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Ken Borland



Those were the days of struggle & now Benkenstein is back 0

Posted on November 29, 2017 by Ken

 

New Proteas batting coach Dale Benkenstein’s last involvement with the national cricket set-up was 15 years ago, in October 2002, when he played his 23rd and final ODI for South Africa against Bangladesh in Benoni, perhaps a suitably low-key finale to an international playing career that promised much but was never brought to full bloom.

Those were the days when South African cricket was still recovering from the demise and tragic death just four months previously of Hansie Cronje, the much-admired captain who was then exposed as a match-fixer.

Those were also the days when the World Cup curse was really starting to engulf the South African team – Benkenstein was watching from the changeroom as a non-playing squad member when they threw away their 1999 semifinal against Australia in farcical circumstances and was a spectator at Kingsmead in 2003 when the shambles over their understanding of the Duckworth/Lewis calculations knocked them out of the tournament.

Benkenstein, having marked himself out as a natural leader with his captaincy of the SA U19 side, was given the reins of a star-studded Natal team at the age of just 22 and did such a great job that he quickly became the heir apparent to Cronje in the national team.

But those were also the days when there appeared to be a tendency for the existing captain to suppress the development of his closest rival: Under Cronje’s watch, Benkenstein was never really given a fair chance to establish himself in the national team. He would play one or two games and then be left out, or would be shifted up and down the batting order, in a manner that seemed to suggest life was being made as tough as possible for him.

Neil McKenzie, similarly, seemed to struggle to hold down a place while Shaun Pollock was skipper and it was Graeme Smith who finally ended the trend as he actively pushed for McKenzie’s return to the national team.

Benkenstein did have his shortcomings as an international batsman – but almost all batsmen at that level have weaknesses which they work hard to avoid being exposed. But those very flaws help make the 43-year-old an excellent batting coach because he understands the dynamics of technique and the massive importance of the mental side of batting, having wrestled with those issues himself.

The best coaches are often not the former players with the best records, simply because they have empathy for the struggling cricketer, and Graham Ford, who played such a key role in the development of players such as Benkenstein, Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener at Natal, is the prime example of that.

Benkenstein and the new Proteas head coach, Ottis Gibson, are former team-mates at Durham, the English county that was only elevated into top-level cricket in 1992, and it was the arrival of the Natal captain that ended years of disappointment and elevated them into a force in the UK. So the West Indian is well aware of his new batting coach’s inspirational qualities, and he and Benkenstein added 315 for the seventh wicket in 2006 to avoid relegation. Gibson played a major role with the ball in the trophies won thereafter.

Given that South Africa’s World Cup struggles are symptomatic of muddled mental skills at key times, the arrival of one of the clearest thinkers on the game can only be a positive.

But one hopes that the skills of McKenzie, another ex-Protea who brings immense value to the changeroom, will not be lost to South African cricket now that Benkenstein has taken his place in the national set-up.

The appointment of Malibongwe Maketa as the assistant coach is also pleasing as the development of Black African coaches is vital if the transformation of South African cricket is to progress, but one obviously feels for Geoff Toyana, the Highveld Lions coach who seemed certain to be involved with the national team in some capacity.

The acquisition of a few more domestic trophies will certainly keep Toyana’s name in the conversation to succeed Gibson, however.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20171125/282325385282186

Adapting to breakdown blowing Boks’ biggest concern 0

Posted on February 01, 2016 by Ken

 

“It’s up to us to adapt to what is being blown on the field at the breakdown,” Springboks forwards coach Johan van Graan admitted in Pretoria on Tuesday as the South Africans prepare for their quadrangular series finale against Samoa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Springboks are coming off a thoroughly unconvincing 30-17 victory over Scotland, in which they scored 10 points in the last five minutes and coach Heyneke Meyer conceded after the Test in Nelspruit that the breakdown was the biggest area of concern for him.

The Springboks failed to get quick ball, partly because Scotland were all over the breakdown, doing their best to disrupt possession by whatever means, fair or foul. The Springboks knew Scotland were going to attack the breakdown, but they did little to stop them, naively relying on the referee to sort out the mess. As Van Graan agreed on Tuesday, quick ball is not some divine right in the game of rugby, you have to work for it and the opposition are obviously going to try and stop you from obtaining it.

“We expected beforehand that every breakdown would be a massive contest, but my feeling is that we also wanted to focus on our discipline in the first 20 minutes and we expected the tacklers to have to roll away quickly, so we didn’t compete as much.

“But there are no excuses, you have to adapt and sort it out on the field; it’s about fixing our own problems,” Van Graan said.

The first problem the Springbok coaching staff has identified is that they need to be more aggressive when carrying the ball.

“My opinion is that it always starts with the ball-carriers. If they don’t get momentum then it’s very difficult for the cleaners to get in. And if those first and second arrivers don’t do their job, then the breakdown is lost,” Van Graan explained.

The expected return of Willem Alberts should provide a boost to that area of the game at Loftus Versfeld, with the bone-crunching loose forward back in training after a side strain.

“Willem was brilliant for the Springboks in 2012. Siya Kolisi and Pierre Spies both had nearly a dozen ball-carries for us against Scotland, but Willem is world-class. He’s the guy you want on the advantage line and that’s where the big battle will be on Saturday,” Van Graan said.

The Springboks fully expect Samoa to follow Scotland’s lead and attack the breakdown, with another inexperienced referee in charge on Saturday in Irishman John Lacey.

“Samoa have a simple plan, but they execute it well. They have big ball-carrying forwards who are good in broken play and at the breakdown. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on the wide rucks, so it won’t be a lot different to Scotland, it’s going to be a battle for the ball,” Van Graan said.

While Alberts’ return would add 20 caps’ worth of experience to the loose trio, there could be a considerable loss of experience at centre with captain Jean de Villiers rated only a 50/50 chance of playing after popping a rib against Scotland. If De Villiers can’t play then JJ Engelbrecht with just three caps, and Jan Serfontein, with only two brief appearances off the bench, will likely combine in midfield.

However, wing Bryan Habana does not believe that this would also create a leadership vacuum.

“Since 2012, the side has had a very young nucleus, with just myself, Jean, Ruan Pienaar, Pierre Spies and Frans Steyn having played more than 50 Tests. So it will be very disappointing if Jean can’t make it, he’s been an unbelievable captain and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. But as a senior player, my job is to make that important step up, that’s what we’re there for, our leadership responsibilities increase and we need to bring that leadership to the fore,” Habana said.

“But it’s also very exciting the way guys like Acker Strauss, Bismarck du Plessis and Pierre Spies, who has led the Blue Bulls very well for the past five months, have stepped forward as leaders. We showed that we still have that calmness and belief we can win in the team, even though we were 6-17 down against Scotland, and that’s a great thing,” Habana added.

While facing the combative Samoans in a final at Loftus Versfeld should ensure the Springboks bring the right attitude into the game, Van Graan said there would also need to be a greater focus on their tactical approach, against opponents who thrive on unstructured, loose rugby.

“In the first 30 minutes against Scotland we maybe played too much rugby. Samoa these days are tactically very good and it might become a tactical battle at Loftus, a typical final. It will be about the territory battle, we need to make sure we dominate that because the referees tend to favour the side with territory. And then we need to hang on to the ball,” Van Graan said.

Against unpredictable opposition and possibly unfathomable refereeing, it is probably wise for the Springboks to rely on their tried and tested approach, but even then it will not be easy to get on top of the Samoans.

“Every game has its own personality and every week we get something different from the referee. And there are a few big challenges in the Samoan pack too – Census Johnston is a world-class prop, Jack Lam is well known for his work in the Hurricanes loose trio and their lock, Kane Thompson, has also played SuperRugby.

“Their backs have good running lines, they’ve already had some big scrums in this series and they can stop our maul,” Van Graan warned.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-19-boks-broke-down-at-the-breakdown/#.VsHJaPl97IU

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