The real reason we should feel for Kevin Anderson

If you’ve had anything to do with junior sport from the outside, you’ve seen bad parenting.

Times Select


YOU had to feel for Kevin Anderson. Not for taking 21 hours and one minute to reach the Wimbledon final only to crash and burn against Novak Djokovic in two hours and 19 minutes, less than a 10th of the time he spent chasing his dream on the most famous lawns in sport.

Not for blowing his chance to catch that dream thanks to uncharacteristic nervousness and fatigue after taking six hours and 36 minutes — and 99 games — to overcome John Isner in their semi-final.

Not for having fewer than 40 hours to recover from that match to face Djokovic, who after Roger Federer is the most complete player in tennis.

Not for beating Federer in the quarter-finals, where he survived a match point to win another five-setter.

Not for being able to take with him on his travels his wife, Kelsey O’Neal, who organises and manages almost everything he might need.

Not for having his dog, Lady Kady, as part of his touring entourage.

Certainly not for taking his career earnings to US$13 143 481. That’s R173 493 949 in Monday’s money. And 20 cents.

Why you had to feel for Anderson became apparent from his explanation for how, at 24-24 and love-15 in the fifth set against Isner, having slipped and fallen over in returning a booming serve, he somehow got to his feet and picked up his racquet in time to play his a forehand — using his left hand.

“I’ve hit a lot of left-handed balls throughout my life,” Anderson told a television interviewer after the match.

“I had surgery when I was quite young and my dad, who coached me growing up and has done right throughout my career, he was like, ‘Let’s play left-handed’.

The operation was done on Anderson’s right elbow and might have kept him off the court for several months.

“I didn’t know that was going to come into play at this point in my career, but that was a vital point for me in the end,” Anderson said.

Tennis nerds were agog with admiration. Others would have heard something darker in those words.  

Pause. Rewind: “I had surgery when I was quite young and my dad, who coached me growing up and right throughout my career, he was like, ‘Let’s play left-handed’.”

So, the kid’s had an operation and his father sends him right back out there to hit the ball using his wrong hand?

Perhaps after watching movies featuring heartless sergeant majors?  

What kind coaching is that?

What kind of parenting is that?

The kind that, if you’ve had anything to do with junior sport from the outside — for instance, as a sports journalist — you’ve seen too many times.

Swimming parents are the worst, perhaps because they harbour some primordial anxiety about their children being in water and thus being in danger of drowning.

Or perhaps because they can’t stand the possibility of some other kid being faster than theirs; that that would be pissing in their own corner of the gene pool.

I made the mistake, years ago, of talking to a promising swimmer’s mother in the course of writing a feature on her son, who was on a scholarship in the US.

Next thing I knew, I opened my front door to see her in a car parked across the road — how she knew where I lived I never found out — and months after the piece was published she was knocking at the same door with a Christmas present.

Any individual sport is a breeding environment for these sorts of parents. Team sports manage to avoid them, mostly, but you only have to watch a schools rugby match and see all the touchline coaching that goes on — much of it not publishable on a family website — to know that isn’t generally true.

It could, of course, be that Michael Anderson was being a good father and a good coach; that a week or two after the operation he had a frustrated youngster on his hands and, having waited for his elbow to heal to some degree, sent him back onto the court under strict orders to be careful and under no circumstances to use his right arm.

It could be exactly that, and you hope it is. But you still have to feel for Anderson. What kind of kid has nothing in his life but tennis, who is presumably willing to risk further injury — from, say, a fall — rather than stay off the court and read Gordon Forbes’ “A Handful of Summers”?

Again, it might not be like that: Anderson seems a well-adjusted adult with a lot to live for beyond the white lines.

But plenty of tennis players are not. Watch them plod through their press conferences — head down, shoulders terminally hunched and offering monosyllabic answers — and it’s obvious that they’re socially inept zombies.

Even those in their 20s and 30s look like nothing so much as sullen children who have been told they aren’t allowed to swing a racquet until their elbow is strong enough.

Maybe they should go out there and try the other arm …


CSA won’t say why they rejected US$70-million for troubled T20 league

TMG Digital


NOT only did Cricket South Africa (CSA) reject an offer to earn US$70-million for 11 years from their troubled T20 league, they didn’t say why.

Instead, CSA are trying to reinvent the competition and have acquired SuperSport as a minority shareholder in that cause.

No other details on the new tournament, which was to have been played last November and December and was postponed for a year when CSA discovered it would lose millions because of the lack of a broadcaster and sponsors, have been revealed. 

And that as four of the eight owners of the original franchises have expressed their unhappiness with the board’s handling of the situation, three of them threatening legal action.

One of those owners, Hiren Bhanu of the Pretoria Mavericks, told TMG Digital he proposed to pay CSA US$70-million — the equivalent, at Tuesday’s exchange rate, of R926 450 000 — to own and run the league for 11 years. CSA would thus bear none of the financial risks. 

Bhanu, a UK-based Indian businessman, made his offer in March, and says communication he had with board members and executives indicated it would be positively received.

But he says he was never given the chance to make a presentation to the board in person.

In June he received a letter, which has been seen by TMG Digital, from CSA’s then acting chief executive, Thabang Moroe.

“The CSA board and its members’ council has considered your proposal to privatise the league for a definite period in exchange for a guaranteed fee to CSA,” Moroe wrote.

“Much as all the proposals that were received were compelling and well-presented, including yours, unfortunately they were not favorably considered.”

Since then, Bhanu says, “I have yet to be given a reason why.”

Asked directly on Monday why Bhanu had been turned down, CSA reiterated what was already known instead of answering the question.

“CSA has in writing thanked all prospective buyers for their interest in the league and have also communicated their decision in selecting the SS [SuperSport] equity model,” the board’s statement read.

Bhanu became involved with the league after it emerged that Osman Osman, who had been named as the Mavericks’ owner, did not have the US$50-million required to own a franchise for 10 years, as per the competition’s original rules.

Haroon Lorgat and Venu Nair, Bhanu says, asked him to step into the breach.

Lorgat lost his job as CSA’s chief executive in the fallout from the failure of the tournament’s inaugural edition, and it seems CSA have cut ties with Nair, whose newly formed company, Ortus Sport and Entertainment, had been tasked with selling the rights for the event.

Osman has retained a small share in the Mavericks.

CSA have refunded the owners’ deposits of US$250 000, but with only 3.5% interest, and are trying to sell the competition as a new event.

But half the owners have insist they have not given up their rights to a franchise.

Chandimal gets the chop for most of SA tour

TMG Digital


NOT only will South Africa not have to worry about Dinesh Chandimal for the second Test, they also won’t need to factor Sri Lanka’s captain into their plans for the first four of the five one-day internationals that will follow the series.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) said on Monday Chandimal, along with Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha and manager Asanka Gurusinha, had been banned for both Tests — which they withdrew from voluntarily — and four ODIs on charges of “conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game”.

That follows Sri Lanka’s refusal to take the field at the start of a day’s play in a Test against West Indies in St Lucia last month when they discovered Chandimal had been charged with ball-tampering — leading to play being delayed for two hours.

The Lankans appealled, even though they pled guilty, and Monday’s heavy sanctions were handed down by the ICC after a hearing on Wednesday conducted by an independent judicial commissioner, Michael Beloff (QC).

South Africa had some bad news of their own to digest in the form of Tabraiz Shamsi returning home for what team management said were “family reasons”.

The left-arm wrist spinner’s performance in the first Test in Galle, where he bowled tightly and creatively for his match figures of 4/128, was one of the few highlights for the visitors in a game in which they were dismissed for 126 — then their lowest total in Sri Lanka — and 73 — their worst batting display in the 254 Tests they have played since re-admission. Sri Lanka won by 278 runs before tea on the third day.

Asked if the problem was mental or technical, South Africa batting coach Dale Benkenstein was quoted as saying in a Cricket South Africa release on Monday: “It is a combination of both. Technically you have to have faced a spinning ball; there are few things technically that you have to adjust to. 

“I would say 90 percent is about being tough mentally; being used to the ball spinning past the bat.”

“We were weak on that side. When you have had a lot of Test cricket you are ready for the pressures and we were a bit low on that.”

The second Test starts in Colombo on Friday. What will South Africa do to try to level a now, for them, unwinnable series?

“All the players take responsibility, as well as the coaches,” Benkenstein was quoted as saying.

“It is not a big gap. It may seem like it with the result but if we put all the things right we will be on the money in Colombo.”

But don’t expect the South Africans to take to the nets for extra training sessions.

“These players have practised very hard,” Benkenstein was quoted as saying. “I don’t believe practices are going to make a huge amount of difference.

“Mentally there are a few things we have to put right — we have to remind ourselves that we are back in Test match mode; it is tough.

“We have two more days in Colombo to prepare for the next Test.

“It is not the end of the world.”

Nothing happens ‘despacito’ as SA crash in Galle

In a sense Rangana Herath broke Shaun Pollock’s record before Dale Steyn.

Sunday Times


SOMEWHERE during South Africa’s implosion amid a myriad small explosions of dust on Galle’s parched pitch on Saturday, the strains of “Despacito” oozed out of the low-slung ground’s public address system.

You needed a smidgen of Spanish to get the joke, which possibly was accidental: “despacito” translates to “slowly”.

Nothing happened slowly on the third day of the first Test.

Except, that is, the bowling — by Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan, spinners all, and the architects of South Africa’s crash to defeat by 278 runs 15 minutes before tea.

The visitors’ second innings was done and, yes, dusted in 28.5 overs — their shortest innings on the sub-continent — in which they were dismissed for 73, their lowest total in the 254 Tests they have played since readmission and their 11th lowest in 426 matches overall.

Perera, the off-spinner, took a career-best 6/32 to complete a match bag of 10/78. In a team where bowlers have delivered 22 hauls of more than 10 wickets — 21 of them by Muttiah Muralitharan or Herath, the other by Chaminda Vaas — Perera’s effort ranked 23rd on the honour role.

Left-armer Herath claimed five wickets in the game, which took him to 423 in his career. Or two more than Shaun Pollock.

“Now I’m in the departure lounge,” Pollock said on commentary when the list of all-time leading wicket-takers appeared on screen and showed Herath had bumped him down to 10th place.

Another joke: Herath’s three wickets on Saturday meant he stole some of the thunder from Dale Steyn, who had Sandakan caught at point to end Sri Lanka’s second innings earlier on Saturday and draw level with Pollock’s career total of 421.

In a sense, then, Herath has broken Pollock’s record before Steyn.

Besides Herath and Perera, Sandakan was the only bowler Sri Lanka required on Saturday. The left-arm wrist spinner sent down only five deliveries, but that was all he needed to trap Tabraiz Shamsi in front with a googly to end the match.

Vernon Philander’s unbeaten 22 was the highest score in an innings in which Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock were the only other players in double figures, and in which no-one faced 50 balls.

About the best thing you could say about South Africa’s tentative, clumsy, inept batting on a standard sub-continental surface was that only Hashim Amla and Kagiso Rabada were dismissed for ducks.

Coming off more than 14 weeks without playing a Test, and with just 73.5 overs worth of batting acclimatisation behind them in a tour match in Colombo, were the South Africans under-cooked?

“You always want to put in as much preparation as you can, but no matter how much you train the quality that you’re going to get in the middle of the spinners isn’t something that you can practise in the nets,” Faf du Plessis told a television interviewer.

“As much as you hit balls — and the guys have hit a lot of balls leading up to this series — the quality of the spin and, in this Test match, how well they controlled things was fantastic.”

With the second Test in Colombo starting on Friday, there is no time for South Africa to do any of the required repair work “despacito”.

Even Justin Bieber could have told them that.

Come in No. 4: Temba Bavuma’s time is now

“There’s no real difference between batting at No. 3, 4, 5 or six. It’s more about summing up the situation and playing according to that, whether it is attacking or playing defensively to take the game forward.” – Jacques Kallis

Sunday Times


THE last question was answered with the same seriousness and thoughtfulness as all the others. A recording device was turned off. The interview was over.

In that twilight zone between what’s on the record and what’s off, when all that’s left to say is thank you and goodbye, interviewees are often disarmingly honest with their interviewers.

So it was that we agreed, sitting on the boundary at The Oval in London on a bright afternoon just about a year ago, that it would be good if, one day, what was said and written about him could be concerned with cricket and nothing else.

One day, maybe …

That day might have dawned in Galle on Friday, just less than half-an-hour after the start of the second day’s play in the first test.

The moment was heralded when Dean Elgar tried to force Dilruwan Perera, the off-spinner, through mid-on and instead steered a wretched edge to first slip.

Come in South Africa’s new No. 4, your time is up.

With that Temba Bavuma, the immediate successor in that key position to AB de Villiers, who followed Jacques Kallis, whose predecessors include Daryll Cullinan, Graeme Pollock and Dave and Dudley Nourse, rose and took the next few steps in his complex journey as a cricketer and a South African in an age when sport and society are more intertwined than ever.

Bavuma is always black. Sometimes he is also a black batsman. But, in the South African consciousness, he is never allowed to be simply a batsman.

Perhaps the closest he has come, so far, to that state of grace was on Friday, when all that mattered was how the hell anyone — black, white, whatever — could fill the giant hole De Villiers left.

For once, it was all about sport.

Bavuma tried hard to answer that question in the 33 deliveries he faced, a promising innings that ended when he swept once to often — and that time raggedly — at Lakshan Sandakan, the left-arm wrist spinner. The ball jagged off his sidewinding bat onto his stumps: gone for 17.

Only Faf du Plessis, Vernon Philander and Hashim Amla faced more deliveries than Bavuma and only Du Plessis and Philander scored more runs in what became South Africa’s lowest total in Sri Lanka: 126.

But only Bavuma had to bat between the rock and the hard place that is No. 4.

What’s that like?

“There’s no real difference between batting at No. 3, 4, 5 or six. It’s more about summing up the situation and playing according to that, whether it is attacking or playing defensively to take the game forward.”

That’s Kallis. Having had more innings at No. 4 — 170 — and scored more runs in that position — 9 033 — than any other South African, he should know.

Peter Kirsten, who had 10 of his 22 test innings at No. 4, offered a holistic view: “It’s normally reserved for your most effective batsman; I would say the genius type — like Graeme Pollock and AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis.

“Batting at No. 4 allows you to display all your defensive and attacking talents.

“In AB’s case it was about keeping the scoring rate high. Pollock was the same, Kallis was different, and Joe Root does that well for England.

“It’s about enabling your most gifted batsman to try and get the innings going after the loss of two early or two later wickets.”

Was Bavuma, whose technique and temperament are solid but needs to show more enterprise at the crease, a good fit for the job?

“Nobody’s going to be able to emulate AB or Graeme Pollock,” Kirsten said. “So Temba’s got a hell of a job to do, but he’s been playing well and no-one should compare him to those guys, especially AB, who leaves a huge gap in any form of cricket.

“Temba has a good stance and he’s very stable at the crease, but he doesn’t have the array of shots that AB had — nobody does.”

If not Bavuma, who?

“Somebody’s got to try and display a little bit of flair,” Kirsten said. “Faf could do it. Hashim now becomes the key, with his genius.

“I would look to put Faf at 4 and Temba at 5, or maybe Hashim at 4.”

Bavuma and everyone who dares to play cricket at a level where their performances are analysed by many they will never meet know that they will have to answer many questions like those put by Kirsten, and keep answering them in a manner that satisfies more often than not.

That comes with the territory wherever you bat, and whichever team you’re part of. But, as South Africans focus on their new No. 4, one match into his tenure, they must give him room to breathe.

And deserves his chance to be a batsman. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Leading Edge: Nothing’s unclear about ball-tampering

You know what’s allowed and what isn’t. Because your opinion differs from the rules doesn’t mean clarity is required. It means you don’t agree with the rules.

Sunday Times


IT’S difficult not to like Faf du Plessis: intelligent, articulate, engaging, affable, a batsman of backbone and balls, a captain at once inspired and inspiring, a man so likeable the Australians made a concerted effort to dislike him when he toured there in 2015.

What’s not to like? This.

“I think it’s important to say that I’m not clear yet on that matter [of ball-tampering],” Du Plessis told reporters in Sri Lanka a few days ago.

“The ICC [International Cricket Council] has made the penalties a lot more strict, but they still haven’t said what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.

“Is chewing gum allowed? Is it not? Are you allowed mints in your mouth?

“As Hashim Amla said, he likes putting sweets in his mouth when he spends a long time in the field. So there’s nothing wrong with it.

“For me, I need clarity still. I’m looking forward to speaking to the umpires before the game to make sure there’s clarity. I’m sure that Dinesh would as well.

“We know now that the penalties are much harsher. So what we do with the ball now? As we’ve seen with Australia, things like that, the penalties are going to be much harsher. We expect that we will see less of that in the game.

“Ball-tampering is a serious offence. If you put something in your mouth and you shine the ball, it’s not as serious; that’s just my opinion.

“But at least there is that penalty now, so when someone has the opportunity to …  has a decision to make on ‘am I going to try and do something with the ball’, the penalties that are there now are going to make them think twice.

“So hopefully we will see that part of the game move a little bit in a different way.”

For a smart man Du Plessis has taken an unusually disingenuous stance on this issue, and that will not serve him well.

Nothing is unclear about the fact that applying an artificial substance on the ball is against what cricket calls its “laws”.

If you can control what goes onto the ball — by, for instance, not using your saliva to polish it if you are chewing gum or eating sweets or mints, or have recently taken a slug of an energy drink rather than water — then do so.

If you can’t — the players’ sweat that gets onto the ball is likely to be muddled with sunscreen — then don’t and leave the ICC to rewrite its rules accordingly when the inadequacies of the current set are made plain.

You know what’s allowed and what isn’t, and just because your opinion differs from the rules doesn’t mean more clarity is required. It means you don’t agree with the rules.

Until they are changed, and even once they are, you are going to have to abide by them or not be caught breaking them.

And if you are caught you have to accept the stipulated punishment of find something else to do for a living.

Not that Du Plessis is the only villain of this piece. The game he mentioned is the first test in Galle, and “Dinesh” is Dinesh Chandimal, who would have captained Sri Lanka had he not stood down in anticipation of being hit with a ban by the ICC on a charge of conduct contrary to the spirit of the game by holding up play for two hours in a test in St Lucia in June for arguing with the umpires about their allegations of, yes, ball-tampering.

What a mess. Chandimal deserves his smack upside the head: he’s too old and should be too grown up to throw the kind of tantrum that delays proceedings in a test. But the ICC, too, are in the wrong.

Having been embarrassed by Cricket Australia’s hysterical over-reaction to what Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft got up to at Newlands in March, the suits’ knees jerked and, earlier this month, the maximum penalty for ball-tampering soared from a test or two one-day internationals to six tests and a dozen ODIs.

Some common sense wouldn’t have gone amiss: allow bowlers and fielders to use whatever they may reasonably take onto the field to do whatever to the ball. So spit — sugary or not — fingernails, teeth and even boot spikes wouldn’t a problem but sandpaper would.


SA’s guard changes under Galle Fort ramparts

Dale Steyn’s greatness hasn’t been in doubt for a long time. But neither is Kagiso Rabada’s shot at greatness.

TMG Digital


THE guard has been changed tens of thousands of times under the ramparts of Galle Fort since it was built 430 years ago, but perhaps never like it was on Thursday.

If, indeed, that’s what happened after lunch on the opening day of the Test series between Sri Lanka and South Africa. 

Sri Lanka had faced 34 overs, the last of them bowled by Dale Steyn — who then held up a hand towards the dressingroom and twirled his fingers horizontally: substitute required.

He tapped a hamstring as he made his way towards the boundary, and onto the field came Theunis de Bruyn.

During the morning session, after reaching for his shoulder, Steyn had been replaced by Heinrich Klaasen.

Tabraiz Shamsi trundled towards the fort for the next six balls before Kagiso Rabada took over from Steyn — and found Angelo Mathews’ edge with his first delivery, a sniping away swinger that nestled untroubled in Quinton de Kock’s gloves.

Lesser bowlers rudely awakened from their snooze between spells might have answered the call with a loosener. Rabada, ever-ready, ever-sharp, ever-hungry, is no-one’s idea of a lesser bowler.

Two balls after removing Silva he speared the most effective kind of bouncer — aimed not at the head but at chest height — at Roshen Silva, whose inadequate fend flew off the shoulder of his bat to short leg, where Aiden Markram tumbled to his right to hold a fine catch.

Along with offering a lesson in how to deliver when your team is in a tight spot, Rabada might have hastened the moment Faf du Plessis was talking about on Wednesday: “Dale has been the spearhead, but I think ‘KG’ will take over that mantle. He’s got the skill, he’s got the pace and he’s got the control to do well in all conditions around the world.”

Rabada had found the first chink in the Lankans’ armour — the left-handed Danushka Gunathilaka edged a ball angled across him to De Kock — after Sri Lanka’s openers had successfully negotiated most of the initial hour.

Throughout his 14 overs, in which he earned 4/50, Rabada bowled with the enthusiasm and commitment to back up Du Plessis’ words, and more.

Rabada also took the catch, at mid-on, that left Steyn needing just two more scalps to become South Africa’s most prolific wicket-taker.

Steyn’s greatness hasn’t been in doubt for a long time. But neither is Rabada’s shot at greatness.

On Thursday’s evidence Steyn has returned from a couple of broken shoulders and a heel injury as a fading force. But he has a good few more than two wickets left in his 35-year-old body, which has taken him to heights people of his physical stature are not supposed to reach. 

Rabada is also coming back from living with pain, caused in his case by a spinal stress problem. The key difference between his body, which is indeed in the mould of the classic fast bowler, is his is a dozen years younger.

“Coming into this Test match I wasn’t feeling confident — not feeling bad but not feeling good,” he said in a television interview to Shaun Pollock, whose record Steyn is set to break.

It’s not difficult to imagine, years from now Rabada giving a similar interview, perchance to Steyn, with a fully loaded young gun looking on in awe and many more watching at home.

It’s a thought neither bad nor good, but it should give us confidence about the state of fast bowling in South Africa.