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Cricket | Associations | Growing cricket starsKagiso Rabada bowling to Alex Hales in the first T20 match between South Africa and England in February. Photo: Nicol du Toit.
March 2016

Associations help

develop new WC stars

The bigger the talent pool to choose from, the bigger chance you have of selecting excellent players for future World Cups. Is our cricket talent pool, and market, growing or shrinking? RHIANAH RHODE reports on what the associations are doing to promote interest in cricket across all communities

Provincial cricket organisations are not only helping to grow the talent pool of young players, but are also creating players that will be ripe for recruitment into national teams. Some programmes are also introducing the sport to people in disadvantaged areas who may not previously have had access to the sport, facilities, coaches, etc.

This is good news for the industry: by opening new markets and growing the number of players, cricket associations are also creating new opportunities for retailers and suppliers of clothing and equipment. This especially affects the schools market.

Interest in cricket among schools has increased over the last five years in most provinces, including Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North West, say provincial associations.

Gauteng’s sustained interest shows cricket remains one of the most popular sports for schools, says Andra Ferreira Nel, marketing and corporate communications manager for the Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB). Their December 2015 statistics indicate 270 schools are currently participating in leagues under the GCB - depending on the number of teams per school, there would be between 20 000 to 60 000 school age cricketers in the province.

In KwaZulu Natal there has been a steady increase amongst mainly black cricketers as a result of the province’s development programmes, says Pete De Wet of the KwaZulu Natal Cricket Union.

In Mpumalanga the numbers have gone up from approximately 300 schools to more than 400 Primary schools now participating in modified cricket or mini cricket, says Jaco Visagie of the Mpumalanga Cricket Union.

More schools playing KFC mini cricket, which introduces kids to the game, has increased player numbers in the North West Province as well, says Solomon Meki of North West Cricket. Cricket South Africa’s (CSA’s) Hubs programme is also getting more U10-U13 and U15-U19 players from rural areas interested in hard ball cricket.

Free State schools’ foundation phase KFC mini cricket programme has yielded a 6% increase in the number of players annually. The hard ball programme in schools, on the other hand, has seen a decline due to a lack of facilities in disadvantaged areas and the lack of maintenance being done on existing facilities, says Chippa Selesho of the Free State Cricket Union. The decrease in male coaches and less commitment from municipal districts to establish and maintain facilities are also part of the problem, he explains.

But, in the Eastern and Western Cape interest is declining rather than growing, say provincial associations.

“In 2003, during the World Cup (played in South Africa), there were 25 000 school kids playing hard ball cricket in the Western Cape, there are now only approximately 17 000 to 18 500 playing the game,” says Nabeal Dien, CEO of the Western Province Cricket Association and Western Cape Cricket.

Also, in the 2003/4 season 1.2-m people from 40 schools participated in cricket in the Mitchells Plain area, but due to socio-economic and societal reasons only four schools were participating in the sport 18 months ago. Parents struggling to pay for the bare necessities cannot afford to pay for cricket equipment, schools with dwindling numbers of fee payers cannot afford to pay coaches, and vandalism and neglect made several cricket fields unplayable.

Dien believes factors like kids having more options to participate in other activities and lack of infrastructure in outlying and disadvantaged areas are perpetuating this declining interest in cricket. But, this has contributed to a decline in participation in all sporting codes at school level, except netball.

“Municipalities and public works, etc. need to come on board to help create facilities,” explains Dien.

Cricket South Africa does not provide facilities at schools and therefore funding is required — the Western Province association currently receives R40 000 from the province, but need as much as R600 000 to host events and cricket festivals, etc.

The lack of facilities in formerly disadvantaged areas and low interest from parents and teachers, are also causing a lull in interest in the province, says Addney Coltman from Eastern Province Cricket. “Kids do not play cricket in streets or parks any longer as we did when I was growing up.”

Ensuring all forms of play

As a way of ensuring cricketers are able to handle and play all forms of the game most provincial associations try and promote a number of game formats. Throughout the provinces players are encouraged to play T20, T30, T40, 50 overs and timed cricket.

“It is important for cricket in the province and in South Africa that we develop cricketers who can play all formats, despite the fact that they may specialise in one format over another,” says De Wet.

With T20, 50 overs and time cricket, players learn and adapt to different types of formats, explains Coltman.

Although shorter formats are more appealing because it is less time consuming, longer formats are also crucially important to develop all-round performers,” says Ferreira Nel.

In Limpopo the tendency is to play T20, but high schools play 50 overs, says Feizal Kimmie of Limpopo Impala Cricket.

The Mpumalanga Cricket Union usually lets younger players play shorter formats and as they get older and progress they will play longer formats of the game. In this province time and availability from players also play a role in the format played, says Visagie.

In the North West school level focus is on the 50 overs format, but CSA’s Hubs programme — which aims to grow the sport at grassroots level and give the majority of South Africans access to cricket — promotes the T20 format and the association introduces players to club cricket as well. These Hubs bridge the gap for players from schools in disadvantaged areas that are unable to afford access to facilities, quality coaching and life skills programmes and helps get them on par with players from more affluent areas.

In the Western Province players are only introduced to limited and 20 overs from 13 years upward. They also have knockout camps for the different age groups, says Dien.

Developing programmes for players

Provincial associations have — and are — introducing a number of different programmes, academies, leagues, etc. aimed at growing future star cricketers. These programmes either introduce new players to the game or identify talented youngsters and give them coaching, sport bursaries or other forms of support to help them succeed in the sport.

The Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Western Cape subscribe to CSA’s Hubs and Regional Performance Centre programmes, which provide access to facilities, coaching and life skills programmes for budding cricketers, mainly from disadvantaged areas. The institutions are designed to improve player numbers as well as the quality of their game.

The Free State Cricket Union is also currently using a multi-system programme to develop players at different levels. Children are introduced to the sport via mini cricket, “which provides a platform for fun, enjoyment, but also learning the foundation skills of the game,” explains Selesho. From U10 to U18 the players are then introduced to structured forms of the game in a school set-up. Thereafter players are drawn for leagues to compete against one another and after school they move onto clubs, which further improve their playing skills.

North West Cricket also runs other development programmes like the U16 Toro Ya Africa Development tournament, which features eight schools playing against each other in a T20 league format and the Senwes Spinners Farm School Development Tournament, which teaches the children of farm workers the game. This tournament attracts 130 children from ten schools annually and offers the best cricket and academic student a bursary each to further their studies. The association also hosts a Cubs programme that selects the best U14/15/17 and 19 players of colour and assists them with practice and coaching sessions to prepare them for entry into provincial leagues.

Eastern Province Cricket additionally runs a KFC mini cricket program for kids between five and nine years and KFC has also come on board with monthly local coaching clinics in different areas in the province, which further identifies talent and introduces the sport to non-playing schools and kids, says Coltman.

Furthermore, they are also working on a High Performance Program for top cricketers, who will get specialist coaching in all categories of the game. The association will also host a KFC T20 U13 Tournament featuring 100 schools from across the province, adds Coltman.

As part of his own intervention he is trying to grow a love for the game through the mini cricket programme in the Western Cape, says Dien. He believes that every primary school should introduce kids to the game and ensure facilities that allow more play to get more kids interested in playing.

They are currently also sending black coaches to rural areas to introduce players to the game and also get girls interested in playing cricket, in an effort to renew interest among girls, explains Dien.

Limpopo Impala Cricket has also envisaged an academy, bursary scheme and regional academies to improve hubs and pathways for top players, says Kimmie.

In Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal associations are looking into other programmes to progress their players.

Gauteng’s cricket leagues and KFC mini cricket programme continue to promote cricket as the school team sport of choice, says Ferreira Nel. Other initiatives include a winter programme, area festivals that nurture sport interest and they are looking into elite coaching for individuals and focusing attention on talented young cricketers.

Sponsored programmes like KFC Mini Cricket and the Department of Sport and Recreation and Sunfoil’s Township Cricket programme in KwaZulu Natal ensure the reach and frequency of kids who play cricket is always high, says De Wet.

Retaining players

Most associations’ players stay to play for their province after their junior years, but to ensure they remain interested, some have created systems that help players move onto the next phase of their careers.

Because many players leave at the age of 18 to study elsewhere, the Free State Cricket Union identifies players from the annual U19 Coca-Cola Khaya Majola Week and offers them bursaries to pursue academic careers while continuing to play for the province, says Selesho.

The KwaZulu Natal Cricket Union creates meaningful opportunities for players to stay, but there are always instances where players move to other provinces, says De Wet.

A good relationship with North West University enables players to play and attend University locally. “In the last two to three years we’ve been retaining approximately 20 players from high school to University level, says Meki.

The Western Province Cricket Association creates a pipeline from U17 level up, which then get managed by a high performance manager that gets them to partake in post school programmes and through the system. Despite this there are still a few players who do leave though, says Dien.

The Eastern Province, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga associations find players leave rather than stay.

Some move on to find better opportunities to play at the highest level, says Coltman.

Gauteng has a balance between players staying and leaving, but the fact that they produce so many talented players means they tend to lose more players because they tend to go where the opportunities lie, explains Ferreira Nel. There are, after all, only so many places in the provincial teams.

Most players from Limpopo leave due to poor post matric facilities for studying available in the province, says Kimmie.

The bulk of Mpumalanga’s players also leave to study in other provinces and therefore end up playing cricket there, says Visagie. In one or two cases players leave due to teams recruiting them and then there are others who come back home to play after completing their studies or being away.

Independent programmes

There are a number of independent projects that are getting youngsters involved in cricket, helping grow their talent and turning them into players — or even the stars — of tomorrow.

In 2015 South African cricketer JP Duminy launched the JP 21 project, a cricket league that focuses on primary school level learners from Mitchell’s Plain and Strandfontein in the Western Cape. Apart from aiming to keep kids off the street and away from the temptations of alcohol abuse, drugs and gangsterism, it is also committed to improving the state of cricket in schools. They do this through courses for teachers to become coaches, umpires and scorers. The project also provides schools with equipment, run holiday and fundraising programmes. It currently gives back to 23 schools, which will include six high schools next year and plans to be active in 40 schools by the 2017/18 season.

The Newlands Cricket School opened in Sahara Park Newlands, Cape Town, last year with Gr8 and Gr9 learners with potential who showed above average ability to play cricket. It follows the curriculum and requirements of the Western Cape Education Department and aims to enable players to pursue their sporting career while having a fall-back plan should it end abruptly. While at the school players are exposed to a number of programmes, workshops, practice sessions and all game formats including 15 overs, 20 overs 35 overs, 50 overs and even two day cricket. The Newlands Cricket School plans to become a fully-fledged high school within the next five years and plans to eventually cater for girls as well. Since opening 26 boys have made 11 provincial sides.

Another South African cricketer, Alviro Petersen, runs the Alviro Petersen Cricket School in Johannesburg, which aims to help cricketers between 5-18 years old reach their full potential.

The school offers various levels of cricket through an academy structure, which includes an annual High Performance Camp, one-on-one coaching sessions, as well as Winter and Summer Academies.

It also offers a number of coaching camps for children at venues across the country throughout the year, which give players an introduction to the game and focuses on core areas of the game like throwing, bowling, batting, fielding and catching.

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