Picture: 123RF/RICHARD THOMAS
Picture: 123RF/RICHARD THOMAS

The more formal game of cricket with its largely English tradition and expensive facility infrastructure has had an air of elitism. However, cricket in its simplest form is a game of bat and ball played in the streets and the open veld.

The divide between that basic game and top-class cricket is its intricate layers of tactics. Professional cricket, in essence, is a mind game, a game of strategy in the Chinese game of the “Go” tradition.

“Go” is supposedly so strategically layered that developing a computer that could successfully defeat a top-ranked human player became a benchmark for artificial intelligence development.

Cricket similarly is strategically layered. A deep understanding of one’s opponent, oneself and the game’s strategy will allow the player’s instincts the space to roam free.

To play only with instinct invariably leads to disaster. Finally, in the late 1980s the elite veneer began to slip. Fewer Protea players came from the private schools. Cricket’s popularity spread throughout SA. Bridging the divide to the professional game required an army of volunteers, talent scouts, model C schools, independent initiatives and the Cricket SA development programme.

To develop an understanding of the game’s intricacies begins early in the child’s formative years within the family, the community and schooling. It is an essential journey. That was the kernel of my conversation with Kyle Verreynne.

Kyle’s family is “sportcentric”. Both parents played in the indoor cricket league. Dylan, his elder brother by six years, encouraged him throughout and became, and still is, an important mentor. When his parents split, his mother empowered them with a positive approach, resilience and an ethic of hard work.

“We, of necessity, became independent and self-sufficient,” Kyle said. As a young man, he learnt he was master of his own fate. His Edgemead Primary School gave him a sound platform. After some success, he was offered a Jacques Kallis Foundation scholarship to Wynberg Boys High School by headmaster Keith Richardson and the first team coach, Eric Lefson.

The school gave him the boost, experience and opportunities that projected him forward.

“Lefson was a hard-core coach who told you the way it was,” Kyle remembered. “I had no place to hide when I played a bad shot or had not read the game.”

Lefson’s challenging approach suited Verreynne. He soon realised that, talented as he was in hockey, cricket was his destiny.

“I am not a classic batsman. My game awareness brings me through and that allows me to play instinctively. I like tight situations as the game comes alive. Then the game actually dictates the strategy required and focuses the mind,” Verreynne explained.

After a successful sporting career at school, his rise was quick. In 2016, he had a rewarding campaign in the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh and joined the WP semi-professional team.

In the winter he was given a contract in the Devon league, where he was remarkably successful. He played for Cape Town CC on his return and when Clyde Fortuin left the WP amateur team, Verreynne, as keeper, replaced him.

He had a really good season. In 2017 the Cape Cobras keeper/batsman Dane Vilas signed a Kolpak contract and an opportunity opened up for Verreynne.

“Luckily, these opportunities just opened up for me,” he said.

He, however, had the happy knack and ability to perform well when given the opportunity at the higher level. His first-class batting average is above 50.

His second season with the Cobras, under the guidance of Ashwell Prince, was a blinder with an average of over 60 in the limited-over format. In 2020 the Proteas selectors were looking for young guns as a number of senior players were soon to retire.

Verreynne was drafted into the Proteas squad for the England, Australia and India ODI series.

As was his habit, in his first match he played a significant innings of 50 when his team was in trouble and helped the Proteas to victory against Australia. Interestingly, Verreynne said: “I only felt good enough to be a Protea cricketer when I was picked and performed. There was an element of doubt up to then.”

His career is only beginning. Like Themba Bavuma, he is studying a BCom business degree. Like Bavuma, he took his opportunities on multiple occasions. I believe Verreynne’s self-awareness and maturity will allow him a long and successful Cobras and Proteas career. I admire his essence.

The importance of initiatives like those of Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy, Gary Kirsten and others, and the University of the Western Cape Academy, cannot be overestimated.

Cricket SA and the independent initiatives must not continue to operate in parallel but in strong co-operation.

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