Lambs to the slaughter
"The sheep are so thin this year," goes a joke among Eastern Cape farmers, "we can fax them to the abattoir." The jibe, like the farmers themselves, is a hardy perennial. It has to be. Without a robust sense of humour, nothing survives, much less prospers, in the Eastern Cape.
A province that bulges like a bicep along South Africa's wind-whipped south-eastern coast, beyond which lay the skeletons of so many stricken ships, is no place for the soft of heart, mind, body or soul.
Any team representing it faces critics as prosaic as they are stoic. So there will be no tears in the wake of the Warriors' implosion in the Champions League Twenty20 final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Besides, they'll tell each other unblinkingly down on the farm, this was no accident. On the night, the Chennai Super Kings were the better team by a margin rather greater than eight wickets. More like the 300 kilometres that separates Port Elizabeth from East London.
To Chennai, undeniably, goes the accolade of the best franchise Twenty20 team in the world. Whoever said this format of the game doesn't deliver worthy champions? Fact is, Chennai have spent the Champions League gliding to victory after victory as effortlessly as Fred and Ginger. Not for them the sweaty scramble of the close-run thing. They lost just once, to Victoria. That is if ending up on the wrong end of so dubious a yardstick as a one-over eliminator can rightfully be called losing.
Chennai's closest scrape with authentic defeat came at the hands of the same Warriors in their Port Elizabeth backyard. R Ashwin and Muttiah Muralitharan got them out of that jam, and they won by 10 runs.
The Wanderers pitch is an entirely different animal to the one that spends its lazy days stretched out in the sun at St George's Park. However, quality bowlers remain just that, whatever the surface, and Ashwin and Muralitharan were again key to Chennai's success on Sunday.
The sting of the match was drawn as early as the sixth over, when Davy Jacobs lurched into a reverse sweep off Ashwin, got it badly wrong, and was trapped smack in front having scored 32 of his 34 runs in furiously hit fours. Jacobs has carried the Warriors on his spare frame these past two weeks. He maintained a defiant, bristling presence, and was never shy to show the guts required to chase glory. But on Sunday, he needed to score twice as many runs as he did to give his men a fighting chance. That is unfair to him given that cricket is played by teams and not individuals, a point Jacobs has made himself when he has read between the lines of questions asking indirectly whether he is bigger than the side he leads.
In the Warriors' sumptuous win in their semi-final against the hitherto unbeaten South Australia Redbacks, that most certainly was not the case. Against Chennai just 24 hours later, it most certainly was. Ashwin, L Balaji and Muralitharan tied the Warriors down for 25 balls after Jacobs' dismissal. The 26th brought a dodgy boundary as Colin Ingram's thick edge off Muralitharan squirted to the ropes. But Murali laughed his wild laugh last, dismissing Mark Boucher and Justin Kreusch in the space of five deliveries to reduce the Warriors to 82 for five. Game, as they say in the comics, over.
Chennai's run chase was not unlike the last stage of the Tour de France, a ceremonial chore conducted on the Champs-Elysees during which no one challenges the man who has, in the eyes of his opponents, already won the race. So it was as Chennai whittled away at their small target, of which M Vijay and Michael Hussey scored all but 26 in a deeply blue-collar stand. Whoever said Twenty20 cricket couldn't be boring?
The fact that Jacobs tossed the new ball to Makhaya Ntini, who went for 22 runs in two bilious overs in the semi-final, seemed in itself an acceptance of an impending thrashing. You might say the Warriors went like lambs to the slaughter.
Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa