Little for SA fans to cheer this festive season

TMG Digital


THE New Year won’t be happy for cricketminded South Africans, and all they will get for Christmas is a Boxing Day charade.

India, Cricket South Africa (CSA) said on Wednesday in a release that did not include an itinerary, would arrive in the country on December 28.

A series reduced from four tests to three would start at Newlands on January 5 — jettisoning what has become the centrepiece of the South African summer, the New Year test.

That also means CSA have had to plug the gaping hole in their schedule where the Boxing Day test used to be.

They’ve filled it with the underwhelming prospect of a match against Zimbabwe under what will be the upgraded lights of St George’s Park.

Right now that game is not a test as it has been scheduled for four days, but that could change in October when the International Cricket Council (ICC) decides on a proposal that would allow for the reduction of tests by a day if the countries concerned agree.

“The test status of the match is subject to ICC approval,” the release quoted CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat as saying.

The Boxing Day test has for years been a failure as a spectacle. Crowds have preferred going to the beach or the mall or simply sleeping off their hefty lunch from the day before while keeping an eye or ear on the cricket on television and radio.

But the loss of a test starting on January 2 is a slap in South African cricket’s face that smacks of the Donald Trump of international cricket — India — throwing its arrogance around.

Also significant is the fact that India will play a test fewer than planned, which is likely to cost CSA money in lost revenue.

Not that white-ball enthusiasts will be complaining, what with India’s original five one-day internationals being increased to six.

But one of the grounds that would have expected to host a test against the Indians this summer will lose out.

The tour will end with three T20s.


The case for picking Markram strengthens

TMG Digital


WHAT might it mean to an uncapped player who outshines six internationals — three of them members of the test top six — by scoring a century while the national side’s captain, coach and the convenor of selectors look on?

It should, you would think, earn that player his first cap.

Aiden Markram wouldn’t be human if he didn’t think he had done enough to crack the nod as Dean Elgar’s opening partner in the test series against Bangladesh that starts in Potchefstroom on September 28.

Markram made 119 for Titans against the Dolphins in Centurion on Tuesday, the opening day of the first-class season.

Faf du Plessis scored 96, Quinton de Kock 54 and Elgar 21.

Markram batted for more than four hours, faced 177 balls and hit 18 fours, and shared stands of 52 with Elgar and 193 with Du Plessis, South Africa’s captain.

“It was a great innings and Faf also batted well,” selection convenor Linda Zondi, who watched Markram bat along with new South Africa coach Ottis Gibson, said on Wednesday.

Zondi said the test squad shouldn’t be a long time coming, but it wouldn’t have been proper of him to confirm that Markram’s name was already on the list. And in ink, not pencil.

The hamstring injury Heino Kuhn suffered in the fourth test in Manchester in August lingers still, but even if he is passed fit the 113 runs he scored in eight innings against England won’t help his chances of staying in the mix.

Markram’s only other challenger is Stephen Cook, who lost his place to Kuhn and has responded impressively by banking scores of 120, 98, 89 not out and 70 not out among his six most recent first-class innings — before the Lions’ ongoing game against the Warriors — in matches for Durham and South Africa A.

But has Cook done enough to stop, in Markram, a man whose time has surely come?

That’s for Zondi and his panel to decide, and so far in their tenure they’ve got it right more often than not.

Do these things now, Ottis Gibson

TMG Digital


OTTIS Gibson had his first day on the job as South Africa’s coach on Tuesday, and there are only nine more days before the start of the test series against Bangladesh. What does Gibson need to do with that time?

Watch some cricket

The domestic scene is a long way from what it was when Gibson marked out his run-up for Border, Gauteng and Griqualand West in the 1990s.

Reducing the number of teams playing in the top flight and creating the franchise system was supposed to strengthen and professionalise the game in this country. Instead the umbilical cord between domestic cricket and the international scene has been all but cut.

Gibson says he will be see some action in the opening round of franchise first-class matches, which started on Tuesday. Good. He will have a better idea of what he’s dealing with, and what he’s up against.

Don’t watch rugby

Gibson has owned up to watching the Springboks’ risible impression of an international rugby team in their 57-0 shellacking by the All Blacks at the weekend. Stop right there, coach. Don’t you go wasting your time on any more of that nonsense.

Cricket in this country has its problems, but it doesn’t have rugby’s. Gibson and many others who wasted their 80 minutes on the Boks would have been forgiven for wondering if they were throwing the game.

South Africa were poor in England this winter. Gibson, who served as England’s bowling coach, knows that only too well.

But there remains a hardness at South Africa’s centre — and that has apparently been drummed out of their rugby equivalent — that Gibson would do well to acquaint himself with as soon as possible.

Find some fast bowlers

No Dale Steyn. No Vernon Philander. No Chris Morris. All are out with injuries. At this rate Gibson might be tempted to dig deep in his luggage for a set of whites from his own fast bowling days and suit up.

Easy tiger. South Africa has never been short of quality quicks and with Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Beuran Hendricks, Dane Paterson, Andile Phehlukwayo and Junior Dala to pick from — and Lungi Ngidi almost back from injury — the home side shouldn’t struggle to test the Bangladeshi batsmen.

Have a drink with Faf

If a cricket team was a ship it would sail or sink on the quality and depth of the relationship between captain and coach.

South Africa are fortunate — or did they plan it this way? — that both Gibson and Faf du Plessis are thoughtful and easygoing okes with plenty of space in their personalities for differing points of view. So it isn’t difficult to imagine them getting along.

Conventional wisdom says one of those personalities needs to be bigger for the relationship to work properly. Right now the stronger partner would seem to be Du Plessis.

Gibson says he has already talked steak and red wine with Du Plessis. Best they go out for dinner sharply like.

Have a coffee with Hash

No-one in cricket is more revered than Hashim Amla, who brings to the game much more than a peerless ability to play it. But, in the most cruel analysis, how well cricketers play is the only measure that matters.

Amla has reached a century only once in his last 25 completed innings for South Africa across all formats.

His gift for playing the unplayable delivery to parts of the ground it has no right to be played to, and for days on end, would seem to be fading.

Amla is 34 and he has a young family — he has a life beyond cricket. So how much does he have left in the tank?

Gibson needs to know.

The facts about Ottis Gibson

TMG Digital


MUCH of what has been said and written about Ottis Gibson’s appointment as South Africa’s coach has centred on opinion.

Happily for his new employers and Faf du Plessis’ team almost all of those views have been positive.

But opinion is free. Facts are sacred. What do we know about Gibson’s coaching ability that isn’t based on what someone thinks?

Push will start coming to shove in that regard after Gibson is unveiled in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

For now we know that Gibson’s tenure as West Indies coach was not a success if we look at a picture bigger than the 2012 World T20 — which the Windies won.

Overall under Gibson, West Indies lost more games than they won in every format.

They went down 16 times in 36 tests and won nine. Of 93 one-day internationals they were victorious in 36 and beaten in 52. Twenty-three losses and 22 wins was the equation in their 47 T20s.

Gibson presided over 43 series, including tournaments, and won only 11. Seven of those were against minnows Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

All of which has to balanced against the facts that the Windies were running on almost empty for decades before Gibson took over and seem set to continue in that sorry fashion for years yet.

A shameful neglect on the islands of the game their teams once dominated and more poisoned politics than even a South African could shake a stick at are the main reasons for the Windies’ decline.

How much of what went wrong under Gibson’s watch was his fault is difficult to discern.

But he does know what a team in trouble looks and plays like, and South Africa were just such a team in England this winter.

That Gibson helped plot their downfall as England’s bowling coach can only be a positive in his new role: he had inside knowledge about why South Africa’s batsmen failed more often than not.

The trick will be for him to use that intelligence to sort out the problems.

Gibson’s honeymoon will last until the first ball is bowled in the series against Bangladesh in Potchefstroom on September 28.

South Africa are likely to pass that test as well as win the one-day and T20 rubbers that will follow, but then comes the hard part — series against India and Australia.

That an opinion, and it could be challenged given that Bangladesh are making progress as a team.

But, from here, it looks like a fact that the Indians and the Aussies will provide a more searching examination of what Gibson needs to do to get the former No. 1 ranked test team back up there.

Bangladesh have played 21 games in this country and won only one, a fact South Africans will hope remains intact.

That their only success was against West Indies will startle, but it shouldn’t — it came in the 2007 World T20, and did not involve Gibson in either a playing or a coaching capacity.

Leading Edge: Cricket deserves Preity Zinta and her ilk

Sunday Times


PREITY Zinta doesn’t want you watch the news. Or anything else. Except T20 cricket.

“Part of our campaign when we were building the IPL [Indian Premier League] brand was that we didn’t want the remote control to be shared in the house,” Zinta said in Paarl last week.

“We don’t want the mother to say, ‘Hey — I want to see my show’. We don’t want the grandfather to say, ‘Put on the cricket’. We don’t want somebody else to say, ‘I want to watch the news’.”

No-one in the cast of dozens who had gathered to herald Zinta assume ownership of the Stellenbosch franchise in the T20 Global League seemed to take exception to this plot to turn us all into T20-binging zombies.

We shouldn’t be interested in other programmes on television. We shouldn’t be interested in fuddier-duddier forms of cricket. We shouldn’t be interested in what was going on in the wider world.

Jacob Zuma has been arrested? Who cares. How are the Bishopscourt Billionaires doing?

Nobody thought to call the police when Zinta made her startling admission to aiding and abetting the dumbing down of billions of people around the world.

There was no shock. There was no horror. There wasn’t even embarrassment. Haroon Lorgat himself sat smug and satisfied to Zinta’s left, apparently as dazzled as everyone else.

We could dismiss her as an annoying klaxon, a vessel empty of everything except pathetic delusions of relevance.

Except that Zinta and her ilk are more relevant than anybody in the hellish pit into which cricket has descended. Simply, they have bought a game that has whored itself and they’ll be damned if they aren’t going to get all the bang for their buck.

“Content has become hand-held,” Zinta said. “People have the appetite to watch a T20 game because it’s three hours, it’s a lot of action, it’s beyond athletic.

“In India you would go to matches and sit there and say, ‘OK …’. But now there’s so much more fun.”

Remember cricket? It used to be a game. Now it’s clickbait.

And that is all that will save it from disappearing down the rabbit hole of history as something we used to play, watch and think about.

Cricket has refused to countenance modernity for so long that, like Mikhail Gorbachev, FW de Klerk and King Canute, it’s on the cusp of being swamped by the real world.

Had the suits paid players at all levels properly, or realised that women’s cricket was a vital avenue of growth, or not barred teams other than the unfairly chosen few from playing tests, the game’s soul might have been saved. Instead deals have been made with the Daredevils.

Eric Simons straddles cricket old and new. He can take only remnants of the game he played when he made his first-class debut almost 35 years ago into his burgeoning career as a coach — not least in T20 leagues.

“I think that if T20 does take over, it should be through a process that is managed rather than by accident,” he said.

“If ICC decide that’s where the game goes then they must take it there and not allow the game to go there because it just does. It must be a strategic decision rather than, ‘Oh, look what happened’.”

Don’t look now, even if people like Zinta want you to: it’s happened.

The love triangle that will make a happy marriage between Gibson and SA

Sunday Times


IT’S not in any coaching manual, in anyone’s kitbag or on the scoreboard, and it wouldn’t register with thermal cameras, super sensitive microphones or ball-tracking gizmos.

But it’s as important to success on the cricket ground as runs, wickets or anything else. Maybe more so.

And, every few years, it’s rebuilt from the ground up.

It’s the relationship between coaches and their players — particularly the senior figures in the team and, at the head of that queue, the captain.

South Africa are in that moment now: Ottis Gibson, Russell Domingo’s replacement, is scheduled to arrive in Mzansi tomorrow.

Then the rebuilding will begin …

“The captain and the coach are trying to get the same message across, and that breeds confidence,” Domingo said. “If varied messages are coming across it can create uncertainty about how to go about things.

“It’s probably the most important relationship in the group — to make sure the two of you stay unified even when things are not going well. So that you always come across in a controlled, calm manner and are always supporting each other when there are tough situations around.”

The bond needs compatibility if it is even to form properly, nevermind grow and strengthen.

“There’s no doubt that the better you get on personally with the coach or the captain the easier it is to buy into his understanding and reasoning, whereas if the mutual respect isn’t there it’s very easy to find fault and criticise and cause conflict,” Domingo said.

Then what?

“The team is more important than the relationship between the coach and the captain. So if there is disharmony you’ve both got to be professional enough for that not to be exposed in front of the team or in a public space.

“Those type of conflicts can be dealt with behind closed doors, and you need to have differences of opinion and different ideas. But that needs to happen privately.”

Happily, then, South Africa’s dressingroom is a more welcoming place than it might have been a few years ago, when figures of the stature of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher roamed the place like the giants they were, dispensing wisdom and justice as they went.

“The core leadership of the team are really good people,” Domingo said. “They all have good value systems, they all try and live their lives in a professional and disciplined ways.”

He rattled off a list of names to bolster his point. Among them was that of AB de Villiers, who has opted not to play in South Africa’s last 15 tests but will be back in whites against India and Australia in the new year.

Du Plessis himself has said the test team didn’t expect to see De Villiers in their midst again, which might make for an awkward reunion.

But a player of De Villiers’ calibre looms as a key part of South Africa’s recovery and rehabilitation in the wake of their poor performance in England this winter.

“To have that type of batsman in the middle order and working with and playing with some of the younger players is a massive benefit,” Domingo said. “If I was the coach I would welcome him back with open arms.”

Gibson no doubt will. How he gets on with De Villiers will be almost as important as his partnership with Du Plessis.

It’s a love triangle with a difference, and it means everything to South Africa’s immediate future.

Easy like Sunday morning for Negewo at Cape Town Marathon

TMG Digital


AT 10 minutes and one second past 9am on a perfect spring Sunday, Asefa Negewo slowed to a walk, crossed himself, strolled another hundred metres, crossed himself a couple more times, stopped, turned around to face the way from whence he had come, took off his shoes, and waited for the second man home in the Cape Town Marathon.

The Ethiopian had earned the right to take things easy like Sunday morning by winning the race for the second year running.

Negewo didn’t have long to wait. A minute and five seconds after he crossed the line he welcomed his compatriot, Ketema Negasa, with open, albeit sweaty, arms. Kenya’s Duncan Maiyo was third, a further 20 seconds back.

The winner hit the front after 35 kilometres and never looked back.

“Nobody challenged me and I was able to run at my own pace,” Negewo said.

Last year, he won in a record time of 2:08:41. What slowed him down this time?

“Last year the weather was perfect and the pacemaker was doing a good job and going the right pace,” Negewo said with an interpreter’s help.

“The pacemakers last year went in front and we saw them and followed them. This year we didn’t see them — they were fluctuating, going up and down.

“I think they wanted to win themselves instead of setting the pace.

“The weather also held me back; after 15 or 21 kilometres there was a wind.”

Problems with the pacesetters — Henry Kiplagat and Desmond Mokgobu — weren’t the only organisational challenges the event faced.

Reports from the road said the lead bike in the 10 kilometre race took a wrong turn and guided the field astray, resulting in the route being shortened by approximately 200 metres.

Another Ethiopian, Betelhem Cherenet, fought off the attentions of Namibia’s Helalia Johannes to win the women’s marathon by a scant six seconds.

Johannes led at halfway and, wouldn’t you know it, she was a pacesetter.

The first South African to earn the applause of the small but enthusiastic crowd that had gathered at the finish in Greenpoint was Elroy Gelant, the Olympic 5000 metre runner who had taken on, and conquered, his first marathon to claim fifth place.

Was the race as difficult as he thought it would be?

“Yes,” Gelant gulped through mouthfuls of much-needed air.

Would he run it again?


Nothing like a positive attitude.