Hailing talent on our doorstep

2014-10-24 00:00

PEOPLE must be asking themselves on a regular basis the following question: who is currently the most successful domestic sporting team in the country? The answer should be on the tip of your tongue, but Maritzburg being what it is, the answer will probably come as a surprise.

The KZN Inland provincial cricket team won two of the three national tournaments they competed in last year (finishing sixth in the other) and virtually no one knows about it; an infinitely better record than UKZN Impi or Maritzburg United competing at an equivalent level and who command hours of scheduling time on our televisions.

Operating on a budget of just R2,3 million (and currently without a major sponsor), the Inland Cricket Union is responsible for running cricket programmes throughout the region, covering 76% of the KwaZulu-Natal landmass and 41% of our population.

These programmes range from KFC mini-cricket level — in primary schools and institutions catering for children from four to 12 years of age and hailed by Cricket South Africa (CSA) as one of the best nationally — through to secondary schools and up to tertiary institutions and clubs. Other provincial unions operate fewer and less effective programmes in much smaller areas of the country on almost double the money.

There are also flourishing township and academy programmes providing cricket for players from previously disadvantaged areas which have been used as a template by other unions for similar programmes gaining far greater publicity. The demands from CSA to produce talented players from black African backgrounds are already well-advanced here, with no fewer than 15 black African players in the Inland set-up who will undoubtedly go on to enhance their careers in Pietermaritzburg with KZN Inland.

But it’s not just about the cricket. The environment at the union is one of a real family atmosphere with staff doubling up on their roles and mirroring the team ethic on the field.

Semi-professional players and staff can be seen regularly out in Alexandra Park, filling up rubbish bags and cleaning up the detritus from the previous night’s or weekend’s revelry, as the municipality has not done it. Where possible, to save money, players have foregone the luxury of flying around the country to fixtures or lavishing hotel accommodation and used mini-buses and slept in tents in friends’ or family’s gardens.

The Oval in Alexandra Park — where the cricket union’s offices are and entry to provincial matches is free — is arguably Pietermaritzburg’s jewel in its crown, and as custodians of the Jubilee Pavilion (a National Heritage monument built in 1898), the only voice (literally) screaming at the Msunduzi Municipality to make sure the facility does not fall into a complete state of disrepair is the Inland union.

Despite money made available for maintaining the facility by bodies like The Comrades Association, the woodwork is rotten, walls are crumbling away and the roof is almost beyond repair. This can be added to the state of the Chinoiseri Bandstand (the roof of which was destroyed in a storm and insurance money has not been allocated to repairing or restoring it) and the floodlights (work contracted and money paid to an electrical company by the municipality for upgrading them to current international standards which has not been carried out) clearly illustrates the conditions under which the union operates.

The provincial team’s successes on and development off the field through strong leadership at board and coaching level means there is absolutely no need for aspiring young cricketers to have to look outside the KZN Inland system to further their careers. A holistic approach to the sport ensures the Inland system educates and pays; the path to franchise and international cricketing glory begins right here, right on your doorstep.

So, answering the initial question, our city is home to the KZN Inland Cricket Union, the most successful sporting team in the country. Through a mixture of great talent and hard work in trying circumstances, it’s a truly exciting time to be looking forward to what promises to be another season of success.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, what’s happening at KZN Inland is nothing short of a sporting miracle and Pietermaritzburg ought to be shouting support for cricket from the rooftops.

• Benn Kempster: “I’m a Brit who moved to Pietermaritzburg three years ago with my South African wife Jeannie and son Daniel. Cricket has always been my passion and I’ve always had the sport in my life to varying degrees through playing and on to administration.

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