LEAGUE OPENS A LOT OF MZANSI EYES TO CRICKET

Sunday Tribune - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN jac­ques.vd­west­[email protected] LUNGANI ZAMA [email protected]

WITH a three-shot lead go­ing into to­day’s fi­nal round of the SA Open at Rand­park Golf Club, Louis Oosthuizen will be the hot favourite to fi­nally win his na­tional open ti­tle. But he’s go­ing to be pushed all the way by three men, in­clud­ing close friend Charl Schwartzel, all of whom are three shots back.

Oosthuizen, who shot a scin­til­lat­ing joint best ever score of nine-un­der 62 in SA Open his­tory in round one, grabbed the lead from Schwartzel yes­ter­day af­ter fir­ing a four-un­der-par 67 in windy con­di­tions on the Firethorn course.

His round in­cluded six birdies and two bo­geys and he sits at 14-un­der-par af­ter three rounds.

“It’s 18 more holes of good golf. I’m go­ing to take it one shot at a time,” said Oosthuizen about the prospect of tri­umph­ing to­day.

He said play­ing in strong winds through­out his round was a chal­lenge, but that his hot put­ter had helped him get the job done.

“I didn’t think it was pos­si­ble to be more windy than it was on Fri­day. It was very strange, it was tough again,” he said. “But I played well, hit a few bad drives, but the ball rolled off the put­ter nicely. I played solid golf.”

Three shots back at 11-un­der­par are three play­ers who’ll look to chase down Oosthuizen to­day. Be­sides Schwartzel, who bat­tled in the wind with a one-over-par 72, which in­cluded just one birdie and two bo­geys, Eng­land’s Matt Wallace and Zam­bia’s Madal­itso Muthiya are also in the hunt.

Wallace went round in 68 blows which in­cluded six birdies and three dropped shots, while Muthiya’s lev­el­par score of 71 in­cluded five birdies, one bo­gey and two dou­ble-bo­geys.

Schwartzel said it was nice to be in con­tention again af­ter a dif­fi­cult year. “Three shots back is close enough for Louis to be scared,” said the for­mer Masters cham­pion, who is also chas­ing a first na­tional open ti­tle af­ter twice be­ing run­ner-up.

“I haven’t been in this po­si­tion for a while; it’s ex­cit­ing and nice to be in con­tention again. It’s not nice play­ing at 8 o’clock in the morn­ing in 40th po­si­tion; it’s much bet­ter tee­ing off when you’ve got a chance to win.

“Louis is play­ing good golf, but three shots is noth­ing in any cir­cum­stances. If he plays good golf again he’ll win it, but if he doesn’t and we play good golf we’ll beat him.”

Schwartzel, who shot a stun­ning eight-un­der-par 63 on Fri­day, said the windy con­di­tions had made scor­ing dif­fi­cult yes­ter­day. “I grew up in Joburg, and play­ing golf here, but I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced two days in a row where the wind has blown like this. It’s ab­nor­mal and made it very dif­fi­cult out there.

“It was a dis­ap­point­ing day for me. I got off to a bad start, missed two short putts (on the first and third holes) and then didn’t cap­i­talise on a few good birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties later on. But, I hung in there and I’ve still got a chance.”

Eight play­ers, in­clud­ing five-time cham­pion Ernie Els and Bran­den Grace, are at eight-un­der-par and six shots off the lead. Els, play­ing his third round along­side his nephew, ama­teur star Jo­van Re­bula, shot a three-un­der­par 68 that in­cluded seven birdies. Four dropped shots how­ever, in­clud­ing on his last two holes, cost him a chance of be­ing bet­ter placed go­ing into the fi­nal round.

A fur­ther nine play­ers are at sev­e­nun­der-par, in­clud­ing Fin­land’s Ta­pio Pulkka­nen, South Africa’s Zan­der Lom­bard and Haydn Por­te­ous, and the USA’S Kurt Ki­tayama, who won the Afra­sia Mau­ri­tius Open last week. WE ARE in the last week of the Mzansi Su­per League. The whole thing may fin­ish where it started, un­der Ta­ble Moun­tain.

That is fit­ting in it­self, be­cause that would com­plete a per­fect cir­cle. There has been a lot said and writ­ten about this new tour­na­ment, from how it has been or­gan­ised, how it has been broad­cast, and how it has been re­ceived.

What­ever the opin­ions, one thing is ab­so­lutely clear. This was needed by lo­cal cricket. It’s about time, even if it was African time.

You only have to go and speak to play­ers who have made tem­po­rary homes around the coun­try, learn­ing new crick­et­ing cul­tures, to un­der­stand how sig­nif­i­cant the breath of fresh air has been to the peo­ple who truly mat­ter.

We are at least a decade be­hind sched­ule, but we have got there even­tu­ally. That is im­por­tant, be­cause there is at least some­thing to build on from here.

Amongst sev­eral con­cerns, the big­gest must be the crowds. There was at­mos­phere, but cer­tainly not the full houses we might have hoped for. It is in­struc­tive to re­mem­ber that a new brand takes time to weed it­self in, even if its bright­est buds are some of the big­gest names in the world.

Spar­tans, Rocks and Heat are all new things to a con­science deal­ing with load­shed­ding, ex­pro­pri­a­tion and the Rand and the land.

They will take time to roll off the tongue, never mind mo­bilise en­tire com­mu­ni­ties to beat proudly for them.

The IPL, cricket’s eter­nal Rome, was not built in one tour­na­ment . It took a few, fal­ter­ing edi­tions to turn it into the jug­ger­naut it is. The same ap­plies for the seven-year old Big Bash, proudly spon­sored by the Street­wise Two team.

These things took time to get to the el­e­vated stage they are at. And they also took balls.

CSA need a some big balls now, hav­ing bro­ken the ground in 2018.

The first point of or­der is to do away with the 16 De­cem­ber fi­nal. It is too soon in the South African hol­i­day sea­son, and robs many po­ten­tial fans the chance to flock to the sta­di­ums.

Only now, as schools close and busi­nesses wind down, can we re­ally gauge how keen South Africa is to em­brace this thing.

Had it started now, in early De­cem­ber, the num­bers at­tend­ing and tun­ing in might have been a lot more sig­nif­i­cant. It is a re­al­ity CSA needs to con­front.

The sched­ule has been de­signed in a man­ner that doesn’t step on the road of the Big Bash, so play­ers can pos­si­bly play in both.

We can­not be so diplomatic. The Big Bash makes no apolo­gies for run­ning right through the prime sum­mer win­dow, when most of the pub­lic has time and money on their hands.

Those two vari­ables are the most piv­otal cur­rency in de­ter­min­ing if the Mzansi Su­per League can be sus­tain­able.

It has to be held at a time when time and money are avail­able to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. Thus, this thing has to start deeper into De­cem­ber, and al­low more South Africans the op­por­tu­nity to em­brace it.

If that irks our friends Down Un­der, so be it. Apolo­gies and com­pro­mises don’t pay the bills at the end of the day.

The broad­cast deal will also be a bone of con­tention, be­cause the first edi­tion has been ac­ces­si­ble to all. It might not be as pol­ished as some Wool­worths taste buds may pre­fer, but more eyes have set upon new names and faces than ever in do­mes­tic South African cricket.

That mat­ters, too.

It has been far from per­fect, but it has hap­pened, and it will be back. That is im­por­tant, be­cause this could be the life­line that the game needs.

More Nort­jes, more Hen­dricks and more Si­pam­las and more For­tu­ins. It is im­per­a­tive.

Roll on 2019.

LOUIS Oosthuizen re­acts at Rand­park yes­ter­day |

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