Play­ing against Zimbabwe like turn­ing a hose on home­less per­son

Sunday Times - - Sport Cricket - Telford Vice

● Cel­e­brate, South Africans. This is the last day you will have to pre­tend Faf du Plessis’s side are play­ing against a cricket team and not a sad col­lec­tion of play­ers, sev­eral of them tal­ented, skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced but no less pa­thetic for that.

They are so far out of their league they seem to have come from an­other, lesser planet — not from across the Lim­popo.

This was writ­ten on Fri­day be­fore the sec­ond T20 against Zimbabwe. The third game in this al­ready for­got­ten se­ries is to­day. So, at the time of writ­ing, the vis­i­tors had two chances to avoid be­ing white­washed for the eighth time in a bi­lat­eral se­ries in SA.

Zimbabwe have been as poor as a team could be, save for be­ing done for match­fix­ing or drug-tak­ing, or pledg­ing al­le­giance to mad Bob Mu­gabe.

At least un­til Fri­day, SA had turned up and won, and usu­ally all they had to do was turn up. Some­times they won un­con­vinc­ingly, but you have to cut them some slack for los­ing in­ter­est and fo­cus be­cause of the piti­ful state of their op­po­si­tion.

It’s up there with tak­ing things one game at a time in the big book of sport’s clichés, but you can only beat who’s in front of you.

For the South Africans, play­ing against Zimbabwe must feel like turn­ing a gar­den hose on a home­less per­son: some­thing that should get them into trou­ble with the po­lice, and that should not at all be cel­e­brated.

Un­til Fri­day, SA turned up and won, and all they had to do was turn up

Even so, once the Zim­bab­weans are, mer­ci­fully, sent home to­day, it will be up to the home side to de­cide what value they can take from the six games the Zim­bos played here.

Top of the list is the now es­tab­lished fact that Dale Steyn still has white-ball fever. Per­haps be­cause the queue of younger qual­ity quicks shows no sign of get­ting shorter, per­haps be­cause of the loom­ing moun­tain that is the 2019 World Cup, per­haps be­cause he is dis­cov­er­ing all over again what his body can do, per­haps be­cause he’s al­ways go­ing to be a mag­nif­i­cently oth­er­wise bas­tard, Steyn was a 35-year-old kid on a sugar high in the one-day se­ries.

His re­turn of five wick­ets for 48 runs in two games didn’t set the score­board on fire. But the way he bowled — with the kind of pas­sion that sent some of Zimbabwe’s al­leged bats­men re­treat­ing to­wards square leg as he de­liv­ered — might have had the en­tire ground in flames.

The real Dale Steyn stood up in the sec­ond game of the se­ries in Bloem­fontein. At the bat­ting crease, no­gal, smot­ing a smok­ing 60 af­ter most of his sup­posed bet­ters had failed, and leav­ing no doubt that SA need him in their corner at the World Cup.

That SA needed Steyn to dig them out of the im­pend­ing dwang, and that their bat­ting in other games dur­ing Zimbabwe’s tour has left their com­pa­tri­ots won­der­ing what they’re smok­ing, tells us the AB de Vil­liersshaped vac­uum at the cen­tre of the or­der has yet to be filled.

There is, as has been noted in these pages be­fore, no re­plac­ing De Villiers, whose great­ness is doubted only by those who don’t know what the hell they’re talk­ing about. But SA won’t get away with busk­ing their way out of trou­ble against proper op­po­nents.

Im­ran Tahir has re­turned from play­ing in the Pak­istan Pre­mier League, the In­dian Pre­mier League, the Caribbean Pre­mier League and his 437th win­ter in Eng­land rudely re­ju­ve­nated — a hat-trick in the Bloem ODI and a T20 ca­reer-best in East Lon­don, where two more hat­tricks only just es­caped him, are not the things 39-year-olds are sup­posed to be made from.

It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve Tahir played 36 matches be­tween the end of SA’s ODI se­ries against In­dia in Fe­bru­ary and the be­gin­ning of Zimbabwe’s mis­er­able visit. Ex­actly what is in those smooth­ies he makes?

Good things, mostly. But, please, Zimbabwe, piss off home al­ready.

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