Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Elgar enthusiastic about Erwee, bullish on Boucher. "It's unfortunate that 'KP' is going to miss out on this trip; I'd love to have seen him build on what he started in the Indian series."
"It's unfortunate that 'KP' is going to miss out on this trip; I'd love to have seen him build on what he started in the Indian series."
Mark Boucher's disciplinary hearing was the only dark cloud hanging over South Africa's imminent trip to the land of the long white cloud. Then Keegan Petersen tested positive for Covid-19, removing him from the equation for the two Tests in Christchurch later this month.
And that in the wake of Petersen having nailed down the pivotal No. 3 position by scoring 276 runs in six innings – more than anyone else – in the home series against India in December and January. How cruel a blow was his untimely withdrawal from a team who rose from the ashes of defeat in the first Test against Virat Kohli's then world No. 1 side to twice chase down challenging targets on tough pitches?
“It's just another curveball that the Proteas have to deal with,” Dean Elgar told an online press conference on Wednesday (February 2). “We've become pretty good at that of late. It's unfortunate that ‘KP' is going to miss out on this trip; I'd love to have seen him build on what he started in the Indian series. But these are uncertain times and these kinds of curveballs come your way, and you just have to deal with them.”
There is no upside to being without the assured, reliable, productive Petersen. But at least the South Africans have viable alternatives. Either Sarel Erwee, Ryan Rickelton or Zubayr Hamza – who has filled the vacancy in the squad – could slot in at No. 3. Or Erwee could open with Elgar and Aiden Markram, who is currently struggling at the top of the order, could take guard at first drop. Or Nos. 4 and 5 Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma could move up one place and Erwee, Rickelton or Hamza could be deployed at No. 5.
Elgar seemed to favour Erwee's inclusion: “Sarel Erwee has been our backup batter for quite some time. He's had a few series now where he's been carrying the drinks, and he's been brilliant off the field. So I'd like to think he's the guy who comes in. In saying that, Zubayr Hamza is another option. It's pretty clear cut that Erwee and Hamza are the two guys who will be pushing for that No. 3 spot.”
That Rickelton didn't rate a mention was surprising. He has scored three centuries in his five first-class innings this season for an aggregate of 473 runs and an average of 118.25. Erwee has had three more innings and scored 36 more runs, among them one hundred, for an average of 63.62. Hamza's 11 innings have yielded 48 fewer runs than Rickelton despite the latter having had fewer than half the number of opportunities. Hamza has had one century this summer and averages 42.50.
Including the New Zealand venture, Erwee, 32 and uncapped, has been part of South Africa's squad for their last five Test series going back to the home rubber against Sri Lanka in December 2020 and January 2021. He is by all accounts a joy to have around, and doubtless, he deserves the chance for which he has worked so hard. But whether he should be given that chance ahead of Rickelton and his dazzling form promises to be a complicated question to answer.
More so, even, than how Elgar feels about the implications of that other curveball: the action being taken against Boucher. At a hearing scheduled for May 16 to 20, CSA will seek to have South Africa's coach sacked on charges of racism dating back to the 1990s – when Boucher was part of a team who called Paul Adams “brown shit” in one of the dressing room songs sung to celebrate victories.
A ruling handed down by disciplinary chair Terry Motau on Monday to fix the dates of the inquiry said Boucher's lawyers “indicated that he intends to call some of the players to testify on his behalf and that these players will be part of the tour of New Zealand from 17 February to 1 March 2022 and the Bangladesh tour of South Africa from 18 March to 11 April 2022 and that having a hearing in between the two tours would be disruptive”.
How did Elgar feel about the possibility of him and his players being called to give evidence in Boucher's defence? “This process has been up in the air for quite some time,” Elgar said. “We had a feeling it might come to this point, where players might be asked to testify in the hearing. So be it. I'm sure [the South African Cricketers' Association] will assist us if players are asked to testify.”
Would this hanging sword of Damocles hamper his team in New Zealand? Or unify and galvanise them? “I'd like to think the latter. We've had these experiences that we've had to deal with as a players' group. If anything, it's really helped us. We've moved forward in such a good way. We've realised that cricket comes first for us. Irrespective of what our head coach is going through, we're still supporting him through this process. Because we know how much value he adds to our system and to our group.
“But we've had these tough times before, and I'd like to think it's just another hurdle in our path that we're going to have to get over. We've gotten over them pretty well as a players' group. We realise cricket remains cricket, and that's our first priority. We need to stick together, which we've done in the past, and let this follow its course. But we know we're here to play cricket. We're here to win matches and series. We're supporting our head coach because he's a massive part of our group.”
Asked if the team had put devices in place to help them deal with diversity, Elgar shook his head and balked: “I'm not sure if this is a presser about what's happening in the hearing or us going to New Zealand. We either call it now or we talk cricket, please.”
Elgar doesn't struggle to speak his mind in bracingly direct fashion. That is an admirable and valuable trait in any captain, but the leader of a team that purports to represent a deeply damaged and factionalised nation is bound to upset at least some people no matter what he says. So it was to the combative Elgar's credit that, when asked how he has found the experience of discussing off-field matters with the press, he delivered a nuanced, balanced reply.
“It's been OK, but I think it takes away from the group everything that we've achieved. And for me that's bullshit. So the minute you start talking about something that's…I know it's extremely relevant in the public eye and it is relevant for us, no doubt. But as a players' group, we've achieved so much and that gets squashed by negativity in the media. And rightly so – it sells headlines.
“I know I have to answer these things and that's OK. I've got absolutely no issue with doing that because I understand that interaction between me and the media is extremely important. But this is a presser about us going to New Zealand. And if you want to talk about the hearing, let's create another time for that. Again, I don't mind speaking about those kinds of externals. I have absolutely no issue with that. Just understand that this is a presser about us leaving tonight for New Zealand to play a Test series, and 60% of the questions haven't been about that.
“So you can understand my frustration. I want to get the right message out there, and the questions I receive have nothing to do with cricket. Again, I don't mind answering them. That's fine. But then let's create another platform for that.”
While we're getting things straight, let it be known that Elgar fielded 12 questions on Wednesday. Four of them were about “externals”. That's 33.33% of the total questions; a long way from 60%. The press conference lasted for 27 minutes and three seconds. The questions and answers concerning “externals” took up seven minutes and 11 seconds. That's 26.56% of the total time; an even longer way from 60%.
Elgar is the rock of South Africa's batting and a fine and followable leader. So who cares if his maths seems wonky. But all of us should care if he tries to pick and choose what to talk about in his dealings with representatives of his team's supporters. Selectively, mind: he showed no displeasure about unpacking in detail how New Zealand's strict quarantine regulations – an “external”, clearly – might impact his players.
That said, he deserves to be afforded the same balance and nuance he bestowed on his questioners. So there is reason to be happy that he said: “I've had two weeks off. I haven't touched my bat. I haven't touched my bag. I've just opened it now to see what's in there, so I can pack what I need. But I'm in a good space. I've been able to reflect well on what happened in the India series.”
A lot of good happened for South Africa in that series, internally and externally, and much of the credit belonged to Elgar. And was acknowledged as such. By significantly more than 60% of those watching, and reporting.