Former Cape Cobras coach and star Protea batsman, Ashwell Prince, is adamant that club cricket deserves way more respect.
Speaking at Strandfontein Cricket Club’s awards presentation at Newlands Stadium, at the weekend, Prince reminisced about his own journey, which resembles that of many players who had come through the club system.
The occasion also coincided with Strandfontein’s 40th anniversary. On a night dedicated to celebrating the achievements of the club’s top achievers, those present also had the opportunity to pick one of the sharpest cricketing brains in the country during a question-and-answer session hosted by radio sports presenter Dalin Oliver.
“I’m a big believer in club cricket and I’ve always been someone who advocates for club cricket versus schools cricket,” he said, questioning why the national selection system is skewed in favour of school’s cricket, often at the expense of those coming through the club ranks.
“I’m probably a little biased towards club cricket because of my background,” he said, referring to his early days as a youngster growing up in Gelvandale in Port Elizabeth, now known as Gqeberha.
An area much like Mitchell’s Plain or any township on the Cape Flats, Gelvandale is synonymous with cricket, Prince said, as the club he had played for in his youth is the current SA under-16 champions and has produced the most number of players of colour for the national team. “Just to rattle off a couple of names,” he said, “there’s Robin Petersen, Alivro Petersen, Garnett Kruger, myself and former national coach Russel Domingo, we all come from the same club, the same community. My father played for the club, then my older brother. I’ve been around the club since the age of 5 or 6.”
That’s the nature of the game for most clubs across the country, he said, especially for community clubs like Strandfontein and others, passed on from one generation to the next
He said that unlike school cricket, where players play in their respective age groups, youngsters at club level are often thrown into the deep end. “Even if you’re 11 and you’re brave enough, you can play with the under-16s. That’s the beauty of club cricket” he said, “It’s basically the duty of the senior statesmen or the elders in the club, to recognise talent and to fast-track the younger players into the second or first team.
“I’ve always believed that you can play in the first team at Bishops, Wynberg, Rondebosch, SACS – the people sitting next to you are maybe in Grade 11 or 12, but how much do they really know about the game of cricket? How much knowledge are they imparting to a young player who’s coming into the first team in Grade 8?”
A case in point, he said, is Strandfontein’s own JP Duminy, or Langa’s Thami Tsolekile who as youngsters would have been good enough to play in the first team. Others, like former Westridge -based Mitchell’s Plain Cricket Club’s Davd Schierhout, from Colorado Park, had to wait until he was much older before being offered a professional contract.
Schierhout turned out for the Cobras in a one-day clash against the Titans in 2019, aged 33. In 2018 he was the highest wicket taker in the Western Province Cricket Association’s (WPCA) First Division A league and the second top wicket taker in WP, with one wicket less than Cape Town Cricket Club’s Brandon Young, a regular in the WP side and played in the WPCA Premier League.
“My question is, who’s teaching them? When you go to a club like Strandfontein and you get into the first team as a 14- or 15-year old, you get some hardened players who can teach you the game. And they’d know what they were talking about. The guidance is not just about cricket, it’s also about life skills, how to handle situations. You hear and learn a lot about cricket that you wouldn’t hear about in schoolboy cricket.”
Regarding the so-called pipeline to national team selection or the professional arena, or the “merger” between club and school cricket, Prince hinted that Cricket South Africa may find it a real challenge, one that they’re not quite sure how to handle.
“The school system is a national sort of breeding ground or feeder system, a pipeline into professional cricket. But then you have people like us, who come from what I refer to as the other side of the tracks, the club system. I think that sometimes the integration from club cricket into the system is harder. Even people in the media follow school cricket so closely that when you talk about a name, everybody knows that name and people are kind of waiting for that player to come through the ranks.
“But you have to ask the question, why is it that a Joshua Chippendale,” he said referring to Strandfontein’s top batsman of the year, “have to make a career outside Cape Town, how come this kind of talent is not being recognised when the guy is 20/ 21 years old already. The talent is not being recognised in his own province, which means there’s a lot of problems in the system or pipeline. Chippendale has just signed a high performance contract with the Warriors in Port Elizabeth.
“For those that don’t know, the team that kind of cleans up in world cricket at the moment, when it comes to world cups, men’s and women’s, their breeding ground is club cricket, not school cricket. In Australia, they call it grade cricket which is basically club cricket,” he said.
Touching on some of the challenges club cricket faces, including a lack of funds, he said: “The reality is that funds have never been available to community clubs like Strandfontein. And yet, the club has been around for 40 years. It’s the commitment of the players, parents, family members, some of the family names that have been mentioned tonight. These are the people that keep the club going. In sport, there’s one word that’s a massive word and that is leadership. In clubs like this there’s a lot of people doing that without a lot of recognition. It’s on occasions such as this that we can not only recognise the award winners but also the people behind the scenes.”