• World Cup hearts in our mouths

    Last night at Newlands cricket ground Proteas fans were treated to some fine batting and bowling, but it was in the field that our hearts skipped a beat, writes SIMON LEWIS.

    There has been a lot of controversy surrounding most aspects of the Mzansi Super League, but having been ringside for eight matches now, I’d have to say that, in my opinion, if you’re tired of the Mzansi Super League then you’re tired of life and cricket.

    For my money it’s been a cracker – well, certainly the matches played at Newlands and in Paarl. The crowds have been decent in size and have been animated, the atmosphere has been electric and the cricket entertaining. What I’ve specifically liked is that it hasn’t simply been a slogfest – the bowlers (especially the tweakers) have packed a lot of punch in the tournament, and many of the matches have swayed in fortunes to the delight of the neutrals.

    It’s been a job well done by the few and cricket well enjoyed by the many.

    I’ve heard some jaded fans (and industry insiders) moaning that the MSL is little more than the Ram Slam, and that it pales in atmosphere and organisation compared to ‘real’ overseas T20 events. Possibly … but the big difference is the presence of some star names, even if a couple of the biggest T20 stars haven’t been available for MSL 2018. Another key factor is that this is our tournament: it’s Africa’s T20.

    As for any gremlins or teething problems … well, those will always sneak in, but it’s a bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need to remove the burr from your nether regions and just allow yourself to get caught up in the wonder and excitement of it all. Kids are the future of the sport, so try to see things through their eyes. Then it all becomes a lot more exciting.

    That’s why I make a point of leaving the sanctuary of the press box (with its free wifi and catering two steps from our desks) to circle around the ground once or twice during a match. It offers a chance to see the action from different angles, get a sense of the power of the bowler and the punch of the batter. And you get caught up in the reactions of the crowd.

    That’s when the crowd had their first heart-stopping moment of the evening.

    Dale Steyn had been charging in with great pace with ball in hand, looking like a 25-year-old again. Unfortunately, he decided to dive around on the field like a 25-year-old as he tried to stop a powerful straight drive from Faf du Plessis.

    Du Plessis had been at his commanding best, strutting and posing with the machismo of a Viv Richards in his prime. I was standing at deep, deep, deep extra cover (behind the rows of seats) as Faf poked a square cut/push off a short ball from Andile Phehlukwayo high into the twilight sky, and the ball carried over the shortish point boundary for six. Next ball was an imperious, Graeme Pollock-powered straight drive, followed by a quite majestic lofted drive high into the crowd at deep mid-off.

    Phehlukwayo just shook his head. Not much you can do when a world-class batter is in his flow.

    The final six was, however, delayed by a few minutes while Steyn received medical attention after diving full length (and at full speed) to try and cut off Faf’s power drive. He crashed nastily into the turf and stayed still for a few moments. It looked like Steyn had landed on his face and/or shoulder, and he appeared to be dazed and in some pain, as Blitz captain Farhaan Behardien stood over him, calling for medical attention, and for a split second appearing to summon divine intervention to Dale’s bedside.

    For a moment there seemed to be smoke and flames dancing around Steyn’s 422 Test wicket quest and the 2019 Cricket World Cup, but he was soon patched up and came back firing later in the innings, bowling superbly to keep Faf a lot quieter at the crease.

    Steyn finished with figures of 2-22 off his four overs (econ 5.50) – not bad for a man Quinton de Kock jokingly calls ‘my old man’.

    As the Blitz made their way without undue hassle to victory with almost five overs to spare later that evening, Faf du Plessis leaped in the air in an attempt to catch a rampant De Kock (who was on 84 off 42 balls). The Paarl Rocks and Proteas skipper came crashing down hard on the Newlands outfield, staying still for a moment.

    Faf du Plessis in full flight

    Memories of Sri Lanka came flooding back, but fortunately Faf was soon back on his feet and his trademark smile creased his lips once he had muscled the pain out of his shoulder.

    Two moments in the space of around two hours that would have had Proteas fans’ hearts in their mouths … and two moments that the naysayers would have been eager to add to their MSL Moan List. Yes, the thought of losing one of the Proteas’ star players ahead of the Pakistan and Sri Lanka tours is a devastating prospect, especially with the fear of a lengthy absence affecting the Proteas’ World Cup hopes.

    But some people will always see their glass as half full.

    What excited me was the commitment of both senior players in those split seconds when they had to make an instant competitive decision. It is that commitment and competitiveness which is bringing the MSL to life and which, hopefully, will also bring our World Cup dreams to life next year.

    Photos: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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    Simon Lewis