Standing in a Northern Irish cricket pavilion in the middle of January detailing the likely challenges to be met in South Africa in terms of quality of opposition, early morning starts and high temperatures will never adequately prepare those who have not toured before to the country. For the majority of the thirty one players this was their first overseas tour and for most of the younger players the first time they had been away from their families for this length of time. Six games in ten days with added sightseeing trips, the normal upset tummies, and the bumps and bruises from playing on hard grounds would test the resilience of all the players.
It was unfortunate that the strongest opposition, particularly for the older group would come at Wynberg School in the first match. On a magnificent ground named after its most famous old boy Jacques Kallis, Wynberg is one of the top cricket schools in South Africa. They were just finishing a six month school season were most of their players had played between fifty and sixty games. The contrast with our own ever diminishing school summer term could not have been more stark.
The Under 18’s took a right hammering, and there became a very quick realisation of the toughness of the environment they now found themselves in. The under 15’s were also heavily beaten, but had they held several missed catches the result would have been much closer. Even in defeat we witnessed two of the youngest players battle together for an hour and half refusing to give their wickets away.
The mark of any good side or the individuals within that side, is generally how they respond to adversity. The following morning at Western Province Cricket Club, under the shadow of Table Mountain we began to see the first signs of resilience from the Under 18’s. They batted superbly to reach a total of 256 in the allotted 50 overs with major contributions from six of the batsmen. They followed this up with a determined fielding and bowling display, but came up against a top quality opener who batted through the innings for 130 not out to take WPCC to victory.
On a more difficult wicket at St Augustine both sides recorded victories in two Twenty/20 games against probably the weakest of the sides we played against.
The following day the under 18’s played the Western Province Academy at The Vineyard with the under 15 game being back at Western Province Cricket Club. Both games looked at one stage if they were going to end in defeats, but it was evident from the sidelines that team spirit was beginning to kick in and a combination of good bowling and excellent fielding eventually lead to two victories.
We now moved from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, the under 18’s playing at Groot Drakenstein and the under 15’s at Coronation Cricket Club. After a great start the under 18’s were disappointed with a total of 201 which was overhauled with just a couple of overs to go. In temperatures of thirty degrees the under 15’s again looked to be heading for defeat but managed to turn things around again to win by thirty runs.
As we arrived for the final game of the tour at Durbanville, it was clear to see from the pre-match warm up this was going to be tough opposition. The under 15’s did very well to post 156 in their 45 overs, but this was easily chased down for the loss of only one wicket by two excellent players whom we later found out were both sixteen year olds.
Meanwhile the under 18’s saved the best to last, scoring 253 for 4 in their fifty overs with some excellent batting. Again the game at one point seemed to be drifting away, but several fine catches and a direct hit run-out turned the game in our favour.
The follow up floodlit Twenty/20 was also won by the under 18’s ending one of the longest days of cricket I have ever been involved in.
Overall, both sides performed better than pre-tour expectations. There were a quite a number of individuals in both groups who showed undoubted talent. The team spirit among both teams was excellent and this definitely had a positive impact on performances. The hope now is that this group of players can take the confidence and belief they have gained and give themselves real momentum as they move into the new domestic season.
A number of people have to be thanked for the success of the trip.
- Andy Clement and Brian Walsh for their support and commitment to the project.
- Neil Watson for his detailed organisation in South Africa
- Andrew Rose for all the unseen work behind the scenes
- Ian Johnston for all the photographs and match reports, often working into the early hours of the morning.
- The coaches for their commitment and hard work in preparing the players not just for the tour but over the last eighteen months in getting our regional programme into a much better state.
- To everyone who contributed financially to the tour.
- The parents for their financial support of the tour, the huge encouragement we received from those who travelled, but also for your ongoing support of our attempts to improve the standards within the Union.
- Finally and most importantly the players – You did yourselves proud. Your behaviour, timekeeping and general good humour was exceptional, you were wonderful ambassadors for the Northern Cricket Union and Irish cricket in general. I have rarely been on a trip were a group seemed to get on so well together. Even the air stewards commented on what a well mannered group they were. I hope all of you will use the trip as a platform to work hard and improve you own personal games and when you come together again later in the year this will translate into enhanced team performances.
One person Alan didn’t mention in his ‘thank yous’ above was himself and if there was one person who made the trip in any way possible it was Alan. He shouldered an enormous burden of responsibility for the organisation of the venture and for this he is owed an enormous debt of gratitude both by the Northern Cricket Union and by all who were part of the trip.