DURBAN – There is a strange thing happening in Johannesburg this week. A schools cricket festival, featuring some of the best cricketing nurseries in the country is in full swing.
That is not the strange bit, mind you. The schools are at the Fasken Time Cricket Festival, hosted by St David’s Marist Inanda. Far from the usual fare of 50-over cricket, sprinkled with some T20 matches, this festival is playing old-fashioned cricket.
They are taking their time.
“We need more ‘time matches’ in our cricket, to expose our youngsters to the nuances of the ultimate format early on. It’s great that the schools we invited this year have brought into the concept,” St Davids Director of Cricket, Dave Nosworthy, explained.
Nosworthy is a highly respected name in cricket, having coached in franchise and the county game. His influence now, however, is at the critical stage of high-school cricket, where stars of the future come into bloom.
“This is the original format of the game, and it is very exciting to see players being tested in a different way. Walking around, and seeing captains trying different tactics, and batsmen settling in for long innings - that is what we want to see.”
On the opening morning of the festival, on Thursday, Proteas and Titans keeper/batsman Heinrich Klaasen spoke to the eight school teams. Klaasen has made a name for himself as a hard-hitting middle-order batsman, but his words of wisdom emphasised where his priorities lie.
“It was wonderful having Klaasen speak to the boys, and he told them how every single player in the Proteas squad is so proud of their baggy green cap. That (Test cricket) is the format that they care about the most, because it is a true test of all your skills,” Nosworthy reiterated.
“Back in the day, there used to be an Under 19 three-day competition in our system, but that fell away a few years ago. The current crop of first-class is missing something without it, because it introduced young players to the demands of the first-class game at an early stage.
“If you take it further, our current Test side is not as strong as it used to be, and that might also have to do with not playing enough of this format. It would be great to see (three-day competition) return, and also for schools to adopt time cricket into their season,” Nosworthy challenged.
Certainly, the concept of playing for time as opposed to chasing run-rates is a shift in mindset. It takes a different state of mind to face out several maidens, and not give in to the pressure of keeping the scoreboard ticking.
“This format teaches patience. As a bowler, you want to build pressure, and as a batter, you want to see the new ball off. It is all about pressure; how you absorb it when under the cosh, and then how you add pressure when you are on top,” Nosworthy pointed out.
Another crucial element of the game that ‘time cricket’ encourages is the use of, and the playing of spin. Often, in limited overs cricket, spinners are only as good as their last over, and whisked off as soon as batsmen try to get on top of them.
It is a South African default to favour pace instead of spin, and the by-product of that is batsmen who don’t face nearly enough slow bowling in their youth. With festivals such as these, spinners have a bigger role to play in matches, and captains are challenged to learn how to use them and get the best out of them.
“It was very interesting to see the bulk of the overs were bowled by spin on the first day,” Nosworthy noted.
“They took wickets, bowled long spells and they were in the game. This is a good way to build up our spin bowling, but it also exposes batters to longer periods of time in the middle playing against spin. This time of year provides pitches that are a bit on the low and slow side, and that encourages spin, too.”
Nosworthy said the success of this format at schools level depended a lot on his fellow coaches buying into the idea, which he sprouted last year.
“The guys coaching these schools have great pedigree. They have played first-class cricket, and know what is demanded there. So once the coaches bought into it, it was an easy sell.”
T20 cricket, for all its entertainment value, doesn’t breed the type of player who can play across all formats. Grinding it out and even finding joy in holding on for a draw are traits that hold a lot of water in the paid ranks.
“The coaches had to sell it to their players, who have been bred mainly on limited overs. This takes them back to the basics, and they all seem to love it. They enjoy the chance to bat as long as they want, and the bowlers relish the chance of having a few spells in a day,” Nosworthy said encouragingly.
In the long run, that can only be a good thing for South African cricket.