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Ken Borland

Salute understaffed Internationals for doing Presidents Cup credit 0

Posted on November 16, 2022 by Ken

One can only salute Trevor Immelman’s understaffed International team for their heroic comeback in the Presidents Cup at the weekend, and even though they were eventually beaten 17½-12½, they did themselves and, perhaps most importantly, the event a huge credit.

The United States had won the last eight successive editions of the biennial tournament, so they were overwhelming favourites even before the defections to LIV Golf decimated Immelman’s team. The South African captain was forced to choose eight rookies for the event. His highest-ranked player was Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, ranked 14th in the world; there were 10 Americans ranked higher.

And then the Internationals suffered a nightmare start as they crashed 8-2, and then 11-4, behind on the first two days.

But the Internationals stood tall on the weekend, winning 10½ of the last 20 points. At one stage on the final day singles, they had closed to within two points of the United States, with several other games in the balance.

For those who love the Presidents Cup and team golf, it was wonderful to see the Internationals fight so hard to prove their competitiveness. They may have lost the match, but they ensured this event will survive for at least a while longer.

Many seasoned observers have marvelled at the number of long-range putts the Americans sank during the event. It almost seemed like whenever they looked at the hole, even from miles away, they would sink the putt.

While one should credit the hosts for their attacking mindset, it’s probably fair to say they also enjoyed some good fortune.

South Africa’s only other member of the team, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, was unbeaten with 1½ points, although he somewhat surprisingly only played two matches.

“We showed a lot of guts to fight back,” Immelman said after the defeat. “At some point this afternoon, I thought there was still a chance.

“When you consider we were 8-2 down, this team is no joke, and I’m sick and tired of it being spoken of as a joke. We love this event, we love our team, and we cannot wait to have another shot.”

Happy balance in the Springbok squad 0

Posted on July 29, 2022 by Ken

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber deserves credit for striking a happy balance between retaining the core of the 2019 World Cup winning squad and rewarding some of the outstanding individual form shown in the United Rugby Championship when he announced his squad last weekend for the next few months of international action.

Personally, I am particularly happy to see the return of Marcell Coetzee, who must surely be the designated back-up to the No.6 jersey should something unfortunate happen to Siya Kolisi, and a first call-up for Elrigh Louw. The pair of loose forwards have done so much of the donkey work that has led the Bulls to the URC final.

Evan Roos also fully deserves his place in the squad and, with Pieter-Steph du Toit also back in the mix after his serious shoulder injury in the series against the British and Irish Lions last year, South Africa are truly blessed with exceptional loose forwards to choose from. Jasper Wiese and Kwagga Smith have also previously met expectations in the Springbok jersey.

Warrick Gelant and Aphelele Fassi will provide pleasing competition for the fullback jersey, but don’t be surprised if Nienaber sticks with Willie le Roux, whose experience and performances in high-level games is highly valued by the Springbok management.

Andre Esterhuizen is also deservedly brought in, providing depth in the inside centre position after his superb performances in England, and Ruan Nortje seems the ideal successor to Franco Mostert and can learn much in his first exposure to international rugby.

It’s important to note that Duane Vermeulen, who is two weeks away from his 36th birthday, and Frans Steyn, who turned 35 a month ago, are both absent from the squad because they are unavailable. Vermeulen has had knee surgery, figuring he would rather have it now than in a World Cup year (2023), while Steyn is currently in rehab from a hamstring strain. Nienaber this week gave the impression that he is counting the days until their return to the Springbok squad.

In terms of the front row, there is plenty of depth with Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch and Thomas du Toit all being quality props. New face Ntuthuko Mchunu is inexperienced but has the talent to make the starting front row in the future.

Bulls hooker Johan Grobbelaar, a member of the Springbok squad last year, has been incredible in the URC and was inspired in the epic semi-final win over Leinster in Dublin. It is a stiff ask for him to displace Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx in the pecking order, but I would have had him in the squad ahead of Joseph Dweba. Deon Fourie, who has considerably strengthened the Stormers’ challenge this season, can also cover hooker, of course.

Areas of concern in the squad, in terms of where Nienaber perhaps needs to rustle up some extra back-up, are flyhalf, scrumhalf and outside centre.

Handre Pollard’s flyhalf cover is Elton Jantjies, who has legal and injury problems in the background, and Damian Willemse, who has been a commanding presence at inside centre for the Stormers but there have been murmurs of discontent whenever he has worn the No.10 jersey. The obvious contender, Johan Goosen, is in the squad but will not be able to play until September/October after knee surgery.

Faf de Klerk is the obvious starting scrumhalf, but with Cobus Reinach injured, who sits on the bench? Herschel Jantjies needs to work on providing consistent quick service, while Jaden Hendrikse has had some flaky moments. For me, it is his Sharks team-mate, Grant Williams, who may win a reserves spot, given the injection of pace he can bring and the fact that he can also cover wing, useful if the Boks go for a 6/2 split on the bench again.

Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel, whose current form from Japan we know little about, are the only specialist outside centres in the squad.

KZN sign Smuts … and call for system to give more credit to teams who provide several Proteas 0

Posted on June 02, 2022 by Ken

Veteran Proteas all-rounder Jon-Jon Smuts will give the Dolphins much experience and quality next season as they push to steer clear of relegation from Division I, but KZN Cricket Union chief executive Heinrich Strydom on Wednesday criticised the structure of domestic cricket, saying it did not give enough credit to those teams that provide several players to the national teams.

The 33-year-old Smuts, who can bat in the top-order and bowls very useful left-arm spin (especially in white-ball cricket), will be joining the Dolphins from the Eastern Province Warriors, having been based in the Eastern Cape since his first-class debut in 2007.

Smuts has played six ODIs, averaging 45 with the bat, and 13 T20 Internationals, but his last appearance for South Africa was in April 2021, so his days of Proteas call-ups would appear to be over.

Losing players to the national team – nine Dolphins featured in Proteas squads last season – is what Strydom said played a key role in their disappointing 2021/22 campaign, which left them tied in second-last position with the North-West Dragons, six points ahead of the Free State Knights, in the promotion/relegation standings. The bottom team at the end of next season automatically goes down to Division II.

“With the amount of national players we have, never mind the SA A team, we needed another senior guy because we were just left with a few 26/27-year-olds,” Strydom told The Citizen on Wednesday.

“It was a weird season for us, we were the only unbeaten side in four-day cricket but we had three away matches washed out, and the consistency was not there in limited-overs cricket.

“With the new structure, we have players all over the country now, guys like Sibonelo Makhanya and Senuran Muthusamy even captaining their new teams.

“But it doesn’t make sense for a team to be relegated when they provide so many players to South Africa. We even had our coach and strength & conditioning coach with the Proteas for a while, and providing so many people to the national squad puts you at risk.

“The Central Gauteng Lions are in the same position with as many players involved with the Proteas. Imagine not having a Division I team playing at the Wanderers or Kingsmead?” Strydom said.

There is no doubt that, at full strength, both the Lions, who were in danger of being drawn into the relegation battle before their surprising triumph in the One-Day Cup at the end of the season, and the Dolphins are top-class teams that should not be relegated, especially when the side replacing them will almost certainly be of a lesser standard.

Strydom said he is hopeful discussions with the new CSA Board will see a change of heart.

“The basic agreement is done, but will common sense prevail? It’s not an authentic system of developing talent in this country when teams are not playing their own players.

“A lot of the provinces are not a representation of their specific area, and it’s not a level playing field when teams like the Lions and Dolphins provide a much higher percentage of national players.”

Proteas the butt of much criticism, but back from the anus-end of the earth with image strengthened even more 0

Posted on April 08, 2022 by Ken

The Proteas have been the butt of so much criticism in recent years that it almost feels like they are now not getting enough credit for their sterling exploits over the last nine months.

Their latest achievement may have just been a 1-1 stalemate against New Zealand, a team that has never won a series against South Africa, but, as ever, context is important.

Their 198-run win this week in Christchurch was the most dramatic of comebacks considering how heavily they were hammered in the first Test. That was a largely indefensible performance, except for the fact that the team had to travel to the anus-end of the earth, spend 10 days confined to their rooms in quarantine and then come out and take on the reigning world Test champions while their bodies were still trying to deal with jetlag.

The current Proteas are far from a star-studded outfit. Only Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj would probably be in contention for a World XI. But beating both India and New Zealand, the two sides that contested the World Test Championship final, in back-to-back series shows that there must be a pretty solid team culture being built in their changeroom.

Of course there are those who would like to see the efforts of the last nine months all go to waste by firing the current coach. If Mark Boucher leaves the Proteas family, there can be little doubt it will have a negative effect on performance. But Cricket South Africa has a history of believing the results of their showpiece product don’t matter.

Apart from the remarkable resilience, determination and composure shown by the Proteas, it is always most pleasing when so many crucial contributions come from players who are still relatively new to Test cricket.

Batting does not come much harder than on the opening morning of a Test at the Hagley Oval, but Sarel Erwee knuckled down with Dean Elgar and backed up his captain’s incredibly brave decision to bat first after winning the toss. A statement of intent and sheer bloodymindedness if ever there was one.

Batting through to lunch unscathed was a superb effort and Erwee then announced himself on the Test stage by going on to a highly-skilled century, one that has literally taken years of hard toil.

There were similarities in the second innings when Kyle Verreynne and Wiaan Mulder crucially survived the first hour of the fourth day under big pressure. If wickets had come during that period, South Africa would probably have been bowled out with a lead of less than 300 and the Black Caps would have really fancied themselves to get that.

It was also a very brave decision for the Proteas to include Maharaj in the starting XI on a ground where spinners have seldom been in the game. But a major factor in South Africa’s victory was the fact that they read the conditions in Christchurch much better than the home side did.

Maharaj’s first contribution came in the Proteas first innings when he shared a crucial ninth-wicket partnership of 62 with Marco Jansen. Again, in the second innings, South Africa’s bowlers were in fine form with the bat with Rabada’s sensational 47 off 34 balls not only providing vital quick runs but much inspiration.

Maharaj was a key figure with the ball in the second innings, and while Rabada and Jansen were also in the wickets, Lutho Sipamla made his mark in the game with a tight spell that kept the batsmen in check and ultimately resulted in the major wicket of Devon Conway, trapped lbw for 92 when the bowler fired in an impressive yorker.

Even Mulder fulfilled his role with some useful medium-paced seam bowling.

In fourth place now in the World Test Championship, and with two Tests against Bangladesh coming up in South Africa, we look forward to this Proteas squad, including management, being kept intact so they can continue to make waves in international cricket.

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    “If your vision of him grows dim, your service will become powerless and ineffective. This will happen if your spiritual reserves are not regularly replenished through prayer and meditation.

    “You must put him first in all your activities. Your service for him must be the result of your intimate knowledge of him. Only when he enjoys priority in all things, can you understand life from his perspective. Putting Christ first in your life and work makes you a more capable servant of God.” – A Shelter From The Storm, Solly Ozrovech

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