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Ken Borland

Australia’s unexpected collapse a warning to SA cricket 0

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Ken


Australia’s rapid implosion as a Test team, going from the number one ranked side in August to their current shambles, was unexpected but there have been warning signs in their cricket for a while and they are similar to the problems South African rugby is experiencing at the moment.

A focus on chasing money and the commercial aspects of the game has been allowed to mar the systems and structures that were in place to ensure that Australia’s Test team – as well as, at times, the Springboks – were always at the pinnacle of the game.

The Big Bash T20 league is obviously a wonderful, exciting occasion in the Australian sporting calendar, but it seems it has become the most important part of the cricket season, Cricket Australia’s priority and something that is pushing everything else on to the periphery.

There was a time that the four-day Sheffield Shield competition was Australia’s premier domestic tournament and the envy of the world; nowadays it seems almost an afterthought and pace bowlers are pulled out of games midway through by national team management using medical protocols that have little basis in actual cricketing wisdom.

The most amazing example of T20 taking over to the detriment of everything else Down Under will come in February. Six days before Australia play the first Test against India in Pune, starting what is an incredibly daunting tour for a struggling team, a three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka starts in Melbourne.

International cricket was always about the best from each country playing against each other, but either Australia send a second-string team to India or their reserves will be playing in the T20 series. The last T20 will be played the night before the first Test starts!

Some of the Australian media were understandably outraged by the scheduling and, in the wake of the series loss to the magnificent Proteas, they have given their team and administrators both barrels and deservedly so.

Other Australian media have, however, resorted to blame-shifting and a video focusing on South African captain Faf du Plessis doing two perfectly legal things – eating a sweet on the field and using his saliva to shine the ball – albeit at the same time, was always going to go viral and attract the interest of the International Cricket Council.

But if they do punish Du Plessis, what are they going to do about players using sunscreen and then wiping their sweat on the ball? How about the ubiquitous Australian practice of chewing gum on the field, that is also like steroids for saliva.

South African cricket is currently basking in a glorious, phenomenal third successive series win in Australia that is going to be remembered for a long time because of the resilience and team unity they have shown, especially in the absence of big guns AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.

But we also need to be wary that our administrators aren’t going to go down the same route as their Australian counterparts; there have been enough instances of South African sporting administrators chasing the bucks instead of what is going to be best for the game for us to be cautious.

Which is why, when I see the Proteas and Sri Lanka will be playing the third Test in Johannesburg from January 12-15, and the two Gauteng teams, the Titans and the Lions, will be playing a potentially crucial Sunfoil Series game at exactly the same time, I wonder if our four-day cricket is also going to be neglected, leading to the demise of our wonderful Test side?

Surely it can’t be too hard for the schedulers to say: “There’s going to be a Test in Johannesburg that week, let’s make sure that both Gauteng teams are playing away from home?”

Let the Australian malaise be a warning to us, no matter how smug and happy we are currently feeling.

Listless Bok pack an unexpected stumbling block 0

Posted on September 02, 2014 by Ken

South Africa’s movement towards becoming a complete team ahead of next year’s World Cup was halted in Pretoria on Saturday, with atrocious conditions throwing up an unexpected stumbling block which saw their pack exposed by Argentina.

In the end, the Springboks scraped home 13-6 in their opening Rugby Championship fixture, but they spent the final minutes desperately defending their line as Argentina went after a late goal to level the scores.

Torrential rain and hail began falling during the anthems and kept up for the first half. Although conditions eased after the break, there was still steady rain throughout and the pitch was sodden. So there was no chance of the expansive style of play the Springboks are trying to develop, and they even struggled to get their more typical forward-dominated driving game going as the Pumas pack presented a brick wall of defiance.

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, who has grown up in Cape Town, where winter storms blowing up from the Antarctic are common, described the conditions as “probably the worst I have ever played in”.

“The ball was so wet and so difficult to handle, you couldn’t play at all,” he said, before describing a comical situation in which Pumas flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez tried to kick off, but the ball refused to bounce up off the waterlogged surface.

“The All Blacks kick more and we now run the ball more, we wanted to play exciting rugby today, but we have to be able to play this sort of game as well. There will be more games like this, especially at the World Cup, and I’m not totally happy that we didn’t get a better platform up front,” coach Heyneke Meyer said.

“But even an arm-wrestle was difficult in these conditions, it was so wet that you just couldn’t get going. The rain made it a 50/50 game and 70% of Argentina’s team play in Europe and are more used to conditions like that. They have big, strong forwards and they like a slower game, because their tactics are more about contesting for the ball than continuity.”

The Pumas, despite their epic performance, were sad after the game because they saw it as a missed opportunity to register their first ever win over South Africa.

“We have had very few opportunities to win against the Springboks and we think that was one that we let pass. South Africa have a very good line-up and it’s maybe only today that they did not have their top game. So we are not happy, today was an opportunity to beat them,” Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade said.

The Pumas successfully dominated the Springboks in both the scrums and lineouts to deny them any solid first-phase ball, but referee John Lacey often penalised them at the scrums to give the under-pressure home side a reprieve.

“We complicated their lineout and we’ve worked very hard on our scrum and I think you could see that on the pitch. We consider that we were very good at the scrums, but we were penalised,” captain Agustin Creevy said with more than a hint of frustration.

The late withdrawal of Willem Alberts with a hamstring strain was part of the Springboks’ problems as it meant they were forced to play two openside flanks with Marcell Coetzee coming in for the enforcer in the Springbok pack. The wet ball also meant they focused their lineout throws on the front, where Argentina contested superbly.

Man of the match Francois Louw, the Springbok number six, admitted that his team could have adapted better to the conditions.

“We didn’t execute as well as we should have in the scrums and lineouts. It was a bit loose underfoot for the scrums and lineouts are always difficult in those conditions because you simplify your options and that gives them the chance to effectively compete.

“Those conditions require an immediate mindshift, you’ve got to tighten up and kick more, and our execution of that could have been sharper. We want to continue improving towards the World Cup so that we are on top of our game every time, in any place,” Louw said.


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