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Ken Borland



Hockey is far from dying 0

Posted on May 08, 2016 by Ken

 

We are constantly being told that hockey is a dying game in South Africa, unloved by the politicians that run sport in this country and struggling to stay afloat as an amateur pursuit in this professional day and age.

But when I spent last week at the Senior Interprovincial Nationals – the most prestigious interprovincial tournament – in Randburg, I was delighted to be reacquainted with a vibrant sport that has passionate followers and a festive culture of its own.

At the top level, where our best hockey players continue to be denied opportunities to play on the biggest stages like the Olympics, there are obvious frustrations, but hockey is the epitome of a mass-participation sport at school, university and club level.

I was told stories of how traditional rugby schools are now finding greater numbers of children wanting to play hockey rather than the oval-ball game.

And in terms of transformation, the South African Hockey Association (Saha) have a good story to tell with numerous players of colour involved at IPT, including several Black coaches. The SA U21 team that made the men’s final included eight players of colour, including six Black Africans.

Saha’s wise policy of humouring and engaging with Sascoc and the minister of sport has paid off with Fikile Mbalula announcing a R10 million injection into hockey’s coffers two weeks ago.

Hockey has been operating on shoestring budgets ever since I began reporting on it back in the early 1990s, so any financial input is most welcome. It’s a well-known fact that our top players have been paying their own way to compete and represent South Africa, something Tubby Reddy and Gideon Sam of Sascoc should choke on the next time they sit down for their sumptuous dinner on their next first-class flight to their next jaunt.

Due to these financial constraints, hockey, at top level, has been forced to become a sport for the young. Once the stars leave their places of tertiary education, the demands of work make it just about impossible for them to dedicate the time they need to remaining in peak shape for the game. It was noticeable how young most of the teams at IPT looked, to such an extent that it reminded me of an U21 interprovincial.

A handful of internationals have been able to become professional players in Europe.

Like cricket, it’s probably fair to say that hockey had its stronghold in English-speaking areas like Natal, Cape Town and Johannesburg, but this has changed dramatically. Northerns, with many Tuks students in their ranks, won the women’s IPT and Afrikaans schools have taken to the game with gusto, as they have to cricket. There is already an explosion of interest amongst the Coloured and Black communities.

In terms of marketing, hockey has much going for it. It has a strong youth flavour (which is always attractive) but it is a sport entire families can participate in, with leagues running from the youngsters through to the Masters, from highly-competitive to social. It is also a game that is evolving into a high-speed, highly entertaining spectacle thanks to the work of the FIH, the international body, in tinkering with the rules.

Saha president Mike du Plessis was telling me about the exciting plans they have for festivals of five-a-side hockey in which the whole family can be involved at the same venue.

Hockey should not be embarrassed that it needs money, sometimes the local game suffers under the impression that they are the ugly step-child of South African sport.

I say they should be bold about their needs, because they have much to offer and there are certainly exciting plans in the pipeline.

Selectors will seldom see Marchant de Lange in action … 0

Posted on May 18, 2015 by Ken

 

Marchant de Lange is one of the most promising fast bowlers in the country, but the new quotas that will be in force for domestic cricket from next season will ensure that the national selectors will seldom get a chance to see him in action, unless it’s in amateur or club cricket.

The new quotas demand that every franchise field six players of colour, including three Black Africans, in every starting XI, which is no doubt a worthy gesture towards ensuring cricket is representative of the country’s demographics, but, as with most attempts to fiddle with finely balanced systems, it will have unintended consequences.

One of these is that a 24-year-old strike bowler who has already taken 24 wickets in 10 matches across all three formats for South Africa is unlikely to play much franchise cricket next season.

De Lange plays for the Titans, who will in all likelihood fill their quota of Black Africans with two pace bowlers – Ethy Mbhalati and Junior Dala – and wicketkeeper/batsman Mangaliso Mosehle, who incidentally averaged 20 in the Sunfoil Series, 24 in the Momentum One-Day Cup and just six in the RamSlam T20 Challenge last season.

Cricket teams, much like food chains in nature, are a delicate balance and few teams will field more than four pace bowlers, with the Titans surely giving one of their other spots to Rowan Richards, the left-arm swing bowler and player of colour. De Lange is also competing with David Wiese and new signing Chris Morris, and the Titans are unlikely to pick him ahead of those two quality all-rounders.

Cricket South Africa already stand accused of trying to con the South African public that they really care about transformation after the World Cup shambles involving Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott and Aaron Phangiso not playing a single game, and now they have rushed to implement a system that they didn’t even research.

I have it on good authority that Corrie van Zyl, the general manager of cricket, was caught totally unawares by the new quota proposal – it wasn’t even on the agenda – and I am certain that CSA did not even do the research I’ve done on what franchise teams will look like next season, because they then would have picked up that highly promising players of colour like Diego Rosier, Beuran Hendricks, Dane Paterson and Dane Piedt are also going to be negatively affected.

Hendricks and Paterson, who are both surely looking to play international cricket, are going to struggle to get into the Cape Cobras side for the same reason as De Lange – two pace bowlers’ slots will be taken by Mthokozisi Shezi and probably Tshepo Moreki.

Across all the franchises, it seems inevitable that teams will play two Black African pacemen, which is going to create an imbalance.

Some of the other talented cricketers who will not get regular franchise cricket are Sybrand Engelbrecht, Shaheen Khan, Keegan Petersen, Lizaad Williams, Daryn Smit, Calvin Savage, Daryn Dupavillon, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Corne Dry, Duanne Olivier, Gerhardt Abrahams, JP de Villiers, Roelof van der Merwe, Heino Kuhn, Graeme van Buuren, Shaun von Berg, Qaasim Adams, Andrew Birch, Ryan Bailey and Colin Ackermann. That is a major loss of strength for the competitions that feed into the national team.

The Highveld Lions are the one franchise that is not going to be affected by the new policy because they are already ahead of the curve when it comes to transformation. I went to their annual awards dinner this week and what a fabulous night it was with all the different communities in South Africa strongly represented.

But we are not going to succeed in making all our teams look like that and enjoy the on-field success of the Lions when administrators decide to implement drastic policies without even subjecting them to prior research or consulting the leading cricket brains in the country.

Remembering the base of the triangle 0

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Ken

Currie Cup rugby players, franchise cricketers and Premiership footballers will dominate the sporting headlines this weekend, but some of them will take time to think back and remember the largely anonymous people operating at amateur level who made such a big difference to their careers.

Similarly, I will remember this last week for the two reminders it gave me of the many people toiling out of love for the game rather than money. In the sports journalists’ industry, we tend to focus on the small elite triangle at the top of the pyramid, while the thousands of amateur and social players and administrators that are the base – the very foundation – are largely ignored.

Take David Bagg, Gordon Brews and Mike Klatz.

At great personal expense and effort, they have restored Huddle Park, the famous Johannesburg municipal golf course, to its former glory; how successful they have been is borne out by the Sunshine Tour hosting their annual – and hugely popular – Media Challenge there this week.

In the last two years they have taken a derelict, overgrown property that had been abandoned by the City of Johannesburg and turned it into a friendly, first-class facility. They had to remove numerous squatters to do so, but they have employed over 80 people and are providing training in greenskeeping and hospitality, as well as once again providing a cheap pay-and-play option (R190pm membership, as little as R90 for a midweek round) for the public who want to get into golf but cannot afford the exorbitant membership fees of the established clubs.

Apart from restoring one of the most popular courses in Johannesburg – between 150 000 and 200 000 rounds of golf were played at Huddle Park annually in the 1970s – to its rightful place, the trio have also developed a mashie course, a floodlit driving range, a coaching academy, restaurant and sports bar, function venues, walking trails and even a trout-fishing dam as tie-ins.

Future plans include a mountain bike trail, cycle track, zip-lining facility, eco park, gym, beer and food festivals and arts and crafts expos as the Public Private Partnership provides a fun space for the community.

Many Johannesburg golfers learnt the game on the spacious fairways of Huddle Park and it is great news that the 75-year-old parkland green lung will continue for many more years.

Bad news I received this week was the passing on of Dave Edmondson, a legendary figure in KwaZulu-Natal sport who played an important part in setting me on my path to sports journalism as a career.

In 1992, when I was on the University of Natal Pietermaritzburg sports executive, I approached Dave, who was the head of sport, to find out what careers were available in sport (sadly, actually making it on the field wasn’t going to be an option!).

He suggested writing about sport and he approached another legend, John Bishop, at The Natal Witness and six months later my career was launched.

The University of Natal sports department did not have nearly as many resources as the likes of Tuks, Maties or UCT, but Dave gathered together some tremendous sportsmen and women during his time – Jonty Rhodes, Mark Andrews and Greg Nicol being amongst the most famous of them.

During his own playing days, Dave represented Natal and South African Universities as a hockey goalkeeper, played Natal U19 rugby and was a premier league cricketer. He went on to become a Natal cricket selector, the president of the Maritzburg Cricket Association and an honorary life president of KZN cricket.

But the mark of the man was the time he was willing to spend – for little material reward – enhancing the careers of others. A nicer man you couldn’t hope to meet and the encouragement and assistance he gave many future stars as a coach, schoolmaster and administrator is the point of sport, even if his name was not at the top of the triangle.



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