DURBAN - Little KwaZulu-Natal Inland, based in Pietermaritzburg, made history on Monday, as they completed a trio of domestic first-class trophies, by winning the Africa T20 Cup in Kimberley.
By beating Free State by six wickets, KZN Inland became the first team to win the T20, limited-overs and three-day competitions.
“To be the only team in the country to have all three is something special, especially considering where we have come from,” KZN Inland veteran and hero in the final, Kyle Nipper, grinned on Monday night.
Nipper took 1/25, then guided the team home with a nerveless 38 not out, as KZN Inland nibbled away at the 129-run target set for them on a slow pitch, to emerge victorious by six wickets.
Like so many who have donned the KZN Inland colours, Nipper’s personal story just to be in the final makes for compelling reading.
The pint-sized scrapper epitomises the spirit that runs deep at The Oval, as he juggles work and play to make practices and unforgettable weekends like the one the union has just enjoyed.
“It’s been a long journey, but we have relished the challenge over the years. I didn’t think I would be playing this year, with work and added responsibilities. But (KZN) Inland cricket has always been close to my heart, and I am glad I was able to play a part in this special occasion,” he explained.
And it’s not just Nipper. A bus full of staff from the union - from development coaches, ground staff and the offices - made the trek to Kimberley, to show their support to the small huddle of players who represent their ambition.
“It’s not just another trophy in the cabinet; this win means a hell of a lot to so many of us,” Nipper explained. “It’s been a tough journey."
At its toughest, the effort of the players on the field was undermined by pitiful management off the field, as funds intended to improve cricket matters were instead misdirected to line greedy pockets.
The outfield and surrounds went uncut at the picturesque Oval - even for the occasional Dolphins’ match - and there were fears that the union would be dissolved.
KZN Inland cricket has only known the hard road.
In its infancy, at the turn of the century, it was a laughing stock, collecting humbling losses around South Africa, as they suffocated under the throttling torrent of pressure that comes with first-class cricket.
Those were the dark days, when the KZN Cricket Union flirted with the idea of scrapping a second union in the province, with things just not improving in Pietermaritzburg. And yet, from those depressing days, men of substance made the move to “Sleepy Hollow”, and KZN Inland went into the Associate ranks, and started finding its feet.
Current coach Shane Burger arrived as a player who made a difference and stuck around, while the likes of Nipper were joined along the way by young men who were determined to make their mark.
Men like Sarel Erwee, the opener who bludgeoned KZN Inland to the final, as he smeared a record run aggregate for a single tournament.
Current Dolphins’ coach Grant Morgan also had a stint as head coach, and he would have been just as proud to see so many of his former charges made history for the union.
The players who contributed have come from near and far; Durban, Dundee, Johannesburg, the Eastern Cape, Namibia and, of course, a fair few from Pietermaritzburg's finest schools.
They already had the three-day and the limited-overs titles, but the win over Free State was made even sweeter by the fact that KZN Inland had lost the inaugural Africa T20 Cup final to Northerns in 2015.
On Monday, atonement came along with contentment. Now, KZN Inland has the full haul of first-class titles, a new sponsor, and a squad bursting with equal parts pride and ambition.
Those who didn’t know it yet would have surely known after last night, when little Pietermaritzburg's merry men and their mob made enough noise to fill Kimberley’s Big Hole and then some.