One of South Africa’s unheralded players hasn’t always had the rub of the green but he still has plenty of ambition, writes Firdose Moonda.
Farhaan Behardien isn’t reading this. Or too much else written about him. He stopped doing that five years ago after his first overseas tour as an international cricketer, to Sri Lanka in mid-2013.
The trip went badly for everyone, most of all Behardien. South Africa lost the ODI series 4-1 and Behardien, who had eight ODI and 10 T20 caps to his name, scored three runs in three matches. Of the members of the squad who played more than one match, only Morne Morkel fared worse.
In the aftermath, Behardien copped some of the harshest criticism. He was labelled not good enough and found that hard to take. ‘It was a tough start for me, so early on I made a decision not to read too much into the media because there’s already a lot going on,’ Behardien tells SACricket magazine. ‘In the beginning, you want to impress the selectors and the crowd, and you want to prove you are good enough.’
The popular narrative suggests Behardien still hasn’t done that and the numbers don’t help him. His ODI average only peeps over 30 and he doesn’t have a hundred in the format. He knows he has not translated his domestic form early or adequately enough on the international stage. ‘I had hoped to flourish a little earlier but it took a while for me to step up. I faced some tough assignments early on, like in Sri Lanka and Australia, especially for a guy who was trying to make it,’ he says.
A trial by spin became Behardien’s biggest challenge, not only on his first tour but also in mid-2016, when he was part of a squad that played and failed to get to the final of a tri-series in West Indies, which also included Australia. For Behardien, that aspect of his game has been the area he has worked on most in the past decade and he was disappointed not to get the chance to show that in South Africa’s February series against India, where he only played one of the six ODIs.
‘I tried to improve my game. At international level, I didn’t get much time in the middle so when I came back I worked on my spin game. I came up with better plans. I didn’t get the chance to test myself against Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal in the India series but I would have liked to.’
The sadness of his story is that what Behardien likes, is seldom what he gets. From his early days in the Cape, where he failed to receive a franchise contract at the end of the 2005-06 season, despite being called up to the national academy that winter to his time playing behind against and big names in the national side.
With Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy all ahead of Behardien in the lineup, he often finds himself in one of two situations: with a strong start ahead of him and not enough time to make a big score, or in the midst of a collapse, without partners to help rescue the situation. Add to that the constant insecurity over his place and Behardien is the ultimate yo-yo man. ‘I had to compete with David Miller and Rilee Rossouw early on. It was always between two or three of us.’
Instead, Behardien has found his place in the domestic game, where he is much vaunted for his role in being part of a Titans’ team that are dominant on the local scene. He first caught the eye of Gary Kirsten in the 2011-12 season, when he finished fourth on the T20 run-scorers’ list with an average of 66.60 and strike rate of 143.53. Kirsten wanted Behardien in the side after that. Last summer, Behardien was second on the T20 list and this summer, he was fourth on the List A run charts. He has made his name as a finisher and match-winner and credits Titans’ coach Mark Boucher for changing his approach and his mindset.
‘Mark Boucher has had a big influence on my career, in terms of the style of play and the intensity I play at. I’ve really improved the mental aspect of my game,’ Behardien says. ‘It’s like when Gary Kirsten was the Proteas coach. He is speaking from a place of experience. Boucher played 149 Tests and played against Warne and McGrath and his words carry validity. At training, he pushes you, he gets under your skin and you have some uncomfortable sessions that can help you take your game forward. We focused on how I could close out games and I feel like, in the past 15 months, it has all come together.’
What has not come is a deal overseas. Despite putting his name into the IPL auction for the CPL draft, he has not landed a contract and is now chasing a county deal in the UK. ‘I put my name into all these auctions and drafts and missed out on the CPL. The IPL is a bit of a lottery and they seem to love Australian players. I am trying to get into the UK,’ Behardien says. ‘I have played five seasons of club cricket. Unless I get a county deal, I will spend the winter at home with the family.’
As Behardien enters the mid-30s, things like family, friends and a life beyond cricket have become more important to him. He is close to Heino Kuhn, with whom he owned a house when they first became professional cricketers and Roelof van der Merwe.
‘I enjoyed playing with Roelof. He always wears his heart on his sleeve. What a competitor, what a fierce cricketer.’
Van der Merwe had a brief taste of international cricket but has furthered his career with Somerset and the Netherlands and no longer offers his seniority to South Africa’s domestic scene. For Behardien, that is a concern.
‘Our cricket is healthy but it can be better. When we talk about the guys who have signed Kolpak deals, they have taken out a lot of the quality from our franchise cricket. We need to play against seasoned professionals, so it would be good to have them around.’
Behardien often takes a wider view of the current set-up. As a member of the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) executive, he is also interested in player welfare. He has played a leading role in securing contracts for the South Africa A side and will be involved in discussions between CSA and Saca on the players’ memorandum of understanding. He is also studying a psychology degree through an online English university but none of that means he is ready to hang up his boots just yet.
‘My body is strong and I am still young at heart. I feel like I am playing some of my best cricket, even if I have a few more grey hairs these days. I would like to look at the World T20 in 2020 as a bit of a swansong,’ Behardien said. ‘As long as I am fit and healthy and can push the youngsters in the yo-yo tests, I think I will carry on. I want to win a World Cup. It’s at the forefront of my mind.’
He wants to win it, not read about it.
Written by Firdose Moonda – ESPN Cricinfo
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