Inland cricket takes the high road

2009-05-21 00:00

A GROUNDBREAKING, well-crafted cricket strategy has been launched in Pietermaritzburg that looks set to take the game in the midlands to a new level.

The Neil Johnson Cricket School (NJCS), in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Inland Cricket Union (KZNICU), has unveiled a comprehensive plan that encompasses cricketers across the spectrum.

Endorsed by the relevant cricket bodies in South Africa, the goal is to take Inland to where it belongs in the game nationally and ensure that cricketers in the midlands — and the community as a whole — are the ultimate winners.

Former Test and ODI all-rounder, Johnson, and his partner in NJCS, Richard Ford, have invested time and money in their state-of-the-art facility at the Camps Drift Office Park off Barnsley Road. Johnson told The Witness recently that the success of this brave new venture hinges on all stakeholders buying in.

”As NJCS and KZN Inland Cricket, our objectives are to sustain the development and coaching of local players and coaches in the long term, and this requires the support of Pietermaritzburg and midlands businesses so that Inland cricket can take its rightful place within Cricket South Africa structures.”

The president of KZN Inland cricket, Yunus Bhamjee, said that everyone who works with the union to produce top-quality cricketers is welcome. “Johnno and Richard expressed their desire to achieve the same goal, and a close working relationship should bring Inland closer to producing another Yusuf Abdulla in the Proteas team.”

NJCS and Inland Cricket have put together a workable, measurable and sustainable business plan.

For the sum of R25 000, part of the Ford/Johnson plan is to link a business or individual with the eight KZN Inland representative teams through the age groups, from senior men and women down to U13 level and, even further, link them to talented youngsters from backgrounds without a cricket culture. The University of KwaZulu-Natal, Varsity College and all schools in the area are in the mix.

Johnson said a multipronged programme is in place to instil the values of honesty, excellence, integrity, perseverance and a learning culture.

”Alexandra High School have just come on board and their first XI, together with their best age-group cricketers, are sure to benefit,” Johnson said.

Apart from the obvious community benefit, sponsors have ownership of the team for the year, branding rights on all practice apparel as well as signage rights within the NJCS.

It looks to be a win/win partnership between the three benefactors – KZN Inland Cricket, the financial donors, and the cricketers themselves.

And at the bottom end of the scale, which indicates the all-encompassing approach of this KZN Inland/Neil Johnson venture, Ford said the first 50 of the envisaged top 100 development cricketers started being coached at the NJCS last Tuesday and Thursday. “These talented boys have been identified by Inland Cricket, are in Grades 6 and 7, and come from schools in Edendale, Imbali, Sweetwaters, Sobantu, Northdale and other areas around Pietermaritzburg,” said Ford.

“These players have embarked on an intensive coaching programme,” Johnson said. “For this to succeed we are appealing to local and midlands businesses to financially support these teams and players so that they can maximise their potential for the good of the game and the community.”

“Ultimately, our mission and vision is to utilise the world-class cricket facility run by Neil Johnson, which includes an 800 square-metre indoor school, bowling machines and video analysis, to instil a measurable plan to sustain cricketing fundamentals that ensure the education, development and promotion of the game for all,” said Ford.

”Our management philosophy is nurturing students and teams through non-discrimination, non-prejudice, respect, dignity, transparency and commitment, and our pet project is for a business or businesses to adopt or dual-sponsor a black cricket team and/or a talent-identified black cricketer from the townships in order to fast-track their development. As for the chances of this initiative succeeding, just take a look at Neil, who is now 39,” Ford said.

“As a left-hand batsman and right-arm fast-medium bowler, Neil played professionally with great success for 17 years for such teams as Natal, Western Province, EP, English county sides Hampshire and Leicestershire, as well as Zimbabwe and Ireland,” Ford said.

“Apart from his cricket coaching school, Johnno is also a TV commentator and Witness columnist. He was born in Zimbabwe, schooled in Howick and the Eastern Cape, played for SA Schools, graduated in politics and psychology at the University of Port Elizabeth and has returned with his family to the midlands long-term.

“He is determined put a lot back into the game here, and if you’re looking for a dynamic leader in the cricket world, right on our doorstep, what more could you ask for?”

Inquiries: Richard Ford and Neil Johnson at 082 521 2227.

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