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Ken Borland

Sport will humble you when hubris takes root 0

Posted on October 06, 2022 by Ken

The wonderful thing about sport is that it will constantly surprise you, with tales of the underdog triumphing being one of its most inspirational features. But it will also humble you, especially when hubris is allowed to take root.

Cricketers will talk about Mother Cricket and making sure no-one gets big-headed; rugby players will constantly talk up the opposition to ensure they will not be complacent on match day.

But every now and then, someone will get it horribly wrong and sporting misfortune will come back to bite them, often hard.

The Springboks, having played so brilliantly to beat the All Blacks in Nelspruit, came a cropper the following weekend at Ellis Park. They did not seem over-confident in the week leading up to the clash and said all the right things about an expected New Zealand rebound.

But there were certain selections which have led to them being accused of hubris and Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber needed to do better when asked questions about these controversial picks after the game.

No-one who was in the cauldron of Ellis Park last weekend will doubt the passion of Springbok supporters. And they don’t like having the wool pulled over their eyes or being told the reasons for a player being selected are “privileged” or a secret.

And yet this is what Nienaber did when the media wanted to know his justification for starting Joseph Dweba at hooker ahead of the rampant Malcolm Marx, and an underdone Duane Vermeulen at eighthman.

Both selections smacked of arrogance – fielding anything less than your best team against the All Blacks, and a desperate one at that, is bound to result in embarrassment.

When considering the worths of Dweba and Marx, the latter is clearly the better hooker at the moment and one of the best, most dangerous forwards in world rugby.

But given the injury to Bongi Mbonambi, Nienaber almost had to play Dweba and then the discussion could change to how does one get the best out of both players? If the inexperienced Dweba has to play, when will he be most effective?

There’s no doubt that a fresh Marx coming off the bench is a massive weapon for the Springboks, so one can understand the attraction of going that route.

But there’s also no doubt All Blacks coach Ian Foster, craggy-faced during the week but etched with relief after the game, was smiling inside when he heard their nemesis of Mbombela would not be tormenting them for the full 80 minutes.

Nienaber has already put himself among the elect group of coaches who have beaten the British and Irish Lions, but the hallmark of great coaches is their ability to keep the public on their side whether winning or losing, while also grooming the confidence and belief of their players.

Nienaber needs to embrace the fact that the fans are his constituents and the media are his conduit to them. Nobody is suggesting the fans should have a say in selections, but they do deserve to have them better explained than just being told “it’s privileged”.

There was another example of hubris in the last week that made me chuckle.

England Lions captain Sam Billings had some strong things to say after his team had played the Proteas off the park in an innings win in Canterbury, albeit in a warm-up match in which South Africa only fielded two first-choice bowlers. He implied Proteas captain Dean Elgar was stupid for ignoring how wonderful ‘Bazball’ is and said it should have been a massive wake-up call for the tourists.

But as the Springboks discovered, things seldom stay the same for long in the world of sport, and now it’s England who are under the pump at Lord’s.

Several areas for Proteas to improve on, but De Kock focuses on batting 0

Posted on February 01, 2021 by Ken

There are no doubt several areas for the Proteas to improve on following their defeat by seven wickets in the first Test against Pakistan in Karachi on Friday, but captain Quinton de Kock chose to focus on the first-innings batting collapse as the root cause of their loss.

Having been able to bat first after winning the toss, South Africa could only post 220 all out as they collapsed from 108 for two. The bowlers fought back admirably to reduce Pakistan to 33 for four at the end of the first day, but excellent batting led by centurion Fawad Alam saw the home side reach 308 for eight at stumps on the second day, with the Proteas dropping a couple of crucial catches in a generally poor fielding display.

A woeful bowling performance on the third morning saw Pakistan’s tail add 70 runs off 74 balls and the Proteas had a deficit of 158 on first innings. Gutsy half-centuries by Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen brought them back into the match, but South Africa lost three wickets in the last five overs of the day. That collapse continued on Friday as they were bowled out for 245, losing their last nine wickets for 70 runs.

Pakistan knocked off their target of 88 with few alarms.

“The first-innings batting was the big cause of our loss, there were some very soft dismissals, just being soft mentally. We adjusted in the second innings and we learnt a lot through Rassie and Aiden to take forward. The bowlers did really well, they showed great aggression and accuracy, but Pakistan just batted very well against us. But only getting 220 in the first innings was where we let ourselves down the most.

“On that pitch it definitely wasn’t good enough, especially when batting first. We’ve spoken about the collapses, but if we knew how to fix it we wouldn’t do it in the first place. We seem to get bogged down and then you try and find a way to score. But Pakistan showed us that you needed to stick in there and dig deep with the way the pitch played. Like Rassie and Aiden did in our second innings,” De Kock said after the chastening defeat.

While Pakistan were boosted by top-class leg-spinner Yasir Shah having a fine game with seven wickets, South Africa’s plan to power up their spin attack with the selection of a left-arm wrist-spinner in Tabraiz Shamsi was scuppered when he pulled out shortly before the toss with a back spasm.

While Pakistan’s left-arm spinner Nauman Ali took seven for 73 in 42.3 overs on debut, Keshav Maharaj had to settle for four for 102 in 34.1 overs, while George Linde only played a bit part with 16 wicketless overs.

De Kock refused to say the spin bowling results made the difference.

“Tabraiz is busy getting fully fit again and we have the players to cover for any injuries. It wasn’t really the bowlers’ fault we loss, the batting made the difference, the way we played their spin in the first innings and the latter stages of the second innings. Pakistan were able to soak up pressure while we gave them our wickets in the first innings.

“We’ll just have to come back mentally stronger in the second Test, our batsmen must play the way Rassie and Aiden did – they took their time, kept the ball on the ground and soaked up pressure,” De Kock said.

Talent meeting opportunity at the root of development 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken


Gift Ngoepe has been making headlines this week, giving South African baseball a rare moment in the sun, and his incredible story just goes to prove that talent meeting opportunity should be at the root of all transformation or development efforts in this country.

Ngoepe became the first ever player born in Africa to play Major League Baseball when he turned out for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions, and made a single in his first at-bat, showing his ability as his hit registered the highest velocity off the bat in the whole game, and he then played a part in the double-play that ended the contest and sealed a thrilling 6-5 win for his team.

As is so often the case, nobody could have guessed what talent Ngoepe possessed for the quintessential American game. It was opportunity that unlocked the door and changed his life, leading to him becoming a tremendous role-model for all the less privileged people with sporting dreams in South Africa.

That opportunity came in the most extraordinary, and yet typical, South African way. His mother just happened to be employed as the cleaner at the national baseball headquarters in Randburg and Gift and his younger brother Victor, who plays in the Gulf Coast minor league, stayed with her in a little room on the premises.

Given the opportunity to have a go at this strange sport that is so foreign to most people on the continent, Ngoepe’s talent rapidly became obvious.

Of course there is a gap of several years between that and making history this week, filled with sacrifice, perseverance and a determination to fulfil his dreams. The joy of becoming the sixth South African and the first Black African to sign a professional baseball contract in 2008 gave way to the hard work of spending nine years in the minor leagues.

The magnitude of his achievement and the character of the man is shown by the reaction of both his team-mates and the Cubs to Ngoepe’s special day.

He was warmly greeted by his team-mates when he came on to field at second base and his single was wildly celebrated in the Pirates’ dugout, with chants of “For the Motherland!” and there were tears all round. The Cubs rolled the ball used for the single into the opposition dugout so Ngoepe could keep it as a memento.

The wonderful story of Ngoepe is in stark contrast to the other big sporting news item of the week, the almost certain demise of Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Once the number one ranked bowler in international limited-overs cricket, Tsotsobe is the latest player to be charged in the corruption web that began with the machinations of Gulam Bodi.

The story of Tsotsobe features all the talent and even more opportunity than Ngoepe’s. The left-arm paceman comes from a well-off family in the Eastern Cape with strong sporting links, his sister Nomsebenzi being a former captain of the national women’s rugby team.

Tsotsobe had all the backing and opportunity in the world, but he lacked the work ethic and determination that so clearly drives Ngoepe. Conditioning, which is really just about hard work, was always a problem for Tsotsobe, and eventually the Proteas management lost patience with him.

Seduced by the bright lights and a glitzy lifestyle, it was perhaps inevitable that Tsotsobe would ultimately fall victim to the lure of easy money.

And yet there are current rising stars like Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, who stand poised on the edge of stellar international careers having risen above similarly disadvantaged childhoods as Ngoepe, both being the sons of domestic workers.

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