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How Ottis Gibson set up South Africa’s ‘elite fast-bowling group’

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Forget elite honesty, all South Africa have needed to make home a fortress is elite fast bowling. Under Ottis Gibson, South Africa have now won five home Test series in a row, and key to that success has been a reinvigorated pace culture: a coach rooted in Barbadian pace traditions has been at the forefront of a South African fast-bowling renaissance.

South Africa has always produced great quicks, and the fast men have been their greatest – and sometimes, it seemed, only – asset. Outdoor childhoods, grassy pitches that spur bowlers on, and a natural proclivity for the hard work that bowling quick requires probably have something to do with it. Whatever the case, this is a fast-bowling country with a proud history.

Gibson played with and against some of South Africa’s finest as an overseas pro for no less than three South African provincial sides in the 1990s, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Peter Rawson, Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Fanie de Villiers, Meyrick Pringle and Shaun Pollock. Now he is nurturing the next generation. The success of the current crop, and South Africa’s renewed focus on pace, is no accident.

ALSO READ: Life lessons from Donald and Pollock

“Since I’ve been here, over the last 12 months, we’ve set up what we call an elite fast-bowling group,” Gibson explained after South Africa’s four-pronged demolition of Pakistan in the second Test at Newlands. “Coming from the Caribbean, I believe that fast bowling is the bedrock. Most of the teams that dominated world cricket have always had strong fast-bowling stocks.”

The fast-bowling programme was launched ahead of the 2017-18 season after Gibson held a series of meetings with the leading franchise and high-performance coaches on his arrival in South Africa. The aim was to widen the pool of elite fast bowlers in the country, and it has worked.

“We’ve looked at how we can find out what we have with regards to fast bowling, nurture it, and then get it all together under one umbrella so we know what guys are doing,” he said. “We manage workloads. We look at actions, if any actions need tweaking. We have a group of people looking after that, from sports scientists all the way down to trainers and stuff like that. That’s only going to grow and get better. Cricket in South Africa, even in the 90s when I came, has always been built on fast bowling.

“That’s what I was raised up on. If you have four fast bowlers of the quality we have here, then it would be silly not to use them. The skill, the fitness levels. The way they kept coming in. And they’re all very different. Duanne [Olivier] is fast and aggressive, Dale Steyn is highly skilled, Vernon Philander is very accurate, and [Kagiso] Rabada does a bit of everything. So there’s a lot of variety in it as well.”

Rabada has blossomed under Gibson, taking 68 wickets at 16.95 and a strike rate of 33.1 in 12 home Tests during his tenure. While he, Steyn, Philander and Olivier are as fearsome a foursome as you will find in current international cricket – and right up there with many that have come before – the list doesn’t end there.

Gibson name-checked Anrich Nortje and Lutho Sipamla, two young fast bowlers who made a splash at the Mzansi Super League, and there are more waiting in the wings. Lungi Ngidi will be back in the frame come February, when it is expected that he will be fully recovered from a knee injury, while Dane Paterson and Beuran Hendricks have both enjoyed fruitful first-class seasons, and Junior Dala has no trouble making his presence felt with the white ball. Down the line, Corbin Bosch may follow in his father Tertius’ foot-steps to become a South Africa quick.

But before the baton is passed to any of the above, South Africa will enjoy a couple more years with Rabada, Steyn et al tearing in off their runs. With new talent coming through the ranks, Steyn’s role in the side has inevitably changed, particularly as South Africa have often had to make do without him as he battled his way back to full fitness. Neither his captain nor his coach see the fire dimming in his eyes and fittingly Steyn could be the first fast bowler from South Africa, a country that champions cricket’s fastest art, to take 500 Test wickets.

“Certainly he’s enjoying his cricket, and he’s back to his absolute best,” said Gibson. “At 35 he’s steaming in and bowling 90mph with a smile on his face. The Dale Steyn angry eyes are back again, and he’s enjoying cricket.

“When he broke the record last year, I went to him and said ‘I think your next hundred wickets will come much quicker than your last hundred’. The last hundred, with all the injuries that he’s had, took a long time. I think his next hundred wickets will come a lot quicker, as you can see from how he’s performing on the field.”

ALSO READ: When Babar met Steyn

The continued presence of the greatest of all South African fast bowlers will breed confidence in rest of the attack, as will home tracks weighted in favour of seam and swing. South Africa will keep winning Tests, and home will remain a fortress. For captain Faf du Plessis, that is enough.

“For me, confidence, for any sportsman around the world, is probably the biggest factor,” he said. “Mentally, if you’re doing well, that is the biggest asset to have. Our confidence in our bowling unit is very high, purely because they’re doing well, they’re getting wickets and they’re winning Test matches. A confident bowling attack for me trumps everything.”

“I think we’re right up there,” added du Plessis. “What we need to do to win Test matches, we’re doing that. For me that’s enough.”



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Van der Dussen called up to South Africa’s ODI squad | Cricket

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Hashim Amla clobbers one away © AFP/Getty


Batsman Rassie van der Dussen is in line for his ODI debut and seamer Dane Paterson has been recalled to South Africa’s 14-man squad for the first two ODIs against Pakistan to be played later this month. Van der Dussen scored a match-winning fifty on his T20I debut against Zimbabwe last year, but missed out on selection for South Africa’s limited overs trip to Australia in November, while Paterson has not played for the Proteas in this format since his debut series against Bangladesh in 2017.

Hashim Amla, who missed the most recent series in Australia while he was recovering from a finger injury, also returns to the squad but JP Duminy and Lungi Ngidi were not considered as their rehabilitation to full fitness continues.

“We need to look at all the options available to us as we get closer to selecting our final squad for this year’s World Cup,” national selector Linda Zondi said. “Rassie and Dane are two players who have been knocking strongly on the door in all formats.”

After his bright T20I debut, van der Dussen continued to make headlines during the inaugural Mzansi Super League, during which he topped the run charts with 469 runs at a strike rate of 138.75 and played a vital role in Jozi Stars’ title-winning campaign. Paterson has also been there and thereabouts for a while, having played in the T20Is against Zimbabwe and been included as injury cover in the Test squad against Pakistan.

The trialing of van der Dussen and Paterson means that Farhaan Behardien, Aiden Markram and Chris Morris miss out on the opening exchanges against Pakistan, but they could well get a look-in towards the end of the five-match series, when the squad will be revised.

“Those players who went to Australia and have not been selected for the first two matches – Farhaan Behardien, Aiden Markram and Chris Morris – are by no means out of the picture and they may well get further opportunities in the second half of the series,” Zondi said.

“We are very happy with the way in which our Vision 2019 is taking shape. The series against Pakistan could not have come at a better time as they will provide a very stern test for the Proteas under conditions very similar to what we will experience at the World Cup.”

South Africa ODI squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Dane Paterson, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Rassie van der Dussen

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town


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Australia to begin India tour with T20I in Bengaluru

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Australia will begin their limited-overs tour of India with a T20I at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on February 24. The tour comprises two T20Is and five ODIs.

From Bengaluru, the teams will work their way from south to north, with Visakhapatnam hosting the second T20I (February 27) and Hyderabad (March 2), Nagpur (March 5), Ranchi (March 8), Mohali (March 10) and Delhi (March 13) hosting the ODIs.

Both T20Is will be night matches starting at 7 pm IST, and all five ODIs day-night games starting at 1.30 pm.

The tour is set to be Australia’s last international assignment before the 2019 World Cup. For India, this series will be followed by a home series against Zimbabwe, following which the players will head into the IPL and then the World Cup. For both sides, therefore, this India-Australia series could be crucial to identifying the squads that will travel to England for the big tournament.



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Disappointing that SL need to qualify for T20 World Cup – Lasith Malinga | Cricket

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Lasith Malinga found his rhythm early © Getty Images


Once the No. 1 T20 side in the world, Sri Lanka should “never have let things get so bad” that they are now forced to play in a qualifying tournament in order to gain entry to the T20 World Cup proper. So went the lament of Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka’s World T20-winning captain, and a great of the format.

With Sri Lanka having slipped to ninth on the T20 rankings after losing 12 of their 16 most-recent matches, the ICC announced earlier this month that they would not gain automatic entry into the “Super 12” round of next year’s T20 World Cup. Instead, they will have to finish in the top two in a group of four in the opening round of the competition, in order to progress into the part of the tournament into which the eight top teams gain automatic entry.

This fate is quite a fall for a team that had a history of performing extremely well at T20 global tournaments between 2009 and 2014. Three times they made the final of the event, losing to Pakistan and West Indies in 2009 and 2012 respectively, before finally going on to lift the trophy in 2014, defeating India in the final. They had also been the top-ranked T20 side between late 2012 and mid-2014, and had wielded one of the smartest attacks in the world, led by Malinga.

“It’s really disappointing to need to qualify, because having won the World T20 in 2014, inside five years we’ve slipped lower than No. 8,” Malinga said. “We have a chance to get into the World Cup by playing qualifiers, but we’re not a country that should ever have fallen that far. We’re a country that’s won two World Cups (including one in one-day cricket). We’ve gone wrong somewhere. But if the right people come into the right places, things can be put right quickly as well.”

Now tasked with turning the fate of Sri Lanka’s limited overs sides around, Malinga will captain in a T20 international for the first time since 2016, when Sri Lanka take the field against New Zealand in Auckland, on Friday. Malinga was hopeful the recent decline could be arrested.

“If you look at the players we have, we can build a good team, but we need to put effort into that,” he said. “We need to cultivate the skills necessary for T20. As captain, along with the team management, I’ve got a responsibility to try and help our players tune their existing skills to the T20 format. We need to know as a team which skills should be used in which match situations.”

The bowlers, in particular, could be cleverer in pressure situations, Malinga said. Reputed to be a quick thinker in the shorter formats, this is an area in which Malinga felt he had a role in helping improve.

“At some stages the bowlers are confused. We have so much variation in our attack, but bowlers have to understand how to set up an over. Every ball can’t get a wicket. Bowlers have to set up a batsman and take that wicket. They have skill, but they’re not comfortable using those skills while the over is going on, I feel. In the training sessions, they are really good. But in the match situations, they are lacking confidence. I want to help them learn how to improve that aspect of their game. They have a lot to learn.”

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf


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