JOHANNESBURG – A Standard Bank Cup match at the Wanderers in November 2004 is the first time Enoch Nkwe made a genuine impression in a senior provincial match.
His name certainly didn’t stand out among the glittering array of talent that took to the "Bullring" that Friday night.
The Lions were led by HD Ackerman, had Neil McKenzie in the middle order and an attack featuring, Charl Langeveldt, David Terbrugge and Garnett Kruger. The Titans were captained by Daryll Cullinan, had AB de Villiers and Alviro Petersen at the top of the order, and had Andre Nel leading the attack, that had the all-round skills of Albie Morkel and spin from Paul Harris.
In a weird coincidence Geoffrey Toyana batted at No 6 for the Titans.
The Lions won the match by 80 runs, their charge to victory the result of a superb final spell from Nkwe who picked up four of the last five Titans wickets for just 11 runs.
Nkwe had already been part of the Gauteng playing staff for two seasons prior to that inaugural season of franchise cricket. He had caught the eye - despite proclaiming himself “lazy” - as a hard working and thoughtful cricketer who was a good all-rounder with plenty of potential. There was talk of higher honours.
A wrist injury put paid to his playing career. He turned to coaching, at junior levels in Gauteng, then the Strikers' semi-professional outfit, before a stint on the club circuit in the Netherlands that led to a bowling coach role with the Dutch national team.
He’s kept in touch with South African cricket and was even part of the SA women’s team's coaching staff at the start of the year for the series with India.
But a head coach position at a franchise, especially in the largest urban region in SA, is the highest-profile job he's had yet.
A bit like that limited-overs match in 2004, Nkwe is not a name that stands out among the local coaching fraternity. There’s been a trend in domestic cricket of late, that has seen former Protea players taking up coaching positions at franchises.
Mark Boucher at the Titans, Nicky Boje at the Knights and Ashwell Prince at the Cape Cobras all have achieved varying degrees of success. Boucher’s has been the most tangible, four trophies in just two seasons, while Boje won the Sunfoil Series at his first go, and Prince has eliminated the drama and divisions in the Cobras dressing-room and made them contenders in all three competitions last season.
It’s a heady environment and Nkwe’s claim last week that he would be working closely with his predecessor Toyana, is critical in ensuring that he is as close to running as possible once he hits the ground in Corlett Drive. He certainly doesn’t have a lot of time to adjust, having to attend a Cricket SA coaching workshop at the end of the month.
In Nkwe’s favour is his intimate knowledge of the region and the recent history within the franchise. The Lions had a bad season last summer, failing to challenge in any of the three competitions, with the batting - Rassie van der Dussen aside - a major concern.
For a region with such strong top-level developmental programmes run through entities like North West University and with strong cricket schools, the Lions can ill-afford to continue to seemingly stagnate as has been the case in recent seasons.
Up the road, the guys in blue keep adding more silverware to a bulging cabinet, and it will be up to Nkwe to again make an impression amongst some pretty glittering luminaries.