Cricketing light from the start of 2020. (Reuters)
From a distance, the sight of a group of boys kicking a ball around a cricket field in Weybridge, England, was nothing new. The Surrey sun was shining and the air was full of the careless abandon of children in a happy place.
And yet, on closer inspection, the blue tracksuits and grins of the lads suggested they were a touring party of sorts. But this was different. This wasn’t a private school team on a biennial jaunt. Far from it. This was the realisation of a goal by former South African opening batsman Gary Kirsten to take a group of boys he has been coaching in the heart of Cape Town on a tour.
It is 13 472km from Khayelitsha to Weybridge. More than 14 hours of travelling from the dusty, uneven field of Chris Hani High School to the perfectly manicured lawns of Weybridge Cricket Club. That is the journey the Gary Kirsten Foundation took with a group of boys, aged 10 to 13, in the midst of the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
In societal terms, Weybridge is on another planet compared with Khayelitsha. It is one of the richest neighbourhoods in the United Kingdom and, by extension, the world.
Those who call it home inhabit a privileged cocoon that is beyond the reach of all but the crustiest of the upper crust. Footballers, business moguls and the like call it home because it is a short trip from the bright lights of London but still far away enough to be ensconced in the serenity of the countryside.
Khayelitsha, in contrast, has all the have-nots that Surrey could never fathom. But they have cricket in common, and the eternal dream that sport can change lives.
When you get close enough to hear the chatter, the unmistakable Xhosa phrases ringing out in the middle of the English countryside are like music.
“It seemed like a crazy idea a year ago, but we really wanted to make this happen,” Kirsten says, surveying the sunny scene in front of him.
There is a glint in his eyes as he says that, because he knows that kids from Khayelitsha seldom leave Cape Town, never mind South Africa.
“I think it is time we shifted the thinking that we can only produce quality players if we take potential out of the township and nurture it at schools in the city. Why can’t our focus be on improving the facilities in Khayelitsha, and then allow all the talent that is there to combine and take on these big schools?” he asks.
What Kirsten is trying to do is flood the pool of hopefuls with raw talent, from the very source. He has seen enough in just a few schools in Khayelitsha to know what is out there. He has formed genuine friendships with these youngsters, keenly observing their enthusiasm for the game, and resolved to do more.
“People must understand that we are not trying to compete with any of the development structures that Cricket South Africa have got through their hub system,” Kirsten says. “There is just so much talent out here.”
To that end, he has secured funding to lay a full-size artificial field and will build an indoor facility for training. Those facilities will also have classes for local coaches to come in and work towards gaining their qualifications.
When they met on the cricket field, Khayelitsha’s clutch of cricket hopefuls marched to a popular victory over their Weybridge CC counterparts. Cavalier strokes in the finest West Indian tradition were unfurled as the team, led by the unflappable Nande Mguye, thrilled those gathered around the club’s grounds.
Mguye, who has already been earmarked in the junior structures of Western Province cricket, helped himself to consecutive half-centuries and nervelessly closed out the match in Oxford with the ball.
“It is incredible to be here. I never thought that I could come here at this age, so I was highly motivated to come and do well. When I got out there, I just wanted to show that we have the talent to play against anyone,” says the young leader.
In between their own fixtures, the touring party also went to Birmingham to watch the Proteas at practice.
“Hey, one day you might be wearing that same helmet and we will be watching you play in a World Cup,” says Faf du Plessis.
He then took Mguye aside and had a few moments with him, captain to captain. What was said stayed between them, but there was a handshake and a hug that spoke volumes. Mguye, already a standout, grew to 3m, the significance of that moment not lost on him. If he thought he wanted to play cricket before this trip, he now knows for sure.
The lucky 13 youngsters who crossed the ocean, will never forget these days.
Mguye, Buhle Mfunelwa, Buhle Dyira, Owethu Moyi, Unathi Magoloza, Ayanda Ntamo, Linoxolo Roro, Oyena Mbanya, Endinako Gxidolo, Likhona Mathunda and Mila Silamsi. Remember these names. They might pop up in a decade, fully grown and ready to take on the world.
This article was first published on New Frame