Unity shines through in South Australia's success
It was something Stephen Fleming said on the eve of the tournament that comes to mind now. It didn't register strongly then. Fleming was asked whether the fact that he got control of his team just five days before the first game was a concern. He agreed it was. He then said these words: "Watch out for South Australia. They have been training from May. They work as a team through the year and I hear they have prepared really hard and well. We just have five days and I am a touch nervous." The word "nervous" registered strongly then and, subsequently, questions were hurled to find out more about Chennai's preparations. The South Australia bit was forgotten. A week into the tournament they've been making their presence felt. They have lost their anonymity.
What Fleming said proved one thing: the IPL teams weren't taking the others lightly. They can't afford to, given the manner in which they were hounded out of the competition last year. Teams like the South Australia Redbacks might have been anonymous to the fans outside their countries but not to their opponents. Anil Kumble, Royal Challengers Bangalore's captain, felt his team had enough video evidence to surf through and that South Australia weren't really unknowns to them. Yet there were indications that perhaps they are still not completely exposed. Michael Klinger had only four leg-side scoring shots; he just stood beside the line and kept peppering the off-side. Kumble put it down to bad bowling. "We had seen the videos and Praveen Kumar showed at the start that good bowling can tie them down. But the rest didn't bowl well and the two Aussies played very well."
Those two Aussies, Michael Klinger and Daniel Harris, did everything that Australian batsmen are supposed to do. They played up to the stereotype. They ran hard. Those Aussies always do. Remember Geoff Marsh and David Boon? They cut hard. Those Aussies always do. They field superbly. Those Aussies always do. The only difference from the Aussies that represent the country is that this lot was happy to play the underdogs card. "The people can call us favourites after this but we would be the underdogs, to be honest," Michael Klinger, the captain, said. "There are teams with bigger names. Having said that we know that if we can stick together, trust each other, trust ourselves, we can go a long way in the tournament."
Like most teams basking in success, South Australia are a happy outfit. They have devised a new team mascot: Dingbat the Bat. Everyday, they nominate a squad member who has displayed the silliest and most un-intelligent behaviour to carry the bat except while training or playing. If he refuses to, a fine is levied.
Daniel Christian, who has the most wickets in the tournament (eight at 11.25 with an economy rate of 7.61), was a recent Dingbat holder. It had something to do with a maid. His team-mate Callum Ferguson describes it with glee: "Christo was wandering past Taity's room and noticed his room door open and obviously wanted to know what was going on. He entered the room at pace as he does, and let rip was an extremely loud 'Oi ... What the hell are you doing, where are ya?'
"The poor maid came rushing out of the bathroom apologising profusely for her 'indiscretion' before Christo quickly apologised, realising Taity was obviously out and left the clearly shaken maid to her duties. Respect the dingbat." Now, apparently, it belongs with the team's strength and conditioning coach, Jarrod Egan. No word yet on what silly act he did.
'Dingbat the bat' is a kind of goofiness that also binds this South Australia team. It showcases the players' camaraderie, their togetherness and their happy team culture. As Fleming said, their preparation started way back in May. Perhaps even before that. At times it would rain and the winter conditions weren't ideal for practice in Adelaide, but they would continue to plough through.
"We knew that if we can field well in those tough conditions, we can do really well in this beautiful weather here in South Africa." Klinger then nailed the reason behind their team's success: "We do the little things well; we run hard between the wickets, we back up throws, we field well, we try to bowl to a plan and when the team does these it goes a long way to bring success." Respect the Dingbat!
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo