Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Forgive me my bemusement: it just seems that the Twenty20 game between the Proteas and Springboks is in some danger of being treated as an event a little more serious than it really should be.
It troubled me in the first place when the national cricket team’s selectors soberly announced before Christmas that they would favour “continuity” by naming a full-strength squad for Friday’s fixture (18:00) against the rugby specialists, marking the start of the three-day Festival of Cricket which replaces the more traditional New Year Test match at Newlands.
Surely a slightly better balance might have been struck in the competitiveness department, with respect, if the Proteas had thrown in four or five crowd-pleasing figures of, say, the early post-isolation era?
I’m thinking you could draw from names like Jonty Rhodes, Peter Kirsten, Daryll Cullinan, Brett Schultz, Mfuneko Ngam, Allan Donald, Paul Adams, Fanie de Villiers … etc.
A few golden oldies – perhaps not all of them in optimal physical condition these days, no bad “handicap” at all – wouldn’t dilute the fun appeal or have any detrimental effect on the gate, I am pretty sure.
Instead South Africa will field their T20 Full Monty, and we even saw newspaper back-page lead headlines on Thursday morning like “Kallis takes on the Boks” — as if the Proteas are having to bolster their arsenal for a genuinely weighty onslaught from the oval-ball gang.
Why, a touch of New Year madness has even engulfed that bastion of cricketing austerity, www.espncricinfo.com which, in its diary list of imminent international fixtures across the globe, duly records (thankfully in this order): “5th Test: Australia v England at Sydney”, “4th ODI: New Zealand v West Indies at Nelson” and “South Africa v Springboks at Cape Town”.
So if you can’t beat such eccentricity, why not join it? More than a little sympathetic to the excessive lead-up hype the Boks’ essentially part-time cricket personnel will have to try to live up to, I have just begun to imagine (possibly affected by this city’s mini-heatwave), the boot being placed on the other foot.
What if it was decided that the Proteas would have to cobble together a rugby team to tackle the Boks at their own favoured, XV-strong pursuit … perhaps across the road a few days later at the other Newlands?
I make no apology for the exercise not being hugely scientific – uh, blame it on the time of year – and fully appreciate that I may open myself up to such retorts as “How could you pick so-and-so at hooker when he was a scrumhalf at school, idiot?”
But in a daft few moments I imagined a random bunch of our current national cricketers (either Test or one-day, or both) standing in a group and their physical proportions in early 2014 being strongest features, in many cases, for selection for my phantom “Proteas rugby XV”.
So here goes …
15 David Miller
He hits a ball a very long way, so I’m figuring if he has a kick to match that he could just be the Proteas’ counter to Frans Steyn’s 55m dropped goals and the like.
14 Dale Steyn
His nickname is the Phalaborwa Express … which seems a good start if he is to directly oppose one Bryan Habana.
13 Faf du Plessis
With two Affies products (always a good start) in my midfield, and both their fathers having played rugby for Northern Transvaal, this was the easiest combo to pick.
12 AB de Villiers
Yes, he was a Craven Week-quality flyhalf, but sorry AB, you are famously versatile enough to make the minor adjustment to inside centre …
11 Imran Tahir
The “Slaptjips” of my team, if you like. You simply wouldn’t know what to expect of him at left wing. A bit like his bowling.
10 Herschelle Gibbs
OK, this is the one “cheat” pick: he’s no longer in the Proteas’ frame, but if you’d ever had the pleasure of seeing him at flyhalf for Bishops … let’s just say there’s a danger he’d shade Morné Steyn for X-factor.
9 JP Duminy
Well, he was hardly going to play in the second row, was he?
8 Ryan McLaren
You’ve got to be tough to take on Duane Vermeulen in this slot, and McLaren at least hails from the rock-hard pitches of Kimberley.
7 Rory Kleinveldt
A bit of assuring ballast is required at blindside flank if you are to match the exploits of Willem “Bone Collector” Alberts.
6 Alviro Petersen
Never write this guy off: amazingly always delivers just when the axe seems to be drawing closer. Clearly has the mettle to be the Proteas’ fetcher.
5 Morné Morkel
Might pinch a few lineout balls off the fingertips of Flip van der Merwe?
4 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Tricky gig to go nose to nose with Eben Etzebeth (OK, when fit again), but at least Lopsy offers a good icy stare. Handling skills possibly open to scrutiny.
3 Jacques Kallis
Didn’t sniff this particular slot in his Wynberg heyday, it’s true, but Jakes is a rather burlier customer at 38. Gnarly right-shoulder provider … the Proteas’ own Martin Castrogiovanni, if you like.
2 Vernon Philander
He comes from Ravensmead where there aren’t too many Shrinking Violets – important for the task of thwarting Bissie. Stocky build hints at scrummaging efficiency, too. (Oh yes, if he pulled a hammie Roelof van der Merwe would earn my recall to duty for this role.)
1 Graeme Smith (capt)
Barrelling loosehead prop and inspiring, John Smit-like skipper. Give Biff a pop-pass a metre out and he’ll cross the chalk, no problem.
Any improvements on that combo, readers? Let’s hear them …