‘My time is not done’

2013-10-31 00:00

KINGSMEAD’S boardroom has the best view in Durban, looking out over the outfield and the wicket, the ideal spot for a cricket connoisseur to appreciate the game. It’s a favourite room for KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union (KZNCU) CEO Jesse Chellan (49), who has tried unsuccessfully to turn it into his office.

“Cricket is my life,” says Chellan, who gave up a professional career as a pharmacist to “follow my passion”. He has been CEO since 2009 and can reflect on past years filled with cricket memories, at club and provincial level.

“I was fortunate to spend my high school years at Michaelhouse and therein lies a story,” he said. “My father’s family worked at the school and my father was born there. My grandfather died there in 1935 and is buried on the estate. He was a cook and when I was young, we used to visit his grave every year and pay our respects. We would spend a winter weekend up there.”

During one of the visits, Chellan’s parents heard the school was accepting pupils of colour for the first time and after the necessary inquiries, Chellan was accepted, attending Michaelhouse from 1979 to 1982.

“I am Durban born and bred and grew up in Chatsworth, attending Southlands School before Michaelhouse. It was heaven having such great cricket facilities at my fingertips and it was here my love for the game developed,” said Chellan. “My family were actively involved in the game, my uncles Davidson and Jimmy Chellan representing Natal and South Africa. They played in a side called Caversham, made up of the Michaelhouse staff.

“Davidson was an all-rounder and Jimmy a wicketkeeper-batsman. There was talk that Davidson was good enough for the national side had he been allowed to play.”

At Michaelhouse, Chellan played 1st team cricket for two years, a lower order batsman and medium pace bowler. “I had played in the Natal Junior High School team in my last year at Southlands, the team under the auspices of the Natal Cricket Board. I earned colours for cricket at Michaelhouse and played prop for the fourth rugby side, with some squash also thrown in.”

Playing in Michaelhouse’s first team, Chelin played against Andrew Hudson (Kearsney), Trevor Packer (Alex), Chris Copeland and David Pfaff (Hilton), and Derek Torlage (DHS).

After school Chellan studied at UKZN’s Durban Westville campus for his degree as a pharmacist and embarked on many seasons of club cricket, calling it a day in 2000.

“I turned out for Crimson and Pirates. West Indian Collis King was at Pirates then and he shaped my early years,” said Chellan. “From 1986 to 1990, I played in the Natal Cricket Board team and was actually a contracted player to Natal in 1991, although I never played for the main side. All my cricket was in the “B” side, known as the KZN President’s team, from 1993 to 1997, but I went on tour with Natal to Kenya in ’93.

“Peter Rawson was captain and the team included Clive Rice, Errol Stewart, Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Derek Crookes among others. My highlight in the “B” side was getting a hundred against Transvaal at the Tech ground in Durban.”

Chellan played cricket while still working as a pharmacist, turning up for practice in the late afternoon. When he was a contracted player, he was given his kit and R500. “Club cricket was strong then and when I was captain of Pirates, youngsters such as the Amla brothers, Imraan Khan and Ashraf Mall started coming through. It was encouraging to see and watch their progress to the Natal side.”

In 1997, Chellan relocated to Johannesburg for business reasons. He finished his club cricket career playing for Harlequins and Atteridgeville and then began his journey in cricket administration.

“I was approached and then elected to the Northerns executive, which I was on from 2000 to 2009. For four years, I was president of the union and also sat as a director of Cricket SA,” said Chellan. “By 2009, KZNCU was looking for a CEO and I applied for the job, which has been my homecoming as such.”

In his four years as CEO, Chellan has, like in any business, had his challenges and rewards. “I still have unfinished business, but can say improvements and progress have been made. There is fruition in what we put together when Graham Ford was coach and the players we identified then are coming through now,” he said.

“Lance [Klusener] is doing a superb job, bringing a new mindset and energy to the squad. There is confidence at all levels that a trophy, which has been a bugbear for too long with nothing in the cabinet for many seasons, is within our grasp.

“Morné [Van Wyk] has been an astute signing, bringing exceptional leadership and tactical skills to the team, while Dale Benkenstein [batting] and Christo Spies [mental] round off a polished set up.”

Chellan is on a five-year term as CEO and his contract is up for renewal soon. “My time is not done. There are matters I need to take care of,” he said.

“Firstly, we need to win a trophy or two and our vision is to qualify for and win the Champions League. We have a rich pipeline of massively talented U19 players, probably the best in the country, and seeing these guys come through creates a strong platform of back-up and depth within the teams.”

The development programme is also close to Chellan’s heart. “I am proud of the growth in African cricket. We have about 4 000 playing out of the townships every week and 14 have bursaries to the top cricket schools in the province,” he said. “Another eight are representing the KZN Schools’ sides from U13 to U19 level. My dream, and we have begun working on it with the eThekwini Municipality, is to have a top class cricket stadium in Kwa-Mashu. That will be my legacy.”

One area of concern is getting people back to watch cricket. Currently in the domestic one-day competition, the Dolphins are riding high, undefeated and top of the table. This should generate big interest, but Chellan has his own views on getting bums on seats.

“People like to see the international players out there for their franchises. The T20 competition next year should allow these players on the park and that brings spectators,” he said. “As a parting shot though, there should be a roof over Kingsmead so we can at least play cricket at this time of the year.”

Chellan lifestyle

Enjoys rugby at all level — Sharks, club and schoolboy

Plays golf off a 12 handicap

Reads a lot — cricket books, John Grisham, legal stuff

Doesn’t cook but is a lamb chop master when braaing

Favourite meal is a medium-rare steak

Goes to movies but what he watches depends whether he goes with his wife or daughter

Played the piano and flute at school

Likes R&B music.

Advice to youngsters

Opportunities are there and dreams can be reached. It takes hard work and discipline to succeed as competition is tough. Whoever has the mental strength will adapt and be a leader.

Funniest moment on a cricket field

Playing for Pirates against Toti in a club match. Alan Norton, the deputy head at DHS, bowled gentle away swingers and had taken a wicket when one Lance Klusener arrives at the wicket. (Klusener was in the Natal side and was on the fringe of the SA side).

He played and missed at the first few balls from Alan, then had a slog and was caught.

Alan retorted: “If you bat like that, you will never play for South Africa.” Later, as the players came off the field, the SA team was announced and Klusener was selected. Alan’s punishment, which he took well, was a long night in the bar.

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