for quality writing

Ken Borland

The ICC: Growing and promoting cricket and making all the wrong decisions 0

Posted on July 26, 2017 by Ken


On their own website, the International Cricket Council state their vision as custodians and administrators of the game.

They say it is to “lead the continued drive towards more competitive, entertaining and meaningful cricket for players and fans. We will grow the sport by creating more opportunities for more people and nations to enjoy it and increase the competitiveness of international cricket at all levels. We will promote cricket by delivering exciting and engaging global events, attracting new and diverse fans and building long-term successful commercial partnerships. And finally, we will continue to make considerable efforts to protect the integrity of the sport.”

It’s all good and well that that is their vision, but unfortunately the ICC have a notorious history of almost inevitably making the wrong decision when it comes to the good of cricket.

The citing and subsequent suspension of Proteas fast bowler Kagiso Rabada for the second Test against England, which started in Nottingham on Friday, is a case in point.

Yes, Rabada was a naughty boy for swearing on the field. Thank heavens the ICC are stamping down on such behaviour that clearly poses a major threat to the game. I look forward to the day when they have undercover agents patrolling the stands, banning spectators who swear. I am sure, too, that the ICC will be putting pressure on their beloved broadcast partners to ensure they do not show movies with any of that vile language on their channels. Standards are standards after all.

Rabada was not suspended for swearing per se, of course, but rather because the one demerit point he was given took him to the threshold of four points that brings with it a one-match ban. The majority of those four points came from an incident in January when he shoved Sri Lankan batsman Niroshan Dickwella.

It is important, of course, to ensure decent standards of player behaviour, but there are better remedies than removing a star player from a crucial game in a high-profile series. Cricket is ultimately the loser this week as those watching the Trent Bridge clash are denied the joy of watching a great fast bowler locking horns with some fine batsmen. Rabada versus the combative Ben Stokes is always compelling viewing, and a fast bowler with fire has always been one of the best sights in cricket.

Instead of devaluing their own product, which is in desperate need of proper marketing, why does the ICC not rather fine players for their misdemeanours? I know some people will say the cricketers earn so much they don’t care about paying thousands of Rands in fines, but my experience of contract negotiations and the general behaviour of players shows they care just as much about money as the rest of us do.

The ICC have far more important things to worry about than a swear word uttered in the heat of combat.

Justice has been swift in Rabada’s case, but when are the ICC going to put in place a proper structure and context for international cricket? Their incompetence in this regard is putting their premier product – Test cricket – at risk. They have put their heads together innumerable times to discuss this issue and yet they have still come up with nothing. It’s enough to make a puritan want to swear.

In England, at this time of year, the sun stays up right into what we (except for those living in Cape Town, which is part of Europe anyway) would consider night – at 8pm it is still quite bright enough to play cricket. But in the first Test at Lord’s, those in the paying seats and those watching in their lounges did not see the prescribed 90 overs of play on any of the four days of play.

I get a little tired of some of the obsession about over-rates, because, if it’s a gripping contest, nobody cares if a team is bowling 12 overs per hour or 14. But if the conditions allow it, then play should continue for as long as necessary to get the prescribed overs in.

What brought the game of cricket more into disrepute – Rabada’s outburst or the actions of the match officials in Durban in 2016 when a Test against New Zealand was abandoned in bright sunshine with both teams keen to play?

The ICC, in their ivory tower, are firmly in the corner of their officials even when they are ensuring there is no cricket.

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup 3

Posted on August 08, 2016 by Ken


It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup – a 124-year-old South African sporting institution and one of the most famous competitions in the game – but the South African Rugby Union, the custodians of this treasured tournament, are pulling off this dubious feat with scarcely-believable efficiency.

A crowded schedule and the growth of SuperRugby, both in terms of size and importance, has put the squeeze on the Currie Cup in recent years, but in 2016 Saru have taken the self-sabotage to a whole new level.

The build-up to this year’s tournament can only be described as a fiasco – from a largely pointless qualification competition to the scheduling of the fixtures, the Eastern Province Kings saga and the decision that match-day squads will only feature 22 players, it has been a litany of mistakes by Saru.

Griquas, Boland and the Pumas all finished in the top five of the qualifying tournament and their involvement in the Premier Division is a fine idea. But the Kings are likely to be an absolute shambles given that they have been liquidated and almost all their SuperRugby players have left. Their second-string players could only win two of their 14 qualifying games.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, itself about to undergo a change of leadership, has temporarily bailed out Eastern Province with a R20 million support package, but that’s not going to fix their tight five or their defence.

Everyone knows that the Kings are going to be a disaster but a Saru vote, thanks to their archaic governance system, has kept them in the Premier Division. Instead of a path being chosen for the benefit of South African rugby as a whole, the decision was made by the general council of the 14 union presidents and it needed to be unanimous for the dysfunctional, bankrupt team to be booted.

Of course one could guarantee self-interest would win the day and the Griffons vetoed the scheme. Apparently they agreed the Kings shouldn’t be in the top division but they didn’t want the Leopards to replace them. Talk about childish petulance and abysmal leadership, and we have seen the same outcome in many other issues Saru have voted for over recent years.

No wonder so many sponsors run a mile when Saru come knocking on their doors, because who wants their brand to be associated with a bunch of dinosaurs who are busy presiding over the extinction of the once mighty and proud Currie Cup?

The scheduling has also been poor with the opening round of the main event taking place in the same radius as the SuperRugby final and one of the biggest stories in the local game for many years, the possibility of the Lions winning that trophy. So nobody really cares that the Currie Cup is starting.

The final is scheduled for October 15 and the Springboks only play their first end-of-year-tour match on November 5, so the Currie Cup could easily have started a week later, out of the shadow of SuperRugby.

The vexed question of the Kings’ participation has also led to a dizzying array of fixture changes, but even before that the Lions were scheduled to play this weekend, even though the attentions of the defending champions were clearly going to be on SuperRugby.

Saru are certainly not putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to the Currie Cup and the lack of resources for the competition is also shown by the decision that teams can only have 22-man match-day squads, instead of the 23 with a full front row on the bench that is used now in all other high-level rugby.

This will not only affect the quality of the competition – expect more uncontested scrums – but obviously affects the preparation of the Springboks because they will have to use 23 players at international level.

No wonder the Springboks have struggled in recent years when their support structures and their pipelines are like an IOU from Cheeky Watson blowing in a Port Elizabeth gale.

Saru put their money where their mouth is on grassroots rugby 0

Posted on May 23, 2013 by Ken

They say money talks and the South African Rugby Union’s club rugby department will be spending more than R3 million on transport alone for the Cell C Community Cup that was launched in Sandton on Wednesday. The custodians of the game in this country are shouting from the rooftops their commitment to rejuvenating grassroots rugby.

The seven-week-long tournament features the best non-university clubs (universities already have the Varsity Cup) from each of the 14 provinces and Limpopo, and five wild-card invitees, and will run with pool play from 16 February through to 16 March.

The tournament has been divided into four pools of five teams each, and the top two from each pool after the round-robin stage will go through to the Easter Playoffs in George from 28 March to 1 April.

The pools have been randomly drawn and will not be on a regional basis and this is what gives the tournament its charm and national feel. It also explains why the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has had to put its money where its mouth is.

The 20 teams will cover a combined distance of 62,300km during the pool stages, an average return journey of 1,550km for each of the 40 matches to be played. White River, the Mpumalanga champions, get an early taste of the road trip feeling when they travel from the Lowveld to Boland to take on Roses United in Wellington in the opening round.

Duane Heath is Saru’s project manager for club rugby and he has spent the last couple of years travelling around the country, from Cape Town to Polokwane, to places like Bethlehem, Springbok, East London and Richard’s Bay, doing a thorough audit of the situation at grassroots level and consulting with these struggling open clubs.

“It was important to get buy-in from all the provinces and every little town I visited was like another piece of the puzzle. People have been talking about reviving club rugby for many years, but we needed to see what everyone wanted.

“I was in Potchefstroom for a sub-union competition when the Lowveld manager came to me and said they were tired of playing against the same old teams and how nice it would be to take on sides from down south.

“That’s why we came up with four national pools and not regional ones, even though it costs more. It’s going to allow different cultures and communities to meet. We’ll see intriguing clashes like African Bombers against Pretoria Police. We could also be creating derbies like between the mining clubs – Sishen versus Rustenburg Impala. And there will be different pools and teams every year, so there is none of that sameness that SuperRugby sometimes suffers from,” Heath said.

Club rugby is the lifeblood of the sport in South Africa, because there is such a wealth of talent and many potential stars don’t play Craven Week and therefore don’t get picked up by the scouts from the various franchises. The late developers are the main beneficiaries from the Community Cup because they now have a televised stage on which to shine.

Gary Teichmann was one of the great Springbok captains, but if he had been born 10 years later, he would have turned 18 at the dawn of professionalism in 1995 and would have become one of the lost talents.

While studying at Cedara Agricultural College, the eighthman and late developer played for Natal University and was finally spotted by Natal coach Ian McIntosh aged 24 in 1991.

The rest is history, as they say, but Nico Luus, the Pretoria Police captain and 35-year-old veteran of more than 100 first-class games for the Valke, says the talent at club level is still being left untapped.

“There are a lot of players good enough to play SuperRugby, they just need to show their talents. A lot of players nowadays go straight from Craven Week to provincial rugby, but they haven’t developed the mental strength and that’s why they get lost. You need to play with older guys, guys who have played provincial rugby before and are now giving back to their clubs,” Luus said.

While one of the main focuses of the Community Cup will be uncovering new talent, it is also about catering for those who love playing rugby but who do not want to become professionals and, for them, the tournament provides the thrill of high-level competition, a chance to travel and play all around South Africa and even appear on TV.

Chris Micklewood, the captain of the all-conquering College Rovers side that last year claimed their 79th win in 83 matches to become national club champions, is a case in point. The Westville utility back played for SA Schools in 2005 before enjoying professional stints with Brive and the Newcastle Falcons.

“Being a professional rugby player actually doesn’t appeal to me and I wasn’t that committed to playing full time. After spending three years playing for Newcastle Falcons, I was looking for a semi-pro platform, somewhere where I could follow my profession [marketing] and play.

“That’s what’s important about the Community Cup, it really allows one to work and play at a good level. I’m so excited about it,” Micklewood said.

The platteland has always been the main supplier of Springboks and young men in those regions can now get noticed before being signed up by one of the big metropolitan unions.

“The Community Cup creates an aspirational pathway for players to show their talents. Clubs have always been the feeders of our provincial and Springbok teams and this tournament creates the platform for them to take it to the next level,” Saru CEO Jurie Roux said.

One of the most famous Cinderella stories in South African rugby is Griqualand West’s 1970 Currie Cup triumph, with several players drawn from the Ammasol mine in Barkly West.

It was in a similarly remote corner of the Northern Cape that Heath came face-to-face with the pride and passion that exists in club rugby.

“It was past Upington, a little mining town called Olifantshoek. This rugby club in the middle of nowhere was run by a father and his son and the clubhouse was dilapidated and vandalised. But they were determined to keep their club alive, even though the young son had a heart condition.

“It was really emotional seeing them posing proudly in front of their run-down clubhouse… it was their pride and joy. If it wasn’t for their club, they’d have nothing,” Heath said.

The same story can probably be told all over the country and the Community Cup will give the heart and soul of rugby in South Africa the proper place it deserves. DM

Pools (*=wildcard)

  • Pool A – College Rovers (KZN), Despatch (EP), Sishen (GW), Villagers Worcester (Boland), SK Walmers* (WP).
  • Pool B – Pretoria Police (Bulls), Durbanville-Belville (WP), Bloemfontein Police (FS), Welkom Rovers (NFS), African Bombers* (EP).
  • Pool C – Rustenburg Impala (NW), Roodepoort (Lions), Noordelikes (Limpopo), Bloemfontein Crusaders* (FS), Raiders* (Lions).
  • Pool D – Old Selbornian (Border), Brakpan (Valke), Evergreens (SWD), White River (Mpumalanga), Roses United* (Boland).

Full tournament schedule –

↑ Top