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Ken Borland



Relax people, Hashim Amla is back to his best 0

Posted on May 15, 2017 by Ken

 

Proteas batting coach Neil McKenzie said on Monday that people were justified in feeling some concern over Hashim Amla’s batting form, but that they can all relax now because the Bearded Wonder has shown he is back to his best with two centuries in the Indian Premier League.

Amla slammed an aggressive 104 off just 60 balls for the Punjab Kings XI against the Gujarat Lions at the weekend, having two weeks earlier made the same score off the same number of deliveries in an unbeaten knock against the Mumbai Indians. Amazingly, Amla ended on the losing side in both games, the first player to suffer this fate twice in IPL history, while he is only the third batsman after Chris Gayle (2011) and Virat Kohli (3 in 2016) to score multiple centuries in an IPL season.

“Hashim’s form had dipped, he was only averaging 30 in ODIs and Tests over the last 18 months, his form was a little erratic and people aren’t used to that. But you can’t keep a player of his quality down for long. He sets such high standards for himself but this happens in cricket and his returns have not been what he would have expected and it went on for longer than he would have liked. But to score two hundreds in an IPL season is a serious feat,” McKenzie told The Citizen on Monday.

The Highveld Lions and Proteas stalwart disputed the theory that Amla’s dip in form had anything to do with any weakening of the eyes, but put it down to slight changes in the batsman’s approach.

“I don’t buy that business about the eyes going, Hashim’s only 34. But if you look at how he’s been working on being ultra-positive, his power-hitting and the areas he’s hitting the ball, then it’s like a golfer who changes his swing: you sometimes need to go through that little dip, you just need time to work it all out.

“There hasn’t been any drastic change in Hashim’s batting and it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. In 20/20 cricket he’s looking to play some shots, to take it on, and it’s freed him up. Previously he’s just batted normally and he’s been really good for us in 50-over cricket as our banker, batting aggressively but playing his own game and taking us through 30 or 40 overs. That’s worked well and when he scores hundreds for the Proteas, we normally win,” McKenzie, who was still scoring plenty of first-class runs in his 40s, said.

Most pleasingly, it means Amla will now take great form into the Champions Trophy, which starts in England on June 1.

“He’ll be really happy to be taking runs into the Champions Trophy and you want your huge players like him going into tournaments with a lot of confidence, and it gives the team confidence as well. We have a lot of matchwinners and we just need one or two of them to find some serious form. We know we’ve got the players, and now it’s just a matter of timing, form and some luck,” McKenzie said.

 

 

 

I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

John McFarland Column – SuperRugby format definitely needs to change 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

There has been some real conjecture and speculation about how SuperRugby is going to change in 2018, but the one thing that is clear is that it definitely needs to change – declining viewing figures and attendance at the games proves it.

While the administrators took the wrong direction when they changed the format back in 2015, the move to expand was the right decision. Promises had obviously been made to the Southern Kings and a Japanese team is vital if they are going to maintain the improvement they have shown and grow the sport in that country.

Argentina also now have a great development program and they’re no longer losing as many top players to Europe, so it’s vital they stay in as well.

The problem is I don’t think the administrators knew what they let themselves in for travel-wise. The Sunwolves are 10 hours from Australia so they should be in that conference and then they would travel a lot less.

The Southern Kings are probably going to be judged on the basis of their results, bankruptcy and as money-makers, but they did really well initially in terms of getting numbers to games. They have performed better this year, so credit must go to the coaching staff for that improvement, but they still have not really moved forward, there is still a big difference between them and the other teams.

Normally during the time of SuperRugby negotiations, there are people saying that South Africa will go play in Europe but that hasn’t happened that much this time around so we are obviously committed to SuperRugby and the three conferences.

It will be very disappointing if we lose the Cheetahs, but I expect to see a deal in our favour, especially since last time we managed to get two home semi-finals. The SA Rugby Union negotiators must stand up for what they believe in and push for what they want.

I don’t think the players are averse to travel, but being away for five weeks in Australia and New Zealand as the Bulls were in the past is a heck of a trip and that’s why it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win SuperRugby, having to play five matches overseas.

This weekend we have our first Friday night SuperRugby game when the Bulls host the Sunwolves, which is hard to believe considering the six hours of rugby we’ve had to sit through on Saturdays. People want to watch rugby when they come home on Friday evening around a barbecue, but unfortunately the TV schedules have not allowed it.

On a happier note, I was fortunate to attend the Springbok Sevens training for a couple of weeks and was able to see first-hand what good coaching, spirit and attention to detail there is in that set-up. The Blitzboks’ culture is second to none, the way they back each other, encourage one another and work in the training sessions is outstanding.

That’s their strength as well as continuity. Someone like conditioning coach Allan Temple-Jones has been there forever and does a superb job – the Springbok Sevens are the best-conditioned team on the circuit and they are reaping the benefits of that.

What is most encouraging is that people are talking about Sevens and what the Blitzboks have done, and watching the games.

They are also never scared to use specialists – Richie Gray was brought in to work on the breakdowns before the Olympics and Dawie Snyman, the former Western Province coach, is doing a lot of work on their footwork and coaching them in sidestepping. You can see that coming through in the way they are beating people, so credit to him.

Neil Powell is overseeing it all and is handling the job with great dignity, so I really hope they come through and win the series. England are the only team with the continuity to push them and will be their biggest competition.

Continuity breeds confidence in any high-performance sport.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

 

 

Ndumo Game Reserve 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

Ndumo Game Reserve is known as one of the best bird-spotting places in the country, but most of the twitching efforts are concentrated around the sand, fig and riverine forests.

The south-western portion of the park is under-rated Acacia woodland and my latest trip to this Zululand gem produced a sighting that will live long in the memory as one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

Gorgeous Bush Shrike generally sticks to dense cover and normally only offers a sneak-peek to the many who seek this quite dazzling, aptly-named bird.

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Gorgeous Bush Shrike in one of its typical tangled thickets

It is one of Ndumo’s characteristic birds though, even if the beautiful, ringing “kong-kong-kowit” call is heard far more often than the bird is actually seen.

I had enjoyed an excellent sighting earlier in the day along the southern boundary fence of the park when I heard one calling next to the road. I was expecting to be looking for a bird skulking, as usual, low down in the bush and it took me a while to realise that the member of the pair that was actually calling was sitting out in the open!

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Gorgeous Bush Shrike

But that sighting paled in comparison to what happened later, further down that road in the Paphukulu section as the sand forest thicket starts to open up into more open woodland.

I came across four Gorgeous Bush Shrike, calling and displaying, lifting their heads to expose their bright red throats, and I was able to follow them for a few hundred metres as they continued through the bushes on the side of the road!

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

This thorny woodland provides handy perches for birds via the boundary fence and the cattle farm outside offers different habitat to the bushveld inside the park, leading to plenty of sightings.

Steppe Buzzard is more a bird of the open habitats outside the park, but seeing as though their migration pattern follows mountains like the nearby Lebombos and this was late October, maybe the one grooming itself on a fence post was just taking a breather from its long journey.

Little Bee-Eater was also on the boundary fence and there were three Redbilled Oxpecker on a telephone pole.

Another migrant raptor, the Yellowbilled Kite, flew over and seemed to be eating something on the wing, while another skulker, the Sombre Bulbul, was kindly calling from the top of a tree for an easy tick.

A Sabota Lark was being unkindly bullied by a Rattling Cisticola (two typical bushveld species), while a group of four Plumcoloured Starlings were dashing about and the black-and-white wings of an African Hoopoe in flight caught the eye.

As the road curves northwards towards what once was the Matandeni Hide, two African Openbill were soaring overhead.

The Matendeni Hide is no more, but the NRC Picnic Spot is a pleasant stop, with Grey Sunbird chip-chip-chipping away in the trees. I was watching a Variable Skink climb one of those trees when suddenly a Redfronted Tinker Barbet alighted on it. What was strange was that the bird looked heat-stressed, with its beak wide open, and it was totally silent – unusual on a day that only reached 33°C for a bird that normally calls incessantly through even the hottest days!

Typical woodland birds like Blackbacked Puffback, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike and Common Scimitarbill were also present, while Crested Francolin and Red Duiker are often seen on the road to Ziposheni.

Another Ndumo special, the infrequent Caspian Tern, allowed for great views as it was flying close to the shore of the Nyamithi Pan.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern upperside

 

Caspian Tern underside

Caspian Tern underside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fever tree lined oasis is well worth paying closer attention to via a guided walk; on the last two occasions I have been to Ndumu, the drought meant there was no water around the hides, with all the water birds concentrated closer to the inlet near the Mjanshi road. While the egrets, flamingos and pelicans were all way to the left of the hide, where the water has retreated to, a Spurwinged Goose did present itself straight in front of the hide on the bone-dry pan!

As we crossed the Mjanshi Spruit on the guided walk, we were welcomed by a pair of Malachite Kingfisher and as the water pooled in the pan we spotted Wood Sandpiper, Saddlebilled Stork, Greenshank, Pied Avocet and a Grey Heron atop a Hippopotamus!

Smaller waders were plentiful too with Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover looking mean guarding their bit of dry land, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and a big flock of Little Stint, which looked like tiny dots on the pan. Broadbilled Rollers were in the fever trees.

Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo were present, along with Pinkbacked Pelican and Great White Pelican, which suddenly stampeded off the banks into the water, obviously mobbing a school of fish, although probably only the first ten pelicans caught anything!

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ndumo campsite is also excellent for birds and I was given a very happy welcome to camp by an Nyala female and her ‘teenage’ daughter eating the pods of a Natal Mahogany tree very close to where I was pitching my tent.

As always, Little Swifts and Lesser Striped Swallows were zooming around the buildings, calling contentedly, while a Blackeyed Bulbul called cheerfully from a tree that was not unlike the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Hadeda Ibis provided a very noisy start to the next day, while Purplebanded Sunbird was up by the offices, where so many of the sunbirds seem to hang out.

A pair of Pied Crow have commandeered the communications mast in camp and croak loudly as they fly about, even attacking a drone that the staff were trying out!

Woollynecked Stork flew over camp, as did two displaying Cuckoo Hawk, while Yellowfronted Canary foraged on the sparse lawn. A pair of Yellowbellied Bulbul were sitting in a thicket with much wing-quivering going on.

Their Terrestrial Brownbul cousins were having a whale of a time at the bird bath close to my site, while a Bearded Robin sat by and watched.

Even while cooling off in the most-welcome swimming pool, birds can be spotted – a sub-adult African Fish Eagle was soaring majestically high above and White Helmetshrike were also seen.

Outside the main office, there is a lovely Marula tree and barely two metres off the ground, in the fork between two branches, is a Spotted Eagle Owl nest with at least one young, while a Wood Owl was spotted on the lawn next to the ablutions one evening.

The central portions of Ndumo are dominated by what is known as Mahemane Bush, a near-impenetrable thicket of inhospitable spiny trees and plants that must have been a nightmare for early travellers on the route to Delagoa Bay.

But the dense tangle is a perfect home for Apalises and a Yellowbreasted and a Rudd’s Apalis were having a skirmish, and in fact the rarer Rudd’s was more prominent on this trip than its common cousin.

As one heads north towards the Usutu River one comes across the clearing where the Diphini Hide once stood, overlooking the Mtikini tributary of the Usutu, which flows into Banzi Pan. Down below in the shadows amongst the Fever Trees was a Whitethroated Robin and a Greenbacked Camaroptera was busy stripping spider web off what looked like an egg casing. The little warbler-like bird got a bit tangled in the process but made off with quite a decent ball of webbing in the end, no doubt for use in sowing together its nest.

One can then turn south-west into more sand forest, with a giraffe deep inside this unusual habitat surprisingly being the first thing I saw on the Mabayeni Road.

The third day was set aside for the trip to Red Cliffs, one of my favourite excursions in any game reserve, anywhere.

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

The main road from camp was drier than usual, with the drought not having broken yet in early summer, but there was still plenty of birding activity, with quite the overnight storm having brought some much-needed rain.

An immature Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew into a leafless tree and stayed a good while, while there were five Purplecrested Lourie in a busy group, interacting and calling.

A five-strong group of Redbilled Helmetshrike included a couple of juveniles, while a Goldenbreasted Bunting went fluttering after an insect (they don’t just eat seeds).

Green Pigeon, Bluegrey Flycatcher, Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet and a little group of Chinspot Batis were present and Blackheaded Oriole was yet another bird gathering nesting material.

Red Cliffs was a hive of activity, with a Marsh Terrapin crossing the entrance road, no doubt coming from nearby Shokwe Pan and looking for a temporary pan made by the rain.

Two Yellowspotted Nicator were really unobtrusive even though they were calling loudly, in stark contrast to some Water Dikkop that were roosting calmly by some foliage on a sandbank of the Usutu River. Until a Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew over and then all hell broke loose!

A pair of Pied Kingfisher were hovering over the river and some Yellowbilled Stork were far upstream, but a Little Sparrowhawk, closer to hand, was given away by a Forktailed Drongo dive-bombing it.

Where is Ndumo?

Detailed map of Ndumo

Sightings List

Vervet Monkey

Nyala

Crested Guineafowl

Southern Banded Snake Eagle

Forktailed Drongo

Little Swift

Lesser Striped Swallow

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Blackeyed Bulbul

Hadeda Ibis

Purplebanded Sunbird

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Impala

Crowned Hornbill

Purplecrested Lourie

Southern Black Flycatcher

Browncrowned Tchagra

Little Bee-Eater

Fantailed Flycatcher

Southern Black Tit

Cape White-Eye

Redbilled Oxpecker

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Egyptian Goose

Whitebellied Sunbird

Steppe Buzzard

Yellowbilled Kite

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Sombre Bulbul

Longbilled Crombec

Yellow Weaver

Sabota Lark

Plumcoloured Starling

Glossy Starling

African Hoopoe

Yellowbilled Hornbill

African Openbill

Grey Sunbird

Spottedbacked Weaver

Variable Skink

Redfronted Tinker Barbet

Blackbacked Puffback

Cardinal Woodpecker

European Swallow

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Common Scimitarbill

Crested Francolin

Red Duiker

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Bateleur

Striped Kingfisher

Blue Wildebeest

Plains Zebra

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pied Crow

Woollynecked Stork

Pallid Flycatcher

Rattling Cisticola

Grey Duiker

Kurrichane Thrush

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis

Whitethroated Robin

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Giraffe

European Bee-Eater

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Black Kite

Rock Monitor

Redeyed Dove

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Yellowfronted Canary

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Cuckoo Hawk

Yellowbellied Bulbul

African Fish Eagle

Paradise Flycatcher

Great White Egret

Lesser Flamingo

Spurwinged Goose

Pinkbacked Pelican

Trumpeter Hornbill

Striped Skink

Blackheaded Oriole

Chinspot Batis

Marsh Terrapin

Yellowspotted Nicator

Blacksmith Plover

Water Dikkop

Threebanded Plover

Yellowbilled Stork

Blackwinged Stilt

Blackbellied Starling

Greenbacked Heron

African Pied Wagtail

Little Sparrowhawk

Pied Kingfisher

White Helmetshrike

Cape Dwarf Gecko

Wood Owl

Green Pigeon

Bluegrey Flycatcher

Malachite Kingfisher

Wood Sandpiper

Saddlebilled Stork

Greater Honeyguide

Greenshank

Broadbilled Roller

Pied Avocet

Grey Heron

Ringed Plover

Kittlitz’s Plover

Common Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Little Stint

Hippopotamus

Nile Crocodile

Greater Flamingo

Goliath Heron

Collared Sunbird

Caspian Tern

Great White Pelican

African Spoonbill

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Little Egret

Terrestrial Bulbul

Bearded Robin

Spotted Eagle Owl

Warthog

 



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