Tue, 25 Jun 2019

Faf should have seen suspension coming!

News24
09 Jan 2019, 21:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - Dead-rubber affair it may be, but it is nevertheless irksome and regrettable that South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis sits out the third Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers on Friday, as Dean Elgar takes temporary charge.

Du Plessis is, after all, one of the arguably shrinking stock of genuinely heavyweight figures gracing the endangered Test landscape, both as a strong leader and wily batsman combining skill and aggression with known stoicism and patience when required.

In case you hadn't noticed, the Proteas aren't playing too much of the five-day stuff these days - just five home Tests this season, as opposed to 10 in the last - so you can bet the senior player, fresh off a gutsy century and then a little "not out" at Newlands, will rue his absence at the Bullring through a one-game suspension as much as the home public do.

Du Plessis has a plethora of fine qualities as skipper, not least an independence of thought and firm levels of personal conviction about what he does in that capacity. He also seems to run a happy, motivated ship -- a far from unimportant hallmark.

An illustrious predecessor in the capacity, Graeme Smith, is not averse to questioning some of Du Plessis's tactics and policies when on increasingly frank, engaging commentary duty with SuperSport, although it is all framed - or at least seems that way - in a climate of clear, mutual respect (Smith was also increasingly his own man as his lengthy tenure developed, let's not forget).

The Proteas may see a few of their more ageing stalwarts step down from international competition after this year's World Cup, but given his own continued zest and personal statistical success at age 34, I am already inclined to earnestly hope Cricket South Africa do everything possible to keep him at the tiller for a couple more years on from the tournament, aiding the rebuilding process through his invaluable, balancing, experience and acumen.

All that said, I have been a little puzzled by the high levels of sympathy Du Plessis has been receiving over his Wanderers ban ... a broad theme being, it appears, that the International Cricket Council have been petty; overly officious.

Much of that sentiment, clearly, was anchored in the fact that the Proteas were deemed to have fallen only one over short of stipulated requirements at Newlands, after forced stoppage and other allowances had been taken into consideration.

But isn't that at least partly like arguing that someone should not have been nailed for drunk driving because he was tipsy rather than paralytic?

Personally, I was a bit surprised that South Africa came that close to getting off the hook in Cape Town: I might have been tempted to venture (gut feel, admittedly, rather than pinpoint information) that they were kindly dealt with in calculations by the match referee and umpires.

The suspension of Du Plessis was down to the fact that it was his second of what have been branded "minor over-rate" offences within a 12-month period, the first having been the Centurion Test against India last summer.

Again, my instinct, and seemingly against the grain of popular thought, is that "minor" is doing the Proteas captain a relative kindness.

Du Plessis, in short, has pushed the boundaries of over-rate tardiness for a long time, and not just in the Test environment: you could say there's every chance innings-break lunches or dinners "go cold on the table" pretty often when his charges have been in the field first in limited-overs internationals.

Of course it takes two to tango so when, for example, both teams have had relatively significant periods in the field on any given day of Test cricket, it must be relatively difficult to work out who the majority offenders are, and to what degree.

But am I wrong in observing that, on days when the Faf-led Proteas are the bowling team all day in Tests - and more especially on pitches not notably conducive to spin fare - there is a stubbornly strong chance that four or five of the scheduled 90 overs (and occasionally more) will just go "missing" by stumps?

Even with the luxury of those extra 30 minutes (a privilege more often than not abused, really, by teams who merely deem them routine blush-sparers) it is a short-changing of spectators, and bordering on disrespect, especially in times when every hard-earned rand spent induces a wince from consumers.

Fans go to rugby matches mindful that they will get a full 80 minutes of live play, and 90 in soccer: nobody suddenly pulls the plug at 19-16 in the 77th minute of the former, or at one-nil in the 86th of the latter.

Why should it be OK to cut Test cricket short, on weather-unaffected days, without substantial consequence?

Spare me, too, the frankly fruitcake argument that the Proteas didn't deserve the Du Plessis sanction on the basis that they played "exciting cricket" at Newlands and closed the deal in little over three days: designated over-rates are designated over-rates, regardless of any latched-on, absurdly subjective considerations.

Then there's the "oh, but they played four seamers" defence.

Again, cry me a river: all that should do is increase the onus on a captain and his charges to time-manage their overs with greater urgency and consistency. Starting with the first session, to avoid almost immediate fall-back on the clock, would help.

Perhaps I am too much of an old-school idealist, dining out on memories of Test and first-class teams comfortably enough (yes, I know, pre-reviews and the like) observing a 16-overs-to-the-hour rate more often than not ... perhaps even with someone like Mike Procter tearing in off his formidably long run-up.

Du Plessis, otherwise so often admirable at the tiller, has been walking a tightrope in terms of over-rate slackness for a considerable period of time.

He should have been aware he was about to take a tumble.

I know I sensed it coming.

Did you?

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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