Things are certainly looking up at the Oval

2008-10-28 00:00

Things are looking up at the Oval. Watching the weekend match between KZN Inland and the Free State gave us a glimpse of what the Oval used to represent and the potential that is still there.

Not only has the old pavilion and ground received a much-needed facelift, but the whole cricket set-up has a professional air about it.

Rudi Steyn, the Free State coach and former SA Test batsman, praised the Oval and said “it was a great place to play cricket”.

Restoring the Oval to its former glory is a work in progress, but it is also playing a role in motivating current Inland cricketers and youngsters who would love to play there in the future.

The ground is steeped in history and many budding cricketers would relish the chance of making their mark there.

Under Doug Watson, the Inland team is looking sharp. He seems to have galvanised the squad and he is being rewarded by their enthusiasm.

In the past, the Inland team has appeared rudderless and players seemed to be merely making up the numbers. Now there is a buzz about the team with a number of players pushing for places in the squad.

This is having a positive knock–on effect, with cricketers who are not selected going back to their club teams on the weekends and doing their best to gain the attention of the selectors.

This, in turn, is helping raise the standard of club cricket and that is desperately needed.

Watson is encouraging Midlands youngsters by saying that their hard work will be rewarded if they are prepared to put in the time and show commitment.

Previously talented young cricketers seemed to slip through the cracks and either gave up the game or became disillusioned with playing club cricket week in and week out without any prospect of being considered for teams at a higher level.

It’s encouraging that youngsters in the Midlands area now no longer have to move away to play their cricket but instead have an experienced and enthusiastic mentor in Watson to teach them the ropes of professional cricket. Inland cricket is on the right path to become the breeding ground for talented youngsters and a feeder to the Dolphins and other franchises.

Burnley Football Club in the UK is an excellent example of what can be achieved. They churn out promising youngsters year after year to be sold on to the bigger clubs. While they aspire to do well as a club, they understand that the club has to survive and this can be achieved by nurturing youngsters and selling them on.

It must be frustrating being a Burnley fan, but they know that just down the road is Manchester United and Manchester City and they will support their Burnley-bred players even when they play for the larger franchises. With the promising cricketers in the area, Inland cricket certainly has the potential to do just that for the Dolphins and other interested franchises.

Progress at the Oval needs to be encouraged and applauded. There is no doubt that the benefits of maintaining this positive momentum will affect cricketers at all levels in the midlands and help Pietermaritzburg return to its rightful place as a cricket centre of excellence.

* Neil Johnson, a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder, lives and coaches cricket in Pietermaritzburg.

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