Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Boland, Border and SA's fields of hopes and dreams. The six franchises were unbundled before the start of this season when 15 provincial teams split into two divisions will play in the major competitions.
The six franchises were unbundled before the start of this season when 15 provincial teams split into two divisions will play in the major competitions.
“Good morning uncle.” Even if you're of the applicable demographic, it isn't often you're greeted so kindly by an official on arrival at a cricket ground. But, in the South African context, Boland Park in Paarl isn't an ordinary ground.
It has ushers, for a start. They're all young, all impeccably mannered, and all brown. And they offer warm hellos to visiting strangers, uncle-aged reporters included. This is no accident.
Unlike the country's other international venues in residential areas, the ground is in the bosom of a district not dominated by whites. Consequently most of those who work there and watch cricket there could live as close as across the road. That's not the case at other venues, where workers are invariably black or brown and crowds mostly white, and some of the realities of the most unequal society on earth are in your face, whatever colour it is.
Compared to Newlands and the Wanderers, Boland Park is squat and dusty and lacking in facilities. But what it does have is it is thoroughly utilised and dutifully maintained.
What it doesn't have is the bilious pomposity that pervades Cape Town's concourses and the feral behaviour that stalks the stands in Johannesburg. Paarl's ground is of its people and their place in the world, and that makes all the difference. Something like togetherness – to call it unity would be too optimistic – is apparent as you pass through the gates. It is a place of excellence – brown excellence, into the bargain – led by the union's impressive chief executive, James Fortuin. It's difficult not to believe good things are happening there. Might those good things cross the boundary this season?
If they do, Boland could reach hitherto unscaled heights. They weren't a force on either side of the racial divide before unity and thereafter finished in the bottom half of the standings more often than not and stone last four times. In the franchise era, they were lumped into the Cobras, whose XIs were dominated by Western Province players.
The six franchises were unbundled before the start of this season when 15 provincial teams split into two divisions will play in the major competitions. Which province goes where was revealed in March by former ICC chief executive David Richardson, who led a four-person committee tasked by CSA with overseeing the bidding process.
“Boland have a tremendous fan base down in their region, especially among the coloured community,” Richardson said in explaining the decision to award the province first-division status. “They have a true love for cricket; there is a cricket culture in the region. They have a stadium of very good quality, and they are very ambitious when it comes to the development of that stadium. Their development pathways are excellent, and they've produced results. They have produced players who contribute to the franchise system and their provincial team has done well consistently over the last four years.”
All good. Now for the hard part: competing. We will start to find out whether Boland will do so on Monday when they play their first match in the T20 knockout competition that began on Friday. The Bolanders will be up against Eastern Province (EP), who have clung to the title of the franchise they used to be part of, the Warriors. Boland will be known as the Rocks. And thereby hangs a tale.
Bjorn Fortuin, Henry Davids and Ferisco Adams were the only Boland-born players in the Paarl Rocks squad who won the 2019 Mzansi Super League (MSL) with the help of stars like Faf du Plessis and Tabraiz Shamsi. But the crowd took them to heart and, unsurprisingly, the atmosphere at the ground during the tournament outdid even the Highveld's electrical thunderstorms. Add a successful home final against a Tshwane Spartans outfit that bristled with AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel, and the fairytale wrote itself. The Rocks coach was Adrian Birrell.
“On the back of [the 2019 MSL triumph], they offered me the job,” Birrell told Cricbuzz about his appointment to coach Boland this season. He spoke from Hampshire's bus as it trundled homeward after Lancashire beat them by a solitary wicket at Aigburth in Liverpool to snuff out the southerners' hopes of winning the county championship. Five days earlier Birrell's team had gone down by two wickets to Somerset in the T20 semi-finals. “There's a lot of pressure to win in England,” he said, adding that he was “exhausted” but also “excited” about the new shape of the game in South Africa.
“Six teams or 66 players [at the top level] is too few; eight teams is a good number,” Birrell said. One of the benefits should be to curb what he called “quite an exodus” of players from the country: “If you look at the associates, you see a hell of a lot of South Africans. Our excellent school system produces too many players for our game. I know this is only two more teams, but it will help.”
The lower levels of international cricket are littered with South Africans: Davy Jacobs in Canada, Gareth Berg in Italy, Roelof van der Merwe in the Netherlands, Dane Piedt in the US, Johann Potgieter in Scotland, and many more. Quotas always come into this conversation, but that is a red herring. Closer to the truth, as Birrell said, is that the engine – the country's elite schools – produces too much horsepower for the machine it has been assigned to power: the professional game, which is small and impoverished.
Until this season, Boland were minnows even in that pond. Signing Birrell and marquee players like Stiaan van Zyl, Hardus Viljoen, Kyle Abbott and Janneman and Pieter Malan should change that. “The intention is to compete; we're not there to make up the numbers,” Birrell said.
The opposite is true some 900 kilometres east of Paarl. “The evaluation committee has no doubt as to the potential of the Border cricket region, and its importance to the overall transformation imperative,” Richardson said in March. “Black Africans have played cricket for a long time. They know cricket, they love cricket. A successful Border region is imperative if cricket in South Africa is going to be sustainable in the long run. Unfortunately over the last few years they've had issues with governance and administration. Their finances are not strong and their cricket performances are not strong. They are a hotbed of talent and they have contributed players to the franchise system. But I don't think they've fully exploited their potential yet.”
Border – who will be called the Eastern Cape Iinyathi, the isiXhosa word for buffalo – have been consigned to the second division. Former Cobras coach Paul Adams will lead their backroom staff. “It's a new beginning to bring purpose to the team,” Adams told Cricbuzz. “You've got to give them a sense of belief. There's talent here, but it's about how it's nurtured.”
Compared to the coolly confident Birrell, Adams' tone was that of a firefighter who reckoned he could bring a damaging blaze under control.
The Rocks and the Iinyathi play each other in the T20 competition in Kimberley next Tuesday in what could be conjured as a clash of civilisations. Aside from assembling a prominent dressing room, in the past five weeks alone the Rocks have announced sponsorships from an online betting company, a manufacturer of canopies for pick-up trucks, and a jam-maker. The Iinyathi haven't been heard from since May, when they unveiled Adams as coach.
Buffalo Park in East London, where Border are based, also isn't ordinary in the South African context. For some, it is a lacklustre ground bookended by a cemetery and a ravine that swarms with lethal snakes, and where a constant howling wind makes lanyards ping against metal flagpoles unrelentingly. For others, particularly cricket's black players and followers, it is the Mecca where Makhaya Ntini first sprang to national prominence. Thus it is, in its own way, a field of dreams.
Some will see irony in the fact that Birrell – who is steeped in the Eastern Cape, where he was born, raised and schooled and still farms when he isn't coaching – has migrated across the country while Adams, every inch a Capetonian, has made the journey in the opposite direction. How did Adams end up there? “It's about where the opportunities are; I must have had about seven interviews to land a role somewhere.”
Better there than at Gauteng, whose Lions were surprise casualties after the opening round of T20 fixtures. Unfancied South Western Districts lost to them but prevailed over Western Province (WP) and the Northern Cape Heat to top pool A. WP downed the Lions by two runs and three other games were decided in the final over. The Lions needed a super over to beat the Heat, who lost all three of their games – perhaps partly because they were clad in black in 30-degree, well, heat. Zubayr Hamza batted with panache for his 63-ball 106 in the opening match, and Hershell America – yes, really – claimed seven wickets at 10.57 in a dozen overs.
With CSA-branded stumps and a naked white rope for a boundary, the unsponsored tournament could be considered another of the suits' failures. But that would be to disrespect the cricket it has delivered, which has been competitive and, usually, of a decent standard.
That's the thing about dreams: they can come true on any field. All it takes, as Adams said, is belief.