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Tuesday, 01 September 2015 00:00

Cricket: An In-depth Look at School Cricket Through the Eyes of Jon Kent

It is said that whilst raw talent requires finishing touches, it is never too early to monitor outstanding prospects.  Jon Kent took up the game of cricket at the age of eight and was soon identified as a natural with both bat and ball. Representing Natal u18 in both cricket and hockey for two years, he made his First-Class debut for the Dolphins in the 1997/98 season and went on to represent the Proteas in two One Day Internationals versus Australia.



Jon Kent talks about school cricket in South AfricaWith a highest First-Class batting score of 178 not out and bowling stats of 6/77; it’s little wonder that this DHS Old Boy has been utilized by Supersport as an analyst and commentator since his retirement from the game. Refreshingly passionate about giving back to the sport that has afforded him so many opportunities, Kent is currently working as a High Performance cricket coach at Kearsney College, as well as the KZN u17 squad. During this exciting time of South African cricketing domination on the world stage, there is nobody better placed to discuss the progress and challenges facing the game at age-group level. A keen student of many sports, he has viewed the enviable resources of school rugby with admiration and longs for a systematic alignment from the cricketing fraternity.

“School cricket needs the investment that rugby has had over the past ten years. Rugby programs have top facilities, coaching development and the technology required to fine-tune youngsters with room for improvement. Investing in technology will also go a long way to improving the bad habits that kids pick up through time. Most have never seen themselves bowl and I have seen first-hand that when they see where they are going wrong, the penny drops and they can personally identify what needs improvement. It’s a massive help and needs to be implemented across the board”.

With South African cricket in the midst of an age of international dominance, there is clearly a need to emulate the practice of schools employing former pros to oversee their cricket programs and ensure it sustains a consistent standard, with the end result being the churning out of schoolboys who have the technical know-how to make a go of professional cricket.


“I can see the improvement that a one on one session has on a player and seeing that drastic shift in their form is very rewarding. It’s a sport where skills need constant maintenance and improvement; so there is a need to use the off-season terms to train those boys who take the sport seriously; as much as we can do with school sports overlapping these days. The reality of boys concentrating on one sport is an issue; these days players prioritize a sport early and often talented cricketers are lost to the game before they have reached their full potential. Those with rugby aspirations need to realize that their physique can be a stumbling block there, but that’s not the case with cricket”.   

Ask any group of matrics what their preferential future path would be and without doubt ‘going overseas’ is still in vogue. From a strictly cricketing point of view, it has become tougher for youngsters to head to the United Kingdom and enter the big leagues, but that is actually a positive outcome, explains Kent.

“Average players were going over there in the past and affected the reputation of South African cricketers with their standard of play; it really started to knock our credibility.
Now, if a player wants to go to a local club as a Pro, they need to have played six first-class games in the last eighteen months to qualify for a professional sporting visa. Some clubs allow overseas pros and amateurs in one team (particularly in the North of England, such as Manchester), but down South they are very strict. You’re also competing with Pakistanis and Sri Lankans who have a very high standard, but are often prepared to be paid less than a lot of South Africans, so they are more attractive to UK clubs”.


To play County Cricket as an Overseas Pro, you need to have played a Test Match or a few ODI’s for South Africa, which has made Passports, Ancestral Visas and England Qualified Players all the more attractive in the British Isles. The opportunity to make a decent living, travel and potentially play for England has seen its fair share of South African-bred cricketers find new allegiance.  

As for school-leavers looking for a gap year or amateurs looking for an experience, the solution would be to make contact with a local English club and obtain a holiday permit, with the club assisting with a part-time job and making the player feel at home by integrating him into the social fabric of the club; a part of the game that is so prevalent in the villages of the UK, but has unfortunately taken a backseat in the South Africa equivalent.

As for those taking the more conservative option of pursuing a tertiary education locally, the status quo seems to be dominated by an ambitious few.

“South African universities need to invest in programs to attract top cricketers because the talent seems to be concentrated in Pretoria and the Cape. Pierre de Bruyn is involved with an incredibly strong High Performance program at Tuks and as a result, the varsity has two Premier Division club sides in the Pretoria leagues. It’s time that other varsities built their depth too, for the good of the game”.

A sticky wicket for any traditionalist is the somewhat recent emergence of Twenty20 cricket as arguably the most popular form of the game today. Many connoisseurs feel it has replaced the tactical nuances of Test cricket with the ‘bubblegum pop’ razzmatazz of a three-hour spectacle aimed at those who wouldn’t even consider viewing the longer version of the game. 


“I think that Twenty20 cricket is good for the game. It’s not a favourite of the old guard, but it has forced creativity from batsmen. Declaration cricket allows a patient player to achieve a decent score by knocking the ball around the park for the single. We now get to see who the creative shot makers are. It has also ironically brought back the spinner as a match winner. When the format first took off, the feeling was that spinners would be dispatched, but a left-arm orthodox spinner is probably the most valuable cog in a T20 squad today”.  


It is at this point where contentment may tempt us into believing that our senior national team success should entitle us to a feeling of back-patting achievement; that the system is not broke, so why try improve on it? Jon Kent pensively considers such a notion and lists subtle improvements that could lead to a golden age for decades to come.

“I would like to see specified gym and nutritional programs developed, a system to constantly up-skill youth cricket coaches and infrastructure that actively monitors feeder schools to identify top talent from a very young age. When Dale Steyn was spotted, he was a skateboarder from Phalaborwa who didn’t particular love cricket, but could bowl at 140km/h at an early age. He was an investment and is now the finely-tuned world beater we all know and revere. Who knows how many more Dale Steyns are out there”.   

Follow Jon Kent on Twitter: @JonKent23

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