SA cricket fiddling with Mzansi Super League while Test form burns

Ashwell Prince refused to talk about the Proteas or any matter related to the national team, preferring only to talk up his team Cape Town Blitz's chances in the Mzansi Super League.
Ashwell Prince refused to talk about the Proteas or any matter related to the national team, preferring only to talk up his team Cape Town Blitz's chances in the Mzansi Super League.
Image: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

With South Africa’s men’s Test team at their lowest point and a series against England starting in just more than seven weeks‚ the responsible approach would be to divert all efforts into putting out the fire.

Instead‚ South Africa’s players will fiddle with the Mzansi Super League (MSL) for more than five weeks of that precious time.

Ashwell Prince‚ who placed a higher price on his wicket than most‚ and who consequently must have been more frustrated than most at South Africa’s flaccid batting in India last month‚ might have been able to help fix the problem if his Cobras were out there every week playing first-class cricket.

But that opportunity will be wasted because Prince will coach the Cape Town Blitz in the MSL.

“I don’t want to make comments about the Proteas and Test cricket at the moment‚” Prince told a press conference in Cape Town on Monday.

“I think we’re all here for the exciting second edition of the MSL.

“I’m sure there are people in much higher positions than myself‚ at Proteas level and CSA [Cricket South Africa] level‚ who know exactly how they are going to go about improving the situation.

“But at the moment I want to focus on the Blitz. We’ve got an exciting team with some exciting players‚ and we want to go out and enjoy that‚ and entertain.”

Except that figures who “know exactly how they are going to go about improving the situation” are thin on the ground.

Enoch Nkwe’s appointment as South Africa’s team director is interim — he was in place for the India tour only — and last week CSA suspended director of cricket Corrie van Zyl‚ another interim appointee‚ and sponsorship and sales head Clive Eksteen‚ the only members of their staff who have international playing experience.

Reality will resume after the MSL ends on December 16 — three days before the start of the only remaining round of franchise first-class games before the England series.

Not that there’s certainty that all or even most of the Test players will be in action in those games.

Only half of the 12 fit players who‚ in India‚ presided over South Africa’s worst performance in a series in 83 years turned out for their franchises in last week’s first-class matches.

Given all that‚ cricket-minded South Africans will be desperate for a silver lining.

The closest they are going to get to that is Hashim Amla’s appointment as the Blitz’ batting consultant‚ which was announced on Monday.

Like Prince‚ who faced 100 or more balls in 28 of his 104 Test innings and more than 200 in a dozen of them‚ suffered only one first-baller — six innings before he retired — and was dismissed in fewer than 10 deliveries just 12 times‚ Amla valued his wicket greatly.

He was there for at least 100 balls in 61 of 215 trips to the crease‚ had just 20 innings of fewer than 10 deliveries‚ and was also out first ball only once — in the first innings of his last Test‚ when an inswinger from Sri Lanka’s Vishwa Fernando nailed his middle stump.

Contrast that with the facts that 20 of the 60 wickets South Africa lost in India went down in fewer than 10 balls‚ that only nine times did a player face more than 100 deliveries in the series and only once more than 200 — Dean Elgar’s 160 in the first Test in Visakhapatnam came off 287 balls — and it isn’t difficult to see why Amla’s insight could be important.

That will‚ hopefully‚ be the case even though T20 batting is hardly about occupying the crease.

“There’s been a lot of comments lately in the media about the lack of our former national players’ involvement in the game‚” Prince said when asked about Amla’s involvement.

“I approached him and he was very open to the idea. I don’t think he’s charging us a penny for his services‚ which is very rare these days.

“To have him share some of his knowledge and ideas would be invaluable.”

What might Blitz captain Quinton de Kock‚ who shared 125 partnerships with Amla for South Africa across all formats — 13 of them century stands — have learnt from cricket’s calmest player?

“Yoh! There’s a lot he’s taught me‚” De Kock said.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career‚ and he’s been the one guy to be there — backing me and helping me.

“‘Hash’ will know what to do. He will see how he can get the best out of them‚ whether it’s from a mental or a technical point of view‚ or just hitting more balls.

“He’s really good at one-on-ones; individual chats rather than in team spaces.”

Warriors coach Robin Peterson thinks so‚ too.

That’s why he enlisted Amla’s help for his team’s first-class match against the Cobras at Newlands last week.

“His manner and the way he talks about batting‚ he’d be the perfect guy to get the knowledge across‚” Peterson said.

Here’s hoping Amla’s wisdom sticks somewhere in the minds of De Kock‚ Vernon Philander‚ Anrich Nortjé and George Linde‚ the Test players in the Blitz squad.

But there’s a catch.

Amla will join the side only on November 25.

What’s he doing until then?

Playing in something less relevant than even the MSL: the Abu Dhabi T10 League.

Suddenly‚ that lining is not so silver.