JOHANNESBURG - Earning points for a draw, some sluggish early season pitches, a dodgy set of new Kookaburra balls and the lack of high quality fast bowling has all played a part in no team being able to win a match after three rounds of this season’s Sunfoil Series.
Brows have been left furrowed as the early match-ups in the country’s premier first class competition have produced only draws. There have been 10 totals of 400 runs or more, including the Cape Cobras’s 567/6 in the third innings of their match against the Knights in Bloemfontein in the first round. Cobras coach Ashwell Prince described the pitch used at the Mangaung Oval for that match as being bad for South African cricket.
A total of 23 hundreds have been scored through those first three rounds. In the entire competition last season there were 40 hundreds.
“It’s a combination of factors; the ball plays a part, maybe 5 percent,” said Highveld Lions captain Stephen Cook.
The batch of Kookaburra balls utilised this season have not been to the bowlers’ liking and Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana has not been impressed: “I have a theory about the balls, they have not been great this season.
“The markings stay on the ball, it’s tough to shine it, the seam is too narrow, even flat ... you try to shine it and it doesn’t swing,” Toyana added.
Toyana and his captain are more firmer in their agreement about the impact the new points scoring system has had on play in the Sunfoil Series this season, saying the six points earned for a draw - being used for the first time - are making teams less likely to fold if they fall too far behind in the match.
“The six points for draws has made teams more eager to fight. In the past, teams would get under pressure and just give up,” said Toyana.
Cook believes that desire to fight harder would breed a tougher set of cricketers domestically: “In terms of what we are trying to create as a culture for the Proteas in Test cricket, this is good because it’s creating that fight.
“In the last two years there have been concerns about the absence of resilience, a lot of games were not going the distance in 4-day cricket. I think we will see a lot of character with guys more willing to fight now.”
Worryingly there’s been a dearth of quality fast bowling in the opening rounds of the competition, a result - Cook felt - of a knock on effect of the injuries that have sidelined the country’s top fast bowlers.
Said Cook: “On good wickets, it’s straight out pace that can knock teams over, we saw that with (Kagiso) Rabada and (Duanne) Olivier against Bangladesh.”
“We are struggling to get quick men ... guys who can consistently bowl 140 (km/* ), to scare sides out,” said Toyana. “It’s an issue countrywide, a problem we need to address, we must look to the pipeline, what Under-19 guys are coming through or even in the amateur structure.”