Fear and frustration as Covid-19 grinds schools cricket to a halt

Heinrigh Pieterse (R) is one of various players still eligible for the Junior Proteas in 2021. (Gallo Images)
Heinrigh Pieterse (R) is one of various players still eligible for the Junior Proteas in 2021. (Gallo Images)
  • Junior cricket has ground to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving many young hopefuls anxious whether they'll be able to carve out a professional career.
  • Seasoned coach Dave Nosworthy cautions against a group of 'lost' players denied a platform to showcase their talents.
  • But Niels Momberg, CSA's youth cricket manager, believes the Junior Proteas will be able to cope.

Dave Nosworthy has been dealing with a lot of frustrated matrics over the past few months ... and it's not because they're struggling to solve an algebra equation.

Instead, the director of cricket at St David's - Proteas star Temba Bavuma's alma mater - is trying to guide numerous 18-year-old cricketers anxious about their future plans being dumped into turmoil by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's been very sad to see 2020's school sporting calendar simply evaporate," Nosworthy, whose stellar coaching career includes South Africa 'A', New Zealand 'A', Canterbury, various franchise gigs and director of cricket at Somerset, told Sport24.

"There are so many matrics around the country, who had planned to use their talent to attempt and launch a good sporting career. But they'll have no matches to use as a platform. As things stand, school sports simply won't happen."

Junior cricket will indeed be a write-off this year, with Cricket South Africa (CSA) on the verge of officially cancelling all their youth weeks, including the Khaya Majola Under-19 week.

"To all intents and purposes, those events aren't going to happen," Niels Momberg, CSA's general manager for youth cricket, told Sport24.

"We've been liaising with the Department of Basic Education and the message has been pretty clear. No extramural activities are allowed, not only as a safety measure, but also simply because there's no time for it. At the moment, completing the academic calendar is the top priority."

That's not the type of thing Nosworthy, whose company, Cricket Mentor, provides counselling and career guidance to juniors and professionals, wants to hear.

"What you have now is the real danger of whole year group of players getting lost in the system," he said.

"The important thing to remember about the youth weeks is that it provides context. It's not just young players representing their schools. These boys aim to represent their provinces because that's where the real exposure lies. 

"There's unfortunately a gap in the system. There are always a few top candidates who have been identified early on at school that generally command attention right until their matric year. These players are at least known nationally, but others need a national week to raise their profile."

Momberg admits that this year's younger elite teams, specifically between Under-15 and Under-17 level, "might miss out on a year's cricket", but the pipeline for the Junior Proteas won't be shut down completely for next year's assignment.

"The national Under-19 team that was due to tour Sri Lanka before the trip was cancelled recently was already going to be made up of players who would still be eligible next year too," he said.

"We have TAP (Talent Acceleration Programme) that assists us in identifying potential Junior Proteas a few years before they reach matric. It allows us, in an extraordinary time like Covid-19, to still have a core group of players in the bank, despite the absence of the Khaya Majola week.

"Players like Siya Mdlankomo, Mickey Copeland and Heinrigh Pieterse are all still Under-18s, but already have experienced the national set-up. I'm confident TAP will allow us to mitigate some of gaps arising from not hosting youth weeks in 2020."

CSA's franchise cubs week - an annual tournament hosted in January - can hopefully be postponed till March 2021 to identify any "remaining" talent.

"The cubs week is one of our main platforms for selecting the Junior Proteas group. If we can delay the tournament for a few months, there might be an opportunity for provinces to have a few trials at the start of next year," said Momberg.

For now, though, that future planning seems freakishly long-term as the pandemic takes a more immediate toll psychologically.      

"Top candidates are sitting around, seeing how professionals are resuming training, but they can't even have a proper net," said Nosworthy.

"It's a frustrating and difficult period."

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