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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.

 

Proteas’ formula for success may come under threat 0

Posted on February 18, 2015 by Ken

Each highly successful Test team through the ages has had their specific formula for success  – think the West Indies and their fast bowlers or Australia and their aggressive batsmen setting the platform for Warne and McGrath to wheel away – and the current Proteas have always insisted that playing seven specialist batsmen has been a key factor in their climb to number one in the rankings.

But that philosophy may came under threat at SuperSport Park today when the first Test against the West Indies gets underway.

That’s largely due to the absence of the injured JP Duminy, which affects the balance of the Test side almost as much as the ODI outfit. An all-pace attack and seven specialist batsmen has been possible with Duminy there to bowl his tidy off-spin, but without him the options are either to have three pacemen and Robin Peterson, four quicks and no spinner save for Dean Elgar, or to go in with six specialist batsmen and play both the extra fast bowler and Peterson.

Although the seamers do traditionally bowl the bulk of the overs in Centurion, there have been occasions in the last five years when South Africa have relied heavily on spin – in both innings against Australia last season (22 and 31% of the overs bowled); in the second innings against India in 2010/11 (23%) and in both innings against England in 2009/10 (38 and 35%).

So there will be a reluctance to go into the Test, despite the rain around Gauteng on Tuesday and however grassy the pitch may be on the first day, without a specialist spinner.

“There might be a cracking blue sky at the game tomorrow so we’re not sure what our combination will be. We’ll see what happens on the day,” was all Hashim Amla, who will captain South Africa for the first time in a home Test, was willing to offer on Tuesday.

AB de Villiers was a bit more forthcoming, however.

“It’s the biggest decision management will have to make,” De Villiers said. “Centurion normally doesn’t turn that much which makes you feel that you can maybe go with that extra seamer, but with the team we are playing against, it might not be a bad idea to play a spinner. I’m pretty sure management will be tempted to play an all-pace attack though.”

For Dale Steyn, an extra batsman was important, despite the extra workload that would place on the stalwart fast bowler.

“It can be a bit sporty on day one, a bit slow, the last time we played here against Australia was crazy because it went up and down, but then in previous Tests it flattened out,” he said. “It was hard work to bowl teams out. Our batsmen were very dominant so it gave us enough time.”

The last time South Africa played the West Indies at SuperSport Park – in January 2004 – the tourists were tenderised by an opening stand of 301 between Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs, followed by a Jacques Kallis century. Makhaya Ntini then took eight wickets in the match as the follow-on was enforced, resulting in a 10-wicket victory. Part-timers Smith and Jacques Rudolph were the Proteas’ spinners, bowling just 19.4 overs in the Test.

Steyn wasn’t quite laughing when he said: “I don’t think it really matters whether we play the spinner or the seamer, I think we’ll still do okay” – but the formbook and history both suggest the West Indies should be outclassed.

They are a formidable limited-overs outfit, but targeting cow-corner doesn’t often work as a strategy in Test cricket and few people will stake a fortune on the West Indies winning. One well-known bookmaker is offering odds of 1/33 that South Africa will win if there is a result in the match.

Even West Indies captain Denesh Ramdin was not sounding hugely confident on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be very challenging, we’re up against the number one team so they must be doing something very good to be on top, plus they’re at home. We need to be more consistent, especially our batting which has not been up to scratch lately. In the field we need to minimise our mistakes, not bowl so many bad balls and make sure our slip catching is up to par. If we perform well against the number one team, we should get credit for that. We will take it one step at a time and do our best,” Ramdin said.

While the West Indies are an inexperienced team with seven of their squad having played less than 10 Tests, South Africa will have just one greenhorn in action.

Stiaan van Zyl has staked his claim for a Test berth with a Sunfoil Series average of 49.57 and Amla admitted there was “a very good chance” of him playing, although he won’t bat at seven.

Let’s hope the silky strokeplay of the left-hander is employed at number six – specialist batsmen need to have the responsibility of batting in the top six – with wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock at seven.

There is speculation, however, that Van Zyl might replace Alviro Petersen at the top of the order, thereby enabling South Africa to play four pacemen and a spinner, with Vernon Philander batting at seven.

Petersen has put himself in the firing line by not exactly scoring a keg-full of runs lately, with just one half-century in his last 10 innings, and he has yet to play any four-day cricket for the Highveld Lions this season.

Squads

South Africa: Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Stiaan van Zyl, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada.

West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite, Devon Smith, Leon Johnson, Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jason Holder, Denesh Ramdin, Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach, Sheldon Cottrell, Sulieman Benn, Shannon Gabriel, Asad Fudadin, Jermaine Blackwood, Chadwick Walton.

 

Luke Donald looks to have a second wind 0

Posted on January 14, 2015 by Ken

Judging by his performance in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, former world number one Luke Donald is certainly on course for a second wind in his career that reached the pinnacle of world golf in 2011 but then stalled as he dropped down the rankings in 2013.

Having reached new heights three years ago when he became the first golfer to win both the European and PGA Tour moneylists in the same year, Donald has not won since November 2013 and missed out on selection for Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team this year.

He changed coach in mid-2013 and although he has since split from Chad Cook and gone back to Pat Goss, Donald said yesterday that there was no second-guessing his decision.

“I changed coach because I felt my game was not going the way I wanted it to, in particular I didn’t feel I was a good enough driver of the ball to win a Major. But it’s tough to break 30 years of golfing DNA, I didn’t play very well and I struggled to see a change, so I went back to Pat. Change is hard, but it was a good decision to join Chad because it made me realise that sometimes what you have is good enough,” Donald said.

The Gary Player Country Club course, however, is not the sort of place where poor drivers of the ball prosper, and Donald showed that he has plenty of game in the second round, picking up a dazzling nine birdies and not dropping a single shot.

“Every tee shot here has danger and you really have to be switched on and play good, solid shots. I feel I’ve done that very well today,” Donald said.

Whether or not Donald is the winner on Sunday – it would be a tremendous way to celebrate his 37th birthday the same day – the Englishman feels he is getting back to being one of the best golfers in the world.

“Winning would give me a huge amount of confidence that I’m doing the right thing, but my main goal is just to keep moving forward, keep getting better. Sometimes we put the Majors on too much of a pedestal. I prefer to stick to smaller goals,” he said.

In coming through a couple of miserable years, Donald has also shown that he has the character within him to overcome the tough times that inevitably come in golf and he admitted a change in mindset had also been necessary for him to rebound.

“I’d never had big struggles before but I think I needed to adjust mentally. You expect your golf to be good and for that to make you happy on the course, but it’s the other way round.”

Once the most consistent golfer in the world, Donald has the short game to capitalise on the opportunities he creates from tee to green and the old solidity is definitely returning.

 

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