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Ken Borland



Proteas end high up in rankings but hardly inspired in 2017 0

Posted on January 12, 2018 by Ken

 

South Africa ended last year ranked second in Tests and first in one-day internationals in the International Cricket Council rankings, but they were hardly inspired in 2017.

In fact, the Proteas were more like the bully in the schoolyard, bolstering their self-esteem, and rankings, by picking on easy-beats like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe at home. But when they were up against the big boys, most notably in the Champions Trophy and in the four-Test series in England, they folded in a heap.

Although they won in New Zealand, the ODIs were tightly-contested and they had good fortune in the Tests, rain washing out the final game when the Black Caps were in an excellent position to level the series.

In terms of individual performances, Hashim Amla and Kagiso Rabada continued to deliver world-class performances on a consistent basis, with the batting of AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis helping to make the ODI batting unit a dominant force.

Imran Tahir was their best white-ball bowler but it was the Test spinner, Keshav Maharaj, who perhaps made the greatest strides in 2017 and, at the age of 27, he is clearly a future star for the Proteas.

The arrival of Aiden Markram as a technically solid opening partner for Dean Elgar, who was the mainstay of the Test batting with 1128 runs, behind only India’s Cheteshwar Pujara and Aussie maestro Steve Smith in the year’s tally, helped bolster a batting line-up that was exposed in England, especially during De Villiers’ hiatus from Test cricket.

Markram will obviously face far sterner challenges than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in 2018, but he couldn’t have been expected to do much better than 380 runs in his first four innings, including two centuries.

But that there were more question marks than answers over the Proteas’ performance was borne out by the departure of Russell Domingo as coach before the start of the summer and the arrival of former West Indies head coach and England assistant Ottis Gibson.

After a gentle introduction into the job, his charges feasting on minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Gibson faces his first real test in the new year as world number ones India arrive.

He will need to keep De Villiers available for Tests just to settle the batting line-up, while the bowlers are certainly there to challenge for the number one ranking, the only problem being keeping them fit and getting the right balance in selection due to the transformation targets.

Most importantly, Gibson will be focused on the creation of a steely edge in the team, and has already created expectation for the 2019 World Cup by declaring that winning that elusive trophy is his goal.

When put under proper pressure by the likes of England, and by Pakistan and India in the Champions Trophy, the old signs of muddled thinking and near-panic were once again there. Gibson will want to make the Proteas a side that plays the big moments well and seizes every opportunity that comes their way.

The South African women’s team provided some of the highlights of the year and captured the imagination of cricket fans back home by narrowly missing out on a place in the Women’s World Cup final, hosts and eventual champions England just sneaking through in a pulsating semi-final.

Players such as Marizanne Kapp, the number one ODI bowler in the world, and Dane van Niekerk became global stars.

 

Top of the log speaks volumes for Dragons’ clinical edge 0

Posted on November 30, 2017 by Ken

 

It speaks volumes for the new clinical edge in Sihle Ntuli’s Drakensburg Dragons side that last year’s Premier Hockey League wooden-spoonists overcame vastly different challenges to win both their games and top the men’s log after the opening weekend of the 2017 competition at the Randburg Astro.

In their opening game, the Dragons hammered last year’s runners-up, the Addo Elephants, 4-0, defending stoutly and being ruthless in finishing their chances at the other end.

The next day, they had to survive the anxiety of a shootout to beat the Golden Gate Gladiators 3-1, after the match ended 2-2 after full time.

“The biggest disappointment last year was that if we look at all our games, we actually outplayed our opponents. The stats were in our favour but we just didn’t convert, so for us to come away with four goals was a really good start to our tournament.  A big thing for us was to not concede – that’s a very good sign for us. The Elephants team have some good players up front so it was a great defensive effort,” coach Ntuli said.

In the women’s tournament, the defending champion Blyde River Bunters ensured that they finished the first weekend on top of the standings as they beat the Namaqualand Daisies SA U21 side in a washed out match that had to be decided by a shootout, and then beat the St Lucia Lakers 3-1 thanks to a brace from Thati Segaole.

“The conditions were difficult to play flowing hockey. There were a couple of concepts that we did very well though. We’ve just got to do a few tweaks and I’m happy that we can do that. So I have all the confidence in the world that we will get better as the tournament progresses,” coach Lindsey Wright said.

 

Bulls prove their composure to pip WP 0

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais promised that his team were a different side from the one that lost at the same stage, against the same opponents, in last year’s Currie Cup, and they eventually proved that as they pipped DHL Western Province 36-30 in their thrilling semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Bulls were probably worthy winners as they played most of the rugby, but whenever they looked like putting the squeeze on Western Province, they would make mistakes and the visitors were brilliant at scavenging opportunities and using them to the full.

It looked like the Bulls would falter at the same hurdle when Western Province went ahead 27-22 in the 58th minute and then again, 30-29, with just seven minutes remaining.

But the 2016 Blue Bulls showed their development in terms of composure and mental strength as they played pragmatic rugby in the closing stages to eventually edge home thanks to replacement scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl’s try with just 90 seconds remaining.

A try by wing Travis Ismaiel, after 10 minutes, with centre Burger Odendaal making a great run off the ball and then the final pass, made sure that the Bulls made a good start to settle the nerves.

But Western Province scored nine minutes later to make it 7-7 with a try that showed their pack was not about to be bossed around at Loftus Versfeld, the forwards marching a lineout drive for 20 metres and eighthman Nizaam Carr dotting down.

That seemed to fire up the Bulls though and they began to squeeze Western Province in the second quarter. Schoeman kicked another penalty (10-7) and then a huge scrum in front of their own bench that had their subs on their feet earned another penalty (13-7).

Western Province were clearly feeling the pressure as Juan de Jongh tried to carry the ball out of his 22 but was met by a firm head-on tackle by Schoeman and flank Roelof Smit, who enjoyed an outstanding first half, pounced on the turnover, winning another penalty as the Bulls stretched their lead to 16-7.

But the lapses that kept the visitors in the game, the little momentum-killers, then reared their ugly heads.

Smit fell foul of referee Marius van der Westhuizen at the first ruck from the kickoff, allowing Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez to cut the deficit to 16-10 as the hooter went for the break.

The lead was then cut to just three points from the kickoff for the second half as flank Jannes Kirsten carried strongly as ever, but outside centre Dries Swanepoel went straight off his feet and sealed off the ball at the ruck, allowing Du Preez an easy kick to make 13-16.

The mercurial Schoeman pushed the lead back up to 19-13 after his lovely break had forced Western Province to go offsides to prevent a try, but the 25-year-old’s ability to deliver the sublime and the ridiculous within moments of each other was then shown as he provided the intercept that was snaffled up by lock Chris van Zyl, leading to wing Werner Kok roaring away for the try.

From that point onwards, control was slipping away from the Bulls. Schoeman, to his credit, would keep knocking over the vital kicks at goal, succeeding with all eight of his shots, but he also dropped the kickoff after his own 55th-minute long-range penalty to give Western Province prime position.

The Bulls conceded a penalty, which the visitors ran and lock Jan de Klerk stepped inside before barrelling over for the try.

Du Preez’s conversion put Western Province 27-22 up and the Bulls seemed to be on their way to another semi-final heartache when they lost their own lineout throw just outside the opposition 22. But they would get another chance as the clearing kick was taken by wing Jamba Ulengo, who raced off on a great run, Odendaal carrying the move on down the right as the Bulls roared back into the red zone. Several pick-and-goes later and replacement lock Jason Jenkins was over for the try, converted by Schoeman as the Bulls regained a 29-27 lead.

A crowd of nearly 18 000 roared the home team on – and was thanked profusely by the team management and CEO Barend van Graan after the game – and the Bulls produced an inspired period of defence on their own line.

But after their scramble defence won them the put-in at a scrum, they went down at the most inopportune moment, giving Du Preez a terrifying penalty which he nailed, giving him a 100% goalkicking record of 6/6.

Western Province were 30-29 ahead going into the last two minutes, but to the enormous credit of this young Bulls side, they kept their heads.

Van Zyl has just turned 21 and it was his smart break which put the Bulls on attack, only for some willing defence from Western Province to keep them out. The visitors did give them a lineout inside their own 22 though, and the Bulls were willing to show patience as they built the phases until the opposition just weren’t able to get enough defenders across to the next ruck, allowing Van Zyl to dart over for the matchwinning try.

It means the Blue Bulls are going to play in the Currie Cup final for the first time since 2009, and will travel down to Bloemfontein to take on the rampant Free State Cheetahs.

They are going to need all their new-found composure then as well.

Scorers

Vodacom Blue BullsTries: Travis Ismaiel, Jason Jenkins, Ivan van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3). Penalties: Schoeman (5).

DHL Western ProvinceTries: Nizaam Carr, Werner Kok, Jan de Klerk. Conversions: Robert du Preez (3). Penalties: Du Preez (3).

http://citizen.co.za/1315860/bulls-prove-composure-pip-wp/

Bulls are more mature & more confident – flyhalf Schoeman 0

Posted on October 14, 2016 by Ken

 

Blue Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman says he is going into Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against Western Province way more confident than last year, especially since he has a more mature pack in front of him now.

Last year the young Bulls side were beaten 23-18 by underdogs Western Province, who used a more experienced pack to exert pressure in the set-pieces and forward exchanges and won the territory battle, but this weekend the home side are a more accomplished side with a big pack that has excelled in the scrums and lineouts in recent matches.

“I’ve got two Currie Cups behind me now and a bit of Super Rugby, so I’m more confident. I was quite stressed out this time last year and we didn’t know what to expect, especially in a semi-final. So I’m definitely a bit calmer now although there are of course still some nerves,” Schoeman told The Citizen on Wednesday.

“I’m also a lot more relaxed because it’s lekker to play with a dominant pack in front of you. Our forwards have really stepped up and in the last few games the set-pieces have been very good. We’ve been getting a lot of results from the scrums with pushover tries and the lineouts have been very good as well. That’s going to be very important for the semi-final because you need the set-piece to attack from.”

The Bulls scored four more tries than Western Province during the league phase of the competition and have focused on a more ball-in-hand, high-intensity approach than in previous years. Nobody is more important than the flyhalf in driving the game plan and Schoeman said they will stick to what has served them well in the competition thus far.

“We’ve decided not to change anything, we’re going to stick to what we’ve been trying to do. It’s a bit more running rugby and maybe a bit more risky, but we don’t want to give Western Province the opportunity to play. So we’re only going to kick when in trouble, but those exits need to be accurate because you don’t want to give the other team opportunities,” Schoeman said.

 



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