Ashwell Prince’s Cape Town Blitz followed a superb strategy throughout the MSL league season and produced some dazzling cricket, but they fell short in the final, writes SIMON LEWIS.
Shrewd draft picks gave the Blitz the structure to their squad that helped them to get some early wins under their belt as they raced to the top of the log, winning their first four matches.
In the final, however, the Blitz simply didn’t have the rub of the green, lost wickets and struggled to score quickly enough to put a challenging score on the board. That’s what happens in finals and it’s what makes cricket such an enthralling contest for the fans, but there were three key areas where the Blitz lost focus, with each offering a great lesson for cricketers at all levels.
A mix-up between Andile Phehlukwayo and skipper Farhaan Behardien led to Phehlukwayo being run out with five overs left in the bank, right when quick runs were needed to test the Stars’ ability to chase a target under pressure. Phehlukwayo didn’t come good with the bat in the MSL, but the final was a situation tailor-made for him to shine with his big hitting, so that run-out undoubtedly hurt the Blitz’s prospects in the match.
It’s easy to say this from the sidelines, but when you have a big-hitter at the crease and you’re at the business end of a white ball match, it’s a good tactic to avoid attempting risky singles. Especially when your team is in a tight spot.
At the start of the sixth over of their innings the Stars still needed 6.26 runs an over for victory, which was very doable, but at that stage the Blitz were making them work hard for it. There was still a contest on the field.
Rassie van der Dussen hit a strong square drive off the back foot to point off Malusi Siboto, which went for four under a diving Phehlukwayo.
Van der Dussen smacked the next two balls for four, and in the following over Hendricks hit a four and a six in a 15-run over as the run rate eased down to 5.15 runs to the over, which put the Stars firmly in the ascendancy, especially as they were just one wicket down.
Anyone who has played cricket should realise that it’s foolish to ever point a finger at a player for a misfield or a dropped catch. These things happen and it’s usually bad luck or a bad bounce of the ball, but this incident illustrates the fine margins that shift the balance of power in high-pressure situations – as well as the importance of staying focused at all times as a team (rather than focusing on the fielder).
Where I thought the Blitz missed a trick was in their reaction to each of those boundaries. Between the skipper, the fielders and the bowlers it seemed like the gas was let out during those short passages of play, which in turn eased the pressure on the Stars.
The message is always the same: never give up, never take your situation for granted (winning or losing), and treat every match and every situation as a World Cup final (or semi-final!). Is there anything different the Blitz could have done on Sunday? Anything they tried might not have made a difference, but I didn’t sense them pushing up the mountain right to the end.
This comment isn’t about what the Blitz did or didn’t do, rather it’s about recognising the need to keep a focus on making your opponent fight to the very last ball every time. The history of cricket is festooned with hundreds of amazing comebacks and fightbacks, and thinking about these should instil in all players the will to fight to the death. It doesn’t matter if you have all but lost the match – keep fighting through to the end as if each ball is the most important of all time, because it’s that spirit that helps you to grow as a competitor and that personal growth that might just offer you an extra edge in your next big match.
The final negative for the Blitz was conceding 10 runs in wides, which was incredibly costly in such a tight-run chase. Extras have been the one big black mark against many of the teams in the MSL, and bowlers need to tighten up if they hope to wrestle the ascendancy back from the big-hitting batters in white ball cricket.
Of course, it’s not easy in the heat of battle to control every ball you deliver, and the margins are incredibly fine, but bowlers have a unique opportunity as they dictate the play with each delivery. They can practice endlessly every possible ball that they plan to deliver, but what they can’t control is how batters respond to each delivery.
The message is simple: control the delivery and then you’ve done all you can to win your half of the battle!
This is a lesson the Proteas need to keep in mind in their pursuit of a first World Cup title – and they need to remember it when they have bat or ball in hand.
PS, it’s not about Andile
As it turns out, Phehlukwayo was actually the big culprit in the final when it came to wides (he sent down four of them), but before the comments section on Facebook lights up with readers campaigning for him to be ditched from the Proteas squad (he has featured in all three of the points above!), I want to state that I believe wholeheartedly that he is the right man for the Proteas at number seven – in all formats.
I interviewed Andile for the latest issue of SA Cricket magazine which is on shelf mid-December and I was struck by his thoughtfulness, as well as his cricketing insight. His statistics also, I believe, offer all the evidence to justify his place in the Proteas side.
On ‘Final Sunday’ the ball didn’t bounce right for Andile or the Blitz, but champions take the knocks and come back for more, and that’s exactly what I expect Andile and Ashwell’s Blitz to do.
Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images