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Ken Borland



Super summer for Proteas, never mind your last game 0

Posted on April 17, 2017 by Ken

 

They say you’re only as good as your last game, but that would be an unfair measure of the Standard Bank Proteas’ brilliance over a remarkable summer during which their resurgence left them as the number one ranked side in ODI cricket and the nearest challengers to India for supremacy in the Test format.

Of course, their second-placed ranking in Tests is thanks to them beating New Zealand 1-0 in their series that ended last week, with the Proteas escaping probable defeat in the final Test thanks to rain on the last day.

Then again, this Proteas side has shown before that they are at their best under pressure and who knows what Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, with the help of the tail, might have achieved on the fifth day in Hamilton.

South Africa’s next assignment is the major challenge of a tour to England, but they can take heart from the fact that the conditions they overcame in New Zealand are probably the nearest to what they will experience in the United Kingdom during their visit for three ODIs, the Champions Trophy, three T20 internationals and four Tests, starting on May 19.

“We feel nicely set up for England having won all three series in New Zealand, which is not done often down there. Obviously we’re all gearing up towards 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,” assistant coach Adrian Birrell said upon the Proteas’ return to South Africa.

For the Test matches, there are question marks over opener Stephen Cook and veteran middle-order batsman and part-time off-spinner JP Duminy. It will be interesting to see whether the selectors will branch out towards a new-look future team by making a couple of changes to the batting line-up.

But to make a change at the top of the order for the third Test in Hamilton, and introduce a debutant in Theunis de Bruyn batting out of position in place of Cook, was probably not the wisest move, and senior opener Dean Elgar spoke about how such selections cause uncertainty in the batting line-up.

“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.

Cook will be preparing for the England tour by playing for Durham in the County Championship, while De Bruyn, who predictably failed in Hamilton having not been given the best chance to succeed, should be chosen for the SA A tour that precedes the Proteas’ trip, allowing the selectors to compare their form.

Or will Aiden Markram, also surely a certainty for the SA A squad, be the bolter who makes his debut in the first Test at Lord’s from July 6?

Or does De Bruyn not deserve another chance given that nobody should be dropped after just one game?

These are the questions that the selectors have left themselves with.

South Africa will certainly go to England with a settled attack though.

Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander had the Black Caps batsmen under constant pressure, relieved only by the sheer class of Kane Williamson, and spinner Keshav Maharaj will go to England raring to go after a stellar tour of New Zealand in which he topped the averages with 15 wickets in three Tests at an average of just 19.93.

There is a chance, however, that the Proteas will go the route of four seamers against England, in which case Chris Morris, full of runs and wickets at the back end of the summer, should be turned to as an all-rounder.

As brilliantly as the players have performed, enormous credit must go to coach Russell Domingo and his staff.

Nine months ago, it did not seem likely that Domingo would be taking the Proteas to England. Whether he is going to continue after the tour is another uncertainty hanging over the Proteas, but Elgar has no doubt he is the man to take the team further forward.

“If I can say one word to sum up the summer it’s that we are grateful. A year ago we were fading away, worrying about our own performance, but since then we’ve started playing for the badge and the environment has a big role in making it all possible. The last year has been amazing, but we must stay humble because we’re still not number one in Tests.

“But personally I would love to see Russell stay on, he’s still got the best years of his coaching career ahead of him over the next couple of years. He’s getting better with age. I’m a big Russell Domingo fan and I’d be more than happy if he stayed on.”

Is everyone there on merit? One wonders … 0

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Ken

 

Cricket South Africa (CSA) has assured their stakeholders that selection for the national team will only be on merit and this week signed a new transformation agreement with Sascoc and the Department of Sports and Recreation in which they are apparently the only sporting code that has not agreed to quotas at the highest level.

CSA’s attitude is that the system must provide the national team with black players on merit, which is why they are aggressively pursuing quotas at domestic level.

It is also believed that CSA have met with the Proteas and have clarified with them that there was no interference in selection at the World Cup and that there won’t be targets in future.

But the squads announced for the tour of Bangladesh in July do make one wonder.

Reeza Hendricks and Aaron Phangiso have been picked for the Test squad, while Kagiso Rabada has leapfrogged Kyle Abbott in the fast-bowling pecking order.

I have the utmost respect as cricketers for them, but logic suggests the selectors were not looking at purely on-field performance in making these decisions.

Hendricks is undoubtedly a bright talent and I fully support him being involved in the limited-overs squads. But the figures show that Hendricks is not yet ready to be a Test opener. His first-class franchise batting average is just 34.55 with three centuries in 20 matches. Last season he averaged just 31.76, half what Highveld Lions opener Stephen Cook managed.

Cook has scored 10 centuries in the last two seasons, while Cobras opener Andrew Puttick has averaged 49.27 and 40.23 in the last two Sunfoil Series season. The fact that these two prolific batsman can’t make the side when an opening batsman is required and yet someone whose performances in the same competition are far inferior only adds fuel to the fire that is raging around selection for the national team.

The cynic in me believes that Phangiso’s selection for the Test squad is to make up for the appalling manner in which he was treated at the World Cup that saw him not play a single game.

Both Phangiso and Highveld Lions coach Geoff Toyana have gone on record as saying that the 31-year-old still needs a lot of work in the longer format and five wickets at an average of 67 in the Sunfoil Series shows that is the case.

Convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson said that they wanted a left-arm spinner for the squad and there is a ready-made, experienced, proven option in Robin Peterson.

As far as Rabada goes, I am certain that he will be a great fast bowler for South Africa in all formats, but what has Abbott done wrong?

Lady Luck always has her say when it comes to cricket, but Abbott has been one of the most unfortunate players in the country for a while now.

As a unit, the Proteas have been exceptionally strong in the Test arena, but the pain of the World Cup loss was all too obvious and whether CSA’s clearing-the-air session with the players was enough remains to be seen. They maintain that the only affirmative action when it comes to selection is if there is a 50/50 choice between two players, then the player of colour will get the benefit.

Was Hendricks being preferred to Cook really a 50/50 call? Phangiso over Peterson and Rabada ahead of Abbott?

A Bangladesh tour was never exactly looked forward to and this time the challenges will be even greater on the field. The Proteas will be asked tougher questions than ever before by Bangladesh on their home turf, while questions still swirl around their selection.

 

Bavuma opening? That’s not the only weirdness we’ll see 0

Posted on September 12, 2016 by Ken

 

Temba Bavuma will open the batting on his ODI debut for South Africa in Benoni on September 25 having done that job in just two of the 69 List A games he has played in his career, but that’s not likely to be the only selection weirdness we see in the Proteas’ limited-overs teams this season.

That’s because, in order to meet the new quotas that will apply as an average at the end of the season across all three formats, it seems the national selectors will follow the sensible option of ‘loading’ the limited-overs teams in order to give themselves more leeway when it comes to Tests.

The targets they have to meet at the end of the season are 54% players of colour and 18% Black African players – measured as 27 matches with 11 players a side, therefore 297 individual playing opportunities, of which 161 must go to players of colour, including 54 appearances by Black Africans.

The last time Bavuma opened the batting in a List A match was actually in February, in the Lions’ Momentum One-Day Cup match against the Knights in Mangaung, when he scored just five before being caught behind off the evergreen Dillon du Preez.

Prior to that, the only time he had opened was back in March 2010 for Gauteng against Northerns in the CSA Provincial competition at the L.C. de Villiers Oval at the University of Pretoria. He scored 18 off 20 balls before being caught behind off Tumi Masekela. His opening partner that day was Grant Mokoena, and that’s not the only thing they have in common as they both scored sparkling centuries this week in the eKasi Challenge between the Lions and Titans at the Soweto Cricket Oval. Both hundreds were of sufficient quality to disprove the nonsense that there are no talented Black African batsmen around.

I am not criticising the quotas now imposed by Cricket South Africa at national level – I can see their need, I’m delighted that we are now being honest about them and don’t know how else much-needed transformation can happen at a reasonable pace – but I would like to point out that they are a double-edged sword.

While someone like Mokoena has undoubtedly benefited from the targets imposed at franchise level last season – he played more first-class matches than he had ever before and had his highest tally of runs as well as his best 50-over campaign – the other side of the equation is how established players like Bavuma could find themselves shifted into unfamiliar roles to fill gaps.

Is it fair on a wonderful craftsman like Bavuma, who showed against New Zealand how he has become a key figure in the Test line-up, to make his ODI debut in a once-off game batting out of position? The squad for the series against Australia that follows has already been named, so even if the 26-year-old scores a double-hundred against Ireland, Hashim Amla will take his place in the next game.

And what if Bavuma gets a good ball up front and is dismissed cheaply? What if he struggles to 12 off 38 balls on a Willowmoore Park pitch that can be tricky in the first hour? Will it dent the selectors’ confidence in him?

Bavuma has shown already that he has incredible mental strength so I don’t think it will dent his confidence, and he really is batting beautifully at the moment. When he gets on top of the bowers as he did against the Titans in Soweto, he is a wonderful strokeplayer, but just as impressive is the tenacity he showed in the second innings of the second Test against New Zealand to score 40 not out.

Andile Phehlukwayo will also make his ODI debut later this month and he is a real talent for the future. Also gifted with a great temperament – as displayed in his excellent death bowling – he will also get a chance against Australia. If he does not immediately succeed in this tough first assignment at the highest level, I hope he is not tarnished with a reputation for not being up to it, seeing as though he is only 20 years old!

Cricket is a strange game but Kingsmead was just stupid 0

Posted on August 29, 2016 by Ken

 

Cricket is, in many ways, a strange game but there is nothing as infuriating than play not taking place when blue skies and bright sunshine are overhead. That was the case in Durban last weekend as the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand was allowed to just die with only 99.4 overs being bowled in the match.

As an endangered species, Test cricket needs to be given utmost support and attention and I firmly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Notwithstanding the foolishness of Cricket South Africa digging up the Kingsmead outfield in order to soften it two weeks later than they should have, meaning it struggled to cope with unseasonal heavy rain in Durban, the villains of the peace for me were English umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, who showed little interest in actually getting play underway, so fixated were they on a few damp patches on the outfield.

The umpires are the final arbiters of what is fair and safe in terms of conditions, but lines have to be drawn somewhere. Both teams were eager to play – in fact the Proteas were gathered on the side of the field shortly after play was finally abandoned on the fifth day eager to have a run-around and get some fitness in, but they were prevented from going on to the field because that would have made the umpires look bad.

I am certain that if it had been an ODI or a T20 match with similar soft areas of outfield, a plan would have been made and the umpires would have done everything in their power to get a game underway.

As usual, the accountability has been shifted to Kingsmead, who never wanted the outfield to be dug up in the first place. The International Cricket Council, as usual, passed the buck. There was absolutely no communication from the match referee, Andy Pycroft, to explain why play was not possible, and he declined to speak to the media. What’s the point of having a match referee if that is their attitude?

To make matter worse, the umpires were so apathetic when it came to making an effort that they actually banned the groundstaff from the field when groundsman Wilson Ngobese and his staff wanted to proceed with mopping up operations, saying they preferred to allow natural processes like sun and wind to run their course.

Week in and week out rugby players are busy making crunching tackles and sidestepping such collisions in often wet conditions, but how often do one of them turn an ankle? With both teams happy to play, the only conclusion is that Gould and Illingworth were being overly precious.

The future of Test cricket may not bother them or Pycroft, but what happened at Kingsmead under their watch was a fiasco and just another small nail in the coffin of the original format of the game.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis spoke earnestly on Friday about how, for them, Test cricket was still the ultimate and it needed better treatment from the ICC.

“Test cricket is still number one for the players and a Test Championship is a step in the right direction. You ask any of the international players and they will tell you that Test cricket is still the best thing to play and we need to play as many Tests as possible.

“You want to be able to say you’ve given everything on the field and that feeling of winning a Test can’t be copied, especially not by T20. I hope the ICC is looking at that,” Du Plessis said.

Sadly, the ICC are more interested in red tape and bureaucracy, and are way more likely to jump up and down about over-rates, sponsors’ logos being too big or a player saying something even mildly controversial in a press conference.

As usual, the administrators seem to think cricket fans are more interested in what they are up to than in the actual game they are meant to be serving.

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  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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