Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Do they remember Duanne?. Duanne Olivier had played 10 Tests for South Africa before taking the Kolpak route
Duanne Olivier had played 10 Tests for South Africa before taking the Kolpak route
Potchefstroom is blessed with sunshine, sleepiness and students. Two of the latter, having soaked up plenty of the first and been rendered the second by a few too many beers, made a lazy offering of interest in the cricket on a late September afternoon in 2017: “Lekker [nice] Dwaine!”
Spot the deliberate mistake. Ensconced on the grass banks that ring most of Potch's quaint ground, the students were praising Duanne Olivier, then playing his fourth Test, against Bangladesh. In the open-air pressbox, a beloved Afrikaans-speaking denizen of the ink-stained corps, a man old enough never to have had to learn to type with more than two fingers, didn't bother looking up from his decades-long hunch over his steaming laptop, which once was a clacking typewriter, to boom: “Dis Duanne, jou poephol! [It's Duanne, you a**hole!]”
Not quite 17 months later, in February 2019, Olivier was playing the last of his 10 Tests, against Sri Lanka at St George's Park, before he joined the Kolpak express to England. He had signed a three-year deal with Yorkshire, which he found more attractive than CSA's offer of a two-year contract.
Who could blame Olivier? By the time he halted his international career, cricket in South Africa was in administrative freefall. Between them, a CSA board led by president Chris Nenzani and an executive arm headed by chief executive Thabang Moroe were hurrying the game towards financial and reputational ruin.
The rot started during that 2017 Potch Test, when Haroon Lorgat was prised out of the CEO's office. Lorgat, a former ICC chief executive, wasn't perfect. His relationship with the most powerful organisation in world cricket, the BCCI, was fractious at best. It was under his watch that Kyle Abbott was unfairly axed from the XI for the 2015 World Cup semi-final. He tried to undermine reporters whose work cast him in a poor light. But even Lorgat's detractors couldn't say he wasn't impressively competent. He served as a buffer of proficiency between the small-minded, ham-fisted, arrogant board and the interests of cricket itself. With Lorgat removed, the Nenzani-Moroe axis and its greedy entourage were free to do as they pleased. And they did.
Until, that is, December 2019, when Moroe was suspended in the wake of CSA revoking the accreditation of five senior cricket writers, prompting long-term sponsors to desert the game. Moroe was fired in August 2020, 10 days after Nenzani had resigned. In October last year and with government help, the entire malignant board was consigned to cricket's scrapheap of unhappiness.
An interim structure – which included Lorgat – was in office until June, when CSA were afforded a majority independent board for the first time in their history. In a decision as surprising as it was welcome, Lawson Naidoo, a highly respected activist, lawyer and constitutional expert, was elected chair. Rarely has cricket in South Africa been in such principled hands.
The other side of this equation is the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union on December 31, which ended the Kolpak era. Players who had taken up those contracts, all of them from outside the UK, were compelled by the counties to renounce their availability for their national teams. So South Africa's prodigals returned, Olivier among them.
On Tuesday he was named in South Africa's Test squad for the series against India that will start on December 26. There is thus a neatness to the now-closed circle that was opened on that late spring afternoon in Potch.
He went to Headingley having taken 48 wickets at 19.25 in his 10 Tests, and 154 at 22.53 in 35 games for his franchise, the Knights. He wasn't as successful for Yorkshire, claiming 75 at 32.42 in 25 first-class matches. But he did mature, searching out a fuller length and trusting seam and swing to do their bit rather than banging the ball into the pitch, as had been his main method on South Africa's harder, faster surfaces. That has shown in his four matches for the Lions this season, in which he has claimed 28 at 11.10. No bowler has taken as many wickets and none has looked as likely to strike.
Lungi Ngidi, Beuran Hendricks, Glenton Stuurman and Sisanda Magala are also in the squad, but add Olivier to an attack that will feature Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje and you have a quiver of quicks worthy of one of the tougher tests South Africa will face in the modern game. India will bring an all-round powerhouse, a team for the ages who have proved their class in most conditions.
But not in South Africa, where the closest India have come to winning any of their seven series is the drawn rubber of 2010/11. They have won three matches here and lost 10. Expect the gap to narrow this time, not least because Virat Kohli is quite likely the most ambitious man ever to step onto a cricket ground. And because South Africa is the only country outside of the subcontinent, bar New Zealand, in which he has not captained his team to a series win. Much will be written on this rubber, and it should be. Before Saturday, there were serious doubts it would happen, given the ever-shifting pandemic landscape. Now that it is set to go ahead – at least for now; no one yet knows what omicron will do to us – the mulling and musing will gain momentum. Events on the field will be only part of the story.
Unlike when South Africa play England, whose superiority complex irks them, or Australia, who they cannot stand for too many reasons to get into here, or Pakistan, whose competitive spirit they can't help admiring, the narrative of their encounters with India has veered in polar fashion.
From a dull start in 1992/93 to the unnerving intensity of 1999/00 – still South Africa's only series win in India – to the unfairness of the Nagpur pitch in 2015/16, to the South Africans returning that favour wickedly at the Wanderers in 2017/18, we can never know what a rubber between these teams is going to deliver. But we know it will be closely watched, even by drunk students with a dodgy idea of the players' names.