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Ken Borland



A weekend in August the most important in SA cricket’s turnaround 0

Posted on January 01, 2017 by Ken

 

It was the year of the remarkable turnaround in South African cricket and perhaps the most important weekend of 2016 was the one the national team spent at a “culture camp” in Johannesburg in August.

South African cricket was seemingly in freefall before that, the number one ranking in Tests lost due to a series defeat at home to England, yet another disappointment in a major ICC tournament as the Proteas were eliminated in the first round of World T20 in India and their ODI form was also ropey as they failed to make the final of a triangular series in the West Indies.

There was an atmosphere of doom and gloom, as transformation became an easy scapegoat, and national coach Russell Domingo was not expected to survive the year. An independent review was instituted and then scrapped.

Far more importantly, the greater squad got together and pledged that they had to be better, that ProteaFire was being extinguished and the flame needed to be rekindled. The players themselves took the responsibility to challenge each other and be better.

After flirting with the captaincy of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis taking the reins of both the Test and ODI side was also crucial and, being a more natural captain drawn to the job, he got the team going in ways that have not been seen in the last couple of years.

The Proteas were glorious in the second half of the year, winning their Test series against New Zealand and then becoming the first team to ever whitewash Australia in a five-match ODI series, before going across the Indian Ocean to their great rivals and winning the first two Tests to claim the series and become the first side since the great West Indies outfits of the 1980s/1990s to win three successive rubbers on Australian soil. You have to go back to the early days of Test cricket between 1884 and 1888 to find the only other team to achieve that feat – England.

If the year itself was memorable for the amazing turnaround in their fortunes, then the one match that epitomised the unity of purpose in the Proteas was the first Test against Australia in Perth.

After choosing to bat first, South Africa batted poorly, only reaching 242 thanks to Quinton de Kock’s 84 and a half-century from Temba Bavuma. Australia had raced away to 158 without loss in reply, before Dale Steyn dismissed David Warner but injured himself in the process, a fractured shoulder bone ruling him out of the rest of the season.

But with just two fit pacemen and debutant spinner Keshav Maharaj weighing in with three wickets, they managed to dismiss Australia for just 244. Du Plessis spoke later about the opposition being “shocked” by the comeback and the resolve shown by the Proteas, who dominated the rest of the game and won the second Test in Hobart by an innings.

De Kock was the Proteas’ outstanding player of 2016, scoring 695 Test runs at 63.18, second only to Amla’s 729 at 48.60, and continuing to plunder ODI runs such that he was named the ICC’s player of the year in the 50-over format.

On the bowling front, Kagiso Rabada continues to grow and ended as the Proteas’ leading wicket-taker and amongst the top six globally, while the excellent form of Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott suggests that the end of Steyn’s great career, whenever it may come, will not necessarily leave a vacuum.

AB confident camp will give birth to better fortune 0

Posted on August 17, 2016 by Ken

 

AB de Villiers says he is confident a “culture camp” the wider Proteas squad held last week will give birth to a resurgence in fortunes for the national side, starting with victory over New Zealand in the two-Test series that gets underway in Durban on Friday.

De Villiers is off for six weeks with an elbow injury the most serious of several niggles he is getting right before the season gets into full swing, but he is clearly still playing a powerful leadership role within the team, speaking confidently about how he backs them to beat New Zealand, when he was interviewed at the launch of the series, at which sponsors Sunfoil announced they would be extending their sponsorship of South African Test and first-class cricket for another two years.

“We had a culture camp five days ago where we were brutally honest with each other about where we are as a team and where we would like to see ourselves. We know exactly where we want to go, we had a lot of hard chats about what is wrong, what issues there are, behind our dip in form.

“A big part of our success in the past has been our culture and we revisited our core values, who we play for. I wouldn’t say we’re in a transitional phase because this is still a fantastic team that can beat anyone. I’m really backing our boys, even though the Black Caps are clearly a force to be reckoned with,” De Villiers said.

The Proteas arrived in Durban extra early for the Test and have had twice-daily practice sessions in order to offset their lack of Test cricket, in contrast to New Zealand, who have just enjoyed a convincing 2-0 win in Zimbabwe. De Villiers, however, predicted that it would be South Africa who would set the early pace in the series.

“One thing we really discussed in our camp was throwing the first punch. We’re proud of our ability to come back from all sorts of trouble, but it’s time for us to dominate from the start now and not be scared of being aggressive, of trying things. Hopefully people will get to see that in this series.

“I think New Zealand could be a bit thin in the batting department and if they don’t score big runs they’ll be in trouble. I don’t think they have an advantage from playing Tests recently, all our guys have played enough cricket and it was much more important for us to connect as players at our camp,” De Villiers said.

 

Player power and perfect storms 0

Posted on June 07, 2016 by Ken

 

I am totally behind empowering players and allowing them to lead the way in terms of the direction and culture of a team, but there are times when too much player power can become a bad thing.

Knowing Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold reasonably well, I know that he is the sort of coach who will look to empower the players, treat them as adults and allow them to plot their own destiny. But it seems the Sharks are embroiled in a perfect storm at the moment and it is showing not only in their results but in the shocking lack of discipline their senior players are exhibiting.

The Sharks are a team dominated by senior Springboks, a lot of older players who are eyeing one last World Cup before earning their pensions in Europe or Japan. This strong core of players totally lost respect for Jake White and it was their rebellion (which probably isn’t too strong a word given the stories I heard this week about what happened on tour last year) that forced CEO John Smit to release the World Cup-winning coach.

Gold will be well aware of his predecessor’s fate but his efforts to refresh the team, bring in some new blood, are hampered by the poor recruitment that has happened at the Sharks in the last couple of years.

Signing players like Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha and Marco Wentzel merely strengthens the “old boys club” and, people being people, nobody likes the feeling that they’re about to be replaced by someone younger, so they cling on to whatever power or influence they have. Because most of these players spent their formative years elsewhere, their attachment to the Sharks’ brand and badge is perhaps not as strong as that of players like Pat Lambie or Marcell Coetzee, a duo to emerge with credit so far this troubled season.

A major part of the Sharks’ problems is that their academy is not functioning properly, its emphasis is more on making money than providing a pipeline of players for the franchise. Wealthy parents of kids who only played 3rd XV rugby at school are getting entries for their children, which only lowers the standard of the academy.

The Sharks must rediscover their soul, return to their roots and start looking closer to home for their answers. The best Natal/Sharks sides were made up of a core of players who studied in the province – think John Allan, Rod Gould (Glenwood), Mark Andrews, Tommy Bedford, John Smit (Natal University), Steve Atherton (Pinetown), Tim Cocks (Westville), Wayne Fyvie, Gary Teichmann (Hilton), Trevor Halstead (Kearsney), Henry Honiball (Estcourt), Butch James, Keith Oxlee, Joel Stransky, Jeremy Thomson, Craig Jamieson (Maritzburg College), Andre Joubert (Ladysmith), Dick Muir (Kokstad), Hugh Reece-Edwards (Northlands), Andre Snyman (Newcastle) Rob Hankinson (Michaelhouse) and Lood Muller (Voortrekker).

And the standard of schools’ rugby in KwaZulu-Natal has risen considerably in the last 30 years.

The senior players must either buy into the new vision or go elsewhere, but they certainly have roles to play in restoring Sharks rugby to even keel.

The happy days must return to Kings Park and that also involves tough decisions for Smit and the board.

Conversely, a bit more player power would probably be a good thing when it comes to South African cricket.

Although there probably won’t be any clarity on the whole Philander/Abbott selection issue any time soon, the deafening silence of the players has been telling.

If all the speculation that there had been a late, unpopular change to the team for the World Cup semi-final was totally wide of the mark, then surely either Philander or Abbott, AB de Villiers or some other player would have been quick to stand up and say it was absolute nonsense?

As someone very close to the team said to me: “Where there’s smoke there will always be fire”.

The day will come when, with a lucrative IPL contract in his pocket, a player makes a public stand, but at the moment there would be too many repercussions.

The last time a player protested against interference in selection – the courageous Charl Langeveldt – he was mercilessly bullied by the same person who is now the lead independent director of the Cricket South Africa board.

 



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