Cricket: Dolphins win – don’t scoff at the domestic circuit

Cricket: Dolphins win – don’t scoff at the domestic circuit

The Dolphins became the champions of South Africa’s T20 competition on Sunday. With hard work, clear goals and some serious determination, they ended a trophy drought which had lasted almost a decade. Emotional celebrations highlighted the importance of the sport at domestic level, even if eyebrows are often raised at the apparent ‘lack of interest’. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

There are some sporting images that bury themselves in your memory and stay with you for the rest of your life – anything from a cheeky goal celebration to the joy of a team embracing each other and lifting a trophy. Usually, these images happen on the biggest, global stage. But on Sunday, a remember-it-forever moment occurred locally in front of a 14,500 crowd Newlands.

The Dolphins claimed their first trophy since the 2004/05 season, after pipping the Cobras by two runs. The hosts needed seven runs off the final ball and six to take the game into a Super Over. Justin Kemp and Robbie Frylinck were up against each other. Frylinck dished up a full toss and his opponent tried to heave him over the boundary rope, but the ball dropped just short. Kemp sunk to his knees in despair with only his teammate from the other end to console him. He didn’t move. The Dolphins embarked on a frenzied celebration of bum-patting, hugging, screaming and all the things that go with such elation. Daryn Smit, the former captain and somebody who has been part of the set-up for his entire career, was in tears.

Having spent the last few years trading his spinning for the keeping gloves and being thrown into the captaincy, it all changed for Smit this season. With Morne van Wyk drafted in as captain and keeper, Smit could shift his focus to his batting and bowling.

Although he didn’t top the run-scoring charts – just 124 runs at an average of 17.71 – he was one of the best players of spin for the majority of the competition. Against the wizardry of Sunil Narine and Saeed Ajmla, Smit looked composed and calm. There was no waltzing down the track and hitting the bowlers out of the park; he played it cool and calm instead. Smit is the the quintessential South African domestic cricketer: he is driven, talented and massively in love with the game.

Whenever South Africa’s stadiums are empty for Test matches, international onlookers will cast scorn on perceived lack of interest, but you only had to wade through the Dolphins celebrations to understand that there is an inherent love for the game in many corners of the country.

The place in the final ensures that the Dolphins will get to play Champions League cricket this season, a potentially lucrative exercise – but that didn’t feature in their thinking at the beginning of their T20 campaign.

“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I think teams can often get so focused on making the final and the qualification that the result of the final is neither here nor there. But we set out from the start of the season to win a trophy, and I’m so proud of the guys,” Smit told the Daily Maverick.

The crowds in Cape Town have been impressive, with over 9,000 spectators turning out to watch the Cobras last group game and over 14,000 for the final. The buzz of the crowd and the noise only added to the occasion.

“It was such an amazing feeling to play in front of such a big crowd, at Newlands, on a day like today. Everyone stepped up to the plate and it’s a day I’ll remember for a long time,” Smit added.

The Dolphins had been nearly men for so long, and rain has consistently hampered their seasons. This year, with not a single match rained out in the T20 competition, they ploughed full-steam ahead and all the way into the final. Under Dale Benkenstein, a player with over 250 first-class caps, and Lance Klusener, a legend of Durban cricket, the Dolphins have found a way to work together as unit and excelled.

“It’s been good for the batsmen to speak to him and work with him. He’s got so much experience. He’s been amazing and the way he complemented Zulu has been great. Morne coming in as captain has been great, too, and so has the whole management staff, including psychologist Christ Spies.”

Spies is the psychologist for the whole team and he has worked closely with the players to tweak their mental game and so that they remain strong under pressure. More and more sports psychologists are becoming the “go-to” asset to help teams who are “nearly men” edge ahead.

Spies’ approach to help players cope with intense situations has paid off, witness players like David Miller managing to consistently pull off heists and help snatch victories from the jaws of defeat. T20 certainly is a peculiar game, and while there have been times where Miller has been the architect of a thrilling win, the Dolphins have shown that with hard work, determination, a bunch of blossoming talent and self-belief, anything is possible.

Their 10-year plus trophy drought ended and Smit hopes that this could “kick-start” a winning habit for the team; he has beliefs and hopes of his own. As age is becoming less relevant in professional sport, Smit still dreams of representing his country one day.

“Absolutely, I dream of playing for South Africa. I’m still getting to learn the trade of how to bowl as an out-and-out bowler. I’ve just turned 30, but I think I’m playing some of the best cricket of my career.

“When somebody goes through a bad patch of form at 25, it’s just bad form. When you’re 30 or over, then it’s because you’re too old. People have shown lately that you can’t buy experience, and you need guys who know the ropes. If I perform well enough and that call-up comes, I’ll be ready no matter my age,” Smit said.

Domestic cricket has, in some corners, been completely bastardised. Influx of international talent is never a bad thing, but when that talent starts pushing the locals out of the way, some serious questions have to be asked about how cricket is run. For player like Smit, domestic trophies offer a taste of greater glory. With their Champions League spot sealed, another golden opportunity beckons. DM

Photo by Reuters.


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