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Ken Borland



Speeding towards the World Cup with an elephant in the dressingroom 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by AB de Villiers’ comments after the Champions Trophy fiasco, South Africa could go speeding towards the 2019 World Cup having still not addressed the elephant in the dressingroom which is their continued, inexplicable failure to perform at their best in ICC knockout matches.

The Proteas are scheduled to play just 36 more ODIs before the June 2019 World Cup in England; they have played 36 ODIs since midway through their series in India in October 2015, just to give some perspective as to how quickly time will fly before the next showpiece ICC tournament starts.

And yet De Villiers maintained after the horrible showing against India last weekend that there was no lack of composure and the run outs and batting failures were not due to a mental problem. Given the skill levels of the players involved, it’s difficult to know what else could be the explanation.

It is probably a good thing, though, that the Champions Trophy disaster is still fresh in the minds as CSA begin the process to decide on who will be the Proteas coach that will guide yet another attempt at the elusive holy grail for South African cricket.

Two former Proteas coaches – who were both involved in coaching capacities during India’s memorable 2011 World Cup triumph – in Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons will sit on the five-man committee that will evaluate the applications and both have been outspoken about the problems South African players have in handling the pressures of ICC knockout matches.

It is one of the unwritten laws of sport that the most successful teams are able to shift pressure on to their opposition; sadly for the Proteas, they seem to crush themselves by piling pressure on to their own shoulders. In between ICC events, they are able to play freely and express themselves, at world cups they play totally differently – tentative and fearful cricket. Reading De Villiers’ autobiography, it is clear he has a Moby Dick sized obsession with winning the World Cup, an unhealthy obsession that probably does more harm than good.

The big difference between De Villiers and Virat Kohli is how the Indian captain invariably makes big runs when they are most needed; his 96 not out in the Champions Trophy semi-final was yet another example of that.

Whoever the Proteas coach will be, he needs to be able to free up the players when it comes to the high-pressure situations. The players need to pledge to each other that they will not change their games in knockout matches and it is the captain and coach who have to drive that.

No team plays with a greater burden of expectation than India, and yet Kirsten and Simons were able to get them winning and expressing themselves when they won the World Cup on home soil under immense pressure.

Simons raised some interesting points in the aftermath of the Champions Trophy loss, both in the SuperSport studio and in a subsequent conversation I had with him.

He pointed out that the Proteas never tried to shift the pressure India exerted on them with an excellent display in the field, India were never asked to try anything different.

When I asked him why India are consistently able to handle the pressure and expectation at ICC knockout events, he said he felt it was because their international players had come through a system featuring millions of cricketers so they have spent their entire lives ensuring they are on top of their game, they are always playing under intense scrutiny and, in a developing nation still wracked by poverty, it’s do or die for many of them. Natural selection and survival of the fittest in many ways.

“It’s not just these 11 Proteas players who have had the problem. CSA need to sit down and decide what to do, what do our teams lack? Somehow the players have got to be freed up … we saw them play differently against India. There needs to be a broader conversation about why? The world is asking the question, it’s time we did too,” Simons said.

I have no doubt Simons will bring the same questions to the panel that will decide the coaching situation moving forward.

But the first step in sorting out a problem is admitting you have a problem. As Paddy Upton, who was the mental coach when India, Kirsten and Simons won the 2011 World Cup, has pointed out, it’s part of the South African macho man psyche to never admit our vulnerabilities.

That has to change.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170617/282269550387810

What to do with our bunch of U19 losers? 0

Posted on February 15, 2016 by Ken

 

 

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula will no doubt call them “a bunch of losers”, while many cricket followers, judging by the comments I’ve seen, would want even harsher punishment meted out to the South African U19 team after their dismal display in the ICC junior world cup.

I would normally feel sorry for a group of young men with such expectation heaped on their shoulders to go and perform in a strange land like Bangladesh, especially since their predecessors, the special team led by Ray Jennings, Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada, claimed the title in the last tournament two years ago.

But when any South African team loses to Namibia and someone close to the squad slams them for their arrogance and lack of discipline and accuses some of them of just wanting to bolster their CVs before heading overseas, then I begin to wonder whether being charitable is the right response or should they face the music?

Coach Lawrence Mahatlane has come in for brutal criticism, but then he is an easy target. Being Black African, his appointment was immediately greeted with a chorus of “quota appointment”; having not played first-class cricket also counted against him.

I have had many private discussions about cricket with Mahatlane and, in fact, I have played in teams coached by him. Although the level of play and the pressures were obviously vastly different, I can assure sceptics that Mahatlane is as passionate about the game as anyone, including Jennings, and is immensely knowledgeable.

From what I have heard in private from people surrounding the squad, Mahatlane may have been on a hiding to nothing. The health of our U19 cricket always fluctuates, there has been a cycle of great sides and more mediocre ones for decades.

But while one can forgive players for maybe not having as much talent as some of their predecessors, there is absolutely no excuse for a lack of work ethic nor for an attitude that suggests “we have already made it”.

I would describe Mahatlane as someone who cares for his players, but perhaps, behind the scenes, they did not have the necessary respect for their coach, for whatever reason, be it his skin colour or his lack of a playing record.

Jennings was a master of getting such destructive attitudes out in the open and removing them from the set-up, but he also boasted healthy experience as a coach.

With the shocking results of the U19 team coming at the same time as the senior side were struggling against England, alarming questions bordering on panic were asked about the health of the game in South Africa in general.

We should take care not to lose sight of the bigger picture and the context in which these results have occurred. There is an awful amount of negativity feeding into cricket at the moment and this was undoubtedly partly to blame for the disaster in Bangladesh. If players already have it in their heads to emigrate and play for another country, how is the team going to perform, no matter how inspiring the management was?

For those blaming quotas, there was only a pair of Black African players in the loss to Namibia.

To counter-balance that, Namibia played in the CocaCola Khaya Majola Week – the U19 interprovincial – and their performance was underwhelming. They beat Limpopo and North-West on first innings, but lost to Western Province and Northern Cape and were thrashed by 192 runs by Easterns.

Those results perhaps show that there was something seriously wrong with the selection of the national U19 team.

Mahatlane’s position is probably untenable but I hope a place is found for him somewhere else in the pipeline because he has a lot to offer. In the meantime, South Africa have lost a top-class coach in Pierre de Bruyn, who would have been an ideal fit for the Junior Proteas, but is off to take up a lucrative contract in county cricket.

As Mahatlane pointed out, though, one of the key facets of U19 cricket is learning and improving as players, and hopefully the current South African squad has learnt some brutal lessons.

 

 

 

 

 

We are a nation prone to hysteria 0

Posted on January 09, 2016 by Ken

 

The last couple of weeks in social media have shown that we really are a nation prone to hysteria and thoroughly unreasonable presumptions. And I’m not referring to Penny Sparrow or Velaphi Khumalo, both of whose outrageous comments have been met with the storm of disgust they deserve.

Instead, it is the treatment of the South African cricket team, and especially players like Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma, that has irritated me immensely.

We have a tendency in this country to criticise and call for this person or that person to “Fall”, never considering context, whether there is someone capable of replacing the subject of our derision, or the many great things the person may have done in the recent past.

South African cricket fans can count themselves blessed beyond measure that they have a person like Hashim Amla representing them: a truly great batsman respected worldwide and a person of tremendous fortitude, integrity and decency, a colossal figure in uniting the dressingroom.

But a bad year, capped by a poor performance in Durban in the Boxing Day Test, and Amla was being crucified, so-called Proteas supporters spewing vitriol at one of this country’s finest men. I was not surprised when he decided to relinquish the captaincy; having taken it on reluctantly, doing it out of a noble sense of duty, the hysteric reaction to his mistakes and the struggles of the team would have hurt and almost certainly contributed to his feeling that someone else could do the job better.

I can remember when Graeme Smith – South Africa’s most successful Test leader – started the captaincy: He made mistakes too, but he was given time to grow into the position and learn from those errors. Of course, Smith fitted the public perception that a captain should be square-jawed and vocal, leading from the front; but some great leaders lead by example and are more cerebral, in the mould of Mike Brearley, who turned England cricket around.

AB de Villiers can certainly do the job, but does he have the desire to play in every Test (as the captain must) for the next five years, plus handle the onerous off-field duties of the skipper, having already complained about his workload?

Amla revealed his feeling in his post-match press conference that he was doubted due to his skin colour and despite his domestic figures suggesting he was eminently qualified for the step up. The treatment of Bavuma these last couple of weeks shows that Amla has a point and that old prejudices still run deep.

Bavuma is but at the start of his international career and yet was written off by many critics, few of whom have paid any attention to domestic cricket, where the 25-year-old has consistently been amongst the leading run-scorers in the Sunfoil Series. Bavuma had batted seven times in Tests before his breakthrough, superb century at Newlands, scoring one half-century but showing enough mental grit and adaptability, especially in India, to suggest he could prosper.

Jacques Kallis took eight innings to get past 50 for the first time and made his first century in his 10th knock.

I have the unmistakeable feeling, as one person suggested on social media, that being a player of colour in the national team brings with it an automatic tainting, an attitude that quotas have earned them the place, that they are mediocre until they prove otherwise several times.

Apart from the continued and inexplicable absence of Stephen Cook as a specialist opener, the current players in the South African squad are the best available in the country. The domestic figures show that and perhaps the critics should study the game at all levels and ditch the prejudices of the past.

In the meantime, we should all savour the magnificent comeback by the Proteas in Cape Town, a sure sign that the spirit and fight remains and the leadership within the squad is still sound.

 

 



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