Cricket Corner: King Kane, Sunrisers come again & a very rare women's Test


Cricket Corner: King Kane, Sunrisers come again & a very rare women's Test

South Africa's women beat Australia for the first time ever in a T20 and an ODI in their ongoing series down under
South Africa's women beat Australia for the first time ever in a T20 and an ODI in their ongoing series down underAFP
In this weekly feature, Flashscore's Pat Dempsey brings together some of the leading talking points from the increasingly sprawling universe of the world's second-most watched sport.

In a nod to the longest form of the game - Test cricket - the article is broken into three sections to mirror the main intervals in a day’s play: Lunch - the main course; Tea - something extra; and Stumps (the end of play) - something to ponder over a few drinks at the bar.

Lunch: Kane the main character

Last week we shone a little light on New Zealand’s double centurion in the first Test against South Africa, Rachin Ravindra. However, the Black Caps also had another ‘double centurion’ in the shape of Kane Williamson. The veteran batter notched two centuries in that match (118 & 109), albeit at a combined total less than Ravindra’s first-innings score. Overlooking Williamson’s achievements didn’t feel criminal but it did feel wrong not to mention him at all. Perhaps this is the 'Kane Williamson effect' if you will. He is such an understated individual and has been a consistent performer for so many years that we might tend to gloss over just how good he is in favour of other narratives in the sport.

Williamson’s twin tons in Mount Maunganui represented his 30th and 31st Test centuries. In notching his 30th three-figure score, Williamson not only joined revered company but he achieved the feat in one fewer innings than Australian great Ricky Ponting, taking just 169 outings to get to the milestone. For comparison, Steve Smith took 162 innings and Sachin Tendulkar 159 to reach the same mark. Of his generation, Williamson is rightly considered to be one of the ‘Fab Four’ alongside Australia’s Smith (32 Test centuries), England’s Joe Root (30 tons) and India’s Virat Kohli (29). Evidently, the quartet couldn’t be more evenly matched in terms of that particular stat and will forever be compared as they are all between 33 and 35 years old. Smith edges the group in terms of his Test average, Root in terms of weight of runs, and Kohli in terms of his white-ball record but what about Williamson? Is he just the other guy? The quiet sidekick.

Undoubtedly New Zealand’s best-ever batter, Williamson’s greatness hasn’t been as forefront a conversation as the others mentioned above. This is probably for a few reasons - not being from one of the commercially major cricket-playing nations, having a more understated personality, and possibly due to having a pretty lean run from early 2021 through to early 2023. In that period, Williamson also relinquished the Test captaincy, stepping away from the limelight more so. In his 10 innings before the ongoing second Test, however, he returned to form in exceptional fashion, scoring five centuries along with a double ton. That is simply outrageous and if he can continue that run, he could well surpass his rivals in more ways than one by the end of his international career. From sidekick to main character? It could happen.

Following the South Africa series, New Zealand play three Twenty20s (T20) against Australia before an enticing two-match Test series against their antipodean rivals (starting February 29th). Williamson, still the white-ball captain, will miss the T20s due to paternity leave.

Tea: Will the Sunrisers rise again?

Sunrisers Eastern Cape won the SA20 (South Africa’s premier T20 league) over the weekend, going back to back in the tournament’s second season. Key to their success was the leadership and general brilliance of captain Aiden Markram, who took an all-time classic catch in the qualifier against Durban’s Super Giants as you can see below, as well as fellow Proteas Marco Jansen (the top wicket-taker in the competition) and Tristan Stubbs. Aside from Jansen, Sunrisers also possessed the other top three wicket-takers in the tournament but no batter in the top six scorers, adding weight to the well-worn mantra that bowling attacks really win T20 tournaments.

Sunrisers and the Super Giants also met in the final - the loser from the qualifier had a second chance to reach the decider. It was a fitting matchup as those two finished first and second, respectively, in the table. By the same logic, Sunrisers were fitting winners of the competition, which has very quickly established itself as one of the standout T20 franchise leagues in the world. Arguably, second only to the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The IPL has a lot to do with the SA20 as all six sides are affiliates of IPL franchises. Eastern Cape’s IPL parent franchise are Sunrisers Hyderabad. Interestingly, the Hyderabad side are also captained by Markram and also count Jansen amongst their overseas players. Unlike their African daughter, Hyderabad haven’t had much success in recent seasons. They have failed to reach the playoffs in the last three editions of the IPL and finished rock-bottom last year. However, if their African offspring are any indication of organisational success, Hyderabad, under the leadership of Markram, could be a dangerous proposition at the upcoming IPL (starting in late March).

Aside from Markram and Jansen, Hyderabad have added Australian superstars Travis Head and Pat Cummins as well as Sri Lankan allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga to their ranks. The real ace up their sleeve, however, is South Africa’s Heinrich Klaasen. Klaasen is one of the best middle-order batters in white-ball cricket, if not the best. Although on the losing side of the SA20 final, Klaasen only added to his considerable reputation at the tournament scoring 447 runs (second only to Ryan Rickelton) at the mind-boggling strike rate of 207.9. The only time Hyderabad won the IPL was back in 2016 but with their current squad looking fearsome and in form, the sun could rise again in 2024.

Stumps: A very rare women's Test

Regrettably, I hardly find time and/or space to squeeze the women’s game into Cricket Corner and it feels high time to do so. This is especially the case as there is a particularly interesting and historic international series well underway. Undisputed queens of the women’s game, Australia have been playing South Africa in a multi-format series down under. Three T20s were followed by three ODIs and to cap it all off, there is a Test match starting this Thursday in Perth.

To catch you up on the series so far, the hosts won both the white-ball legs two games to one. Despite the overall losses, there have been a lot of positives for the visitors, however, who managed their first-ever T20 and ODI wins over Australia. Further history beckons as the upcoming Test will be South Africa’s first against Australia, just their sixth in the last two decades and only their 14th of all time. What's more, it will be the first red-ball international at the famous WACA ground since 2017.

“It's going to be a great challenge for us," South Africa all-rounder Nadine de Klerk said. "Obviously, it's kind of unknown territory for us and we haven't played a lot of it. They're a world-class side and we're looking forward to going up against them," she added. It won't just be a challenge, it's going to be boiling hot, too.

Australia have been hugely dominant in women’s cricket - they have won seven out of 12 50-over World Cups and six of eight T20 World Cups (the next one is later this year). In the Test arena, they have by far the best winning percentage, too. In a word, they have been a cut above the rest of the world but the gap between the best and the rest is narrowing as investment in the women's game broadens. This is evidenced by the Proteas' recent success and India’s one-off Teat victory over the Aussies back in December. 

One thing that should be noted is that women's Tests are played over four days and not five. This heightens the risk of draws. Considering most women's Test series are one-off matches, increasing the length of women's Tests to align with men's is a small and obvious change that could instantly improve these very rare and special sporting events. Can the Proteas muster another upset in Perth? It would certainly be a boost for the profile of women's cricket and massive for South Africa.



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