Sunfoil Series: form of domestic seamers prompts questions

Summer officially starts in South Africa around about now, but already half of the franchise first-class fixtures have been completed and so it’s time to take stock.

Of the 15 matches played across five rounds, only one game was not drawn which suggests a conservative competition. In fact, it could end up as the most conservative of its time. Already the 14 draws amount to more shared spoils than in completed tournaments in all but three summers since the franchise system came into effect in 2004-05. In 2008-09 also there were 14 draws – in the entire competition – and in 2007-08 and 2010-11, there were 15 draws each. And there’s a reason for the spike in stalemates.

A dramatic change to the points structure now sees six points on offer for a draw compared to none last season, and 16 points for a win rather than 10. At the start of the summer CSA General Manager Corrie van Zyl said the new system was aimed at encouraging “more aggressive cricket” but it has actually had the opposite effect.

Instead of teams taking risks to try and win matches, they’ve been ultra careful not to lose and have been helped by a combination of placid early-season pitches, weather interruptions and the absence of any real firepower in attacks across the country.

To date, there have only been six five-wicket hauls and only one of those has come from an out-and-out quick: Lungi Ngidi‘s 6 for 37 for Titans against Lions marked a stirring comeback for the young quick, who took nine wickets in the match. But it’s the modest Malusi Siboto, an honest Titans medium-pacer whose ability to control is lauded as his biggest asset, who leads the wicket charts, followed by a six spinners barring another Titans’ seamer Alfred Mothoa.

Given that South Africa have already had seven frontline quicks (Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier and Ngidi) injured this summer, convener of selectors Linda Zondi admitted the lack of success among the seamers so far is a worry. “It is a concern from our side that we have not seen more quick bowlers coming through so far but maybe as the season progresses, we will see the bowlers dominating,” Zondi told ESPNcricinfo.

That could well happen because the next half of the tournament will be played in February, when surfaces will be well-juiced from the summer rains (except in Cape Town, a winter-rainfall area experiencing its worst drought in history) and, already, signs of life have been seen. At the Wanderers last week, Lions opted to play on the more lively end of their square in the hope they could force a result. “We chose the pitch with more grass on it and we decided we would back our batsmen on our home ground and try to make something happen,” Geoffrey Toyana, the Lions coach, said.

They did exactly that, except it was not the something Lions wanted and Titans’ Mark Boucher thinks that now that a play has been made, there will be more to come. “We’ll see the competition open up a bit more in the second half and teams more likely to roll the dice,” he said.

Especially now that the Titans have broken away. Their lead over their nearest rivals in 10.98 points but even the last placed Lions – who are 23.84 points behind – are not out of it and Zondi is also looking forward to the prospect of greater competition later in the season. For now, though, he is focusing on the reams of runs that have been scored which includes 40 hundreds – more at the halfway stage this season than in the whole of last season.

While the run-fests are symptomatic of conditions, Zondi was pleased with the number of players scoring big hundreds. “When guys get in, they are really kicking on and that’s what we want to see,” he said.

So far, there have been two double hundreds – 237 not out by Dean Elgar and 203 not out from leading run-scorer Rudi Second – and seven other scores of 150-plus. Given how much South Africa’s batsmen, both senior and in the A team, struggled on their winter tour of England, the restoration of confidence may be more important than the results ahead of the bigger challenges against India and Australia later in the season.

Though South Africa’s cricketers will not play any first-class cricket ahead of their next Tests, which begin against Zimbabwe on Boxing Day, the first-class competition will resume in February and continue concurrently with the Australia Tests in March. Zondi believes the national squad will have the resources it needs for those challenges: “We feel we have got enough in terms of the squad that beat Bangladesh and with the guys who will be coming back from injury.”

South Africa’s season segways into a franchise T20 tournament, which starts on November 10, before international action resumes in December. Though there is no T20 Global League on the roster, Zondi wants to see the players who have become recent internationals step up on the domestic circuit. “I am expecting those guys who have been capped to go back to franchise cricket and dominate and perform, so that they enhance and improve our local T20,” he said. “We want to see a competitive event.”

Zondi is not the only one who is hoping for a bit more excitement as summer truly arrives.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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