If ever a year threw people into turmoil, then it is 2020. Cricket in South Africa was not spared during the Covid-19 pandemic with both the 2019-20 4-Day Franchise tournament and Momentum One Day Cup being curtailed as well as the CSA T20 Challenge being cancelled all together.
Cricket South Africa continued to make headlines in 2020 for all the wrong reasons – as they did in 2019, with the Funduzi Report being released, the entire CSA board stepping down, acting CEO’s being suspended and the Member’s Council refusing to acknowledge the authority of the interim CSA board instilled by sports minister Nathi Mthethwa. There might not have been much sport to write about during this year but the scribes have been kept busy.
Either side of the chaotic Covid-19 pandemic, some cricket had been played with the bizhub Highveld Lions retaining their 4-Day crown and the Hollywoodbets Dolphins being handed the Momentum One Day Cup title. South African cricket lovers were starved of having their own T20 Challenge, as this was moved to March 2021 in place of the now-cancelled Mzansi Super League.
However, fans were treated to some T20 action in the United Arab Emirates with the Indian Premier League being shifted off the shores of India. The South Africans could hold their heads high with some of the performances from our “local” lads, with the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis shining bright.
4-Day Franchise – Lions roll on.
The Lions clinched the 2019 title in style, pipping the Six Gun Grill Cape Cobras to the title on the final day of the tournament. They then headed the table of the 2019-20 season in first place and stayed there until the end of January 2020 when the competition broke for the One Day Cup.
By mid-March the world was thrown into turmoil and cricket was suspended. The Lions, sitting top of the standings and eight points clear of the second-placed Multiply Titans, were awarded the crown for a second season running.
The men from Johannesburg made sure that home ground advantage counted, winning four out of five games. The Lions’ performances were based not on individual efforts, but a collective one, as only one of their players cracked the top-10 in both the batting and bowling tables.
Malusi Siboto ended seventh with 22 wickets but the surprise on the bowling front was that, in a country that prides itself on fast bowlers, all three of the top bowlers were spinners with Prenelan Subrayen leading the pack with 38 wickets while George Linde (30) and Shaun von Berg (25) completed the top three.
Linde’s performance with the ball was backed up with the bat as the allrounder from Cape Town added 345 runs at an average of 49.28 with two centuries and vindicated his call-up to the Proteas test team. The VKB Knight’s Raynard van Tonder was by far the best of the batsmen with 843 runs, which included two centuries and five fifties at an average of 70.25.
The Proteas will be heartened by the Lions duo of Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma as the pair averaged 76.75 and 68.66 respectively while the Dolphins’ Sarel Erwee’s 427 runs at 53.37 was rewarded with a Proteas test call-up.
Momentum One Day Cup – Dolphins win at last, well sort of.
Taking wickets in one day cricket does slow the run-rate, but all you have to do is score more runs than your opponent in the allotted overs and the win is in the bag. And that is what the Dolphins did. Grant Roelofsen topped the standings with 588 runs at 65.33 and a healthy strike-rate of 97.51 while Erwee continued his good form with the bat, scoring 379 runs. Backed up by Keshav Maharaj’s 16 wickets at a miserly 14.68 and economy of just 3.79 and the men from “Durbs” were bound to lift the title.
The Dolphins ended the season with seven wins from 10 starts, two points ahead of the Lions and were due to play the Knights in the first semi-final. But with cricket going into lockdown in the middle of March, the knock-out phase was cancelled and the Dolphins – like the Lions – were awarded the One Day Cup title having ended the season top of the log.
Roelofsen’s consistency was good, having scored one century and five half-centuries in 10 innings. Zubayr Hamza of the Cape Cobras scored two tons and three fifties to end second with 582 runs during a dismal season for the Cape side. Ryan Rickleton from the Lions was the only other player to pass the 500-run mark, scoring 511 runs.
Von Berg continued his excellent season with the ball, following on from his 4-day exploits by taking 18 wickets in the 50-over game at 19.88 and an excellent economy rate of just 4.5 but it was the Knight’s medium-pacer Mbulelo Budaza who stole the lime light, claiming his 18 scalps at just 16.27 while conceding runs at just 4.71 to the over.
Along with Von Berg and Maharaj, Aaron Phangiso completed the trio of spinners in the top four with 17 wickets to his name while the great Makhaya Ntini’s son, Thando, ended fifth for the Cobras on 14 wickets.
Pepsi IPL – Blink and you would miss Anrich Nortje bowling.
With the South African locals having no T20 cricket to gawk at during the past year, the avid short-game fanatic had to turn their attention to the glittering oasis of the UAE where the Mumbai Indians retained their title, no thanks in part our own De Kock, who amassed 503 runs at a strike-rate of 140.5. But the Proteas, heading to into the delayed T20 World Cup in India in 2021, would be buoyed by the fact that De Kock’s performances were equalled by Du Plessis.
The former South African captain scored 449 runs for the Chennai Super Kings, who ended second-from-bottom, at an average of 40.81 and a strike-rate of 140.75 but it was on the bowling front that the Proteas brain-trust would have taken note.
Rabada and fellow speedster, Nortje, claimed 52 wickets between them for the Delhi Capitals with South Africa’s premier strike bowler claiming 30 of those scalps. Nortje’s efforts lit up the record books by bowling five of the 10-fastest deliveries in this season’s glamourous event.
Nortje’s fastest ball came in at 155.21 km/h while his next three were close behind at 155.21, 154.74 and 154.21. Much was said of England’s Jofra Archer, who was clocking deliveries at 153.62 but Nortje blew the Barbadian-born right-arm fast bowler away.
A worry for the South African camp was the fact that premier spinner, Imran Tahir, only played three games for the Super Kings, claiming just one wicket in his final match for the former champions while Dale Steyn, playing for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, conceded 133 runs for just one wicket in three games.
Steyn’s teammate though, AB de Villiers – considered the biggest discussion point for next year’s World Cup – scored 454 runs at an average of 45.4 but more importantly, scored his runs at a strike-rate of 158.74 which will certainly have tongues wagging come selection time and whether or not to include the maestro in the World Cup squad.
Covid Strikes again in 4-Day Franchise 2020-21.
With cricket, and sport in general, seemingly beginning to have a “normal” feel to it – barring the fans – the second wave of Covid-19 struck, forcing CSA to postpone the final round of 4-day matches for 2020, scheduled to be played from December 20th to the 23rd, into 2021.
The 2020-21 season took on a slightly different look with the six franchises split into two groups, with the Titans, Warriors and Cobras contesting Group A while the Lions, Knights and Dolphins contesting Group B. Each team would play their respective group contestants home and away while playing the teams from the other group just once.
The Knights have been having a peach of a time, having won three of their five matches to date under new coach Allan Donald, leading Group B with 87.94 points with the current champions, the Lions, sitting second on 69.8 points followed by the Dolphins on 66.42 points, but with a game in hand over the other two.
Group A is headed by the Titans with 66.2 points after four games with the Warriors, fresh from their victory over the hapless Cobras, on 61.5 points while Ashwell Prince’s side languish on 47.92 points and still winless. The Cape side are struggling in the longer format, having not won a match since the 2018/19 season, an eight-wicket victory over the Titans in Oudtshoorn on the 23rd of January 2019. That is almost two years without a win in the 4-Day tournament.
Van Tonder’s stellar campaign last season, continued into this year’s competition, already having scored 604 runs at an average of 67.11 with two centuries and a fifty, which has been rewarded with a call-up to the Proteas test squad for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka. Donald’s work with Migael Pretorius has been excellent with the fast-medium bowler already having claimed 20 wickets this season at 20.65.
But Von Berg’s efforts with the ball continue to go unnoticed as the spinner has grabbed 24 scalps to add to the 25 he claimed last season and the 18 wickets he took in the Momentum One Day Cup. The legbreak bowler, who has never featured for the Proteas, has age against him as the Pretoria-born spinner has just turned 34.
Starvation and exasperation
The South African cricketing fans have been starved of real cricket this season but they have had to endure an environment of exasperation as the turmoil at board level has kept them shaking their heads and one can only hope that the exasperation turns to elation in 2021.
The hope that fans can return to stadiums to watch their favourite teams, their favourite star battling one another on the green turf around the country and then hopefully – just hopefully – the Proteas can pull one out the bag and lift an ICC-sanctioned trophy for the first time since 1998.
**As written for SuperSport.com