Where have all the ‘privates’ gone?

2013-02-16 00:00

NOTHING illustrates the changing face of South African cricket more than the dearth of privately educated schoolboys in the national Test 11. To the best of my knowledge, since 1994 just one boy has emerged from our great array of private schools to play Test cricket for South Africa. Who is he? *

Herschelle Gibbs had been the last such Test cricketer to have been so educated and he is probably as far from the epitome of a private school product as it is possible to be. Gibbs left Bishops at the end of 1992 so is, strictly speaking, a product of the apartheid generation of private schoolboys.

Andrew Hudson, chairperson of the national selectors, played in 35 Test matches since 1994, but he left Kearsney College in 1982.

Similarly, David Richardson, the current chief executive of the ICC, left Marist Brothers in the late seventies and went on to become the wicketkeeper of the first post-isolation Test team.

Mark Rushmere, who attended Woodridge outside Port Elizabeth, played in the inaugural Test match against the West Indies in 1992, but never represented South Africa again. And that’s it, just four representatives of private schools have played Test cricket for South Africa since 1992, and only one schoolboy from that sector of the population has emerged to do so in the 20 years since 1993.

This is either a sad waste of talent or a commentary on the state of cricket in our private schools, which almost certainly have the best facilities for cricket in all our schools. Since 1994 there has been no shortage of private school boys in the representative teams at school level, but few have progressed to even provincial cricket.

Anton Ferreira, the manager of Cricket SA’s high-performance programmes, believes that cricketers from private schools do not seem to be tough enough to compete on the changed playing fields of the new South Africa. This is a derivation of an accusation that dates from early in the last century when the Springbok team comprised mainly English-speaking whites who had been educated at either private or government schools.

There was a lingering suspicion for years that the “governments” were a tougher bunch, despite the steady stream of “privates” that found their way into Springbok cricket teams. In the 1955 team that toured England, a third of the team had been privately educated, but we should remember that competition for places in the national team was not open then to all South Africans.

In any case, until fairly late last century, boarding at a private school was anything but the picnic it is at the modern quasi-country club establishments. A contemporary of mine wrote an account of his days at Hilton College and called it “sanctioned barbarity”. Life then was far removed from Spud’s accounts of his more recent days at Michaelhouse.

Nevertheless, Ferriera’s assertion deserves closer inspection. He believes that the competition for places on the ladder to the top is now more intense than it has ever been and that it begins long before boys leave school. For many boys in the new South Africa, cricket represents a chance to escape from the shackles of an underprivileged background and they are determined to take it.

Ferriera cites as examples of the changing times the growing number of boys at the Coca-Cola Weeks who are already fathers. At a recent week, one of our most promising young fast bowlers took with him his three-year-old son, his partner (who was not the mother of the boy) and her parents. Such a boy is likely to have a very different motivation to obtain a place in the SA Schools team compared to an unfettered boy who is contemplating four years at university followed by a career in one of the professions.

Many promising cricketers, Ferreira says, now come from schools that are unfamiliar to most of us. See if you can match the following schools to the right seven players in the current Proteas team: Capricorn High, Ravensmead, Alexander Road, Vereeniging High, St Dominics, Gelvandale High and Afrikaans Hoër**. None of these were commonly known as top cricket schools in the old South Africa.

St John’s College in Johannesburg has just invested R4,5 million in a state-of-the-art indoor facility in order to improve cricket at the school. This is a bold statement from a school that produced famous cricketers such as Bruce Mitchell, Russell Endean and Clive Rice. Unless something else changes at the school, however, this investment seems unlikely to bear the kind of fruit so desired at the national table. Facilities are not the problem at our private schools, according to Ferriera.

I understand that before he left Michaelhouse, the headmaster, Guy Pearson, recognised that private schoolboys might no longer be tough enough to deal with all the challenges of the new South Africa. Accordingly, he introduced measures to toughen up the boys at Balgowan. This may or may not be true, but the fact that such a story is in the public domain is interesting enough and indicates that a debate on the subject may be imminent.

CSA should be concerned about the absence of private school boys in our national team. It is too big a chunk of our developing cricketers to be ignored. If there are unfair roadblocks in the way, they should be removed, as they have been for other South Africans. It is more likely, in my opinion, that space is not being created for those talented cricketers who want to go to university.

Rugby and FNB have developed the Varsity Cup into a competition that is rich with promise for Springbok rugby. The time has come for CSA to do likewise.

* Dean Elgar was educated at St Dominics, a private school in Welkom.

** Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Robin Peterson, Morné Morkel, Dean Elgar, Alviro Petersen, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers.

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