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Ken Borland



I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

The thrills and drama of the Sunfoil Series 0

Posted on February 24, 2017 by Ken

 

The Sunfoil Series – the four-day domestic franchise competition – came down to the most thrilling of conclusions last weekend with the Knights claiming the title by just 1.78 points, the equivalent of 89 runs over a tournament that lasted 10 weeks, once again proving that, at least in the minds of the players and the aficionados of the sport, it is the premier trophy in the local game.

Nicky Boje, the Knights coach, confirmed that the four-day competition was the main target in their minds this season, and the other franchise coaches made similar comments through the campaign.

The thing about four-day cricket is that it provides the most all-encompassing test of a player’s skills and of a team’s quality – it’s essentially 40 days of cricket, 96 overs a day, so an examination that can last 3840 overs.

And it still came down to the narrowest of margins, so small in fact that Knights captain Theunis de Bruyn gave a large part of the credit for his team’s triumph to a partnership of just 10 runs between the last pair in their penultimate game against the Cape Cobras.

Akhona Kula and Tshepo Ntuli took the Knights’ first innings in Paarl from 143 for nine to 153 to get them one batting point – 150 is set as the milestone for the first batting bonus point, make 149 and you get zero. Even though the Knights went on to lose the match by 151 runs, that single point made their life a lot easier in the final game against the Highveld Lions because it meant they were targeting 430 in 100 overs rather than around 480.

“It allowed us to believe a little bit more,” De Bruyn said, and we all know belief plays a massive role in any achievement.

I just wish Cricket South Africa had a bit more belief in their four-day competition. It would be unrealistic to expect huge crowds to attend, but they could certainly do more to generate greater interest in the tournament that makes our Test cricketers. They have scheduled media sessions with the franchises before T20 and Momentum One-Day Cup games, why not before Sunfoil Series matches?  Their decision to no longer pay for a scorer to sit in the press box during four-day games suggests their attitude is to cut investment in the competition rather than promote it.

Scorers are an essential help to the media in terms of getting all their stats and figures correct, and it is heartening that CSA’s official statistician, Andrew Samson, is very much a long-format man.

The Oracle, as our media call him – I’m not sure what the BBC Test Match Special team call him but he is also their official statistician – has just brought out a book, The Moon is Toast, which is a celebration of all the quirky statistics the wonderful game of cricket throws up, written in the format of a year-long diary.

Copies of the book are available from http://tinyurl.com/hgbulfp and the wry humour of Samson makes what could become a boring read into an entertaining delight.

Long-form cricket obviously lends itself to more statistical gems than the wham-bam! of limited-overs cricket and the greater scope for all sorts of possibilities to occur was shown by the dramatic conclusion of our own four-day competition.

The longer the game, the greater the chance of an amazing comeback, just as the New South Wales team did in their recent Sheffield Shield game against Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground. They were two for two in their first innings before going on to make 603 for six declared which, Samson tells me, is only the fourth time in all first-class cricket that a team has lost their first two wickets for two or less runs but still gone on to score more than 600.

The South African example is Griqualand West recovering from one for two and then three for three to make 602 all out against Rhodesia in Kimberley in 1930, thanks to a double-century by the exotically-named Xenophon Balaskas, the Test all-rounder.

Win or lose, some coaches just can’t win 0

Posted on February 06, 2017 by Ken

 

There is an unfortunate tendency in South African sport that a coach sometimes cannot win whether his team are losing or winning. We’ve seen it before with former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and now with current Proteas coach Russell Domingo.

It’s the unfortunate attitude that if a team is losing – as the Proteas were for 2015 and the first half of 2016 – then it must be the coach’s fault, but if they are winning, as Domingo’s charges are currently and the Springboks did under De Villiers in 2009, then it must have nothing to do with the coach and be all the players’ doing!

If people are going to blame and criticise the coach during the lean times then they have to credit and praise the coach when things are going well. His influence cannot just extend in the one direction.

Domingo gets to be seen way less on television than the Springbok rugby coach, so perhaps he has less opportunity to convey his knowledge of the game, but it was disturbing last weekend when Cricket South Africa dropped what can only be termed a bombshell. They were going to be taking applications for his position and he would need to reapply himself. It’s like being in a relationship and being told “it’s time we see other people”.

I have been a critic of Domingo in the past, believing he was no longer able to get the best out of the Proteas, but their form in the last six months has been superb and clearly the coach has them all pulling in the same direction.

A 5-0 limited-overs whitewash of Australia and a Test series win Down Under, without AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, rank amongst some of the finest achievements in South African cricket history, and so far Sri Lanka have been dealt with ruthlessly, save for the T20s when some experimentation took place.

But CSA believe now is the time to say we need to start looking for another coach!

I agree, depending on how results go in the Champions Trophy and the Tests in England, that August may be time for a change given that Domingo will have been in the job for four years, but what if he wins the ICC event and then beats the Poms on their home turf? If he wants to continue, surely he would be the obvious choice?

Sure, you have to plan ahead and put out some feelers to see who Domingo’s successor will be, particularly if things go badly in England. But you don’t have to announce to the whole world that you are no longer sure about the guy who is currently doing a great job with the team.

Having been told quite clearly that uncertainty about the future was a major reason for players and coaches leaving South Africa, you would have thought CSA would be doing everything in their power to reassure a Proteas team and management that they have security, given how well they have been doing.

The talk from official sources has been that CSA don’t want to create the impression that Domingo will automatically just keep getting contract extensions – it’s all to do with the fine print of the labour regulations apparently – but the gap between the end of the trip to England (the last Test ends on August 8) and the start of the new summer with the first Test against Bangladesh starting on September 28 is surely long enough to sort out whatever the decision is.

Of course the list of possible replacements needs to be sussed out, but why does the post of Proteas head coach need to be advertised? Surely the successor to Domingo should be headhunted?

Particularly since the obvious next coach is working just across the road from the CSA offices at the Wanderers.

 

 

 

Eksteen recognises KFC mini-cricket is a cunning plan 0

Posted on July 07, 2016 by Ken

 

Eight months ago, Clive Eksteen was ‘just’ a former Test cricketer whose passion for the sport remained. But now he has to apply the same cunning he showed as a spin bowler to Cricket South Africa’s commercial operations and this week he was dishing out praise to the KFC Mini-Cricket programme where it all begins in terms of the game in this country.

“This is where it all starts, it would be so much harder for us to implement our plans without a program like this,” Eksteen told the KFC Mini-Cricket National Seminar at Kruger Park. “This is not only about the pipeline, it goes way beyond that. We want to get cricket to all 55 million people in this country, to create a love for the game. Cricket has got to make a difference in this country, it has to play a crucial role, and it starts with the little kids. There are more than 100 000 involved in the programme, thanks to the more than 8000 coaches, which is enough to fill all six of our international stadia.”

“When Temba Bavuma played that awesome knock at Newlands, the TV ratings went through the roof and from that we can see how big this game can become in South Africa. We had 14 million unique viewers watching cricket last season and there were 500 000 tickets sold for people to go watch the cricket at the ground, which is 68% more than the previous year,” Eksteen said as he applied factual numbers rather than spin to his mode of attack.

For CSA, it is just as important to cultivate customers for their product: to have cricket fans going to the matches or watching on TV.

“We have the most diverse following of any sport in South Africa but we’re not finished yet, cricket must get to every part of the country, we want to create a passion for the game. It’s a hard sport, but it teaches you a lot and you make friends for life.

“There’s no doubt we have fantastic talent second to none, but not all the kids will become reasonable cricketers let alone internationals. But they can become passionate followers and that’s a win for us from a commercial point of view. Full stadia, people watching the game, that’s what drives the sport. For sponsors, it ultimately comes down to numbers and when your first program starts with over 100 000 kids, from very diverse backgrounds, then that’s a massive plus.

“Coaches make the biggest impact on kids and KFC Mini-Cricket creates that passion and love for the game, it’s our flagship program and the beginning of how we sustain the game,” Eksteen said.

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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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