Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: School of hard knocks helps Africans achieve in NZ

Colin de Grandhomme. Photo / Getty Images
Colin de Grandhomme. Photo / Getty Images

African-born cricketers are stamping their mark on the New Zealand game in an unprecedented fashion.

A generation ago, the subject was more the nature of a trivia question: which New Zealand cricketer was born in Nairobi? Dipak Patel.

Now there has been something of a surge, with six of the 72 provincially-contracted players born in Zimbabwe or South Africa, and Durban-born BJ Watling one of 20 nationally-contracted players.

Others such as Roald Badenhorst and Carl Cachopa (Central Districts) and Craig Cachopa (Wellington) are also playing matches in various formats.

The quantity of African players is apparent but their quality is also worth noting.

The six who have provincial contracts have either played for New Zealand (Grant Elliott), could be selected (Colin de Grandhomme, Kruger van Wyk and, from April, Neil Wagner) or are well into their domestic apprenticeships (Brad Cachopa, Colin Munro).

All but Elliott have featured in the top 10 of the various MVP tables in the past two years - Elliott has regularly appeared in the top 20, having been an African pioneer when he made his test debut for New Zealand in 2008.

The current scenario reflects what has happened in England over recent seasons. They have developed the best test side in the world, retained the Ashes in Australia and are Twenty20 world champions using the likes of African-born Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Jonathan Trott, Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter.

Auckland coach and former Zimbabwean test cricketer Paul Strang moved to New Zealand more than seven years ago and excelled for East Coast Bays before coaching full-time.

"I couldn't achieve what I wanted in the Zimbabwe system," Strang said. "It came down to deciding whether to move to Australia or New Zealand. I got a foot in the door here and worked my way up."

Strang has three African-born players at Auckland - de Grandhomme, Munro and Brad Cachopa. He describes de Grandhomme as "a talented team man", Munro as "the ultimate fighter" and Cachopa as "respectful with a quiet inner confidence".

He says those qualities could be developed and honed by the African school system.

"It often involves strict discipline, which might be an old-fashioned concept now but such an authoritative system can help these guys in sport. It makes them respectful but competitive.

"Club atmospheres also play a part. Kids kick, bowl or pass a ball from a young age. Club sport was a central theme to the African life I came from, which also included tennis and golf. You could compare it to the beach culture of New Zealand. However, I think [emigrating African] families see New Zealand as a better place to bring up children."

Some like Elliott, Wagner and van Wyk decided to leave and Strang has a lot of time for their pursuit of New Zealand representative honours.

"They made life-changing decisions; they are passionate and dedicated about playing in New Zealand."

Pretoria-born Wagner (25) has always admitted South Africa's politics drove him to fish out his passport: "It was still a pretty raw society and I wanted to get out of it."

But he says Strang's observations of the African school and club system are accurate.

"Playing sport is everyone's dream in South Africa, probably even more so than in New Zealand, if that's possible. They work at generating the talent which is then nurtured in a family environment at a club. Sometimes that mightn't happen enough in New Zealand."

The family of Durban-born Munro (24) came to New Zealand almost 10 years ago for similar reasons.

"I didn't fancy the idea of growing up looking over my shoulder worrying about crime or a quota system which saw me miss out on representative teams in my early years," he says. "However, a South African background can help teach people how to win. There is no 'well played' or 'good job' if you come second."

- Herald on Sunday

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