CAPE TOWN – Shaun Pollock? Dale Steyn? Or even Makhaya Ntini? Not for Cape Cobras seamer Mthiwekhaya Nabe.
“We didn’t have much access to things like SuperSport and all of that,” Nabe says in response to the question of who his cricketing hero was growing up.
That honour instead belongs to his cousin Mongzi Nabe. “We used to idolise him. He bowled gas!”
Unlike many of his city-slicker Cobras teammates, Nabe’s childhood memories were nurtured in Healdtown in the rural Eastern Cape – the same place where Nelson Mandela learnt to box and Robert Sobukwe and Govan Mbeki were educated.
More pertinently for Nabe, though, Healdtown is a “cricket-loving community”, and home to the Ngumbela Cricket Tournament.
Started in 1989 by local entrepreneur Mthetheleli Ngumbela to prevent “fighting and drunkenness” over the festive period in the area, the tournament now attracts over 5 000 people, which includes luminaries such as Cricket South Africa president Chris Nezani and acting CEO Thabang Moroe.
They missed a day at this year’s Newlands New Year’s Test against India to attend the final at Ngumbela Park.
“That is what basically inspired me to play cricket. If you come from Healdtown, it is a big stage to play on – because you know that if your team plays in the final, you get to play at the ‘proper’ stadium in front of your entire community. That’s where it all started for me,” Nabe says.
It is vividly evident that the soft-spoken 22-year-old is proud of his heritage.
It helps him appreciate even more his current journey, one that began when he packed his bags to pursue a degree in Sports Management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology upon matriculating at Winterburg Agricultural High School.
Not even in Nabe’s wildest dreams could he have believed how his career path would be accelerated so quickly this season – being drafted from the Western Province amateur team to playing at Newlands in the Momentum One-Day Cup semi-final, on SuperSport nogal, and finishing up as the Cobras’ leading wicket-taker in the competition.
“It is all still a bit difficult to believe. I remember getting a call-up for the four-day stuff with the Cobras. I was very nervous.
“I remember waking up very early at the hotel that day. That’s unlike me. I was sitting in the room... nervous... sjoe sjoe... and I was like ‘This is it’...” Nabe explained.
“After that, I didn’t know where I needed to go at training. Should I go to the Cobras or should I go to Province?
“I was called in to a meeting, and then I was told I was in the T20 squad. That was overwhelming... it was T20... a batsmen’s game!
“But it turned out okay. The skipper (JP Duminy) sat me down and we worked on a few plans, in terms of setting fields for every ball and how to make a batsman hit you where you want him to hit you,” he added.
It certainly went better than “okay”.
He claimed eight wickets in the competition – with only Proteas seamer Dane Paterson edging Nabe by one scalp in the Cobras team – before enjoying an even better run in the One-Day Cup.
Again he went head-to-head with Paterson, with both seamers finishing with 17 wickets to power the Cobras to the playoffs.
Top cricket officials from CSA & BCCI at The Ngumbela Rural Cricket Final. pic.twitter.com/GBaURi9WOI
Nabe has certainly appreciated the support that senior players like Duminy and Paterson provided, but it’s the “big fella” Rory Kleinveldt for whom he has the greatest admiration.
“Rory is the guy who puts the plans in place. It’s almost like he tells you what to do, and when to do it. Most of the time it works,” Nabe chirped.
“Seriously though, he is the guy who helps with the lines and lengths. He has been very good in that.
“The team environment has also been a really good atmosphere to come into. The team knows when to chill and when to switch on.
“Coachie (Ashwell Prince) has also been really good. His communication is really good because everyone’s roles are clearly defined. I really feel the team backs each other a lot.”
The season is not over for Nabe just yet, though.
He still has a prominent role to play in the Cobras’ four-day campaign from next week, while he also has the National Academy too look forward to in the winter.
Healdtown may have been the start of Mthiwekhaya Nabe’s cricket journey, but he now has the whole world at his feet.