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.

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 ...