Cricket's pipeline continues to unearth game's hidden gems
When Kgaudise Molefe earned a professional contract with Easterns Cricket last year, it was a massive moment not only for him and his family, but also an important endorsement of the development work done by Cricket South Africa (CSA).
The young left arm spinner hails from Johannesburg’s Orange Farm township and had played barely a handful of informal cricket matches before being introduced to the game more seriously at one of CSA’s Gauteng cricket Hubs.
While the hub’s facilities were basic, he made enough of an impression with his raw cricketing ability to be snapped up by the prestigious Jeppe High School for Boys.
Less than two years after taking up the game, Molefe had made his First Class debut for Gauteng, had made the South African national under 19 team and was also one of the spinners who attended CSA’s elite spin-bowling camp in the tweaker’s mecca of India three years ago.
It is identifying talent like that of Molefe that lies at the heart of CSA’s programme of having around 60 Regional Performance Centres (RPC) and Hubs dotted around all nine provinces.
Hundreds of youngsters first introduced to the game at CSA’s RPC’s and Hubs are now participating in CSA’s national youth cricket weeks at various age groups and like Molefe, an impressive number are earning professional cricket contracts.
Success stories such as Molefe’s are extremely gratifying for people like CSA’s Youth and Tertiary Manager, Niels Momberg, and the hundreds of men and women who have diligently dedicated their lives to unearthing and nurturing South Africa’s cricketing talent.
“The Regional Performance Centres and Hubs are in township areas where there are no facilities and we go in and develop facilities there and provide proper coaching. Through them we hopefully can create interest in the game and opportunities for players such as Kgaudise. He may have been snapped up by a top cricket school like Jeppe, but there is no doubt he was produced through township cricket structures. RPC’s and Hubs open up the bottleneck to accessing the game and we need to ensure kids in township areas are not left behind and that we create opportunities for them,” says Momberg.
While much still needs to be done, these days there is undeniably a far more advanced and widespread system of introducing the game to youngsters in all corners of the country than there was when a 15-year old Makhaya Ntini was discovered by chance by Border cricket development officer Raymond Booi in the early 1990s, while still herding cattle in Mdingi.
Ntini would go on to become South Africa’s biggest cricket development success story, garnering 390 wickets in 101 memorable Test matches for his country.
The job for CSA is to ensure success stories like that of Ntini and Molefe become the norm, rather than the anomaly, something they’re well on the way to doing.
Players like global superstars Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock have come through CSA’s youth cricket structures and Talent Acceleration Programme (TAP), while in recent years rising stars such as VKB Knights’ Wandile Makwetu, Dafabet Warriors limited overs captain Sinethemba Qeshile and the Imperial Lions’ Lutho Sipamla and Wiaan Mulder are also graduates of the programme.
Momberg is conscious that the “massive risk” for CSA remains the fact that of the 26 500 schools in South Africa, most Proteas still come from little more than 60 top private cricket-oriented schools.
While there is the odd player such as Vernon Philander - who graduated from his home town Ravensmead Secondary School to become one of the Proteas’ all-time greats – this remains the exception to the rule.
“We have to grow the game and take it out to the broader society, otherwise cricket is not sustainable. This remains our biggest challenge and CSA has never run away from that. We do not have the means and resources to give every school a facility, but through our Regional Performance Centres and Hubs, driven by David Mokopanele, we are trying to bridge that gap and we will continue to evolve and work to improve the systems in place to ensure the game of cricket reaches as many South Africans as possible,” says Momberg.
Even for elite schools such as Jeppe, embracing the development of the game and snapping up raw talent such as Molefe has reaped dividends, as the prolific spinner from Orange Farm became the first Jeppe cricketer to make the SA Schools team since Victor Vermeulen in 1990, when he was selected at the end of the 2017 Khaya Majola Week at St Stithians.
The Covid 19 global pandemic has not spared youth cricket, with CSA’s youth programme virtually wiped out in 2020.
Momberg was therefore relieved and quite emotional when CSA’s Cubs Week could take place at the third time of asking in February this year in Stellenbosch, helping national Under 19 coach Shukri Conrad to identify the makings of his squad and start preparations for the Under 19 ICC World Cup in the West Indies next year.
While it’s been a challenging time - and when the men’s senior Proteas have taken to the pitch this year, they’ve struggled - Momberg remains very upbeat about the future of South African cricket and confident the game’s pipeline will continue to produce top players.
“South African cricket produces players, no doubt. We must just make sure we have the processes, structures and everything in place to ensure we get the chance to develop our future stars. Cricket goes through cycles. The Proteas are at the bottom end of a cycle right now,” says Momberg, adding “we just have to make sure we put the right things in place when the next crop of players come through. We must ensure their talents are recognised and that the ground is prepared for them to express themselves and fulfil their obvious potential on the playing field. I am not part of the doom and gloom squad when it comes to South Africa, and especially not when it comes to South African cricket”.