Township kids excel in KZN cricket

A youngster show his style in a mini-cricket tournament. (Photo: Faaiq Ebrahim Khan)

A youngster show his style in a mini-cricket tournament. (Photo: Faaiq Ebrahim Khan)

Kearsney College is a private boys’ high school in Botha’s Hill, a small town between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Set in a 125-acre country vista on the edge of the Valley of a Thousand Hills, the school boasts more than 20 sporting venues, many of which are sprawling cricket fields. It’s no surprise, then, that the school host to an annual cricket festival in which the U11 cricketing sides from some of the province’s top cricketing schools — of the traditional white private and ex-model C variety — test their batting, bowling and fielding skills against each other. These include Highbury Preparatory School, Glenwood Preparatory School, Westville Senior Primary School and Durban Preparatory High School.

There’s something different about one particular side participating in the tournament, and it isn’t just the bold black-and-white horizontally striped socks the boys are wearing, or the absence of school sports jackets and blazers. 

For starters, while the rest of the teams are predominantly white, this one is entirely black. Then there’s the conspicuous absence of parents armed with camping chairs and cooler boxes on the sidelines. There are no energy drinks in their camp, and breaks feature pep talks from an enthusiastic bunch of coaches, not dads. 

These boys are part of KZN Cricket’s township and rural areas development programme, which affords underprivileged children the opportunity to play and change their lives through cricket.

“The programme taps into areas in the province where cricket was previously non-existent,” says Sanelisiwe Kuzwayo, who manages the programme. “Currently we are reaching out to around 7 000 kids in various townships and rural areas including Umlazi, Inanda, KwaMashu, Mtubatuba, Mhlabuyalingana and Mkuze.”

She explains how it works: “We start with the introduction of KFC mini cricket at primary schools.  Coaches are assigned to work with children at these schools, and we choose coaches who understand the culture of the children they are coaching.”

Handpicked cricketing talent from the various schools then form an elite group, and are given extra coaching after school. Over weekends, those displaying talent from each township are brought together for collective coaching sessions and form township clubs, which then play against similar clubs throughout the cricket season.

“Township school teams are also formed and they play [against] each other, as well as development teams from other provinces, in the annual KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union Sunfoil Township Tournament,” says Kuzwayo.  “An elite provincial development squad is selected and invited to Kingsmead for additional weekly coaching. This side then plays ‘traditional white schools’ on Saturdays.”

Kuzwayo says none of this would be possible without the assistance of various sponsors in the form of various organisations and corporates that provide assistance such as kit and nutritional food. The programme’s biggest financial backer is the provincial department of sports and recreation, she says.  

“I would say the funding we get from the department of sport and recreation (DSR) is the backbone to the success of the programme,” she says. “We have managed to cover most of KZN areas because of this funding.”

The DSR pays the salaries of 40 township coaches working in the programme. It has also built desperately needed cricket nets in about 16 townships including Maphumulo, Mandeni in Ilembe district, Mtubatuba in the district of uMkhanyakude, Pongola in Zululand district and Mbali and Sweet Waters in uMgungundlovu. 

The DSR also allocates hundreds of thousands of rands for transport, enabling cricketers who are part of the KZN Cricket’s township and rural areas development programme to get to Kingsmead Cricket Stadium for high performance sessions, and to fixtures against top cricketing schools on Saturdays. It also makes it possible for 65 club teams to play Sunday fixtures during the cricket season. 

“DSR assists the programme in various other ways,” says Kuzwayo.  “These include capacity building, buying of equipment, helping us organise mini cricket festivals, etcetera.” Since 2010, the department has injecting a whopping R8 550 000 into the programme.

It is an investment well worth it.  “Thanks to the cricketing foundation laid by our coaches, 17 of our cricketers were accepted into former model C schools, on the basis of their ability,” says Kuzwayo. “This gives them an opportunity to further hone their cricketing skills, as well as to enjoy access to higher standards of education than that offered at the under-resourced schools in their areas.”

Kuzwayo is also proud of the fact that this year, 33 players from the programme were selected to represent KwaZulu-Natal in various age divisions. “For the first time in eight years, we have managed to produce over 30 players from various township and rural areas to represent KZN schools, and this is undoubtedly a huge achievement for us, as well as for the province.

“These achievements, as well as the overall success of this programme in developing quality cricketers, is dependent on various factors, not least of which is support from various stakeholders, including the department of sports and recreation in KwaZulu-Natal.”