JOHANNESBURG – Wiaan Mulder is living the dream he had as a kid – except he is still that kid.
Mulder still shakes his head as he thinks back over the last three weeks of his life: Staring at AB de Villiers as he unpacked his gear in the change-room; training with Ottis Gibson and the Proteas; sharing dinner with Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada; and hearing Faf du Plessis telling him he’d be making his international debut.
Mulder is still 19 years old. He can sound very grown-up, as his coach at the Highveld Lions Geoffrey Toyana admits, but there are times he sounds like a kid still and that’s okay, because he really is a kid.
“Faf came to me two days before (the third ODI) and said, ‘You’re going to make your debut’,” Mulder recalls.
“Just hearing that from him, I’d never thought I’d share a change-room with him because I thought they’d be done in the next three or four years before I’d have a chance to spend time with them, to learn from them, jis, it was a dream come true.
“Speaking to AB about cricket, sharing a change-room with them, being in that environment, going for dinner with Quinny and KG, it’s a little boy’s dream. You’re walking in the hotel and everybody is demanding my signature stuff like that. It’s very surreal.”
It’s been that way the last three weeks but in many respects the past 12 months have been pretty surreal too for Mulder.
It’s now well known, thanks to Toyana’s Twitter feed, that he pitched up for Lions training last year still wearing his St Stithians College school uniform.
In between training and playing for both the Lions and the SA Under-19 team, there was the small matter of sitting for his matric exams – which he passed.
He went from being surprised at signing a professional contract while still a schoolboy, to training with the senior Lions team, then playing for them (even his dad was a little wary about that) to getting an SA A call-up, then grabbing the attention of the new national coach Ottis Gibson and finally playing a senior match for his country, all in the space of a year.
His development has been rapid, but even though he’s packed so much into one year, he still feels that the period has dragged out – kids, huh.
“It’s all happened quite quickly, although it does feel like it’s taken time. Playing domestic cricket, I looked up to KG even though I played with him at school, I just wanted to play with him... so it felt like time was being dragged out.”
Gibson became a fan almost instantly. Having just completed his first press conference as Proteas head coach, he popped in at the Wanderers, arriving just in time to see Mulder pick up three wickets in a single over.
Gibson stuck around and watched Mulder score 79 crucial runs as the Lions faced some stern pressure from the Warriors. “I saw him, I liked him,” Gibson said later.
“I’m extremely lucky,” Mulder claims. “My dad always tells me cricket is about taking your opportunities – about timing.
“At that stage when Ottis arrived during the four-day game, I took three wickets in an over, and then he watched my entire innings when I batted. He didn’t watch me bowl in the second dig, which didn’t go as well.”
In 12 first-class matches, he’s scored 620 runs at an average of 44.28 and has notched up two centuries.
The most recent came against the Titans, when batting at No 8 and with the Lions under severe pressure, he scored an unbeaten 127 in over four hours at the crease.
He’s taken 35 wickets at an average of 22.71, and while those stats indicate an outstanding all-rounder, Mulder is leaning towards being a batting all-rounder and is eyeing a spot in the top five.
“I’ve batted quite well in the four-day stuff, in our (T20) warm-up games I’ve been used in the top four, and hopefully that’s where I end up.
“I obviously love my bowling, I want to be as good as I can be, to keep learning, maybe bowl quicker at some stage. I think I’ll be in there as a batting all-rounder.”
Gibson has said Mulder is a candidate for selection for the 2019 World Cup, in what is rapidly becoming a robust competition between the country’s seam-bowling all-rounders.
“I’ve had a sniff now, so yes, it will always be a goal for me to play for South Africa at the World Cup.
“But with guys like Chris Morris coming back from injury, you must be realistic and see where you are at.
“That’s why a tournament like the RamSlam (T20 Challenge) is so important because if you can perform and show that you’re not far behind someone like Morris for example, that’s massive, that puts my foot in the door.”
The RamSlam starts for Mulder and the Lions this afternoon with a clash against a star-studded Titans outfit.
It’s just the kind of match in which Mulder will be desperate to make an impression – again.
Meanwhile, that Cricket World Cup is just 18 months away.
It wasn’t even on Mulder’s radar when he was pitching up to practice in his school gear last year. But a year’s a long time in cricket; it can certainly seem that way for a 19-year-old.
* Today’s T20 fixtures (double-header at SuperSport Park): Cape Cobras v Dolphins, 12pm; Titans v Highveld Lions, 4pm.