Neil Rogers, who describes himself as Sinethemba Qeshile’s “stand-in uncle”, tells a story that’s a metaphor for the new Proteas wicketkeeper-batsman’s career: “When he was about nine, Sine was left out of the cricket team at Gonubie Primary School and my son Kyle — who has been his best mate since preschool and hates playing cricket — was in the team. Because he was a great ball player, I asked my son what the problem was and he told me Sine didn’t have white shorts, so he wasn’t picked.
“My late wife Eileen organised him shorts, my laaitie was dropped and Sine was selected. He has just achieved and achieved ever since. I wish my wife was around to explain him to you better. The thing about Sine is that if you give him an opportunity, he’ll make you proud.”
On Friday, March 22, everyone who had ever taken a punt on Qeshile, including his mother, Priscilla; his coach at Hudson Park High School, Dave Alers; and his current guide at the Warriors, Rivash Gobind, had reason to be proud as he made his international debut in the T20 against Sri Lanka, just a year after embarking on his first-class career.
That night, a group gathered at the Gonubie Hotel in East London to watch the game. Qeshile didn’t get a chance to bat, but contributed with two catches behind the stumps.
Says Rogers: “This wasn’t parents from the school or anything, it was local fathers who had seen all three of my sons grow up. I call Sine my son because he grew up with my laaities and stayed over at my house.”
Becoming a Protea just 41 days after turning 20 may have been a surprise, but there’s an inevitability about Qeshile’s ascension. There were hints about the young man’s gifts from an early age, and he’s an institution at his primary and high schools.
Qeshile holds the top four batting scores at Gonubie Primary; once helped their rugby side win their first-ever match over Hudson Park Primary by nailing a late penalty from inside his own half; and in 2017 was the flyhalf when Hudson Park High School staged a comeback from 19-3 down to beat powerhouse Selborne College for the first time in the school’s history.
In high school, Alers says Qeshile captained the first XI from grade 10, went on to do the same for Border and has been the patron saint of so many lost-cause victories for school and province that the coach struggles to remember any one in particular.
Rogers says: “My wife and I said, ‘Watch him, he’ll wear the green and gold one day,’ from primary school days. He’s got phenomenal ball skills … I get goosebumps just telling you this. But how quickly [success] came is phenomenal because he’d only been out of school for a year.”
Alers, who, along with former Border, Eastern Province, Northern Transvaal and Nottinghamshire fast bowler Kenny Watson, has been responsible for the slew of first-class cricketers Hudson Park has produced in the past decade, lists the qualities that made Qeshile the school’s first international player: “I could see he had something special. He’s got steely determination, incredible self-belief, doesn’t get overawed by the situation, rises to the occasion, and he’s not fazed by a bigger platform. He’s one of those guys who plays each ball on its merits.
“I’ve coached guys who possibly are as good as him on the playing side. But there are two sides to cricket, talent and mental strength. To make it at top level, a player needs to have incredible mental strength. A lot of guys have faltered on that side and he’s not one of them.”
Qeshile’s mature approach translated into his form for the Warriors the moment Gobind, a former KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins player, gave him an opportunity in franchise cricket. Having marked his Four-Day Franchise Series debut with a half-century, he went on a run that saw him finish fifth on the top run-scorers’ list (735 runs at an average of 52.50, which included seven 50s and a highest score of 99 against the Knights) in his first full season.
Qeshile, who was drafted by the Jozi Stars without playing a game in the Mzansi Super League T20 tournament last year, followed that up with a One-Day Cup campaign in which another half-century on his debut in the 50-over format helped the Warriors beat the Cobras.
He finally scored the maiden first-class century — an unbeaten 121 off 105 balls (13 fours and three sixes) against the Lions — that he had been threatening to all season, which pleased Gobind no end because he’d had to pick up the pieces when the youngster had fallen short by a single run in the four-day competition.
“His greatest strength for me is his mental capacity to absorb pressure from the bowlers and transfer it back,” Gobind had said at the beginning of his relationship with Qeshile. “I was there when Hashim Amla scored his first first-class hundred and I see similarities.
“The standout thing for me has been his capacity to learn by taking advice on board. When Kevin Pietersen was at the Dolphins, he told me great players take what they do in practice and translate it into performances in the middle. Most players work on things in practice, but few can implement it in the middle. Sine is one of them.” He’s happy his charge got the century monkey off his back, but Gobind has been more impressed with Qeshile’s reaction to failure. “We played a four-day game in Durban and he got a pair [two ducks in the same match]. But there was no change in his personality, preparation or demeanour.
“For me, that was outstanding to see in a young guy, because you want consistency in temperament. A lot of guys get extremely high when they do well and down on themselves when they have a couple of failures.”
The second son of domestic worker Priscilla Qeshile, Sine befriended Kyle Rogers at preschool and soon became a fixture in the Rogers household, sleeping over and going on holidays with them. Despite being a single mother, Priscilla made it possible for him to go to Gonubie Primary. Rogers, a project manager for a property developer, helped get him a scholarship to Hudson Park, with a contribution from Cricket South Africa (CSA) enabling him to board in his last two years at school.
“When Priscilla’s employer died, we found out that she was a seamstress,” says Rogers. “My wife found her work at a sewing company. She’s done so well, you’d swear she was the manager.” Rogers’s wife was also responsible for making sure the mother could share in her son’s success. She convinced her husband to transfer his plane ticket, which Hudson Park gave him to accompany the youngster to the CSA amateur awards in 2017, to Priscilla, who had never flown before.
Qeshile is a determined and proud man. He’s a perfectionist who’d play shadow shots with just his bat and not a ball in sight, Rogers recalls. He wouldn’t take spending money from him on tour. The family got around this by slipping Kyle his share.
Asked why they invested in Qeshile, Rogers reckons: “It wasn’t because I felt sorry for him, it was for the simple fact that he was my son’s best friend.
“And seeing how good he was at cricket … if he wasn’t good, maybe I wouldn’t have pushed as much.
“It doesn’t help helping people who don’t want it. You give Sine help and he takes it all in and makes the best of it at all times.”
This is an edited version of an article first published on newframe.com