Saturday, December 28, 2019

South Africa extend lead to 300 in action-packed first session

Rassie van der Dussen and nightwatchman Anrich Nortje put a stop to any thoughts England had of a quick morning session with a dogged half-century partnership which  helped lift South Africa to 197/7, and the lead to over 300. The lead, which already appears insurmountable will likely balloon past 350 in the next session with the mood and form which Quinton de Kock is in. He is currently at the crease with Vernon Philander. de Kock has already taken a liking to Jofra Archer's pace bowling dispatching him for three sixes and a four. The English will be hoping for a miracle on a ground which  has never seen 300 chased, and has only seen 200 scored by the side batting last once in  the last 10 years.

Friday, December 27, 2019

New players, new coaches, same problems

For all the talk of the changes which were being introduced to the South African cricket team, Day One of the domestic summer revealed the same problems. Joe Root won the toss, and inexplicably decided to bowl first on a deck which has a reputation for being incredibly up and down towards the end of the game. When you opt to bat last in Centurion, you really do basically have to roll the opposing team, and set yourself up to either bat only once, or only chase like 100 to win on the final day. With South Africa already on 278/9, chances are pretty high that this will not be a situation where England will only bat once. From that perspective, you could argue that honours were even on day on. Add in that England won the toss, and you could say that South Africa won the day.

With that said, however, it did seem like much of the same problems remained. South Africa, who it must be remembered are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, showed many of the same batting frailties which have plagued them for the vast majority of that run. For one, they once again could not get anything going with the opening partnership. This time, Dean Elgar was dismissed with the first delivery of the day. Aiden Markram looked good for 20 runs, and then as usual let it go to waste with a very soft dismissal. The middle order? As per usual they parted like the Red Sea and they were 111-5 before you'd digested your Christmas leftovers. Then, almost on cue, Quinton de Kock came on and played one of the best knocks you'll see in your entire life, a majestic 95, which was worth a century given the situation he came in on. The idea is that having Quinton de Kock keep wicket allows for the team to have more flexibility. Indeed, having de Kock at 6 is part of the reason they could have Pretorius at 7, and not sacrifice, ostensibly, any batting talent. But at some point the think tank at large is going to have to seriously consider whether or not you really want your best batsman having to bat with the tail as de rigeour rather than an indication that something has gone terribly wrong. Indeed, the back-up wicketkeeper in the squad at the moment, Rudi Second has a higher First Class average than everyone in the team bar Zubayr Hamza, so it could be argued that he should have gotten the nod anyway, and lifting the gloves off Quinny would lighten his load and allow him to focus on his batting. There seems to be no end in sight to South Africa's batting woes, but fortunately, there is no end to the list of possible solutions.

Friday, December 6, 2019


Dear Stakeholders


The Board of Directors of Cricket South Africa has taken a decision to put the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Thabang Moroe, on precautionary suspension with pay, effective 06 December 2019, on allegations of misconduct, pending further investigations. The decision to place Mr Thabang Moroe on precautionary suspension follows from the reports received by the Social and Ethics Committee and the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board related to possible failure of controls in the organisation.

During the course of Mr. Thabang Moroe’s precautionary suspension, a forensic audit of critical aspects of the business and the conduct of management related to such aspects shall be conducted by an independent forensic team. In this regard, we urge all our stakeholder including sponsors, members of staff, players, volunteers and cricket fans to allow this process to unfold and we will provide updates on this matter.

In the interim, the Board of Directors has mandated the Chairman to look at various options including holding discussions with Mr. Dave Richardson, the former Chief Executive Officer of the International Cricket Council (ICC), regarding the appointment of an Acting Chief Executive Officer for the duration of Mr. Thabang Moroe’s precautionary suspension.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Another day, another headline at embattled Cricket South Africa

Today is Thursday. The fourth day of the week, fifth if you observe the Sabbath. That intro carries no meaning other than to clarify that we are deep into the work week, and we are yet to have a day where Cricket South Africa was not marred in some sort of controversy. This time, the independent board member, Iqbal Khan, a board member since 2012 tendered his resignation. This was due to a myriad of reason which had concerned Khan, these issues included CSA's recent attempted purge of media members. 

The other issues of concern for Khan were:

- Moroe's blaming communications head Thami Mthembu for miscommunication or non-effective communication with the media when it was Thabang Moroe who was ultimately responsible for such communication;
- CSA not paying the SA Cricketer’s Association (Saca) a contractual amount in terms of a key      stakeholder contract and the blame therefore was placed with the three suspended officials (COO Naasei Appiah, sales and sponsorship head Clive Eksteen and acting director of cricket Corrie van Zyl) despite the contract being signed by Moroe;
- Several resignations in the CSA office due to what they say is a legally toxic environment;
- Widespread credit card abuse in the office;
- Hastily organising a press conference this week then cancelling it at the last minute;
- Very selective communication with Saca and a failure to engage them in terms of the CSA collective agreement with Saca;
- The mishandling of the director of cricket issue, and
- Bringing CSA into disrepute.

“In my humble view, the deep crisis that cricket finds itself in cannot wait for a board meeting to be held on Saturday. I was thus most surprised and deeply disappointed that a board meeting scheduled for last night [Tuesday] failed to materialise. Surely for a board meeting to be convened, we do not physically have to be in the same place. We have on numerous occasions convened board meetings by teleconference,” Khan said.

“The criticism in the media and by the public who love and support cricket has reached such a crescendo that I can no longer be deaf to the cries of immediate changes at CSA board level. Before Professor Shirley Zinn resigned, I still maintained I would give things a chance and wait until Saturday for us to address the crisis we find ourselves in.

“I seriously doubt however that you and/or the board is capable of doing so and, in the circumstances, I have reached the only conclusion, and that is I must resign my position on the board, as well as my position as chairperson of the CSA finance committee,” Khan wrote.

Monday, December 2, 2019

SACA's response to CSA's media blacklistings

“It’s a sorry state of affairs when attempts are made to silence respected journalists for writing about the ongoing problems in the game,” said SACA chief executive, Tony Irish.  “This is not however dissimilar to what SACA has had to endure over the last nine months, during which we have been barred from CSA sub-committees, denied access to critical information necessary for us to represent the players and had our agreements breached with impunity.”
At SACA’s annual general meeting of players in November it was specifically mandated by the players to re-affirm its concerns relating to the financial position, the domestic restructure, the CSA/SACA relationship, the Proteas (men) team structures, the financial aspects of the MSL and CSA’s refusal to engage SACA to resolve these issues.  In response to SACA letters taking these up, CSA has however persisted in its refusal to address any of the concerns and instead has stated that they are ‘sub-judice’ under the current High Court application.
“Many of the concerns we have are not even related to the High Court application yet CSA continues to refuse to address them” said Irish.  “Now in the last week there are added concerns relating to ‘unknown selectors’ selecting the Proteas team and the barring of cricket journalists from matches.  It is clear to us that things are getting worse, not better.”
“On behalf of the 310 professional cricketers which we represent we are now left to publically implore the Directors of CSA to exercise their fiduciary duties by acting to deal with these issues and to protect the game from further damage.  The players not only care deeply about the game but also understand that their careers depend on its health and sustainability. From a players’ point of view we therefore want to see solutions to the current problems, and for the game to be returned to a healthy position as a matter of priority,” concluded Irish

Norman Arendse's open letter to South African cricket

‘Dear cricket-loving fraternity,
‘It is painful to pen this letter. However, there is just too much at stake to permit our great sport of cricket to fall any further. Silence would be much more painful. Therefore, I write this open letter of appeal to our cricket family members, the CSA board, the CSA members’ council and the paid CSA administrators to act before it is too late,” writes Arendse.
‘I suspect, however, that the horse has bolted, and that we are beyond the precipice, and into the abyss.
‘As a former CSA president, and until just over a year ago, the CSA lead independent director, I have the utmost respect for prescribed procedures and protocols to be followed when differences arise within the cricket family.
‘It appears, however, that for several reasons that have manifested publicly, the family differences cannot and will not be resolved through the prescribed route.
‘What prompts me to say this is not sourced from any insider knowledge or some whistle-blower; they are sourced in CSA’s own public pronouncements and written media statements: the restructuring of our domestic competitions; the concentration of power in the hands of the CEO to make key appointments (approved by the CSA board); the failure to make key board committee appointments including the failure to appoint the independent lead director (after more than a year since the election of the board); the suspension of senior executive officials; the ongoing dispute with the South African Cricketers’ Association; and the recent dispute with the Western Province Cricket Association, which ended in a humiliating loss for Cricket South Africa at arbitration.
‘These issues are all well documented and are public knowledge. The last straw must surely be the most recent banning by CSA of several highly respected cricket journalists who collectively have decades of experience in cricket. [Some of them I have disagreed with both privately and publicly, but it never entered my mind to suggest or propose that they are banned from the game.]
‘Their banning is unconstitutional, and unlawful, and must be deplored by all cricket lovers.
‘The future sustainability of cricket is also at grave risk given the public CSA pronouncement of a projected shortfall of hundreds of millions of rands. It appears that the culling of franchise cricket as we know it is a direct response to CSA’s financial woes.
‘I do not wish to be hypocritical or self-serving. As a veteran cricket administrator, I have learnt to accept constructive criticism [especially from well-meaning and experienced cricket journalists], and from members of the public who know their cricket.
‘Along the way, mistakes have been made. All of us in the cricket family thought that Nicholson would be the panacea for all our cricket ills. Indeed, my six years on a restructured CSA board proved that this was the case – well, almost!
‘This was a honeymoon period for cricket: we ranked among the best in the world in all formats of the game; we were highly respected at ICC level; our transformation strategy appeared to be working with an exponential increase in the number of black African players, in particular, representing the country at the highest level; and, the exponential increase of black African cricketers participating at franchise and provincial level; and financially we reached the billion-rand mark [even before our own national soccer league did!].
‘We had over R600 million in reserve. These reserves have now dwindled dramatically, and with the unsponsored Mzansi Super League, these reserves will likely be depleted shortly.
‘Lastly, the utterances of CSA’s head of media and communications, Thamie Mthembu, rank with those of Saddam Hussein’s spokesman “Baghdad Bob” or better known as “Comical Ali”.
‘The CEO’s recent interview has also not inspired any confidence that he is capable of arresting CSA’s decline, let alone turning around the organisation to put it on a more secure and sustainable footing.
‘All of the above leads me to one very sad conclusion: the CSA board has simply abdicated its fiduciary responsibilities by failing to act with the due care, skill and diligence required of it by the Companies Act, and the CSA constitution. To the extent that the CSA members’ council are aware of the above-mentioned shortcomings and failures of governance, they too must share responsibility, and be held accountable.
‘I never, ever thought I would do something like this, but I have plucked up the courage to do so not only to appease my own conscience, but also in response to the many, many expressions of concern I have received from across the cricket family: past and present administrators, past and present cricketers of all colours, all persuasions, all communities and all religious groupings.
‘I, therefore, call on the board and the members’ council to meet urgently to consider the matters raised in this letter, and to hold the CEO [and those who have been complicit] to account.
‘I have shared the contents of this letter with advocate Vusi Pikoli [former independent member of the CSA board, and past chairperson of the CSA social and ethics committee] who endorses the sentiments expressed in this letter.
‘Norman Arendse SC’

Sunday, December 1, 2019

2019 in review: CSA's annus horribilis

Cricket South Africa has a lot of problems. It has gotten to the stage where they probably have more problems than they have positives. This year, for the first time, the Proteas lost to a subcontinental team at home. Not only did they lose, they got whitewashed by a Sri Lankan team which was without their two best batsmen. This disastrous home summer was then followed by a disastrous World Cup where South Africa went a month without a win and managed to lose every single must-win game they had that tournament. On top of all that, they then had a PR nightmare when it was revealed that AB de Villiers had had a literal last minute change of heart and wanted to go to the World Cup. In whose stead we can not say. Finally, South Africa went to India and outside of the first innings with the bat, where they scored over 400, they were basically pummelled from pillar to post. As a rule, with very little exception, a team needs 20 wickets to think about winning a Test. South Africa didn't get their 20th wicket in the series until their fourth bowling innings in the third Test. That is, to say the least, not good. 

Those are just the on field problems, off the field is basically a war zone. As of now, with an inbound Tour of England just weeks away, the Cricket South Africa still does not have a permanent Director of Cricket. In fact all we know about the director of cricket spot is that Graeme Smith was not willing to take the role without structural changes coming in. What those structural changes are, no one can say for sure. What we can say though, is that Cricket South Africa literally just had an organisational change less than three months ago. In an unprecedented display of jargonism, CSA fired their coach Ottis Gibson and hired young hotshot Enoch Nkwe to be the Team Director. What exactly is the difference between a coach and a team Director you may ask? Well, we are glad you asked because as far as the eye can see, there does not exist a single one. In an even more ridiculous display of re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic, CSA removed the title of General Manager and created the newly minted Director of Cricket. Here's the kicker: The acting Director of Cricket, and the former General Manager were the exact same person, former coach Corrie van Zyl! How different can the roles be when the exact same person is asked to fulfill them? Have I mentioned yet how CSA is currently in multiple legal battles with the South African Cricketer's Association (SACA)? That's right; multiple. Plural.

The first is a long running battle over the decision to restructure the domestic scene and increased the amount of sides in the set up from six to twelve. SACA argues that this decision would cost up to 70 cricketer's their job, and like any good trade union, they are not prepared to let this happen. An explanation with regards to how an ostensible expansion of the amount of teams in the domestic set-up would lead to a decrease in the amount of professional contracts in circulation is probably necessary, but that truly is a story for another day. The jist of it though, is that the South African set up has two tiers: A franchise tier, comprising of six teams, and a district tier, comprising of 13 teams. The district tier is semi professional, but basic Maths should tell you that even if more semi professional contracts are absorbed in the restructure from six to twelve teams, it would still be a cut from 19 domestic cricket outfits to 12. It should be noted that in and of itself the restucture shouldn't be assumed to be a bad thing, former New Zealand cricketer, and TUKS cricket coach, Kruger van Wyk for instance thinks it will give more players a shot at proper cricket, and he in fact believes that the 6 team limitation has in fact created a bottleneck effect in South African cricket, with very few talent getting the appropriate chance. The people running the show in accounting in CSA have also forecast that the restructure would lead to a saving of R300m for a cash-strapped organisation over the next four years. 

The second is a more recent, and yet, somehow older faux pas from CSA which  resulted in the players from last year's Mzansi Super League not receiving image right payment. This was an altogether more disastrous matter, which has thus far led to the suspension of the aforementioned Director of cricket, Corrie van Zyl, Clive Eksteen and Chief Operations Officer Naasei Appiah. CSA has since agreed to pay R2.5m into the SACA player's trust, in their defence, but the latest saga did nothing to assuage fears that CSA is a rudderless ship. 

Oh and remember how the domestic restructuring would save CSA R300m over the next four years? Well, to be clear, that saving would only mean that their losses over the next four years would be a far more palatable R350m, instead of the disastrous R654m that was first projected. So bad, but not quite as bad as the original forecast. 

This is ti say nothing of the fact that the Western Province Cricket Association was put under administration by CSA, and then managed to succesfully sue their way out of administration because apparently CSA were wrong to put them in administration, and thus lost ANOTHER legal case. 

It would be unfair to say that CSA is currently a circus which seems to be better equipped to blow money than run proceedings in a manner fit and in line with that of a modern company operating with a spreadsheet and a semblance of plan. That is not what we are saying, but if it was what we were saying, there would certainly be a lot of evidence affirming this position. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Mzansi Super League preview: Jozi Stars

Jozi Stars
The defending champions have managed to retain some of their best players from last season. Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen were in incredible form and we can expect more of the same this season. Temba Bavuma, who recently made his T20I debut for the Proteas, has been named captain. Chris Gayle will feature for the Stars in the early stages of the tournament and will then be replaced by another veteran – Shoaib Malik.
Two of South Africa’s most highly rated young batsmen – Ryan Rickleton and Sinethemba Qeshile are also part of the squad. Qeshile is the main wicket-keeping option available to them and is likely to play in all their matches.  He has already made his T20I debut and has an opportunity here to make a case for the WT20 next year
Nono Pongolo’s story was one of the highlights of the inaugural MSL tournament. He was initially only selected as a back-up and was involved with SABC’s commentary team. Pongolo went on to pick 10 wickets in the tournament and became a superstar overnight when he smashed consecutive sixes off Marchant de Lange to seal a one-wicket win in Durban that turned the Stars’ campaign around. He will be part of a bowling attack that will be led by Kagiso Rabada. Last season’s top wicket-taker, Duanne Olivier, will feature for the Stars once again, while Dane Paterson, Lizaad Williams and Eathan Bosch are also available as pace options.
The experienced hard-hitting all-rounder Dan Christian is part of the squad again. Simon Harmer and Aaron Phangiso are the spin bowlers in the side.
The Stars have assembled a balanced squad once again and should be in contention to win the title this season too.

Monday, November 4, 2019

MSL 2019 Preview

The second season of the Mzansi Super League is upon us, amid an ongoing crisis regarding payments from last season. Broadcasting the matches on SABC instead of Supersport was not Cricket South Africa’s first choice, but it has worked out well for the fans. Many people tuned in last year and the same is expected this season. With the World T20 in Australia just under a year away, the local players will be looking to make an impact. Rassie van der Dussen, for example, had a great season last time that saw him receive a call up to the one-day side, where he has performed well.

Cape Town Blitz
The Blitz reached the final last season but were beaten by van der Dussen’s Jozi Stars. Quinton de Kock finished as their highest run-scorer and was second on the list overall. He finished with 412 runs, averaging 58.85 at an incredible strike-rate of 169.54. He has had some captaincy opportunities with the Proteas lately and was named as the captain for the Blitz earlier this week. He will opening the batting with the highly rated Janneman Malan, who had a promising season in 2018. Their other batting options include Liam Livingstone, who also bowls leg-spin, as well as the hard-hitting Asif Ali.
Pakistan left-arm seamer Wahab Riaz will be play the first two games before leaving for the T10 league. Moeen Ali has been signed as his replacement while he is away. Their pace attack will also consist of Dale Steyn, who bowled superbly last season an economy of 6.48. Dale will be joined by his former new-ball partner in test cricket – Vernon Philander will be hoping to have a better season that he did with Durban Heat last season. Anrich Nortje had an electrifying start, picking 8 wickets from 3 matches before he was ruled out by an injury. He has since made his test debut for the Proteas and will look to stay up the fast bowler pecking order. Sisanda Magala, who has had some impressive seasons in the Slam T20 challenge is also part of the squad.
The spin attack will consist of two left-arm orthodox all-rounders - Geroge Linde and Mohammad Nawaz. Moeen Ali, the all-round off spinner will feature too in Wahab Riaz’s absence.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Big Question: Enoch Nkwe (Part one)

ZA cricket: Thank you for joining us, Enoch.
Enoch Nkwe: Ja no, it is great to be hear and thank you for having me.

ZAC: Alright, for those who don’t know who you are, or didn’t follow you as a player, could you explain your first exposure to the game, and how you came up through the ranks.
EN: I could almost write a book (laughs/). I started playing cricket at eleven years of age. I took part in mini cricket. It was called Bakers mini cricket back in the day, and obviously today it is called KFC mini cricket. I was based in Dobsonville (Soweto). I played that (mini cricket) for about two weeks and then graduated into hard-ball cricket for the under elevens. Ja things happened quite quickly. So ja, then I had to learn my trade in this new sport, which wasn’t so popular back in the days, in the nineties. My background was football, as is the case for most kids, especially in South Africa. I had to invest a lot of time and I had a very good coach as well as a good support structure. My cousin was the man behind driving me through under 11 and under 13, and eventually falling in love with the game. That was all at Dobsonville (pauses), well now you have Dobsonvlle Cricket Club, back then it was just an area team. You had your Dobsonville, your Meadowlands, and the surrounding areas, and the best players from the areas would be selected to make a kind of district team. The best players from under eleven and under thirteen would play against the likes of St. John’s and some of the better schools. So ja, things worked out quite quickly and at twelve years old, I was picked for my cricket club to tour England. This was all in a short space of time. They must have picked up some sort of talent, but I was just playing for fun. My mum used to get annoyed because you are wearing those white shorts, and those white socks, and those white shirts, and always shining the ball because that’s what you see on TV
ZAC: (interjects), Yeah, with some sandpaper…
EN: (laughs) But ja, like I said, I fell in love with the game, and it was quite hard, because all my friends played football, it was quite hard to balance the two. Things were happening quite quickly in the cricketing sphere, I got picked for what was then called the Super Squad, which was the best development team from regions like Soweto, Lenasia and Bosmont. This was being run by Gauteng cricket, and it was sort of like a development program. That team (Super Squad) would be the team that would go to provincial weeks, and trials and play in the night series (a school level One day tournament which was played at… you guessed it… night – ed), and play in independent school festivals. We would play against your Saints (St. Stithian’s – Kagiso Rabada’s alma mater) and other private schools, and that’s where Saints picked me up on a bursary. At thirteen, I made the Gauteng (north) team for the national week. I didn’t do so well, but it was a learning experience and things actually kicked off from thee. Some of the guys I played with also went to Saints. I stayed for five years at Saints, went through the system, played Gauteng under 19 three times. I remember my first under 19 week; the Coca-Cola cricket week as it was known, Graeme Smith was actually my captain. There were some good players, I played against guys like Jacques Rudolph, so ja things worked out. I had a bit of a setback in my last year of high school, I got injured, That made it a little difficult for me to compete at the under 19 week that year, and because of that I didn’t make the (under 19) World Cup team, and I was kind of lost. I felt like I was sort of lost, like “What do I do?” I made the decision that I was going to take a gap year. Fortunately enough, I went back to Saints and did some work for Saints, coaching, but focusing on my cricket as well. I coached the under 14s, and also helped with the first team, so it was quite a nice little, experience, those three months, to help them finish off the season.
ZAC: Was that your first experience coaching?
EN: Ja. I actually enjoyed it you know. I was sort of an old boy, and someone that had played provincial cricket at almost every level. Obviously then, the first team was also doing well. I really enjoyed it, and it was my first experience coaching. I obviously didn’t think I’d get this far, but I did it because I enjoyed it. I then played club cricket for three months, and did well there. I was then invited to represent the Senior Gauteng Cricket Academy. In that academy we had the likes of Grant Elliott. I actually went to the same school as him. I was in Grade eight when he was in matric. So to see him a few years later, it was a fantastic experience. At the end of the academy, one of the batsmen got injured and I had worked hard on my batting during that winter time. Then I went on a pre-season tour, and I did well, as an al-rounder, and there was actually a spot for an all rounder. That is when I made my debut, my first class debut, scored a hundred, and then the second game I took a five-for. It was an exciting time for me, obviously the professional world. Everything was new. Second season; a bit more challenging because teams begin to work you out. It was kind of an average season, but I still managed to score some runs and take some wickets. But it was a good learning experience. The people I had around me, the likes of Daryl Cullinan, Clive Eksteen, Adam Bacher, Grant Elliott actually left in my second season. So there was a lot international experience around me, and they were good guides. Unfortunately I was hit by injuries. Almost every season I had an injury. I tried to study along the way back then, before SACA (South African Cricketer’s Association) came on board. It was hard. The system was still a bit old school in that if you were gonna study you were going to have to do it full time. When you’re playing four day cricket, and you’re playing one day cricket; you are trying to balance the two (cricket and education), and it’s just not making sense. So I had to do everything through distance learning. It was quite tough for me because I really wanted to invest a lot more into my cricket, because I wasn’t really an established player. Things then kicked for me, things started to pick up, up until I picked up quite a serious injury on my wrist. I got injured in 2007, in March, fell, cut my wrist. It was a very bad injury, and I was out for a year. I tried to make a comeback, and it just did not work out.

During my professional career, I had the opportunity to go to the Netherlands in the off season. So during the summer, I was here, and in the off season, I was that side. I did that for five years. As we all know, the Netherlands is a small country, they are not that big in cricket. The club I played for, however, HCC Rood en Wit, had a lot of youth. So they really wanted to bring in a young cricketer, a first class all-rounder. I got that opportunity. It was then that I strongly fell in love with coaching (Nkwe served as player-coach for the club – ed). As a pro, everyone looks at you to get the right structures in place for the club. I also had a lot of time, so every year I invested in my coaching. Even then, after all those years, I never really thought that I would be coaching (professionally) up until in my second last year where as a club we decided we needed a professional to deal with all the cricketing affairs because the club was really growing, so then they asked me as a pro, as sort of the junior head coach, to deal with all the technical stuff. I was happy with that, because that allowed me to still focus on the game and do well for the club and also work on an off-season program.

ZAC: Did the year round cricket take a toll on your body?
EN: No. The nice thing about the Netherlands is they only played 50-over cricket once a week. My typical program would have four days of conditioning, practice twice a week, and then I’d play on the weekend. I’d do the conditioning mostly in the morning, and in the afternoon I’d do the coaching. It (being in the Netherlands) also gave me time to reflect and plan ahead. Fortunately in 2008 I shared a house with a guy from New Zealand who basically took over the cricketing affairs of the club, and that allowed me to focus more on my game. I asked him a lot of questions, and it was just four months of cricket day in, day out. I learnt so much from him and he got to understand me as a person, a cricket player, and a potential coach then. He saw how I did things, my coaching style, he saw how I coached my team. He would oversee everything, but I still sort of ran the show. He’d obviously sort of assist as well, we shared the responsibility very well. His name is Gary McDonald, I think he worked closely with Dave Nosworthy in New Zealand.

ZAC: You were surrounded by a lot of New Zealanders, hey?
EN: (laughs) Ja! My club captain was actually a New Zealander, and the young pro was a New Zealander as well.

ZAC: Did they have some sort of feeder system going or something.
EN: Well, I suppose from a Visa point of view, Australians and New Zealanders have it easier. South Africans obviously, you need to apply, but because I’d proven to the club that I’m worth investing in, the club was happy to keep giving me a work permit every year. Our first team was basically multinational. We had some Australians, some Kiwis, a Caribbean guy, and a couple South Africans, we had a Pakistani. We had some Dutch players…

ZAC: I’d hope so!
EN: (laughs) It was actually a very nice mix. We blended very well. We dominated, got promotion, and then dominated some ore. We crafted a three-year plan, and in the second year, with my coach (McDonald), we’d started to really dominate, and that’s when he started to ask me some really tough questions in terms of my plan post-cricketing career. Obviously he was aware of my wrist – that year my professional cricketing contract with the Lions was not renewed.

ZAC: That was your second year in the Netherlands?
EN: That was in 2009, which my fourth year…

ZAC: Second year as a coach in the Netherlands? To clear up the timeline

EN: No, I’d been coaching in the Netherlands from 2005 when I got there. This was the second year of the three year plan. So that was in 2009 (when he didn’t get his contract renewed – ed). Dave Nosworthy (who was by now his coach at the Highveld Lions) called me, about my future. I could understand why they couldn’t renew my contract, because of my wrist. We went through the whole process and they tried to keep me involved (in the system), but to be honest I’d already made up my mind about my future. I was struggling to compete with the (necessary) level of intensity. These things happen, and I’d made peace with it. I’d already made peace with it the year before. Then I went back overseas, did well, scored runs. That’s when McDonald asked me the question, ‘why do you coach’? I just hope to make a difference, you know, in someone’s life.

ZAC: Did age play any factor in your decision to retire?
EN: Not really, to be honest, because I was, what? 26? Obviously a lot of people were asking me what’s going on? A lot of people were telling me, “surely you still have in you’? So yes, I did, but it’s heart-breaking when you can’t compete. Every time you would try to compete, your arm and your wrist would flare up. Every time I’d get hit, by a fast bowler, or a cricket ball, it wold be a setback. That’s what happened before I lost my contract. Morne Morkel hit me on my gloves while he was playing for Titans. The next day it was so swollen. That affected my nervous system. So I was out for two months. That’s when I decided you know what, I’m done with this. I’ve had a good run in professional cricket, six or seven years, but it’s time to look forward. I had to look ahead to where I could make an impact. I was quite keen to finish my studies. While I was playing overseas, I got a call from Alan Kourie (former Gauteng cricket board CEO) and Dave Nosworthy. Dave had called to see if I had made up my mind. They were offering me another contract, almost like a semi-professional contract. But I’d made peace with my situation and I declined that offer. I actually felt comfortable making that decision. I already knew that everything was in my hands now, and that I was in control of my destiny. I saw opportunities to be honest. Then Dave asked me if I would be interested in coaching. I told him I love coaching, so I’d love to. Then Dave said he’d speak to Kourie and Kourie never hesitated. He said ‘as soon as you get back, let’s talk’, and that’s when I started coaching professionally.

ZAC: Walk us through the process of coming back to South Africa and joining the Gauteng Cricket Board coaching ranks
EN: Ja that was back in September 2009

ZAC: So that would have been, if memory serves, just after the IPL, which was hosted in South Africa?
EN: Ja, the IPL was hosted in May 2009.

ZAC: So that would have been a bit of a dramatic period in South African Cricket history (The Gauteng cricket board/IPL drama deserves its own story, but jobs were lost, alliances fractured and VIP boxes not shared -ed)
EN: Ja I suppose. There were also opportunities to coach elsewhere, like down in the Eastern Cape under CSA with Mfuneko Ngam, but this is home and when that opportunity (Gauteng cricket) presented itself, I had to really look into it. And I was offered the position of Academy coach slash Strikers assistant. So Strikers is obviously the feeder system for the Lions. So I took that opportunity, not knowing much about coaching professionally. The next step was to then sort out my coaching qualifications. I did a level 2 refresher, then I went to level three, and that was awesome. People don’t understand that it’s not always an easy transition to make. To go from playing to coaching. No matter what level you played, whether you were captain. It was quite a hard period for me, I won’t lie. Coaching the elite u19s, we finished third at Under 19 week. In the three day games before the Under 19 week, I coached a lot of good cricketers, Quinton de Kock was one of them. Very exciting young cricketers, you know. Just working with them, reinforcing, not just the cricketing, but also life skills. I was also in the process of accepting that my cricketing career is done, which was in a way, weird. It took about a year to really get over it, and really invest my lot in coaching. There’s a piece of you, you know, you go to the stadium, you see the professionals warming up…

ZAC: you want some of that.
EN: Ja! ‘I could be there’, but everyone goes through that process, and I learnt a lot from that, and I strongly fell in love with coaching. The other thing was the support structure that I had. It was superb. There was a clear plan from Gauteng Cricket, and also from the Lions, and I bought it into it. My second year there was a change in role from u19/academy coach and I was now strictly a high performance coach. So I worked with Gauteng u19 for four seasons, and I was involved with the South African u/19s for three season. Went to the World Cup in 2012…

ZAC: That would have been when Ray Jennings was coach?
EN: Ja. I actually enjoyed working with him.

ZAC: I heard him and Quinton had some… moments..
EN: You’re not gonna get along with everyone you know, and Ray just wanted to get the best out of him. Obviously today Quinton is grown, and is a pretty good cricketer. Probably one of the guys who will reach that level of greatness, I believe. So ja, in 2012 we went to the World Cup, finished third, we strongly believed that we were going to win it. We had a really good squad; well balanced. A lot of them are actually playing Franchise cricket, and your Theunis de Bruyn’s and Quinton de Kock’s played internationally. So it was a very exciting group of cricketers.

ZAC: As a coach to Lizaad Williams who find it hard to break through the domestic circuit, how do you guys keep motivating such players?
EN: It is a hard one, because at the end of the day, we do our utmost to keep them going, but you gotta have that internal drive as a player, and that belief that you know what, things will turn around. The worst thing you can do as a player, is when things are not happening, you get yourself into what I call a ‘survival zone”. You point fingers, you don’t look at yourself, all you worry about is playing at home and you’re not taking responsibility. Sports is tough, you know, and you find that for some players, when an opportunity comes, they are not ready. Sometimes it only comes once, sometimes it only comes twice, and you still don’t see any difference. Sometimes you are unlucky, and you gotta change your environment, you gotta change your province. I just get a sense sometimes that some of my players are not willing to go that extra mile. To get out of their comfort zone, go to a new market, and who knows, people might see you in a different light. So it is hard, but that’s why it’s important as a coach, soon as you get into a position to reach out to players, to understand them as people first, and then as cricketers. Sometimes those relationships do help. They can help a player to be more patient, and I just work on being honest with players, and I’m not scared to tell a player if they need to move to another province or team because they are not gonna feature, and it’s up to them whether they want to wait or move on. Obviously not everything is going to be smooth sailing.

ZAC: That leads us to our next question; do you think coaches should take accountability for some of those failures the same way players should take accountability for some failures?
EN: Obviously it depends on what kind of person you are as a coach. I know some coaches that do, and one day they’ll go back to their player and apologise. And then it depends on if the player is mature enough to receive that. I was one of them (player-wise). Certain things did happen and I couldn’t understand. There was a coach – when I became a full time coach – there was a coach who came to me and said he’s sorry, and he could have done things a little different. He said he’s sorry and when the moment presented itself we unpacked it. So ja, no hard feelings, and it was one of those things. But, there was a reason for certain things to happen - I have a strong belief in that – to get me to where I am as a coach. I can also learn from that. Become a better person, and a better coach. You’re not going to get everything right, but just try living by your philosophy and what you believe in. Whether it’s wrong or right, you’ll be the one to judge, but ultimately the players are human beings. They’ll always reflect and say, ‘you know that coach I really do respect for his honesty’. Back then I didn’t see it, but now I see it. I live by (the motto of) being accountable for my actions, whatever they may be. I believe that coaching should be the same, but again it goes back to your value system as a person. If your value system is right, it can be easier to take that route.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

It's not like they're not doing a great job - Corrie van Zyl

Cricket South Africa's director of cricket, Corrie van Zyl noted that while South Africa have been comprehensively outplayed, he believed they were doing a great job. The Proteas, who are currently 2-0 down in India, having lost the most recent Test by an innings, are in the midst of a four game losing streak. That seems to be of no concern to van Zyl, who noted the quality of the Indian side as well as how long they have spent together gelling as a side. This comes hot in the heels of CSA CEO, Thabang Moroe, who noted that the Proteas had recently lost nearly 450 Test caps worth of experience with the recent retirements AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn. 
'We need to appreciate the quality that is in this Indian side. This is an Indian team that has been together for some time now and is well accustomed to playing in their home conditions,’ said Van Zyl.
‘I strongly believe we, as the Proteas, have the players to win games and the youngsters will come right.
‘The team are constantly trying to find ways to win. It’s not like they’re not doing a great job with it. We believe in them that they’re going to make the right decisions to do the best they can do to help us win Test matches'.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Always darkest before dawn

In a recent interview, former New Zealand cricketer Kruger van Wyk noted how teams that do their planning should not go through transitions, and all teams should do their planning. But of course, that is not always the case, and teams most certainly do go through transitions. But this is most certainly a transition. At the moment, South Africa have lost four Tests in a row. Dating back to the dramatic Australian series, South Africa have lost three of their last four series, including this one. Of those three, two of them have been whitewashes with one Test left in this series to avoid back-to-back whitewashes.

It isn't just the results that indicates struggle and difficulty. The batting line-up is not settled. Theunis de Bruyn has played over 10 Test matches, and his average seems to somehow be sinking, which is saying something, considering the fact that it was pretty low to start off with. The search for Temba Bavuma's ideal batting position seems to be never ending, but unfortunately it is not trending in the correct direction. He batted at four and then five this game, but did show some promise batting five in the second innings. Aiden Markram is another player who seems to have gotten worse the more time he has spent in the national set-up.

In the last 20-odd months, South Africa has lost AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, and Dale Steyn (in Tests anyway) to retirement. Players who were envisioned to take over the batting and bowling reins have signed Kolpak contracts, and as a result, much talent has been lost, as well as institutional knowledge. It is very difficult to make the jump without pointers from more experienced players, and these experienced players are currently circling the globe in T20 competitions or experienced cold winters in the United Kingdom.

The good news is the Springboks have shown that even without a huge change in playing staff, with a skilled backroom, and some tweaks, transitions that look like they may take a few years can happen very quickly. Even the Proteas, who have had the good fortune of not having to go through a transition for nearly 15 years, can look to their own history and look at the year 2006, when they lost 2-0 to Australia in Australia, then 3-0 to Australia in South Africa. South Africa bounced back and beat New Zealand 2-0 in South Africa, but then they lost a two Test series to Sri Lanka 2-0, and by that stage the Proteas had lost three series in four. From 2004 until the Sri Lankan tour, South Africa won three of the ten series they played in. That didn't seem like a Launchpad for a dynasty, more especially when they then lost the home opener vs India the next series at the Wanderers. But from the Ashes of that horror run, South Africa discovered and found a nucleus. AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, and Morne Morkel all made their debut's in that 10 series run. Ashwell Prince cemented his spot in the side, and South Africa would go on to lose one series in nearly seven years. Sometimes change really is just around the corner, all you have to do is keep the hope. The entire thinking behind the ProteaFire campaign is that no matter how bad a fire, the Protea flower will rise like a phoenix  Protea from the Ashes and pollinate and grow again and stuff.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

When the going gets Faf, the Faf gets going

It's something of a meme, but Faf du Plessis has a reputation for being the most alpha human being to ever don a Protea jersey. You can see why too. His first Test match: Scored an unbeaten hundred to see out an unlikely draw in Adelaide. His First World Cup: Nearly gets into a fist fight with Darryl Tuffey. Nearly gets suspended after Mintgate, and has to bat in a Day/Night Test: Boom a Test match hundred. du Plessis has a reputation for being something of a tough guy in cricketing circles. Not in that "thuggish brute" sense, where you're basically calling someone dirty; more in the sense that when the going gets Faf, the Faf get going. He's cricket's Chuck Norris is what I am trying to say.

On a different, but very related note, the gold standard for an elite batsman is an average of 50. South Africa's number 3 and 4 combined average 50. Once South Africa lose an early wicket, it becomes very apparent that they will very quickly be losing two more because our top order is less paper mache and more a house of cards in the middle of a hurricane. Both Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn are possibly quality players, and they may eventually go on to destroy batting attacks for years to come. At the moment however, they couldn't get be relied on to score runs. They cannot even be relied to bat time.

By contrast, Faf du Plessis is slap bang in the middle of a purple patch, arguably the most purple of patches in his entire career. If not Quinton de Kock, who has the gloves, and will have the gloves for the foreseeable future, it's undoubtable that du Plessis is the best batsman in the team. Your best batsman bats at number three, or at a push, four. Yet du Plessis bats five, and the two batsmen above him are like, really bad at batting at the moment. So why is Mr. du Plessis batting at five? In his own words,  "The reason why I initially moved to No. 5 was probably because I was more equipped to play both roles, in the middle and in the beginning. When you are batting with the tail, I can take the game on a bit, similar to Quinton [de Kock]. That's the reason for it - to try and split up your experience and your younger players up.".

So firstly, outside of de Bruyn, literally no one else in that top 6 could be called inexperienced. They don't have a lot of runs, but that's a function of them being poor, not them being inexperienced. Bavuma is creeping on 40 Tests, Elgar has 57, de Kock has 41, Even Markram already has 15. That's a top six that combines for nearly 210 Tests, just under 35 Tests a player. Unfortunately they only combine for a little more than 30 Test centuries. Not particularly inexperienced, just particularly unproductive.

With all that in mind, Faf du Plessis should bat four, or even three. There is no logical reason to intentionally put your "inexperienced" players in at three AND at four, moreso when neither of them can score runs. I don't think du Plessis is afraid of batting four, as previously mentioned, du Plessis is Test cricket's resident tough guy. I just think he's looked at an interpretation picture and seen an inexperienced line up when it's clearly just a poor one.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Can the real Aiden Markram please stand up?

Some players are earmarked for greatness from a young age. For whatever reason, the powers-that-be in a given cricket association decide that player is unique, an outlier, and as such must be given every possible chance to succeed. One can see this internationally with Mitchell Marsh, who despite being a middling bowler and statistically the worst number six batsman of all time, is not only a regular in the Australian side, but was even made vice-captain a year ago. He was then dropped soon after because, surprisingly, being made captain did not improve his poor batting.

While not quite as historically poor as Mitchell Marsh, Aiden Markram has had a similar career trajectory, being promoted to roles he might not have been ready for because he was a prodigious talent. Lest we forget that he was promoted to ODI captain in Faf du Plessis' absence for the ODI series vs India, despite having played a grand total of one(!) One day Internationals up to that point. This is not to say Aiden Markram cannot play. Or even lead. He is the only winner of an ICC World Cup in South Africa's history, having clinched the 2014 World Cup. And he does have a brilliant series vs Australia on his ledger, as well as boasting a Test average over 40, which is damn good for an opener. But while numbers reveal everything, they also lie. Damned lies and statistics, as the phrase goes.

When Heino Kuhn was selected to the 2017 England tour instead of Aiden Markram, there was a feeling that Cricket South Africa wanted to give Markram a soft landing spot for him to start his international cricket sojourn from. Indeed, while Kuhn was asked to prove he was Test-ready facing a steady diet of out-swingers from James Anderson and Stuart Broad, statistically, the most successful new ball pairing of all time; Markram was given a softer diet of medium pace bowling by Bangladesh. In his first three Tests, Markram averaged 95, with 380 runs. Talk about a launching pad. In the 15 tests since then, he averages 35. Which is acceptable, but not particularly encouraging. More concerning though, if you take his record since the end of last year's home Tests, he averages 26.8. the car isn't quite going backwards, but it definitely is sputtering.

The suggestion is not to drop Aiden Markram. Easy opponents or not, 25-year old openers averaging over in Test cricket are pretty rare. He is clearly a talent. But it would be a flat out lie to suggest that his rise wasn't carefully curated by Cricket South Africa with the express intention of making him a superstar. There's nothing wrong with that. Many an international star was eased into the fire. It can work. But with South Africa down a Test in the series, and Markram averaging a wholly unimpressive 14 in the subcontinent... It would be great for him to show some intestinal fortitude in the face of incredibly difficult circumstances.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The big question: Kruger van Wyk

Standing at 4 feet 9 inches tall, Kruger van Wyk is officially the shortest cricketer in the history of the international game. But what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in determination, intelligence and a never-say-die spirit. Van Wyk left South Africa to pursue dreams of a career in international cricket, moving to New Zealand as a young adult. A successful career which included nine Tests for New Zealand was to follow. Following his retirement from the international game, van Wyk took up coaching, as the head coach for the Assupol TuksCricket academy (University of Pretoria). He recently tasted success with the team, winning the latest edition of the Varsity Cup (South Africa’s premier inter university tournament).

ZA cricket: Mr. van Wyk, let’s start with the latest news, congratulations on the Varsity Cup victory.
Kruger van Wyk: Thanks a lot. It was an exciting week for the lads, and they performed beautifully.

ZAC: Could you take us through the differences in preparing for something like the varsity cup, compared to domestic cricket?
KvW: Look, the level of exposure obviously goes up, you know for the players, and there’s a lot more at stake (in Varsity Cup). It’s probably the one week in the year where the players have a chance to play in front of crowds, and to play on TV, where their skills get put under a lot more pressure than your local leagues. It’s a wonderful breeding ground to see how they mentally react, and the preparations and intensity of it all does go up, so it was great to see how they responded and this is something which will help them grow.

ZAC: Looking ahead, varsity rugby has produced quite a few Springboks, while Varsity cricket has not quite had the same effect. Why do you think that is? Or do you think that the two games are too different to expect similar levels of international quality players?
KvW: Look I think that it has a produced a couple of international players, your guys like Heinrich Klaasen and Aiden Markram, but I do think that Varsity Cricket at times can be over regulated when it comes to a few things. Rugby has been very successful when it comes to producing players to play at the next level, but I’m pretty sure that more players will be going into international cricket having come through the varsity cricket set up. It is also important that Cricket South Africa values this tournament as well, I think that is a very important thing. As well as to understand that everyone wants to produce (international) cricketers for South Africa.

ZAC: Moving back to you, what has been the biggest difference for you between coaching and playing?
KvW: I think the biggest difference is that as a player you can be quite single minded and driven towards your own career, and coaching is all about giving. You put yourself second, and you’re almost fighting for other people’s careers. It’s not about your career when you are coaching, it is about the players, and I would say that is the big thing. Cricket, as a player you’re more selfish.

ZAC: Delving into your career a little bit; you made the move to New Zealand at a relatively young age. Looking back, would you say that was a scary time for you?
KvW: Yes, going to New Zealand was a tough decision to make at the time, but it was as much a lifestyle change as it was a career one. I always wanted to experience what it was like to live abroad, to broaden my own horizons. I loved New Zealand, I loved representing New Zealand, and it meant a lot to me. Hopefully I can take all the things I learnt over there, which was incredible from a coaching and management point of view, and impart that knowledge onto my players.

ZAC: I’m not sure if you’re a huge tennis fan, but I was watching the US Open a few weeks ago and I began to get really annoyed while watching Diego Schwartzman, because every second comment about him was in relation to his height (at 5’7, Little Diego is on the shorter end for professional tennis players)?
KvW: No, I loved being the underdog, I always have. I think it made for a steely character, and it’s something that I needed in my career as well. I think my teams as well, we back ourselves, and we back ourselves in a one on one battle any day. If you can be mentally strong and up for battles, then you will win most fights.

ZAC: Looking ahead, sort of forecasting, South Africa are in India, with a big series ahead, what do you think are the major keys which  will go some way towards South Africa gaining some success?
KvW: Look, it is going to be incredibly tough in India, I’m not going to beat about the bush. It’s going to be very hard for a side which, and I hate admitting to it, because in sport there shouldn’t be transitions. When you do your planning well, these things they naturally happen. But it’s going to be a tough, tough tour, especially the Test series. I think in one day cricket – T20 and 50-overs – you can still get away with it (transitioning), but when conditions come more into play in the Test series, it is going to be incredibly tough. But, they have to find a way. They’ve got a new coach who needs to take the reins and lead management and leadership as well, so it will be a challenge. A lot of things will come out in the wash, but hopefully they’ll learn from it and come out with some very positive results as well.

ZAC: Looking at the Test team, we’ve sort of struggled for a while to score hundreds, just as a coach do you think a lot of that is mental, is it technical? Where do you think the two bridge?
KvW: I would say a lot of it is temperamental, I also think it’s an epidemic that goes right through our country. You don’t see a lot of junior players scoring hundreds (in the age division. It has a lot to do with batsman ship, the power game is valued over more skilful, and good batsman ship. So, (scoring) hundreds is really a dying breed over here, and it is something that really needs to be addressed as they take games away from opposition. It is something that the national side definitely will look at. If you look at the successful teams, they have guys who get hundreds, who score daddy hundreds regularly as well. Hundreds pay the bills as a batter, so I think it’s something that needs to be looked at, and it is a key art of batsman ship, which needs to be valued a lot more.

ZAC: As a former international wicket keeper, how do you feel about the idea of removing the gloves from Quinton de Kock and giving him more responsibility with the bat? Especially with Hashiim Amla gone, you could argue that he is our best batsman. On form he definitely is. Would you be in favour of him dropping the gloves, or keeping what’s working for him? But on the other hand, what seems to be working for him leaves us at 150/5 every second game.
KvW:  No. Quinton needs the gloves, in my opinion. I don’t see the point in not utilising the best all-rounders in your team to ease pressure on him. If he’s going to take captaincy (in future), then he needs to perform and live with the pressures of keeping wicket and batting. Otherwise he’s just not the man for the job. So I would keep him with the gloves, he’s one of the main all-rounders in that side. A team can only win when your best players are performing, so neutralise some of his best skills would be foolish in my mind. I think the whole team needs to step up, performance and temperament-wise, and in this next cycle, whether it’s a one year, two-year of four-year cycle, we need to get back to where we belong.

ZAC: As a wicket-keeper who has kept internationally, what would you say is the hardest part of it that people don’t acknowledge? Especially as a wicket-keeper batsman.
KvW: The workload is definitely massive, especially in Test cricket. Tours to places like India or the subcontinent, it’s heavy on a keeper mentally, you know. The ball is bouncing low, it is spinning, and you are in the action for five days. The way the game has moved, keepers need to be contributing massively with the bat. So if you don’t have a passion for it (keeping wicket), then you will be exposed, but it is a great honour playing international cricket, and it’s all part of the job, but I would certainly say it’s the mental part of it.

ZAC: Having watched the disastrous World Cup, where do you think it all went wrong? Do you think it was just a matter of having a poor start and never getting back on track, or where there specific things which we could have and should have done better?
KvW: ( I think selection could have been better, I felt that selection could have been better, but you know what; it is all very easy to say in hindsight. Hindsight is an exact science, and we’ll never get everything right. I think the most important thing about the world cup is that you actually take the key lessons and there are changes. If we don’t take the things we did wrong and improve on them, and learn from them, then it is going to be a vicious cycle of making the same mistakes over and over again and never moving forward. So I think it is important within the set-up to know where things went wrong. Whether it was preparation or mind set/tactic. Take those lessons, acknowledge them, and make sure that they don’t happen again.

ZAC: Penultimate question, what is the major thing you would change about international cricket to improve it?
KvW: I think the schedule is something that needs to be looked at, I think there’s way too much cricket going on. I think international cricket needs to be the dessert, and currently there’s a diet of too much cricket. Whether it be IPL or international cricket, there is too much cricket. And that is what causes a lot of good players to start managing their own workloads, ahead of international cricket.

ZAC: Final question, what is the one thing you would change about the domestic set up?
KvW: (Laughs) I don’t think there’s only one thing, I think the competitiveness, we’ve got a bottleneck, where there are actually a lot of very good young cricketers, but not enough opportunities for all of them. I would love to see young players get exposed at a higher level, which broadens our base to have more players selected for the national side. More players who are ready and available to play for the national side. So, I think opportunities is something I would like to see improved, because only a small amount of our very talented cricketers get exposure and opportunities and that is the one thing I’d like to change.

ZAC: So with that – apologies because now I’m sort of cheating by asking another question – but with that, would you be in favour of CSA’s attempt to increase the amount of teams there are?
KvW: I must admit I am in favour of it, I do think it will create a lot more players, because more players will get exposure. I do think it needs to be managed very well though, and I’d like to see a system and structure which is conducive to good exposure, where players get more exposure. The competitiveness of the game is what is most important to me, so I’m in favour of getting rid of the bottleneck

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Theunis de Bruyn might not be very good

The last time Theunis de Bruyn was in the subcontinent, he scored a fourth innings hundred in Sri Lanka. A fourth innings ton in the subcontinent buys you a lot of time, especially in tours to the sub-continent. The reason is pretty simple, the fourth innings of a game is when the pitch is at it's most decrepit, Asian pitches generally take turn sooner than non-subcontinental pitches, so it does reason that if you score a ton in the fourth innings in Asia, you must by definition be some sort of genius level player of spin.

 That is the only reason Theunis de Bruyn is on this tour. We would not be in favour of dropping him after just the one Test, but his dismissal in the first innings, a big booming cover drive against Ravindra Jadeja, with light fading and the day nearly done, was both reckless and unnecessary. Yes, batting is about scoring runs, and as such if balls are in slots which  players identify as their strong zones, they should feel within their rights to have a go at it. But the risk-reward of getting a boundary at the tail end of the day vs getting dismissed and bringing in a nightwatchman is pretty uneven. Especially against Ravindra Jadeja, a left arm spinner, because then you will be playing against the turn. At the end of the day. For a boundary. Just A Boundary. Don't do it. Please for the love of god, do not do it.

South Africa's top 8 at the moment includes Vernon Philander, a bowler by trade, and Senuran Muthusamy, a debutant in the just completed Test. Theunis de Bruyn, has by more than 5 runs, the lowest average in the top eight. The list of players in Test cricket who get lengthy careers while averaging less than 20 with the bat, as specialised batsmen, is not particularly long. Obviously, it is also not particularly illustrious. It's less a who's who, and more a "who's he?". If Theunis de Bruyn doesn't kick into higher gear, he's not going to be a Protea for much longer. That ton in Sri Lanka, beautiful, gritty as it was, was also the only time he's crossed the 50 mark in Protea colours. In ten Tests. That is not bad, that is unconscionable. The clock in sport is less a ticking clock, and more a series of moments which tick past, until you are out of opportunities to stamp your mark on a moment. de Bruyn is surely running out of moments, and India is quite possibly the absollute worst place to have your final moments.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The boy's a genius (but we are still keeping Quinton down).

South Africa ended the third day of their first Test vs India 385/8, still 117 runs behind India's first innings total of 502/7. The stars of the day were undoubtedly Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock, with both batsmen reaching hundreds. Following the nightmare that was the 2015 Test series in India, you could have been forgiven for expecting the worst when The Proteas came out to bat. You could also have been forgiven for assuming that the worst had come to pass when the Proteas ended day two on 39/3, a harrowing reminder of the last time the boys were in India.

But today went against script. Led first by Dean Elgar, the Proteas showed a value for their wickets which should stand them in good stead. It's almost a cliche to call Dean Elgar a nuggety cricketer. He values his wicket, is willing to put his body on the line during his innings, is the first to arrive at the gym and the last to leave, etc etc. The real star of the show though, entertainment wise at least, was Quinton de Kock. We've mentioned before that Quinton de Kock is good at cricket. But there are certain guys who are so good at what they do, they make people who are good at the same thing seem not as good at cricket.

Earlier this week, we discussed the possibility of Quinton de Kock moving higher up the order and dropping the gloves. The Proteas did not listen to the latter part my advice, keeping the gloves in his hands, but they did move him up one, to #6. He did end up batting #7, but that was only because Piedt was nightwatchman. Arguably, the most important part of his success was when he came in, 178/5 is still a slightly dicey score, but 57.2 overs had gone, which meant that the Indian attack had begun to wear down. And boy, did Quinny capitalise on their weary souls. Ravichandran Ashwin, who has been to left-handers what the hammer has been to the nail, looked clueless for the better part of the day against the genius that is Quinton de Kock. Cuts, late cuts, drives, pulls, hoicks. Quinton played everything under the sun. The jury is still out on whether or not your best player can REALLY be a wicket keeper, it is not ideal for your gun batsman to have been squatting for 130 overs before having to play the innings of a lifetime. But for one single day, it wasn't just god enough, it was magnificent.

In art, you see the genius after the work. Sport is unique in that you see the process. On a beautiful afternoon in Vizag, in front of the largest cricketing nation in the world, a genius from the little "village" of Johannesburg painted his finest work of art yet. It was too beautiful to be called a Rembrandt, if anything, it was a Monet. Striking, colourful, unique in its design.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Great series: No hype

Rivalries are an interesting thing in world sport. Sometimes they develop for no reason other than geography, as is the case with Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, where there is a massive chasm in success rates between the two historically. For the majority of their existences, success-wise, their rivalry has been a rivalry in the way the hammer and the nail has been a rivalry. Ie because we are told it was a rivalry, and no other reason.

Other rivalries develop because of a history of competition. The Ashes is a great example. Of course, the element of the antipodes being a former colony and helps, but the United Kingdom colonised half the world, and yet only the Ashes has truly captured imagination. In a similar vein, South Africa vs New Zealand (historically anyway) has been the granddaddy of rugby clashes, despite a complete lack of historical context. This is largely because traditionally, these two present the two best rugby nations on the face of the earth, and the Boks are the most successful nation in Rugby history vs New Zealand.

This brings us to India-South Africa. Given the sizeable Indian diaspora which exists in South Africa, as well as more than a few great Test matches, this series has never quite grabbed the imagination as a signature clash. Why is this? In truth there are probably more than a handful of reasons. For one, there is, for better or worse, just no cricketing history between the two nations. Yes, India was the first side South Africa faced in their re-integration to the global arena back in 1991, but that was the first ever time South Africa faced off with India. Ever. That was nearly 30 years ago, which may seem like reasonable amount of time, but in the context of a game which started in the late 19th century internationally, it really isn't all that long ago. So we have no historical context. What about geographic? Well, we're quite literally on two completely different hemispheres. You need a connecting flight to get to India. So geographically, that's a no. What about political animus? Again no. We are great trade partners and have never been on opposing sides of anything of value.

Finally, and maybe the most pertinent reason; yes, this is a clash between two of the top 3 Test nations in the game today, but I honestly don't think anyone, without exception, thinks South Africa stands more than a puncher's chance. It's hard to be hyped up about a series when the two sides don't hate each other and the conclusion seems pretty foregone.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Kyle Abbott signs extension with Hampshire

Kyle Abbot has signed a three-year extension with County side Hampshire, which has effectively ended any hopes of a return to international cricket. Abbott, who a few days ago took 17 wickets in a First Class cricket game, stated he had no regrets about his choice to take a Kolpak contract in 2017. Abbot, who has averaged 60 wickets a season in his three seasons with Hampshire is now tied to the club through to the 2021 season.

Abbot: "I am delighted to have signed a new three-year contract with Hampshire. We have a great coaching staff and bunch of players all striving to achieve success for the club, and I look forward to contributing to winning trophies in the coming years."

With the threat of Brexit, there probably was an accent for players to make immediate decisions. The England Cricket Board said in an email that should England leave the European Union without a deal by the end of 2019, new Kolpak applications would become void , but they would honour all existing Kolpak contracts up until 2020. What happens after 2020? We do not know. Neither Abbott, nor Hampshire stated whether the final two years of his contract would be Kolpak'ed in, or if he would be an overseas player.

Big Pressure on Little Temba

First things first, South African cricket is going through something of a metamorphosis. Hashim Amla's retirement from the game as well as Dale Steyn's retirement from Test cricket has lost South Africa about 220 Tests worth of experience. It would have been a lot to expect the absolute best version of the South African cricket team to go to India, who have only lost one home Test, not series, Test, in 7 years and win. To expect a team undergoing change to compete with serious hopes of winning is probably a little much. But, we are South Africans. Expecting too much is what we do. Always has been.

On that note, it's time to speak about the elephant in the batting room. Not Quinton de Kock wasting away at 7, only coming in when the game is gone. No, the other elephant in the room. In case you missed it, Temba Bavuma has been named the team's vice captain, and with Faf du Plessis a not young 35-years old, it does stand to reason that Bavuma is the next in line to hold the most important seat in South African sports. Yes, the Springboks are more popular, but no one in the Bok team has as much sway over the result of a game as the captain of the cricket team. One of the most basic tenets of being the captain of a cricket team is that your own place in the team needs to be almost beyond reproach. The Proteas of course fly in the face of this logic, and we do it often. Graeme Smith was a wily veteran all of eight Tests into his career when he was made captain. Faf du Plessis was actually dropped the Test before he took over as captain for an injured AB de Villiers. We take big risks with our captains, and for the most part, it seems to not end in tragic failure. That said though, Graeme Smith had more tons than Bavuma has now when he was made captain. Faf du Plessis had a fourth innings hundred and a legendary ton on debut in Adelaide on his ledger when he started his career as captain. Bavuma has a solitary ton, on what may have been the most docile track ever produced in Newlands. At no stage in his career has Bavuma averaged more than 40, and his highest average for a calendar year is 42. Also, for a man who is renowned as something of a man for the tough situations, he averages 24 in the second innings of a game. That is not particularly impressive. In fact, it is like... not good, as the millenials would say.

Given the fact that one (or both) of Zubayr Hamza and Theunis de Bruyn will be in the match day, trying desperately to lock up their positions in the side, it is imperative that the senior players step up and not give them the added pressure of trying to save/win the game for the Proteas.

At 29 years of age, Bavuma should be at the peak of his powers, and South Africa are going to need him to step up his game heading into the future in general, but this tour specifically. How wonderful it would be for him to formally announce himself as a major player in the batting world with a huge series vs India. If he doesn't, the handover is going to be awkward, to borrow another millenial term.

Friday, September 27, 2019

How does South Africa unseat King Kohli?

Since the day Martin Crowe nicknamed the the quartet of Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, Joe Root and Virat Kohli the "Fab Four", these four gentlemen have basically dominated the landscape of cricket to rarely before seen levels. Steve Smith has been fantastic in Test cricket, and could arguably be called the Best Since Bradman. Virat Kohli though, he's been incredible in all three formats of the game. He is the only member of the recently invented 40-50-60 club. That is, an average exceeding 40 in one format, 50 in another format, and 60 in another format. He isn't just a member of the club, he's the founding member and to date the only member. 

His Test numbers are pretty impressive. In 79 Tests, he has scored 6749 runs at an average of 53. If you think that is impressive, his stats as captain are otherworldly. In 48 Tests, he has scored 18 centuries and over 4600 runs at an average of 61. The man is good. He's scored over 1000 Test runs in 3 consecutive years, hasn't had a year averaging less than 50 in a calendar year since 2015. In other words, in any other era, he'd be a solid contender for the best Test batsman of the era. India is the best Test team in the world. They've been the best team in the world for four years, and Kohli has been their crown jewel. Sure, Cheteshwar Pujara has done an impressive imitation of Rahul Dravid, and Murali Vijay has been a capable opener. But Virat Kohli is the head of the snake, and as Dale Steyn once said about Steve Smith, if you kill the head the body will die. South Africa has had reasonable success vs Kohli in India. In four Tests, he averages 33.33. Unfortunately, this appears less evidence of a supposed weakness, and more an indictment of how unplayable those pitches are. So we had to look a little bit more in-depth to see if we could identify any weaknesses. 

When Virat Kohli first went to England he could not play the fifth stump line. Jimmy Anderson had him, as the English say, on toast the entire time he was there. But this has two issues; 
1 - That was in England
2 - He resolved that the next time he was in England

So how do you get Kohli out? Well, to start with, Nathan Lyon has had more success against Kohli than anyone in world cricket, with nine dismissals. This interesting stat might put Dane Piedt into play. He isn't quite Nathan Lyon, but he is a capable off-spinner and South Africa will likely go into the game with a second spinner. Indeed Kohli averages 23 in India vs Lyon, so he seems quite shakey against quality off-spin. Moreover, in the recent past, all but one of his last 10 dismissals vs pace have come either caught behind or in the slips/gully region. This, combined with the fact that he has only 2 LBW/bowled dismissals in the last 12 Tests indicates that the plan should be to get Piedt on early if he plays, and also to bowl a fuller length, outside off stump and get him driving. This is admittedly a pretty brave plan, as it can go badly, but he seemingly never gets out pulling or playing the straight ball nowadays. The data reflects that even the best and most foolproof plan against Kohli is likely to fail, given how great he is. But he is only human, so he is due a truly bad series at some point, and why not against South Africa? 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

We are keeping Quinton down

Quinton de Kock is good at cricket. Everyone who plays cricket at an international level is good at cricket, but even in that hallowed territory, one can see that Quinton de Kock is exceptionally good at cricket. He boasts no obvious weakness, and there are very few good balls which he can't turn into boundary balls. He also happens to be, both on form and reputation, South Africa's best batsman, especially now that the great Hashim Amla has retired. This presents a quandary of sorts, because while de Kock's prodigious ability to take a game away from the opposition batting at 7 is not in question, the reality is more often than not, he has had to come in and repair some very creaky holes in the ship.

In the history of cricket, only one team has ever had their best batsman keep wicket. Andy Flower, the Zimabwean great, was the only man who managed this feat of endurance and focus. You could arguably place AB de Villiers on this shortlist, but he only kept for 23 Tests and his career was more than four times as long. He was a stop gap wicket-keeper. A great stop gap, but a stop gap nonetheless. The only other side which faced a similar conundrum was Sri Lanka with the great Kumar Sangakkara and they dropped the gloves from him permanently with exceptional results. No one has a higher average as a specialist batsman than Sangakkara, with the exception of Donald Bradman. Much like Kumar, de Kock's average as a wicket-keeper/batsman is hovering around 40. It would be arrogant to even hope that his average would float anywhere near Sangakkara's, but I imagine it would be easier for him to bat higher if he did not have the added weight of having to keep wicket. That alone would increase the potential he has to impact a game, because there would be more wickets left over, and thus more resources for him.

The only reason anyone would not want de Kock batting higher, is fear. Fear that he would lose his explosiveness. But the reality is Quinton de Kock is now a senior member of the team, and as such, it's time for him to take his place in the big boys club.

To the couch for Bouch

There is an old saying in Tennessee, I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, we will tolerate you until we can replace ...