Print this page
Wednesday, 13 February 2019 22:05

Cricket: Meet Coach Vilakazi of Highbury Prep

Written by  Rogan Summerton

For decades Highbury Preparatory School , located on the outskirts of Hillcrest, Kwa-Zulu-Natal has been at the forefront of primary school cricket in the province.

It is a Prep school that can boast the likes of current Proteas batting Coach and former Proteas player Dale Benkenstein, the legendary all rounder Mike Proctor and South Africa’s latest big quick Lungi Ngidi amongst its cricketing alumni. In addition hundreds of talented cricketers have gone on to grace some of the top high schools in the country like Hilton College, Kearsney College and Michaelhouse.

With such a rich heritage of cricket to look back on, Highbury has managed to meet the challenge of consistently playing at the highest level and continue to play a winning brand of cricket with few teams that can rival them.

Several years ago Mr. Knowledge Vilakazi was handed the baton to maintain the Highbury cricketing tradition and as the First XI Coach he has not only been able to produce formidable teams over the years but also has been responsible for preparing players for the rigors of high school cricket.

Knowledge is however quick to point out that the success that he has enjoyed as the coach of one of the top Prep schools in the country has not been due to his ability alone.

“In some ways it is an easy job because our structures are so good here because there are many other coaches at Highbury who have coached the boys very well, long before I get them. We have Rory Wood who is our Director of Sports Teams, Manager and Mentor. Then there is Andre de Beer who starts the boys out from the U9 age and WP de Reuck who coaches the U11A side which is our main feeder team. All the coaches have had a big role to play in how well our First XI side plays today. So by the time they boys get to me, the other coaches, many of which have coached at the first team level, have done most of the hard work for me. So I get presented with the top players in the school who have been developed by the other coaches it couldn’t get easier!” explains Knowledge modestly.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Vilakazi’s success could be that he himself went to Highbury Prep where he was exposed to a cricketing ethos hitherto unknown. After becoming one of the first black players to get selected for the KZN U13 side, he moved to DHS a school which has managed to produce more test cricket players than any school in the world! Rubbing shoulders with school mates like future Proteas Imraan Khan and Hashim Amla, Knowlege Vilakazi quickly developed into a classy wrist spinner who went on to attend the Dolphins Academy and received training in India.

However Knowledge stresses that the success he enjoys is probably due to his first love being teaching which he describes is a huge advantage for him as a coach.

“Yes as a form 5 teacher I know the boys well, so invariably by the time the boys start playing at the U13 level I have most likely taught them in the classroom. Therefore there is respect for me as a teacher firstly and now as a coach. When I am teaching them I can observe first hand their strengths and areas they can improve on so they are not an unknown quantity by the time I have to coach them, “ he says.

Coach Vilakazi is also heavily involved in the development of players from areas who have not enjoyed exposure to cricket. Currently as a player for African Warriors Cricket Club he has been able to nurture some great talent over the years and is also on the selection panel for the regional and provincial teams.

Having seen many talented players come through the ranks from different communities and backgrounds it is interesting to hear what Knowledge Vilakazi looks for in a player.

highbury 1Our main focus at Highbury is to develop players who can manage the longer formats of the game, 50 overs and Time matches. T20 matches are a chance for the teams to have a bit of fun or maybe to experiment with a few options. So I am looking for a player who can cope with fielding for 50 overs. Sometimes you have a child who has talent and skill but emotionally they are not prepared for a 50 over match. I always believe that there are two things you can’t coach - genetics and maturity. A mature player is going to stay focused for the entire game, a mature player can field for 50 over or longer and maybe not bat the whole day. That’s not easy. But it is what I look for,” explains Vilakazi.

School sport is perhaps one of the last bastions of pure sport left although slowly it too is eroding to embrace a more professional approach. One of the less savoury aspects of school sport is the sensitivities of parents who can get carried away when their child is not selected or not being treated like they imagine they should. Knowlege Vilakazi reveals how he enjoys the full backing of parents by meeting with them at the start of the season.

After choosing the squad we have a meeting with the parents where we outline what we expect from them and what is and what is not on. We make it clear that their support is vital and there can only be one coach. When I was a younger coach dropping a player was tough, I used to get quite emotional about it because you are dealing with young feelings and parents. But now I have at my disposal very accurate analysis software which gives me details on every player and so I can explain exactly how a player is or isn’t performing so that all can see the reasons behind any team selection that I make. Really if I have to drop a player it is me as the coach putting my hand up and saying I made a mistake.” says Vilakazi.

Last year Highbury Prep had in their team Ivan Lockem who Coach Vilakazi describes as one of the finest talents he has ever seen. Lockem went on to score over 1000 runs in the season and is currently at Hilton College and is tipped to have a bright future in the sport. This year there are other players who like Highbury Old Boy Lungi Ngidi could soon become household names if the current results are anything to go by.

Highbury First XI will soon embark on a tour to Grahamstown where they will participate in the Independent U13 Prep Schools Festival. It is an occasion that the coach and his team are eagerly looking forward to because for the past 3 years running Highbury has won this festival a feat which has never happened in its 25 year history. Will 2019 be yet another successful tour for Coach V and his team? Few would bet against them.