Thinking back on last week’s announcement to a large gathering of Saints boys in the school chapel that St Charles College had appointed Morne van Wyk as Cricket Specialist from the first of July, it set me musing about the Q and A session prior to the announcement and what I – and the boys – had learnt from it.
Jono Cook feature image: Morne van Wyk and St Charles College first XI captain Wesley Madhevere outside the chapel after the announcement.
Saints head of sport Rowan Irons asked a number of interesting questions, among them this vastly experienced cricketer’s thoughts on the Proteas’ chances at the World Cup, and Morne obliged with a set of thought-provoking answers. And I learnt further, this time on Morne’s appointment, in the impromptu video piece Morne did with me shortly afterwards.
With the Cricket World Cup on the go right now, as I type, host nation England setting South Africa a target of 312 in the tournament’s opening match at Lord’s, it’s apt to start this piece at the end of the Q&A, when Rowan asked Morne for his opinion on the chances of the Proteas doing something they’ve never done before.
“I think it is different for the South African team this time, as there are not excessive expectations on them to win it. Dave Miller said to me that the players are not feeling the pressure.
“Another plus is that it is a long tournament and our Proteas can grow into the tournament. What is vital is to peak at the right time.
“It is a very open World Cup; there are 6 or 7 sides that can take it. Sides like Afghanistan can upset the fancied sides and throw the tournament wide open, but getting to the knockout stage is paramount.”
Morne said to the boys in the Saints chapel that he had made his first-class debut for Free State while in Grade 12 at Grey College. “It was a dream come true, a special moment.”
“Another big moment was when I made my debut for South Africa in 2003 at Lord’s, a fantastic memory.”
Rowan then made the point that Morne found a special home in the white-ball format of the game.
“Yes, I remember playing at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on a drop-in pitch against India,” said Morne. “I was in-form but still a bit surprised at my call-up. Before I knew it, I had got a nice score, it was a great experience.”
“My knock against the West Indies in Durban towards the end of my international career – I thought it was my last game for South Africa and after a nervous start in the T20 I got to a comfortable place and made the magical three figures for SA… definitely a highlight.”
Rowan then asked Morne for his thoughts on the early specialisation by a schoolboy in a particular sports code.
Morne first outlined his personal experience.
“I played rugby, cricket and tennis during my Prep School days,” said Morne.
“Then in grade 8 at high school (Grey College) I’d come off two Craven Weeks (Morne played provincial cricket, rugby and tennis during his grade 6 and 7 years) but heard that Jonty Rhodes played hockey.
“As I wanted to emulate Jonty and play cricket for South Africa, I decided to switch to hockey (Morne made the SA U16 squad during his high school years) and to this day I still play hockey.”
Then, directing his response more specifically towards the predominantly Saints Senior School boys packed into the chapel, Morne said he felt it was important that the boys didn’t choose a particular sport over a group of sports too soon.
“Looking back, I found I was able to adapt aspects of what I had learnt in tennis and hockey and apply them to my cricket, but I think there comes a time when you do naturally lean towards specialising in the particular sport of your choice.”
Not a wicketkeeper from the outset of his cricket journey, Morne’s natural balls skills and multiple sports code experiences at junior level stood him in good stead when called upon to be a gloveman for Free State in his early twenties
My interpretation of Morne’s words is that the time for a schoolboy to begin focusing on one sport comes about organically; there is a point in your life that it kind of happens on its own – it is not forced, or imposed, or engineered – it just happens through circumstance (like making your first-class cricket debut in matric, the Morne van Wyk sports specialisation path had begun).
For another boy it might be making a KZN Coastal or KZN Inland U18 team in his matric year; that might be the time when the boy’s thoughts should turn to focusing on the sport he has gained the highest recognition for.
Rowan then asked Morne for his viewpoint on the dynamics of a team.
“A team is like a school – everyone should feel that they are part of a family,” said Morne. “There must be mutual respect between the older, more experienced players and the young guys – that is non-negotiable.
“Upholding team values trumps sporting victories but if you have the first, often you get the second.”
If one looks at the successes of the Springboks in winning the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cups, the “team as family” concept appeared to be a major factor in their lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy aloft in Johannesburg and Paris respectively.
St Charles head of sport Rowan Irons mentioned that Morne played professional cricket for over 20 years, so Jono did a bit of homework.
South Africa, Dolphins, Eagles, Free State, Kolkata Knight Riders, KZN Coastal, Quetta Gladiators… that’s seven first-class cricket teams over two decades.
That’s a lot of cricket contracts – around five, so wicketkeeper batsman Morne knows the feeling of needing to put quality runs on the scoreboard and keep with precision behind the wicket – and lead a side well in his captaincy roles… or else… hard-earned contracts can dissolve pretty quickly.
So what advice could Morne give to schoolboys keen on making it in professional sport?
“It is very much a performance-related environment,” said Morne, who is a youthful 40-year-old. “Often the contracts you sign are for no longer than one or two years so the pressure on you to perform is great.”
A total of 605 first-class cricket matches across all formats of the game in a career spanning 23 years tells one of the durability, longevity and character of the man.
“Just remember that while your career is important, you will do best if you remind yourself that it’s not everything in life. That certainly took the feeling of pressure away from me.”
The Bloemfontein-born Morne is a serving Christian and his faith has been a rock in good times and not-so-good. Once again, my takeaway was that looking at the bigger picture rather than a specific incident is the way to go.
Morne’s broad advice to Prep and Senior School boys as far as their sport is concerned?
“Do your best, lay strong foundations, forge friendships and have fun.”
Soon after the conclusion of the Q&A, the Principal of the 5 Schools in 1 College, Mr Allen van Blerk, announced that Morne van Wyk had been the unanimous choice of the selection panel as St Charles College’s new Cricket Specialist.
The school and Morne both feel that they have found the right “fit”.
The St Charles College term “Cricket Specialist” is essentially what other schools describe as the director of cricket.
Among Morne’s more interesting match-ups when the KZN10 cricket season resumes later this year is when Saints take on Northwood, where his younger brother, Divan, is director of cricket.
Mutual respect, cricket as a family, and the bigger picture.
KZN10.com wishes Morne van Wyk and St Charles College cricket everything of the best.