Cape Town, South Africa (BBN)-On a still evening somewhere in an average South African suburb, a die-hard sports fan is in dreamland, where everything is moving.
He sees men running, jumping, and even leaping. He sees a ball hit into a black velvet sky and come back down, sometimes on one side of a rope and into a crowd of clawing hands; sometimes on the other side in to vacant space that should have been better guarded, reports ESPNcricinfo.
He starts to panic. He wants out of this imaginary world. He screams “McCullum”.
He clutches a stuffed toy to his chest, presumably to soften the sounds of his beating heart, and wakes up to realise his sleeping self was replaying the World Cup semi-final between which South Africa lost and that in the real world, the nightmare of New Zealand is quite different.
When broadcaster SuperSport shot their promotional advert for the upcoming series between South Africa and New Zealand – which Mike Hesson has seen and chuckled at – they were not prepared for this:
“I’m an All Black supporter now,” Grant Elliott declared in Durban, where the South African rugby team lost to Argentina for the first time ever five days ago to finish last in the Rugby Championship, turning their World Cup preparation upside-down.
Nobody expects Elliott, who was born in Johannesburg but has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade, to shout for Springboks, but that he is so closely allied to their biggest rivals stings.
Perhaps mostly because of the nightmare two of South Africa’s most popular sports – which also happen to be two of New Zealand’s most popular – is trapped in at the moment.
The national rugby side has lost three in a row, which remains the sports-loving portion of the country’s main concern.
However, the cricket results are also worrying.
The senior team was defeated for the first time ever in an ODI series in Bangladesh, the A side can barely hold their food, nevermind their own in India, and the Under-19s slumped to home and away defeats to Bangladesh.
South African fans could be forgiven for feeling flat, at the least, and furious, at the worst.
But Elliott has cautioned them not to be too harsh on their teams, even while he bats for the other side.
“With the results they had in Bangladesh – and I know how difficult it is to travel and play in Bangladesh conditions – I don’t think you can really gauge where the team is at with that result, because those are tough conditions,” he said.
“In their own conditions, Bangladesh are very competitive. I have been to Bangladesh and struggled to win a game there. Its just such foreign conditions as we found with turning wickets, slow wickets so it took a while to adapt to that.”
It gets better because he gave them some hope for the upcoming contest. “The grass is always green in Natal.”
Kingsmead’s green mamba has lost some of its venom in recent years, but early-season conditions mean it will offer something for South Africa’s pace pack.
Kagiso Rabada was excited to see “green on the wicket, not just off it,” while David Wiese said that if the nets were anything to go by, it could be “a bit spicy.”
New Zealand will not mind that either, as they have a clutch of their own quicks who Elliott hopes will stake a claim in the absence of Tim Southee and Trent Boult.
“We are missing the bulk of our players that played in the World Cup which leaves quite a big hole in our team now but it is an opportunity for New Zealand cricket to get a bit more depth in the squad which I think is important for the lead up to the World T20,” he said.
South Africa are also looking forward to that tournament and for all the advantages home conditions may give them now, they know they will need to be strong in the spin department for next March.
That’s where Eddie Leie could come in and the legspinner was not too bothered by the prospect of a pacy track thwarting him as he tries to play his way into the World T20 squad.
“The role of a spinner doesn’t change – it doesn’t matter where you play in the world or in the country. For a spinner, it’s bowling the middle overs and trying to control from overs seven to 13. It doesn’t matter what the conditions look like, you have to find a way to control the middle overs,” Leie said.
But that does not mean he is going to operate only as a container.
“T20 is about flair – you try to mix it up as much as you can; keep the batsmen guessing. You can’t bowl the same thing all the time because they can just line you up so you have to mix it up and if you can get wickets in the middle overs, you ultimately will control that middle period.”
Words spoken with such clarity will likely sound like a lullaby to our restless sports fan but his sleep will only improve when South Africa start winning as consistently as they used to, especially in a dual World Cup year.
The cricket cup is gone, but there’s still the rugby trophy to hope for.