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Where have all the Saffers gone?

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South_Africa_IPL_players_cricket_T20Three South Africans head home from India with an Indian Premier League winner’s medal around their necks. Faf du Plessis, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir played six, seven and six games respectively out of a possible sixteen for the Chennai Super Kings and, despite not featuring for the majority of the tournament, all contributed to the winning campaign.

Ngidi starred with the ball and finished as Chennai’s top wicket taker with 11 scalps and remained the only bowler to end the tournament with an economy of six an over or better. His 4 for 10 against Kings XI Punjab was the standout spell of the competition and was backed up by his 1 for 26 in the final against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, which included a maiden over to Kane Williamson.

Du Plessis ended with a respectable average of 32.4 but will be remembered for his unbeaten 67 against the Sunrisers in the first qualifier that steered his side to victory despite the collapse of wickets at the other end.

As for Tahir, the enigmatic leg spinner was not at his best this season but his 2 for 35 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in April kept AB de Villiers and co. in check, which allowed his batsmen to reach their target with two balls remaining.

Three South Africans return with medals, but a closer look at the statistics reveals a worrying trend for those who play international cricket in green and gold. If things continue along this path, these three medals may be remembered as the end of a golden period for South Africans in the IPL.

In the very first IPL in 2008, 10 South Africans earned 93 caps between them. The high water mark was reached in 2012 when 18 players ran out for their franchises a combined 149 times. Though this ebbed and flowed until 2016, the last two years have seen a dramatic decline in the number of South Africans used.

 

Year

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

No. SA Players

10

18

16

16

18

12

14

16

15

8

10

Caps

93

130

106

141

149

111

128

127

107

53

57

 

A number of factors have contributed to this reduction in South African contributions. The suspended T20 Global League, that was scheduled to take place in November last year, would have provided South African cricketers with a platform to showcase their talents to IPL franchise owners, who understand that momentum counts for much in the shorter format.

Jofra Archer is a perfect example of a player who used the opportunity afforded to him in a big T20 league – the 2017/18 Big Bash – to demonstrate his abilities and earn an IPL contract. With 15 wickets from 10 games for the Rajasthan Royals, the 23 year old Barbadian is now a proven match winner.

Had Tabraiz Shamsi’s 16 wickets with an economy of 7 from 11 matches been procured in a more globally recognisable, and more challenging, tournament than the CSA T20 Challenge, perhaps RCB head coach Daniel Vettori may have offered him a new contract. As it was, Shamsi missed out on this year’s IPL and instead attended a spin camp in India.

Another factor contributing to the South African decline is the type of overseas player that IPL coaches are after. With India routinely producing quality spinners and middle order accumulators who are adept at rotating the strike, IPL coaches look abroad in search of aggressive top order batsmen, genuine big hitting all-rounders and out-and-out pace bowlers.  

Outside of Rashid Khan, whose 21 wickets saw him end as the second best bowler of the tournament, and Sunil Narine, who contributes as much with the ball as the bat, no other non-Indian spinner finished amongst the top 40 wicket takers. Tahir’s 6 wickets earned him the 41st spot on the list.

As for big hitting all-rounders, Chris Morris was the only South African of this description handed an IPL cap this year and he hardly set the world on fire with 46 runs and 2 wickets from 4 matches for the Delhi Daredevils. For a country that produced the likes of Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Albie Morkel, this dearth is worrying, particularly given the surplus of Australians and West Indians cut from this sought after cloth.

It is telling that JP Duminy was consigned to just 6 appearances for the Mumbai Indians and only faced 40 balls and bowled just 3 overs. As unquestionably talented as Duminy is, he is neither a power hitter nor a beguiling spinner. He is an all-rounder that is no longer in fashion in T20 cricket.

What about aggressive batsmen? David Miller’s stock in the IPL has fallen off a cliff after ending the 2013 and 2014 seasons as the top scoring South African, while Quinton de Kock ended his campaign with a whimper, collecting 201 runs at just 25.

AB de Villiers maintained his usually high standards with 480 runs at 53 with a strike rate of 174 but his IPL future remains in doubt after his sensational retirement video last week. Heinrich Klaasen, the man expecting to fill de Villiers’ shoes in the Proteas’ middle order, was a late call up to the Royals’ squad in place of the suspended Steve Smith and only got 4 games with scores of 7, 0, 32 and 18 not out.

One wonders why Hashim Amla was not offered an IPL contract this year after finishing last season as the 6th highest run scorer. Perhaps without a marquee T20 league back home, Amla disappeared from the radar of IPL owners and coaches.

At least in the fast bowling department the South Africans shone. Well, at least one of them did. Lungi Ngidi proved to be a revelation and played a major role in helping CSK reignite their season when it looked to be faltering.

Kagiso Rabada would no doubt have played the majority of games for the Daredevils, who were woefully below par without a genuine quick to compliment Trent Boult’s swing. In addition to these two tearaways there’s Junior Dala and Duanne Olivier, who could both perform a similar role for an IPL team short of raw pace.

Three South Africans return with medals but what does the future hold? So much rests on the T20 Global League scheduled for later this year as well as the training provided by local coaches who are responsible for producing young players that are marketable around the world. More worryingly, a lack of South Africans in marquee T20 leagues will negatively impact the Proteas chances of ridding themselves of the ‘choker’ tag that has plagued them in limited overs cricket.

 

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Daniel is a freelance sports journalist from Johannesburg who would always rather be watching Test ...

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