Learning lessons for eager players
Immediately after Kolkata Knight Riders bagged him in the auction for the second IPL, well before the event was switched to South Africa, Morne van Wyk was an excited man. He was eager to test his batting skills in front crowds of "70,000 to 80,000", the kind unheard of back home. van Wyk finally got an opportunity to turn up in India and live his dream as part of the Eagles in the Champions League. But, as all dreams go, the reality has been something different.
To begin with the crowds, in the three games Eagles have so far played, were ignominious. Hardly 1000 spectators turned up in Delhi and now Hyderabad. Brett Lee spoke earlier of the "buzz" that Indian crowds are able to create, stressing on how it was unseen elsewhere and how it spurred players to push themselves beyond their levels. According to van wyk - who felt the same as Lee before he left South Africa - the experience so far was part of adapting to a foreign environment, something he and the Eagles are learning every day they're in India.
On the field it has been a mixed experience for van Wyk, who started the competition with a duck, and scored 2 in the one-over eliminator victory over Sussex earlier this week. But today, against Somerset, van Wyk was able to express himself with gusto and his 47, the top score for his side today, earned them crucial points while keeping alive their semi-final hopes.
Once Rilee Roussow departed after swatting 14 runs in Charl Willoughby's first over, and Adrian McLaren perished trying to step on the accelerator, van Wyk grasped quickly this was his best chance to stand up and be accounted for. He started with a few singles and then opened up with a fluent drive past cover against Alfonso Thomas for four in the fourth over. His next big shot came at the halfway stage of the innings when he slog swept Max Waller for six to put the Eagles at par with the asking rate.
What was admirable about van Wyk's innings was his mental adjustment after two failed attempts with the bat. He admitted he was angry at himself despite having played first-class cricket for a decade. "The longer you play the less you know. I want to learn," he said.
At the outset of the tournament van Wyk - the highest run scorer in the Standard Bank Pro20 series last season - and his team-mates had a one-on-one session with former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly. In his interaction with van Wyk, Ganguly stressed on the shots to play and not play in Indian conditions. "He is a master of scoring in Indian conditions so it was great to talk to him," said van Wyk. "We chatted on the technical stuff and it was well worth it."
Yesterday van Wyk had a quick conversation with another legend, Adam Gilchrist, whose brilliant half century went in vain in Deccan Chargers' defeat against Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday. "I spoke to Gilly about mental things and his approach to the game," said van Wyk with a big smile.
Even if the Eagles are the most under-rated team in the tournament their players are not thinking too far ahead. They are instead focusing on utilising their experience to fast-track their development as players. Like van Wyk, CJ de Villiers - who won his second Man-of-the-Match award after recording his best figures of 4-17, found time to seek out the likes of Lee and Eagles legend Allan Donald and pick their brains. "I'm pretty lucky as a fast bowler to be able to see Allan Donald, Brett Lee, Dale Steyn, Glenn McGrath here," he said. de Villiers, who suffered stress fractures about six weeks ago, was just flattered to stand in front of such bowling legends.
For van Wyk and de Villiers and their team-mates, to perform against high-quality opposition is a step up the ladder.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo