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Ken Borland

Nkwe defends schedule as CSA ignore calls for more red-ball cricket 0

Posted on January 31, 2024 by Ken

Calls for increased red-ball cricket for the country’s domestic players have been ignored by Cricket South Africa in the fixtures for the forthcoming season, but director of cricket Enoch Nkwe has defended the schedule, saying there will be opportunity for more four-day cricket when there is more sponsorship for the format.

The coming season will once again see just a single round of matches in the CSA 4-Day Domestic competition, plus a five-day final. The majority of the competition will be played between November 4 and December 30, with two rounds in February and the final scheduled to begin on February 28. A shortage of long format cricket has been blamed for the Proteas’ poor results in recent years, especially in Test cricket.

The SA A team will also play three four-day matches against West Indies A between November 21 and December 8. But the programme will then be overwhelmed by T20 cricket, with not only the SA20 in January but then a T20 Challenge for more than seven weeks from March 8 to April 28. Most of the country’s top players will be unavailable for this tournament, with the IPL starting on March 29. And, at the end of a long season and so close to the SA20, there is bound to be an element of ‘cricket fatigue’ amongst fans and players.

“We did look at a double-round first-class competition, but we decided to put more investment into the SA A team,” Nkwe told Rapport. “Making a very strong Test side is a priority, and we can expose a pool of players in the SA A side, allowing Test coach Shukri Conrad to see them up close.

“We spend close to R300 million on all aspects of domestic cricket, on and off the field, and our members [unions] add to that as well. With more investment in four-day cricket, we will be able to have a double round, but it costs more because of the longer accommodation. We’re still looking to engage the corporate world on assisting with that,” Nkwe said.

In terms of a seven-week T20 competition shorn of its top players at the end of the season being a hard sale, Nkwe said it was an opportunity for fringe players to put forward their credentials.

“Ideally we’d like our T20 to be played before the SA20, but it’s a challenge fitting it all in. It all depends on what is more the priority in each season. This season we are starting with the One-Day Cup this month because of the 50-over World Cup beginning in October. Then with the next T20 World Cup in June 2024, we want to play a lot of T20 leading up to that.

“The T20 Challenge will test our system, it’s what we’re looking to implement – to tap into our depth by providing opportunities and growing it. I’ve seen really good T20 players in Division II and hopefully the competition will bring a different energy.

“Yes, there will be pressure at the back end of the season, but we had a long season in 2019, that was a lot more hectic. Managing players has become our number one priority, and also keeping our domestic cricket strong. But the ICC schedule is a challenge, making us juggle things. It will be red-ball cricket that is the priority in some seasons,” Nkwe said.

The former Proteas coach said they would also be encouraging the teams to transact loan agreements to ensure a high standard of play in domestic cricket.

“The loan system has always been there – you’ll remember I brought Lizaad Williams to the Lions in the 2019 T20 Challenge – it’s just not being used. But we’ll be encouraging the coaches to work together because we can’t have our best talent not playing.

“We’ve hit the reset button for domestic cricket because we recognise that it adds a lot of value, it is impactful in the way it feeds into the Proteas. We’ve introduced a five-day final to mirror what the World Test Championship does, SA A playing the middle of the season is a big investment and we’ve reinstated the Colts competition. It’s about a strong pathway moving forward and we are slowly all getting aligned,” Nkwe said.

More & more matches & players expected to just avail themselves 0

Posted on May 20, 2022 by Ken

Sport being big business these days, it stands to reason that administrators believe that the more content they can provide in terms of matches, the better it is for the game and the players just need to avail themselves of these increased opportunities.

But what administrators forget, as their eyes are distracted by shiny piles of cash, is that they are in the entertainment business and quality of performance is more important to the consumer than quantity. As more and more sport is played, we see more and more jaded athletes, especially in these tough days of Covid restrictions, unable to reach their previous heights.

As former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said this week: “For too long administrators have thought that more is more, but actually less is more. That way you get a high-quality product that people look forward to and don’t want to miss out on watching. The players are the main assets of the game and we have to make sure they are looked after.”

While I would not go as far as former Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula – that’s actually probably a good rule for life – in describing our sports stars as soldiers doing battle for South Africa, there is no doubt they are still representing our country and often providing great joy to a land that has known more misery than most in recent years.

Form is a fickle thing at the best of times – I was chatting to a former Proteas batsman recently and he told me of the time he came off a great century and then in his next innings he could barely get bat to ball – but a relentless schedule of games and travel will eventually wear down even the best.

Just look at former India captain Virat Kohli, who a couple of years ago was trumpeted as the best batsman in the world. And then came Covid with bio-bubbles and severe restrictions added to the grind of playing and captaining in all three formats for the richest and most scrutinised team on the planet.

Little wonder then that Kohli has now gone 100 innings across formats without scoring a century and his former India coach, Ravi Shastri, is in no doubt that too much cricket is to blame.

Shastri was quoted this week as calling Kohli “overcooked” and he implored Indian cricket to have the empathy to give their star player six months away from the game otherwise he will end up with “a fried brain”.

Amongst the fans, too, there is an air of indifference to the wellbeing of our sports stars, with the expectation being that they must bring their A-game every time they compete. The old chestnut of “I pitch up to the office every day and give my best otherwise I’ll be fired” is often heard. But not many of us have jobs that require intense physical training every week and then an opposition hellbent on making sure you cannot do your job.

This is not, however, a call for sponsors and equity partners in sport to be sent packing like witches on their broomsticks.

Professional sport needs money to flourish and the best-performing teams are more often than not those with the deepest pockets. But there needs to be a balance between commercial demands and player welfare.

The best way to handle that balancing act is probably by ensuring there is greater depth in playing squads.

I know fielding second-string outfits does not fly well with fans, but if a team has sufficient depth and has looked after their pipeline properly, then rotating players should ensure improved performance and give exposure to potential new heroes.

United Rugby Championship frontrunners Leinster are a club that does this very well, and I look forward to seeing how they do, without 10 first-choice players, against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday night.

Five areas the Springboks can improve 0

Posted on September 13, 2021 by Ken

Veteran Duane Vermeulen has been on the sidelines for the last five massive Springbok Tests and as fantastic as their results have been, the eighthman said there are still many areas they can improve on.

“We can always improve. There have been small steps taken through the Georgia game, the SA A matches and the Tests against the British and Irish Lions. We slipped up on the first Test against them, but it’s been nice to see us get some continuity. We want to keep on improving and be consistent. It’s one step at a time but we’re heading in the right direction,” Vermeulen said.

So what are the areas the Springboks still need to work on?

Getting the back three more involved in attack

The Springboks’ five victories so far this year have largely been down to their tight five outmuscling and outworking the opposition. As effective as it has been, forward dominance alone has seldom triumphed in the Southern Hemisphere competition. It would be great to see Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux able to exploit space out wide more. They can also be brought into play from clever first-phase plays. Those three are all capable of breaking defensive systems and showing a clean pair of heels.

Increased tempo

One can forgive the Springboks for adopting a wear-them-down strategy against the British and Irish Lions because their lack of high-intensity conditioning after 18 months out of Test rugby made it essential. But they now have a good month of game-time and conditioning work under their belts so the time has come for them to put more speed on the ball. Unlike Argentina, Australia and New Zealand will be actively trying to quicken the game up, so the Springboks will need to be more mobile, with greater continuity between forwards and backs, and maybe even more offloads.

Better discipline

The old benchmark for Springbok teams was to concede fewer than 10 penalties per game. recently they have been in double figures most of the time. It’s not that their discipline has been bad, but under pressure they have tended to err a bit too easily. They can get their penalty count down and that will help with momentum and territory.

More accuracy at restarts

At times the Springboks have looked like a bunch of boisterous pups having a bone thrown to them when it comes to receiving the restarts. The absence of Vermeulen has been felt there and a bit more organisation and clinical execution will help make their exits smoother and relieve territorial pressure.

Improving their strengths even more

In the sage words of Nick Mallett: “It is not up to us to change the way we play because it’s not attractive. You play the way you play best in order to beat the opposition”. And the Springboks’ strengths are their set-pieces and kicking game. Which can still improve!

Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert have been immense at lineout time, but more options can be brought into play there.

Ox Nche, Malcolm Marx and Trevor Nyakane have excelled at scrum-time, but we are still waiting for Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe to really cut loose and destroy opposition scrums.

And the Springboks can improve their box-kicks and kicking into space.

Boks working on increased intensity because Lions are the benchmark for that – Davids 0

Posted on July 19, 2021 by Ken

Increased intensity is what the Springboks will be working on ahead of the second Test against Georgia at Ellis Park on Friday, because the British and Irish Lions are the team who are the benchmark for that at the moment, forwards coach Deon Davids said on Sunday.

The Springboks returned to action with an efficient enough 40-9 victory over Georgia in Pretoria in the first Test, with a slow start probably being a question of rust and having to get back into the swing of international rugby.

“We could see the higher tempo and intensity of international rugby when the British and Irish Lions started their tour on such a high note against our Lions, they played some very good rugby and we saw they have some quality players. But we must understand that the Springboks have just come back, they haven’t played for a long time and we could see that at the beginning of our game.

“We had to get used to the level of intensity and physicality, we spoke about it at halftime and the players responded tremendously. We saw the longer the game went on, the more into our stride we got and the more physical we were. There are obviously things we will look to apply in the second game and the players themselves have said there are definitely things they can do better,” Davids said.

The forwards coach said he was pleased that Georgia had extended the Springbok pack, especially in the set-pieces.

“They certainly challenged our set-pieces. But our lineout had a 94% success rate and we scored two maul tries, while in the scrums there was only one penalty against us and four or five for us. It’s a process of building towards the Lions series and overall we are pleased,” Davids said.

Outstanding lock Franco Mostert echoed the satisfactory outlook.

“It’s going to take a while still but there are no excuses not to get to that required level. Hats off to the forwards, we really did our job, the mauling was good, but there is still stuff to work on for us to get to that level we need. The Lions are a world-class side and we’ll definitely have to step up, but we are happy with our first game and there is still one to go against Georgia,” Mostert said.

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