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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

John McFarland Column: How to beat the All Blacks 0

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Ken

 

It was an enthralling final Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions, and a tremendous achievement for the visitors to draw a series in New Zealand. Every international coach will have looked at the three Tests and will take something from them – it has shown it is possible to beat the All Blacks.

So how did the Lions achieve this?

Firstly, their defence over the three Tests was superb, so hats off to the Farrell family.

It’s no coincidence that most of New Zealand’s losses over the last few years have been caused by a rush defence and a high line speed, so Lions, England and Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell should really take a bow – he has now enjoyed three wins and a draw against the All Blacks since 2013.

And then there was his son Owen’s kicking. None of his kicks at goal in the last Test were gimmes and it was very interesting to see that even with Jonny Sexton, who has such a high success rate in his kicking record, at flyhalf, the Lions went with Farrell for goalkicking and that’s what made the difference in the end.

The All Blacks were disciplined in their own 22, but were prepared to give away penalties further away from their line, and Farrell kept the Lions in the game.

It was the defence that was able to disrupt the New Zealand attacking structure, they weren’t really able to go forward or get the ball wide, because the Lions totally dominated the gain-line and the rush-defence took time and space away from Beauden Barrett. But it didn’t operate from a tight base, the wings were on the second-last runners and would not always engage, sometimes they would back off on to the last runner, therefore there was no kicking space behind them.

The Lions also chose two openside flanks who were a real nuisance at the breakdown.

The biggest thing about the rush-defence is that it means you are so square in the tackle, you line up your man and come forward, there’s no shifting. The Lions tackling was very confrontational, they didn’t really hit the legs but tended to be just under the ball. This forced more errors and led to dominance in the tackle; a softer defence relies on leg-tackles and a confrontational rush-defence on chest tackles. You can see it unnerved the All Blacks and with the quality of defenders the Lions had – players like Jonathan Davies, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – the system totally suited them.

The shift put in by the Lions forwards at the coalface was also amazing and New Zealand could not get any offloads or tip-passes going at all. The Lions cleverly took out the support players, so the ball was wide open at the breakdowns. The quality of the tackles and the athletes involved meant that on the tip-ons, they frequently took the passer out of play, which exposed the ball-carrier and then the turnover could happen.

What was especially interesting to me was that New Zealand just could not get the ball to the outside channels in space, and even if they tried, Barrett was frequently standing still and then it was easy for the Lions to pick off the carriers.

The way to break down the rush-defence is through the kick-pass and offloading from contact and it’s no coincidence that the All Blacks scored from this.

The Lions also relied tremendously on Conor Murray’s box-kicking. There was no messing around here – they would maul or box-kick immediately from the restart and that put pressure on the New Zealand wings, thanks to the quality of Murray’s kicking and exits.

For me, Murray was the real star of the series, his tactical control was superb; him kicking contestables meant the All Blacks never had a chance to counter-attack or get the ball back from the Lions back three with running bombs.

The New Zealand attack was very static. They wanted a two-sided attack against the rush-defence, but they played a lot of one-pass rugby, which made it quite easy to defend.

One of the key moments of the final Test was the chase back of Davies on Ngani Laumape after Barrett’s intercept, it was just superb. It was a series-turning moment and the other players get really excited when they see that sort of attitude and commitment from a team-mate.

It was an enthralling finish to the series, but it’s a pity to see such a great Test end with all the focus on Mr Roman Poite.

His eccentricities have been exposed even before Eden Park last weekend: there was the red card he gave Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park in 2013, his performance in the World Cup and against Argentina in 2014 when there were seven water-carriers on the field during a stoppage and he allowed the Pumas to take a quick tap, which resulted in a try just before halftime. The last defender in the Springbok backline was our physio, Rene Naylor!

It was good, though, that Poite reviewed the incident at the end of last weekend’s game and I think Craig Joubert will be wishing he had done the same in 2015 in the Scotland v Australia game at the World Cup. That’s what the TMO is there for and at least Poite used it. But rugby has to eliminate these grey areas because referees have to make hard decisions in a very short time.

I thought Poite was also really poor in the lineouts, there was taking out of jumpers left, right and centre, it was like a free-for-all. New Zealand also seemed to have some dominance in that final scrum and there could have been a penalty to them, but again he opted out.

The All Blacks ended up playing a lot of guys with just a handful of caps, which is not what you want in high-pressured Tests. Injuries and Sonny Bill Williams’ self-inflicted absence obviously affected them and you want more caps for the big games like last weekend. They ended with Laumape at 12 and Anton Lienert-Brown at 13 and they are actually both inside centres, both confrontational and direct. The Lions started with a similar sort of player in Ben Te’o, but then switched to Sexton and Farrell and had far more ball-playing ability to stretch the All Blacks.

One has to credit coach Warren Gatland for wearing his red nose with pride. He might just hang around and is probably very excited about a third tour with the Lions, against the Springboks in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether the Springboks pick Cheetahs or Kings players for that tour because it will be the end of their season in Europe!

 

 

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.

Batsmen can bank on being unsettled – Elgar 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

South Africa opener Dean Elgar said on Thursday night that the one thing a batsman can bank on at international level is that your head is always on the chopping block following what he described as the “unsettling” axing of his opening partner Stephen Cook for the last Test against New Zealand.

The Proteas returned to Johannesburg on Thursday night after rain spared them the likelihood of defeat on the final day of the third Test, allowing them to win the series 1-0, but there are still rumblings over the controversial decision to drop Cook, who scored only 17 runs in four innings but had made three centuries in his previous nine Tests.

Theunis de Bruyn was then forced to make his Test debut as a makeshift opener, without success.

“We had a good thing going but selection is out of the players’ control, it’s one of those things. It’s not easy for Stephen, I’ve been through it before and you can go into a dark place. The team has still been winning though, so it’s very difficult, especially when you know how much hard work he has put in and he’s a massive team guy.

“But the general thing with batsmen is that if you think you’re safe, you’re not. Your head is always on the chopping block and a good ball or a bad decision could cost you your spot. It’s unsettling that a guy like him can be left out when he’s been working his butt off,” Elgar said at O.R. Tambo International Airport upon the team’s return.

South Africa’s success – they won the T20, ODI and Test series – in New Zealand on pitches that closely approximate the conditions they will find in England for the Champions Trophy and a much-anticipated Test series, suggest they are on track to do well on that tour in mid-year.

“We feel we are nicely set up for England having won all three series, which doesn’t happen often in New Zealand,” assistant coach Adrian Birrell said. “Obviously we’re all gearing up for the Champions Trophy and the fact that we won the ODI series 3-2 by winning what was like a final at Eden Park will be good going forward.

“Conditions were probably closest to what we will find on the England tour, there was always seam movement but not excessive bounce, which is what we expect in England. We’ve used various combinations and we have an idea for what works. We’re particularly pleased that all-rounders came to the fore and that batsmen in the lower-order were winning us games.”

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170401/282419874094770

 

Markram waits patiently for his chance to join Rabada 0

Posted on March 22, 2017 by Ken

 

2014 Junior World Cup winner Kagiso Rabada is about to be unleashed on the international stage as he tours with the Proteas to Bangladesh, but what of his captain at that prestigious tournament, Aiden Markram?

Rated as one of the most promising young players in the country, Markram is learning the hard way that it takes much longer for batsmen to break through in the senior ranks than it does for bowlers. But the 20-year-old Northerns player is still full of optimism and says there is plenty of opportunity lying ahead for him.

“Obviously I’m happy that KG is with the national team, he completely deserves it. But it’s tough as a top-order batsman trying to play for your franchise and then your country, so I’m not concerned with my progress,” Markram told The Citizen.

The Tuks product has played 10 first-class games for Northerns, scoring 424 runs at an average of 30.28, including three half-centuries. His limited-overs returns have been more spectacular, scoring two List A centuries in five innings on his way to an average of 71.25, a strike-rate of 95.95 and a nomination for the CSA Provincial One-Day Cricketer of the Year award.

Markram was also brilliant in the T20 competition, scoring 165 runs in four innings, with two half-centuries, an average of 55 and a strike-rate of 146.

“I’ve played a lot more limited-overs cricket in my life. I have game-plans in place for those formats but in the longer format it was only towards the end of the season that I had identified a plan. So that was a big positive and I’m really looking forward to next season’s three-day competition. I don’t want to be labelled a limited-overs player, but I’m happy with the way the season went.

“In the season ahead, it would be nice to play franchise cricket for the Titans, that’s definitely a goal for me, in any format. But all I can control is scoring runs and putting myself in contention. If I’m selected, great, but if not then I want to make a big contribution for the Northerns team. I enjoy my role there and I’m looking forward to more responsibility,” Markram said.

For someone who has such a solid technique, it is surely only a matter of time before Markram makes his mark in first-class cricket, having already shown in the shorter formats that he has the measure of most bowlers in provincial cricket.

“I’d only played two three-day games in my life before this season, so it’s been a new challenge. As a top-order batsman, the bowlers are fresh and armed with a new ball, so if you get in then you must kick on. And it’s usually tough batting on day one.

“I just need to re-set myself more during my innings, make sure I get myself in properly and then just bat time,” Markram said.

For someone as talented as him, it is surely also only a matter of time before he is back playing on the same stage as his former team-mate Rabada.

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