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Ken Borland

Maharaj expresses frustrations over coming up against rampant Aussies 0

Posted on October 26, 2023 by Ken

South African spinner Keshav Maharaj expressed his frustrations on Thursday over what he described as “a very tough tour” coming up against a rampant Australian batting line-up.

With Australia roaring to 475 for four at stumps on the second day of the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Proteas had conceded over a thousand runs and taken just a dozen wickets in their last two innings of bowling. Maharaj caught-and-bowled Steven Smith for 104 for his first wicket of the series in the final Test of the rubber.

“It’s been a really tough tour,” Maharaj admitted. “At the start of this game we expected the pitch to turn a lot more. I think the weather has been a big factor, the pitch getting a bit wet.

“I haven’t changed much, I’m still working hard. Sometimes you just have these ebbs and flows in your career, maybe my body is a bit tired, I don’t know. I wish I was a machine that you could just plug in.

“These are good pitches in Australia and there’s not as much spin as we are used to elsewhere in the world, although there is bounce you can work with. And bowling when you’re behind the eight-ball is tough, with spread fields and in-batsmen.

“It’s about being consistent and I probably haven’t been, I’ve dished up a few, which is something I need to address. It’s probably about keeping the mind fresh rather than bowling more,” Maharaj said.

South Africa’s first-choice spinner said Australia have one of the best batting line-ups in the game and they have been able to dominate thanks to the platform laid up front. David Warner scored a double-century in the second Test in Melbourne, and his opening partner Usman Khawaja was 195 not out at the end of the second day in Sydney.

“Fair play to Australia, their opening batsmen have created a good foundation for them to play freely. But you can’t take anything away from their batsmen, they have very sound, clear plans and they stick to them.

“Usman is a different player against spin than he was here in 2016 and in South Africa in 2018/19, he has played all around the wicket, taking his scoring opportunities and he has very good hands.

“Travis Head is probably one of the best timers of the ball in international cricket and he has played very well, scoring fifties in all three Tests. It comes from the platform set up front, it gives him licence.

“It’s one of the more experienced batting line-ups and the top-order makes sure there is a strong base so the middle-order can play aggressively. The Australian batting line-up is one of the best in the world,” Maharaj said.

Harmer knows he’ll be ‘waiting by the phone’ for most of the Aussie tour 0

Posted on March 29, 2023 by Ken

Simon Harmer knows that he will be metaphorically waiting by the phone to get a call for most of the Proteas’ tour to Australia, but the prolific off-spinner is geared to make sure he takes his opportunity whenever it comes.

With South Africa’s three Tests in Australia being played in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, the third and final Test, at New Years, looks Harmer’s best bet of playing alongside left-armer Keshav Maharaj, who is acknowledged as the Proteas’ first-choice spinner.

“I’m under no illusions about the role I will play, especially since the first Test is at the Gabba, which is meant to be the quickest pitch in the southern hemisphere,” Harmer said.

“But I need to make sure I’m the next taxi on the rank, and then make sure I take whatever opportunity I get, even if they are few and far between.

“The management have been very transparent about Kesh justifiably being number one. He has great control and I’ve really enjoyed bowling with him because we’re able to exert pressure from both ends.

“Being on tour also provides me with an opportunity to work on my game, batting and bowling, with South Africa’s best coaches. It’s an opportunity to reset, which you don’t always get,” Harmer said.

While the number of wickets Harmer takes per match is generally one more than Maharaj at Test and first-class level, and the offie is a year older than the slow left-armer, he says he is “more the student than the teacher”, respecting Maharaj’s experience of playing 45 Tests compared to his eight.

Harmer has travelled to Australia with another rich haul of domestic wickets behind him. In his last match, he took 14 wickets at the Wanderers to bowl the Northerns Titans to a 10-wicket win over the Central Gauteng Lions. It was the best ever haul by a spinner at the famous ground, and the second-best figures overall, 14 for 151 compared to Kagiso Rabada’s 14 for 105 for the Lions against the KZN Dolphins in 2014/15.

Again, Harmer just pipped Maharaj by one, the Dolphins man having the second-best figures for a spinner at the Wanderers with 13 for 174 against the Lions in 2020/21.

“I’ll take a lot of confidence out of that game at the Wanderers, which traditionally doesn’t turn. Playing three four-day matches has been invaluable in terms of my skillsets.

“The Australian pitches do spin and against an off-spinner, the batsmen generally look to sweep, but the extra bounce can take that away from them.

“If Mitchell Starc and Marco Jansen [both left-arm pacemen] play then there will also definitely be footmarks. So it’s about being accurate, the basics are always my biggest asset.

“Playing in a New Years Test anywhere in the world is always exciting, I made my debut at Newlands in January 2015. If I am going to get an opportunity then it’s likely to be in Sydney, where it turns the most.

“I will have almost a month to prepare for that and I just have to make sure I don’t overthink things, I must just stick to the basics,” Harmer said.

A 50% winning record that hit all the targets 0

Posted on March 14, 2023 by Ken

It is not often that one can say a tour of Europe with a 50% winning record is a resounding success, but it is a fair evaluation that the Springboks have ended up hitting their targets for 2022.

It was after the Rugby Championship that I wrote a column saying we still did not know whether the Springboks would be genuine World Cup contenders next year as they were simply not clinical nor ruthless enough in finishing second to the All Blacks in a southern hemisphere competition that is no longer the gold standard for the global game.

There also did not seem to be much growth to their game and I ended with the hope that they would express themselves more in Europe.

It is with delight that I can now write that the Springboks have answered my questions in the affirmative.

That is despite losing to both Ireland and France. But both those defeats were by desperately narrow margins and it is fair to say that Ireland would have been beaten if South Africa had fielded a proper goalkicker, and France would surely have been seen off if Pieter-Steph du Toit had not received his unfortunate red card.

The Springboks played superbly in Marseille to dominate the World Cup favourites, and it was great to see the same ambition bear fruit the following weekend when they hammered Italy.

Last weekend’s win over England at Fortress Twickenham must rank somewhere on the hit parade of top Springbok wins, such was the all-round quality and sheer authority of their performance.

While the Springboks’ strength still undoubtedly lies in their magnificent pack – how incredible were they in the scrums? – perhaps the biggest surprise was the wonderful attacking intent shown by a backline missing their chief offensive organiser in Lukhanyo Am and playing with a relatively new, untested flyhalf in Damian Willemse.

While opposition teams might find a way to get around the physicality, defensive steel and aerial prowess of the Springboks, having that extra string to their bow in terms of the brilliant counter-attacking ability they have shown, makes them very tough to beat.

The Springboks now seem able to not only strangle or batter their opposition into submission, but also make the sharpest, most precise of surgical incisions into the heart.

Jacques Nienaber has done all this while still ensuring that he now has quality cover in all positions.

Perhaps the only negative from the end-of-year tour was the director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, copping another ban for attacking the officiating at international level.

The Springboks’ relationship with the referees is at the lowest ebb since the dark days of the early 2000s, when they had a reputation for being the dirtiest, most ill-disciplined team in the game.

When Jake White took over the coaching reins in 2004, he knew the Springboks could only start getting fair treatment from the referees if they fixed that perception. The World Cup would never have been won in 2007 were it not for the hard work captain John Smit put in to win the referees over. Nowadays, charming the referee is considered one of the staple jobs of the captain.

The smart-arse in Erasmus may be entertaining the social media hordes and he is probably enjoying the cult status he is growing there. But the continual haranguing of the referees is hurting his team.

The saying goes that nobody ever ended a war by lifting up a sword. The talk of there being a conspiracy against the Springboks may or may not be justified, but railing against the officials is only going to make it worse.

As director of rugby, Erasmus needs to put personal desires aside and make sure the Springboks take the high road. The World Cup defence could depend on it.

Bradbury exhibits all the airs of disbelief one would expect after winning Joburg Open 0

Posted on February 28, 2023 by Ken

Englishman Dan Bradbury on Sunday exhibited all the airs of disbelief one would expect of a golfer who comes into a co-sanctioned tournament like the Joburg Open on a sponsor’s invite without any tour status, and ends up winning.

Bradbury clinched the Joburg Open title by three strokes at Houghton Golf Club on Sunday, shooting four-under 67 in the final round to finish 21-under-par overall.

Having been at the top of the leaderboard from the first day, when he shot a 63, there seldom seemed any doubt on Sunday that the 23-year-old Bradbury would win as he produced a superb round of controlled golf. Whenever he made a mistake, Bradbury quickly rectified it and his only dropped shot came when he three-putted the final hole, but he already had a three-shot lead.

The U.S. College golf system may not receive much attention in South Africa, but it clearly produces golfers of great temperament. With all the massive prizes on offer, including a guaranteed spot on tour four months after turning pro, Bradbury did not blink when the pressure was on.

“It’s amazing, I can’t tell you how it feels because it still hasn’t sunk in and I’m sure it won’t for a while,” Bradbury said half-an-hour after his triumph. “I just went out there today to enjoy it.

“I played a lot of good golf and I was able to draw on my experience of College golf, I tried to win a lot there and I learnt from my mistakes. I just tried to play solid golf today and not do anything different.

“I just tried to not compound errors because on these greens bogey is never too far away and I just tried to keep the doubles away. My swing and irons were good all week and we picked good lines and hit good shots.

“It is life-changing because I’ve gone from not knowing where I will be playing to now being able to play everything, which I will do because I love playing. This is a silly game because I have been hurting may times after final rounds,” a beaming Bradbury said.

Finland’s Sami Valimaki shot a two-under-par 69 on Sunday to finish second on 18-under-par, while South Africans Christiaan Bezuidenhout (66) and Daniel van Tonder (68) were tied in third place on 17-under. Both played well off the tee and the fairways, but just could not make the crucial birdie putts coming down the back nine.

Bezuidenhout, who had a run of birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie from the third hole, Van Tonder and Valimaki all put Bradbury under early pressure, but the Yorkshireman chipped in for a crucial par on the sixth, when double-bogey looked possible, and also made vital par-saves on the 14th and 15th holes.

And now Bradbury has a lot of new plans to put in place. Starting with some shopping because he will be playing in the SA Open at Blair Atholl next week, instead of flying home as planned, and only brought one set of golf attire with him.

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