T20 centurions cleared for take-off

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

AN 18-year-old Reeza Hendricks couldn’t quite believe what his television was showing him on April 18, 2008.

Not that he had a choice. That really was Brendon McCullum on screen, and he really was raising his bat to acknowledge the roar of approval for scoring a century.

And he really was wearing purple kit, gold pads and a gold helmet.

“I was in shock,” Hendricks said on Tuesday. “I asked myself, ‘How did he manage to do that?’.”

Not submit to purple and gold gear, but score the century, which grew to an undefeated 158.

Hendricks’ question was prompted by the fact that McCullum had scored his ton for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the opening match of the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL).

A century! In a T20!

Actually, Chris Gayle beat the New Zealander to it at international level with his 117 for West Indies against South Africa at the Wanderers on September 11, 2007.

But, as with most things T20, what happens in the IPL remains uppermost in many memories.

On Sunday, more than nine years on, Hendricks provided his own answer to his question by scoring 102 not out for  the Lions against the Dolphins in Potchefstroom.

So, how did he manage to do that?

“There’s not much of a difference [batting in a T20 compared to other formats], except that you’re looking to hit boundaries more often.

“You’re intent on picking gaps in the field rather than trying to hit sixes, and your intensity has to be high.”

McCullum’s century was the first of 47 scored in the IPL to date and there have been 28 tons in T20 internationals.

Gayle blasted his trailblazer in the 20th international, and in all there have been 631 games in the format at the highest level.

So, even in a phenomenon as obsessed with excess and reinvention as T20, centuries are hard to find. Thus far, only 4.4374% of internationals in the format have featured a hundred.

But Hendricks warned there were many more to come: “The game’s evolving and that’s the way it’s going to keep going.”

Indeed, Hendricks’ ton wasn’t even the first of this season’s T20s in South Africa.

That distinction belongs to Sarel Erwee, who made 103 not out for the Dolphins against the Cobras in Centurion a week earlier.

Erwee also retained bright memories McCullum’s 2008 effort.

“That was unbelievable hitting, and it opened a lot of people’s eyes as to where the game was going,” Erwee said on Tuesday.

He was in the Lions’ side that was on the receiving end of Hendricks’ heroics on Sunday, and he knew early where that game was going: “The way he hit the ball from ball one, I thought, ‘If he gets in here he can get a hundred’ …”

Another milestone was passed on Tuesday when Beth Mooney, an Australian, and England’s Dani Wyatt became the first two players to score centuries in the same women’s T20.

That’s right — not the first women’s T20 centuries. In fact, six tons have been scored in women’s the 393 T20 internationals women have played. Two of them belong to West Indian Deandra Dottin.

One of these mad seasons, a century may not be anything special — not if Mohit Ahlawat’s 72-ball 300 for the Maavi XI, a semi-professional team, against the Friends XI in Delhi in February is a reliable indicator of the future.

Ahlawat’s feat earned him a trial with the Delhi Daredevils, but nothing more. At 21, he can afford to wait.

But will T20 wait for him?

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Why Benkenstein is SA’s most important coach

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

DALE Benkenstein has spent a good chunk of his first few days as South Africa’s batting coach in hospital, not as a patient but as a parent.

The announcement on Thursday of his appointment coincided with his daughter coming down with a virulent stomach bug, and he has been running shuttles from boundary to bedpost.

“She’s so small and she got dehydrated, but she’s fine now,” Benkenstein said on Monday.

That tells us, we’d like to think, that he has his priorities straight.

He needs them to be. For all the fuss made — justifiably — about Malibongwe Maketa being named Ottis Gibson’s assistant, Benkenstein is the most important member of the support staff.

Batting was South Africa’s achilles heel in their test series in England this winter, with Dean Elgar scoring their sole century and just 13 half-centuries recorded in the visitors’ 81 trips to the crease.

Not that England did much better, registering two tons and 14 half-centuries from 86 innings.

But the English got their ducks in a row — or not, if you like — more often than not to win the series 3-1.

That marked South Africa’s first defeat in the four rubbers they have played in England in the past 13 years.

Not that Benkenstein thought he had inherited a weak line-up.

“There’s a nice combination of senior guys and then there are talented youngsters coming through,” he said.

But, he cautioned, matters might not improve immediately — at least on the test front.

“Test cricket is a hell of a tough game. Looking at one-day cricket, I can see someone like [Aiden] Markram coming in and making a big difference straight away.

“But test cricket takes times. Even [Jacques] Kallis needed eight tests to get going.

“Youngsters need to be given a decent run but you need senior players around them to be able to get results, and I do think we’ve got that.

“Khaya Zondo, for instance, is a very good player. He’s really grown as a batsman and he’s a real leader and a good cricketer. Reeza Hendricks is another.

“I’d be stupid if I wasn’t positive, but I really am.”

On top of that, there were extenuating circumstances about South Africa’s performance in England.

They were without AB de Villiers, who opted out of the series, while Faf du Plessis missed the first test to tend to his wife and newborn daughter.

Even England’s batsmen whinged about the conditions, which were among the most challenging experienced in a country where pitches offer seam and swing at the best of times.

And it didn’t help that South Africa arrived knowing Russell Domingo’s days as their coach were numbered.

“There were a few things that weren’t great on that tour,” Benkenstein said.

“The conditions were different and England are quite good. They have experienced new-ball bowlers [in James Anderson and Stuart Broad] — particularly in their home conditions, no-one comes close to their records.

“I thought South Africa were always going to be up against it. They were without AB and, for the first test, Faf, and I don’t think that’s got a lot to do with the batting coach.

“Also, it must have made a difference when CSA [Cricket South Africa] announced Russell’s position before the tour. I can’t see that being fantastic, when you’re unsure of your position.”

More widely, Benkenstein felt that in England “you need a defensive technique and in the modern game defence isn’t a largely spoken of subject”.

His new charges are unlikely to be challenged by Zimbabwe’s bowlers in their four-day test at St George’s Park, which starts on December 26.

But that game will help him build relationships before the real thing starts against India at Newlands on January 5.

“It’s going to take time to find out who these guys really are,” Benkenstein said. “Obviously I know they’re batting and I know the older guys, the ones I’ve played with and against.

“But with some of the younger guys I’ll only have some good information in about six months’ time, once I get to know the okes and have a feel for how things really are.”

Thanks for the time, coach. Now back to the hospital with you.

Where are the Warriors?

Eastern Capers prize a glass. Whether it is half-full or half-empty doesn’t bear thinking about.

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

YOU can take cricket out of the Eastern Cape, but you can’t take the Eastern Cape out of cricket. It is the heartland of the game in this country, regardless of race, colour, creed or anything else.

It’s been 128 years since the first test in South Africa was played at St George’s Park. The president of Cricket South Africa, Chris Nenzani, is a Bhisho history teacher. The national team’s coach, Ottis Gibson, came from Barbados to play for Border in 1992.

Almost a third of the players — 29 of 97 — who have earned test caps since re-admission have strong ties to the Eastern Cape.

But in South Africa’s current squads, in all formats, only one franchise is unrepresented: the Warriors.

“There are certainly Warriors cricketers good enough to be in the national team,” said Piet Botha, who played for Border and coached the Warriors and is now in charge of Eastern Province.

“Jon-Jon [Smuts, who played six T20 internationals between January and June] deserved his call-up and it was quite surprising he got left out, especially after Faf [du Plessis] was injured.

“Simon Harmer took a Kolpak deal and if Colin Ackermann didn’t go that route he would certainly have been good enough to play at the next level. Andrew Birch has come close and played for South Africa A and Colin Ingram is a world class talent.

“Maybe the type of skill they have wasn’t required. Sometimes these things are all about timing; who retires or who gets injured.”

Botha is a transplant from up north — he played for Transvaal’s senior and B teams before moving to East London in 1992 — but he has acquired the Eastern Caper’s acceptance at simply having a glass. Whether it is half-full or half-empty doesn’t bear thinking about.

So the fact that the Warriors are not represented at national level is simply that: a fact.

Was it a worry for Warriors chief executive Mark Williams?

“No,” Williams said. “The infrastructure that should identify talent is there.

“I’m convinced it’s going to happen and there are a few knocking on the door. Another a season or two and some of those players will be serious contenders.”

That’s if they’re still around. The impoverished Eastern Cape has been exporting skills to all parts for centuries.

“Producing players for the Proteas is important for us; we know we’re a factory,” Williams said. “But sometimes it’s better for them to move from an economical perspective.

“We just want to make sure we compete well, and the fact that we ended up in two finals last season is some indication that the player stock out there is pretty good.”

That the Warriors reached both white-ball finals a summer ago was impressive considering they haven’t had a title sponsor for three years.

But the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality puts R6-million a year into the coffers, and there could be news on that horizon.

“We’re pretty choosy about who gets involved,” Williams said. “The last thing I want is to get somebody on board for two years and we have to start the process again.

“We’re looking for a long-term sponsor and we are talking to a few; there is interest.”

There will always be interest in cricket in the Eastern Cape. But will there always be players?

Leading Edge: Now on at a ground near you – David v Goliath

“Listen, fella,” the Israelites captain snaps at David, “if you stand still for much longer people are going to think you’re a bloody statue.”

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

DAVID, as slight as he is short, walks back to his mark swinging his skinny arms as hard as he dares to take his attention off the terrifying thump of his heart. Can it really be that loud?

Many metres away, to the right of the crease, towering above pads almost tall as David and hunched over a bat hewn from most of a decent sized willow tree, is Goliath.

David turns. Stands. Waits. Trembles.

Goliath grunts.

“Holy Moses,” David thinks as he fidgets aimlessly with his field. “What the hell did I have to go and get that Philistines opener out for?”

The Israelites captain gets tetchy and trots over from extra cover. “Listen, fella,” he snaps at David, “if you stand still for much longer people are going to think you’re a bloody statue.”

David knows the game is up, that he doesn’t have 40 years to spend in this wilderness. T20 cricket doesn’t work like that, and he’s going to have to run in and bowl to the monster sooner rather than later.

“Oh well, here goes nothing. What’s my psalm again? Oh yeah …

“The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want …”

David works through his mantra steadily as he runs, and when his left foot hits the ground to take the pace before his delivery stride he ends with, “ … and I will dwell in the house of the lord for ever.”

His right foot hits the crease and his ice-cream stick of a left arm cuts a crescent through the air above his head.

Goliath has cocked his terrible eye and his bat, issued his last grunt and forgotten to breathe.

And he waits …

… Too long! Yorked!

As David got to, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”, he saw the daylight between Goliath’s massive feet and his bat.

It looked as big as a parking space. More than enough, then, to smuggle a cricket ball through and onto stumps that didn’t quite reach up to Goliath’s knees.

An awful roar issues from the giant’s throat as he throws back his massive head in anger and frustration.

David can smell his sulphuric breath as he sprints past him in giddy triumph, teammates in tow. He’ll be up for a few tunes on his lyre in the pub tonight, china …

David slaying Goliath is among sport’s most compelling narratives, and it’s part of what’s making the franchise T20 competition a drawcard.

Aubrey Swanepoel, for instance, has been bowling off-spin for Griquas, Northern Cape and the Knights for more than 10 years.

During that time he has claimed the wickets of Ashwell Prince, David Miller, Colin Ingram, Temba Bavuma and Stiaan van Zyl — facts that are likely to be known only those who are part of the sub-culture that domestic cricket has been relegated to in its continuing separation from the international game.

When the short, slight Swanepoel shambles in to the crease and lets fly with a slinging right arm, you might not think something special could happen.

Aiden Markram probably also didn’t think so when Swanepoel bowled the second ball of the 15th over to him in the Knights game against the Titans in Kimberley on Wednesday, especially as he had put away the offie’s previous offering for four.

But Swanepoel induced a mighty heave from the golden child of South African batting that was caught at deep midwicket — by Swanepoel’s brother, Patrick Kruger, nogal.

And that with a sizeable crowd at the Diamond Oval and an exponentially bigger audience watching on television.

That many would have been at the ground or tuned in principally to see Dale Steyn’s return from a year on the sidelines through injury didn’t matter.

A layer of Swanepoel’s relative obscurity would have been peeled away. More people knew his name; maybe even his nickname: “Appel”.

Except on Wednesday, when it was David.

Steyn, De Villiers, Markram star for Titans

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

DALE Steyn provided evidence of his match fitness, and AB de Villiers and Aiden Markram impressed in the Titans’ seven-wicket T20 win over the Cobras in Centurion on Sunday.

Steyn bowled all his four overs and took 2/16 to help limit the Cobras to 119/9, and the Titans were home with 6.3 overs to spare.

Vernon Philander reduced the Titans to 13/2 after 15 balls of their reply, but Markram and De Villiers righted the home side with a stand of 70.

De Villiers clipped 37 off 22 deliveries and Markram hit the winning single to finish with an unbeaten 51 off 36.

In his return from more than a year out of action with injuries against the Knights in Kimberley on Wednesday, Steyn bowled first change and sent down only three overs — the first of which went for 17 runs.

On Sunday he shared the new ball with Albie Morkel and conceded a couple of singles before dismissing Wayne Parnell with the last ball of his first over.

Temba Bavuma hit Steyn for four in his next over, but that was the only boundary against his name.

Having banked a decent first spell of 1/10 from two overs, Steyn returned in the 16th to remove Qasim Adams with his first delivery.

The Cobras didn’t reach three figures until after they had lost seven wickets, and their piddling total was never going to challenge the Titans’ potent batting line-up.

Even so, a tremor or two would have gone through the home side’s dugout when Philander got rid of Quinton de Kock and Henry Davids a dozen balls part.

But that was the visitors’ only look-in as Farhaan Behardien, who made 16 not out, helped Markram get the job done.

Hendricks hundred wins it for Lions

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

REEZA Hendricks hammered his maiden T20 century to guide the Lions to victory over the Dolphins in Potchefstroom on Sunday.

The Dolphins recovered to 168/6 and Hendricks’ 102 not out off 72 balls helped the Lions win by six wickets.

But all four of the home side’s wickets went down in the space of 10 balls in the last two overs, and they had to sweat it out until the final ball before to clinch their win.

Dolphins dangerman Sarel Erwee, who scored an undefeated 103 against the Titans in Centurion last Sunday, was trapped in front by Bevan Fortuin with the sixth ball of the match, and the visitors crashed to 85/5 in the 12th over.

Morne van Wyk, who hit 42 off 30 balls, kept the visitors’ heads above water while that was happening, and Sibonelo Makhanya’s 46 not out off 32 took them to a reasonable total.

The Lions were cruising it while Rassie van der Dussen and Hendricks were at the crease in their opening stand of 158.

They were separated in the 19th over when Andile Phehlukwayo had Van der Dussen stumped for 57, which he scored off 42 balls.

That left the Lions the reasonable task of scoring 11 runs off the 10 remaining balls.

But Phehlukwayo kept things interesting by having Mangaliso Mosehle caught behind with his next delivery.

The Dolphins veered closer to unlikely glory with consecutive deliveries in the last over, when Robbie Frylinck had Nicky van den Berg caught behind and Dwaine Pretorius was run out.

That left the Lions needing three to win off the ball, which Wiaan Mulder hit for four to settle the issue.

Maketa a tough act to follow

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

MARK Williams has known for a while what was confirmed on Thursday when Malibongwe Maketa was named South Africa’s assistant coach.

That’s only fair on Williams, who as the Warriors’ chief executive has the challenge of replacing a figure who has become central to the success of a franchise that is as rich in gees and commitment as they are poor in big name players.

“The coach has had a lot to with the backbone of the side and the infrastructure behind him has been solid,” Williams said on Friday.

Maketa took over the Eastern Cape side in February 2015, and guided them to the finals of both white-ball tournaments last season.

And the only Warriors player to have cracked the nod with the national selectors in that time to date has been Jon-Jon Smuts, who played six T20 internationals between January and June.

“In the past two seasons we’ve had a robust and meticulous way of developing the team and the way we want the team to play,” Williams said.

“It would help if we have one or two [players] coming through earlier than we would expect, but I’m comfortable with the base we’ve created.

“Our coach has been honoured with the [national] assistant coach’s position but he leaves a good squad and it’s now for me to wrestle with that.”

Williams and the Warriors don’t have to bid Maketa farewell just yet: he will keep the reins until the end of this season’s T20 competition, which concludes on December 16.

Maketa will be able to ease into his new job as his first engagement will be a four-day match against Zimbabwe starting on December 26.

That’s as easy as it gets at international level, and it won’t hurt that the game will be played at St George’s Park, one of the Warriors’ home grounds.

Williams would not be drawn on who might inherit the Warriors tracksuit from Maketa, but Piet Botha — his predecessor and currently the coach of the Eastern province team — declined to rule himself out.

“That’s to be discussed behind closed doors,” Botha said.

Whoever lands the job will have a tough act to follow, not only in following a quality coach but in working out how to win with limited resources.