter versions

Posted by Robster1 on (February 13, 2013, 2:07 GMT)

As far as the test team goes, Van Zyl and Abbott are knocking hard on the door and Morris has a real chance to become an integral part in the shorter forms of the game. de Kock now seems the most likely candidate for the role as the test sides keeper. SA's franchise system is continuing to produce strong cricketers.

Posted by Dale_Pain on (February 12, 2013, 15:44 GMT)

More batsmen friendly pitches are needed to teach our bowlers how to graft for wickets and also to allow our batsmen the opportunity to get used to batting for long periods, as is required in many parts of the world.

Posted by Dale_Pain on (February 12, 2013, 13:31 GMT)

If one looks at the Franchises' 2nd teams (the provinces), there are loads of promising spinners. The problem is the pitches are not conducive to spin, so there is little opportunity for these young talents to blossom e.g. Simetu.

I think Gqamane, Viljoen, and de Lange will be spearheading the Proteas in 5 years time!

Posted by Bowlersholding on (February 12, 2013, 8:12 GMT)

We should give someone like Phangiso a chance to develop at first class level - good advice from top coaches. I see his name is not mentioned here.

Posted by ArnoldVDH on (February 12, 2013, 7:21 GMT)

I think some of you are badly wrong with regard to Richard Snell.

Snell was actually a terrific fast bowler.

However, at some point a bowling coach decided to make a few alterations to Snell's bowling action, and it was only from then on that he lost his potency.

People need to realise the coaching manual should be a guide and not the be-all and end-all.

Without this Snell would not have lost his potency.

Posted by goutamaniad on (February 12, 2013, 6:03 GMT)

Yep, comparing the current crop of pacers to those of the 90s ain't pleasant an exercise, in that --

Brett Schultz, chief architect of that first toured series win in SL, hasn't helped make another like himself available for the present-day pool of potentials.

Next, Big Brian Mac's got his role, fortunately, supplanted with Big Jacques, & we be yet to see Mantis Morne or even Big Rory able to fill those boots, with interest even.

Lastly, Snell ain't worthy of the dissing comments: he was pretty phenomenal in his own inconsistent way, which almost resulted in a one-off Test vs the Windies - upon Saffa reintegration into the ICC - victory!

Posted by Rhygwyn on (February 11, 2013, 15:57 GMT)

I like to think that SA are deliberately making pitches more bowler friendly in order to encourage the development of more technically sound batsmen.

Posted by   on (February 11, 2013, 12:39 GMT)

@Muhammad Moosa I think you are belabouring the point slightly. Ross Veenstra, Greg Smith and Richard Snell were hardly world beating fast bowlers. Neither was Steve Elworthy, nor Rudi Bryson. Some these guys were even tried at international level and were not very successful. It's easy to view past players with a tinge of positive nostalgia as opposed to really appreciating the resources available to us at present. Steyn, Morkel and Philander are quite exceptional. De Lange and Viljoen - as well as Morris have some the potential to be too. Kleinveldt, Tsotsobe, Abbott, Gqamane, Parnell and Birch all also have some ability.The point is that there is some depth to our fast bowling resources. Also, I'm quite excited to see that Quinton de Kock is doing so well. We may not need an immediate solution to wicketkeeper - AB has proven his worth. At some point, though, he may choose to look after his back and focus on his batting - having De Kock in the wings is reassuring for that possibility

Posted by Xolile on (February 11, 2013, 10:12 GMT)

SA has plenty of depth. The 1st XI currently would be: 1 Smith 2 Petersen 3 Amla 4 Kallis 5 De Villiers (wk) 6 Duminy 7 Faf 8 Vern 9 Petersen 10 Sten 11 Morkel; the 2nd XI would be 1 De Kock (wk) 2 Rudolph 3 Elgar 4 Roussouw 5 McKenzie 6 Van Zyl 7 Morris 8 Birch 9 Gqamane 10 Abbott 11 Tahir; this 2nd XI would give most other Test teams a run for their money, particularly at home.

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