3 minute read

The Dolphins’ sad loss of experience

By Neil Johnson

I was fortunate to be one of a group of youngsters playing for Natal under the captaincy of famous West Indian fast bowler Malcolm Marshall. Among those also starting out on their careers were Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Dale Benkenstein and Ross Veenstra.

Our senior players were, among others, Peter Rawson, Clive Rice, Pat Symcox, Andrew Hudson and, of course, Marshall.

I remember going out to bat with Clive Rice in a first-class game. We were under pressure, the spinners were on and the ball was turning square. There were three fielders around the bat, I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and was concentrating solely on not getting out. After a few overs of scratching and blocking, Clive walked down the wicket and said it was my job to get rid of the fielders around the bat and the only way I could do that was to hit over the top. The very next ball I hit a lofted shot over the bowlers head for four. With no change in the field he encouraged me to do it again and within a few overs the field was spread and batting was a whole lot easier. It was one of the many valuable lessons I would learn.

In the last few months the KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins have suffered a major setback. With the departure of Dale Benkenstein and Lance Klusener, they have lost the collective experience of 369 first-class, 543 one-day and 70 20/20 caps. Dale and Lance have accepted lucrative offers to play in the Indian Cricket League. It’s hard to blame them for accepting sign-on fees of around $120 000 and earnings of more than a R1 million, all for a month’s work.

The repercussions for the Dolphins are enormous. The best teams in world cricket are built around their senior players. Their presence in the team protects the junior players and allows them to develop and play with freedom – as I was able to with Clive Rice. Lance and Dale leave a gaping hole in a very inexperienced Dolphins side

Fortunately, Doug Watson is still there, with 124 matches to his credit, but there is no other player in the Dolphins line-up with this kind of experience. The talented youngsters are now playing with only one experienced campaigner instead of three or four. I feel for Ahmed Amla as a young captain and it must be difficult for him not being able to call on the likes Dale Benkenstein and Lance Klusener.

It was only four years ago that Dale Benkenstein was overlooked in favour of younger players by the South African selectors – he was only 29. He is now playing some of the best cricket of his life as captain of Durham in the English county championship. Lance Klusener now represents Northamptonshire and is still playing world-class cricket. It is sad to think that English cricket are now the beneficiaries of their expertise.

Australian Darren Lehman has just retired at the age of 37, citing injury as his reason. It’s commonplace for cricketers in Australia to be playing into their late 30s, a stage in a cricketer’s career when valuable information can be passed on to the next generation. Senior players understand their own game and know how to control situations on the field. Of course, the coach plays an influential role but, on the field, the senior players are the ones to turn to when problems arise.

It has been encouraging to see how Hashim Amla has thrived batting with Jaques Kallis. He has been able to go about his business while Jaques has piled on the runs at the other end and this has taken some of the pressure off him.

It reinforces, again, how essential experienced players are in the development of the game and how important it is to keep in the South Africa.

• Neil Johnson, a former Natal and Zimbawean Test cricketer, is now a televison and radio commentator and lives in Pietermaritzburg.