Africa has its first MLB player – and he’s from Polokwane

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

IT’S a long way from Polokwane, Limpopo to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania however you measure it.

One is 13 294 kilometres from the other; across the equator from the eastern side of northern South Africa to the eastern side of the north of the United States.

Gift Ngoepe has journeyed all of those kilometres, and many more, to stand where he stood on Wednesday.

That place was PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and in the top of the fourth inning of the Pirates’ game against the Chicago Cubs, Polokwane-born Ngoepe became the first African to play Major League Baseball (MLB).

“At that moment … it’s real, it’s happening,” Ngoepe told MLB.com in an onfield interview after the game.

“We finally have someone from Africa that made it to the big leagues.”

He said he could feel the weight of expectation from home.

“Representing my country and my continent, and them pushing me every single day, is awesome support and love from them,” Ngoepe said.

He began repaying that faith by earning a base hit up the middle off Jon Lester, one of the most respected pitchers in all of baseball, in his first at bat.

“I almost cried,” Ngoepe said about his early success.

He drew a walk and struck out in his other at bats, and ended the game on a high when he turned the double play from second base that secured the Pirates’ 6-5 win.

Ngoepe was signed by the Pirates organisation in 2008 following a stint at a MLB academy in Italy and played for South Africa at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

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Indians, unhappy at crumbling of ICC cookie, reportedly mulling Champions Trophy boycott

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THE Big Three is dead, the Big One rudely alive, and one of the Big Brothers still kicking.

Those, essentially, are the most important aspects of what the International Cricket Council (ICC) accomplished in five days of board and committee meetings in Dubai this week.

But there could yet be a sting in this tale, what with calls for India to boycott the Champions Trophy in retaliation – which would cost the global game many millions in lost revenue.

In 2014 India, England and Australia hijacked world cricket financially, cajoling and conjuring agreement to secure for themselves most of the international game’s earnings from the sale of rights.

And why not, some said – between them those three countries earned most of that money.

But the Small Seven, after they had been cowed into collusion, cried foul.

Matters came to a head at this week’s meetings.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) arrived in the boardroom wanting US$570-million from the 2016 to 2023 rights cycle.

Instead, they will get US$293-million. Or US$277-million less than what they had demanded.

Consequently, perhaps, the BCCI were the only board among the 10 full members to vote against the proposal to change the current financial model.

The England Cricket Board will bank US$143-million, and everyone else – including Cricket South Africa – US$132-million. Everyone, that is, except Zimbabwe Cricket, who will earn US$94-million.

“This is another step forward for world cricket and I look forward to concluding the work at the annual conference (in June),” ICC chairperson Shashank Manohar was quoted as saying in a statement.

“I am confident we can provide a strong foundation for the sport to grow and improve globally in the future through the adoption of the revised financial model and governance structure.”

But reports from India say some suits want Virat Kohli’s team to pull out of the Champions Trophy in England in June.

“Until (Wednesday) the idea of pulling out of the Champions Trophy wasn’t such a realistic one,” the Times of India quoted a “senior cricket administrator” as saying.

“But 24 hours is a long time. Going by what happened (on Wednesday), the ICC has clearly and abrasively breached the contract that it has signed with the BCCI.

“Let India not play this tournament as a protest and then let’s see how many ICC members still like the idea of going ahead with the policy changes. Someone has to call their bluff.”

The Indians, along with the Sri Lankans, also voted against a proposed new ICC constitution that would seek to increase the number of test-playing countries.

New names for SA in England ODI squad

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOUTH Africa’s team know about David Willey, but they will go in cold against Mark Wood and Jake Ball in their one-day series in England in June.

Left-handed allrounder Willey and fast bowler Wood have recovered from shoulder and ankle injuries well enough be named in England’s squad for the series, which was announced on Tuesday.

In February and March last year Willey played three ODIs and two T20s on England’s tour to South Africa.

He made little impact, scoring 18 runs in two innings and taking a wicket in the ODIs.

He also had two trips to the crease in the T20s, scoring seven runs, and took a wicket.

Wood has played eight tests, 11 ODIs and a T20 – none of them against South Africa.

There was no room for experienced fast bowler Steven Finn, who lost his place to Ball – whose three tests and six ODIs do not feature gametime against South Africa.

 “It is pleasing that Mark Wood and David Willey have returned to full fitness,” the England Cricket Board quoted national selector James Whitaker as saying in a statement.

“They add variety and quality to our bowling strengths and David’s ability as an attacking batsman is also an important element for us.”

England squad:

Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

Fixtures:

May 24: 1st ODI, Leeds.

May 27: 2nd ODI, Southampton.

May 29: 3rd ODI, Lord’s.

Morris the man for SA allrounder spot

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THIS time last year Chris Morris was less than half the bowler he has become for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

In the tournament’s 2016 edition Morris had five scalps after bowling in six games.

After half-dozen stints with the ball this year he has 12.

That puts him joint-second among wicket-takers – level with Mitchell McClenaghan and four behind Bhuv Kumar.

Morris’ economy rate of 6.90 pegs him 10th among bowlers who have played more than one game in this year’s IPL.

He and Kumar are the only bowlers who feature three times on the list of the 25 best performances.

Morris is grabbing even bigger headlines with the bat, and that’s despite having scored 43 fewer runs compared to the same stage of last year’s IPL.

His highlight last year was the 82 not out he made off 32 balls that took Delhi from 16/3 and 57/4 to within a run of overhauling the Gujarat Lions’ 172/6.

That earned Morris modern cricket’s rarest honour – being named man-of-the-match despite being in the losing team.

He scored another half-century in a losing cause on April 22 this year when he made 52 not out against the Mumbai Indians and shared a stand of 91 with IPL debutant Kagiso Rabada after Delhi had been reduced to 24/6. 

Which caused the Times of India to wonder “Is Chris Morris batting too low?”

The question was prompted by Morris’ blast of 38 not out off nine balls against Rising Pune Supergiant on April 11, when he came in at No. 6 after 18.2 overs.

Against Mumbai Morris was at the crease just two balls later, but at No. 8.

“I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that he’s one of the most expensive allrounders in the tournament,” former fast bowler, big hitter and national selector Hugh Page said on Monday.

“In that form of cricket he’s a matchwinner.”

Morris, then, is earning the US$1 044 000 the Daredevils are paying him for his services.

But Page’s bigger point was that Morris knew he belonged. 

“I think he feels he’s a permanent fixture in the Delhi Daredevils side.

“When you play one game and you’re not sure of you’re going to play the next, that doesn’t help.

“Certain guys need to know and feel that they’re part of the set-up.

“That’s difficult to feel if you’re not playing consistently.

“He is bowling better, there’s no doubt. But a lot of that comes from peace of mind – knowing your place is not on the line.”

Indeed, Morris has featured in all six of Delhi’s games this year. But last year he played in 12 of their 14 matches.

So what was Page on about?

Probably, Morris’ place in South Africa’s team.

He missed 10 of the 17 one-day internationals they played in 2016; some through injury but others because of selection decisions.

With South Africa’s allrounder landscape strewn with Andile Phehlukwayo, Farhaan Behardien, Wayne Parnell and Dwaine Pretorius along with Morris, job security could be hard to achieve.

All of them are in the squad for the Champions Trophy in England in June.

But, on current form, and even though what it takes to succeed in the IPL is a long way from what will be required to win games in the Champions Trophy, the man in possession must be Morris.

Tsotsobe charged with corruption

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

LONWABO Tsotsobe has become the seventh player to be charged in the match-fixing scandal that tainted the 2015 edition of Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) franchise T20 competition.

CSA said in a statement on Monday that the left-arm seamer had been charged with “among other offences”:

“Seeking to accept, accepting or agreeing to accept a bribe or reward to fix or contrive to fix or influence improperly a match or matches;

“Failing to disclose the receipt of a gift or payment that he knew or ought to have known was given to him to procure a breach of the code (of conduct) or that was made in circumstances that could bring him or the sport of cricket into disrepute;” and,

“Failing to disclose to the designated anti-corruption official (without unnecessary delay) full details of any approaches or invitations to engage in corrupt conduct”.

Tsotsobe, who has denied his involvement in the saga in the past, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

His charging follows a similar pattern to CSA’s handling of Gulam Bodi, Jean Symes, Pumi Matshikwe, Ethy Mbhalati, Thami Tsolekile and Alviro Petersen – who were found guilty of similar offences and banned from all aspects of the game for between 20 and seven years.

Tsotsobe, 33, played five tests, 61 one-day internationals and 23 T20s for South Africa between January 2009 and March 2014.

He became the No. 1 ranked ODI bowler in the world in March 2012 and held the position until September that year.

Tsotsobe was last in action in a T20 for the Lions in Benoni in December 2015.

Polo the beauty amid the bizarre

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Paarl

A woman with her hair cut like Ziggy Stardust wore a voluminous dress of Chris de Burgh red and was placed just so in a three-metre tall clear plastic sphere near the end of an august corridor at Val de Vie on Saturday.

The sphere seemed to float atop a pedestal formed by a milky glass half-shell and steel rods, and the whole was set beyond a red carpet lain over chequerboard tiles and below arches fashioned from exposed brick.

The woman played what looked like an engineer’s idea of a giant squid, all liquid red and black, but which sounded very much like a cello.

Her role in the unfolding pantomime was to welcome guests to the ISPS Handa Art of Polo 2017 Invitational, and more than an hour before a mallet was swung in elegant anger out on the greensward by members of the Africa Invitational and World Invitational teams she was applying bow to strings with soulful, sexy skill.

Oh, how perfectly perfect.

Cue discord: a drink fell from a tray carried by a white-gloved, black-tied waiter as he glided past an exhibition of two dozen bonsai trees, and the shock of glass on marble froze a squadron of tightly and uniformly dressed, fiercely maned women of indeterminate function in their skyscraper heeled tracks.

Vodka and ice were everywhere. A slice of ruby grapefruit stared up at the world, flaccid and forlorn. The women stared back, painted mouths open, eyes surrounded on all sides by mascara alarm.

It took something as ugly as a mop to restore the high end order, and that duly happened before too many tuxedos and too much taffeta sidled by.

And then, as if to remind all why they were there, a horse appeared. Sorry, pony. It was the colour of a young Elizabeth Taylor’s hair and it didn’t gallop or trot or canter as much as melt into the scene, framed by the greenest grass beneath and the surreal slump of the mountains beyond.

The curves described by its muscles caught the chardonnay afternoon sun at angles that conjured an exquisite shimmer on its flanks and legs. There was a rider atop, but he mattered about as much as the nail from which the Mona Lisa hangs.

The teams mounted and made their way onto the field solemnly to the theme from the “Last of the Mohicans”. Above the scene a drone, well, droned. In the pavilion, the burble continued unabated.

Four chukkas were played, and the first passed in a thundering of hooves – easily the most dramatic sound in sport – a blur of swinging mallets and nary a goal.

But, early in the second chukka, Jabulani Khanyile, a slip of a man from Nottingham Road, flew along the boards from before halfway and whipped a dagger of a shot from a tight angle and 80 yards out.

Yes, yards – this is a sport that takes its traditions seriously enough to ban left-handed play. Actually, that’s for safety reasons.

Khanyile’s effort roared between the posts and the first goal was born. Ten more would be scored before the final bell sounded, and when it did the Africans – all of them South Africans – had won 6-5.

Several goals were the progeny of penalties, but highlights besides Khanyile’s strike were Mike Osborne’s bazooka from 110 yards and Hiro Suzuki’s brilliance in the last chukka – when he had to guide his shot under the neck of his pony.

And so to the charity auctions, fine dining and networking, which reached a bizarre moment when someone tried to sell this reporter a yacht. A reporter … A yacht … Fancy that.

The polo? You were beautiful, darling.

Did the selectors get it right?

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THERE were no glaring omissions from South Africa’s squad for the Champions Trophy in England in June.

Similarly, no-one has been left in the cold from the squads for South Africa A’s four-day and one-day tour to England, which were also named on Wednesday.

From Keshav Maharaj’s inclusion for the first time in the format to Morne Morkel’s ODI return, and Dale Steyn’s trial run for the A side as he looks to make his way back from a broken shoulder, it all makes sense.

It also adds up on the transformation scorecard, what with eight of the 15 of colour.

Even so, selection convenor Linda Zondi said on Thursday, “There are always tough decisions to make, particularly when it comes to the balance of the side.

“For instance, we had a lot to talk about when discussing the bowling allrounders and the spinners.” 

Indeed, Zondi and his selectors would seem to have applied the same thoughtfulness that has served them – and their teams – well in the past.

But have they got it right this time?

Proof of that will be delivered only by South Africa’s performance in the Champions Trophy.

For now, all we have are more questions.

Some will want to know what JP Duminy is doing in the squad having been dismissed for fewer than 50 in 14 of his last 20 ODI innings.

But much the same people are likely to look past the fact that David Miller has done the same in 12 of his last 20 trips to the crease in the format.

Just to even the score further Duminy and Miller have each scored three half-centuries in that time.

That Duminy is struggling at test level, where he has reached 50 three times in 15 innings, will no doubt cloud perceptions over the wisdom of retaining him in the ODI mix.

Zondi admitted that he was “very worried” about Duminy in a test sense, and the player himself has obliquely acknowledged that he is in poor form by opting out of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

AB de Villiers has not – and, hindsight being the bastard it is, people are justified in wondering whether he made the wrong decision considering he has sat out half of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s six games with a back injury.

Then again, there was no shortage of those who reckoned De Villiers erred when he put playing in the IPL ahead of turning out for South Africa’s test series against New Zealand and England.

Perhaps karma really is a bitch.

It will be if it decides that South Africa will be without their captain for the Champions Trophy.

The closest Zondi and his panel came to snubbing a player was by not picking Aiden Markram for the Champions Trophy.

Markram has scored 161 and 183 in his last five one-day innings for the Titans, and is the hottest topic of cricket conversation in this country.

But before we get carried away let’s remember that he’ll be right there and raring to go as part of the South Africa A squad.

Selecting is a tricky, thankless business.

If South Africa win the Champions Trophy, no-one will remember to thank the selectors.

But, if they crash out in a manner that has become all too familiar for their compatriots, Zondi and his men will cop more than their share of the flak.

For now, we wait for South Africa’s first match – against Sri Lanka at the Oval in London on June 3.