South Africa’s Under-19 side spent much of their time at a recent camp working on bridging the gap between being schoolboy players and professionals.
For it is professionals - in some cases - they will be facing at the Under-19 Cricket World Cup which South Africa will host starting in the third week of January.
Trying to fast-track the development of what is largely a group of schoolboys has been head coach Lawrence Mahatlane’s biggest challenge as he prepares the team for next year’s junior showpiece.
While Mahatlane’s players struggle to crack domestic semi-professional sides, never mind franchise teams, the junior Proteas’ rivals next year, have been playing Test cricket.
Pakistan’s Naseem Shah is just 16 but already has a Test cap. When he faced the SA Under-19 team earlier this year, many of the South Africans hadn’t faced anyone that quick. He picked up 12 wickets in five matches, in a series the Pakistanis won 7-0.
Afghanistan, who South Africa face in the opening game of the tournament on January 17, may have up to three players in their squad who have played either a Test or ODI.
The recent two-week camp, to which 23 players were invited, was about exposing the young players against senior players to test their skill and resolve. Among the players the juniors faced were recent graduates of the Under-19 programme Wandile Makwetu and Dayyan Galiem - the latter has produced some impressive performances for the Titans, this season in the four-day competition.
“The players realise it’s not schoolboy cricket, it’s not only about surviving the good bowler and then cashing in, it’s about ‘how do I start scoring off good balls’. We’ve improved as a group in terms of that,” said Mahatlane.
Mahatlane added that despite the inclement weather in Gauteng the camp was still very valuable and a success.
“The weather has in a way been a blessing in disguise, we were able to do quite a lot of class-room work and improving the players awareness.”
South Africa finished in fifth place at the 2018 competition. Free Stater Gerald Coetzee is the only returnee from the side that played in New Zealand two years ago. The lanky all-rounder, who was included in the team of the tournament in 2018, has recently pulled a hamstring while playing for the Jozi Stars in the Mzansi Super League.
Mahatlane said yesterday that he would be ready to spearhead South Africa’s attack at the tournament.
South Africa will play current champions India in a three-match series in East London in the last week of December. They will then play in a quadrangular series featuring India, Zimbabwe and New Zealand as part of their final preparations.
SA are in Group D in next year’s competition, with Afghanistan, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.
SQUAD: Bryce Parsons (capt), Khanya Cotani (vice-capt), Luke Beaufort, Jonathan Bird, Merrick Brett, Achille Cloete, Gerald Coetzee, Tyrese Karelse, Mondli Khumalo, Jack Lees, Andrew Louw, Levert Manje, Odirile Modimokoane, Pheko Moletsane, Tiaan van Vuuren