One Michael Brian Bechet needs no introduction in SA schoolboy sporting circles. On and off the hockey Astro there is little that the man, universally know quite simply as “Bech” has not done.
The comparison on the schoolboy cricket ovals across the country and indeed internationally is no less apt.
SA School Sports has “done” Bech the schoolboy hockey icon before. SA School Sports felt it high time we delved a little deeper into Bech the equally distinguished cricket man.
Bech, director of cricket and first XI coach, the Jeppe first XI – since you arrived at Jeppe has the standard improved and if so, why?
“Thanks Jono it’s great to be interviewed for SA School Sports magazine again. When I arrived here at the start of 2015, cricket was not in a very good space with few teams, and no real cricket culture to speak of, this despite a rich cricketing history in days gone by.
“Kids trained in all different kinds of kit and it appeared quite unprofessional in many ways. I spoke of a 5 year vision to become a school that competed with the likes of KES, St Stithians, and St Johns, the three historically cricket powerhouses in Johannesburg. To date we are well on track, having won the Johnny Waite Under 15 competition this year by beating KES in the final, and having beaten St Stithians both home and away at 1st XI level this year.
“In 2017 and 2018 we have come close to beating KES but we still await a victory over them. At provincial level we are also producing a number of Gauteng Cricketers at Under 15, Under 17 and Under 19 level. Currently we have one of our boys, KgaudiseMolefe, in the SA Under 19 team that played in the World Cup earlier in the year.
Bech, the Jeppe cricket coaching framework – have you made changes since you arrived beginning 2015 and why?
“Jono we now have two competent coaches for every age group A team which has made a big difference, and we have made numerous changes, to the better in every respect, in our coaching appointments. The 2018 year, down the line for Jeppe cricket, has been a good one.
“We have averaged out at approximately 27 games per week so ALL teams are playing at least one game, and sometimes two per week. Our under 15A Team upset the odds and beat KES to win the Johnny Waite T20 competition in the first term, with guts and a will to win being the difference on the day. The 1st XI have played some 30 games in 2018 winning 18, drawing 6 and losing 6. We have had 11 of our Jeppe boys selected for provincial teams at U15, U17 and U19 level and this is on a par with KES who also have 11, and St Stithians who have 9.”
Bech, you coached first XI at Maritzburg College for 21 years. And now at Jeppe for 4years. In a broad sense, are there different challenges at Jeppe compared to Maritzburg College in terms of the boys, the facilities etc?
“Jono the big difference between the Maritzburg College that I coached at, and Jeppe, is that at Jeppe we definitely get a different type of kid. Not necessarily from as wealthy a background as at College, but definitely with an equal will to be the best that they can be.
“When I was at College, Jeppe was one of the schools I could always have seen myself teaching and coaching at given the ‘fight in the dog’ syndrome that was so prevalent in the Jeppe cricket and hockey teams we played against.
“Another big difference at Jeppe is that as a school is has definitely moved with the times, and it does not have a heavy pecking order amongst its pupils. There is a natural respect from the bottom upwards but nothing near the heavy pecking order that I experienced in Pietermaritzburg. Here, the brotherhood through the age groups and different grades is very real and all embracing.
“The area that Jeppe is situated in, and given the enormous traffic that one sees in Johannesburg, we do not necessarily get all the kids that we would like to have here, but the ones we do get buy into the Jeppe way very quickly.”
Bech, the standard of high school cricket in general, and at first XI level, do you feel Gauteng is a stronger province in terms of competition than in the other major school cricket provinces like KZN, the Western and Eastern Cape; the Free State or am I incorrect? If stronger or no, perhaps you can cite reasons why you say this?
“Jono, for one, in Gauteng there are just so many more schools that play cricket. Some of the schools, not necessarily famous from a cricketing history point of view, are producing some top class players. If one looks at the results at the U17 and U19 National Weeks one always finds that the Gauteng Schools teams are in and around that final game so that must say something about the strength.
“Having said that, the standard of cricket in all of the major provinces is good in my humble opinion, and of course with some schools offering copious amounts of money to attract quality cricketers, they will have better teams. Sadly I have to say, parents are not necessarily choosing schools for the right reasons, but arguably based on what-size bursaries their kids are being offered. It is almost a ‘feel-good’ experience for the egos of some parents.”
So Bech the health and strength of SA high school or youth cricket compared to other countries – are we on par or better and why? What are our strengths and weaknesses compared to our peers?
“Jono, having taken teams to the UK on numerous occasions, I feel qualified to state that our school structures are arguably amongst the best in the world. If there is one weakness it is the club system, which seems to becoming diluted with kids unable to experience standing at 1st slip next to a Ray Jennings of old talking about the game.
“There are not enough first class cricketers playing club cricket and sharing their experiences with the next generation. In Australia I believe that kids are benefitting far more from playing in a far stronger club set up.”
Bech, your outstanding achievements in hockey need no further mention in the context of this feature but they are remarkable in their own right. Please list in chronological order, where relevant, the path your association with cricket has taken you.
“Thanks for the kind words there Jono. In my early schooldays I played Durban and District Primary schools in 1968 in the then Provincial Week in Salisbury, Rhodesia. I played for the DHS 1st XI in 1972 and again in my matric year in 1973.
Your hometown Durban, what was it about cricket that attracted you?
“I was fortunate enough to attend DPHS(Durban Preparatory High School) which was then, and still is arguably KwaZulu-Natal’s top primary cricketing school. There my love for cricket was realised under the guidance of John Smith, a man who was to become the Headmaster of DPHS in his latter years.
“When I went to DHS, the then Deputy Headmaster was a man by the name of Les Theobald, former coach of the legendary Barry Richards – and a living memory was when he was the Acting Headmaster in 1970, he let us out of school early to go down and watch his prodigy score 140 at Kingsmead!”
Indeed, Bech, I think I am right in mentioning that Barry was on course for a rare, in Test history, century before lunch, but circumstances conspired for it not to be and he went in for lunch on a so-near-yet-so-far 96 not out. In that same Springbok innings Graeme Pollock the prince of left-handers scored a then record 274 majestic runs in a match in which SA cleaned up Bill Lawry’s Australians good and proper on the way to a series rout.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Bech again.
“Jono I did not play any serious cricket at university (BA HonsPhys Ed and HDE at Rhodes, Jono adds)as I was fully committed to hockey and passing my exams. Started teaching at Maritzburg College in July 1981 and started coaching cricket in 1982.
“I coached the College Under 15A team from 1982-1992, indeed an invaluable apprenticeship. During this time I also assisted with the 1st XI at the Annual Michaelmas Week and the annual Offord Week. In 1989, I was fortunate to be nominated as a coach to attend thePlascon Academy Coaching Camp.
“In 1993 I took over as the coach of the Maritzburg College 1st XI, a position I held until the end of the first term in 2013. In this period I coached some 572 games. I coached the Natal Schools B team from 1990-1994 and the Natal Schools A team in 1997. I was also on the Natal Schools Selection Panel from 1993-2003, and thereafter the KZN Inland Panel from 2004-2013. In 2008 I was appointed to the SA Schools and SA under 19 Selection Panel, a position I still hold currently.”
Wow, Bech that is a remarkable bunch of stats but anyone knowing you as I have, since my schooldays at Maritzburg College in your early years teaching and my last years of 1981 and 82, there is so much more than stats in your coaching modus operandi.
So Bech as a national schools U18 and U19 selector, what do you look for in a cricketer?
“First and foremost one looks for a kid with some basic talent. In National Camp situations, one looks for kids with mental toughness, resilience, cricketing awareness, athleticism, and one who has a lifestyle that fits the demands of making it at the top level.
“I would like to suggest that when it comes to lifestyle, an ambitious young cricketer surrounds himself with winners. I have seen many kids fall off the beaten track by mixing with so called ‘non-participants’, in other words kids who have no drive, no determination to succeed, no passion etc.”
Sage words indeed for all young SA School Sports readers and their moms and dads.
So Bech how do you run the ideal practice? Is time in the nets less well spent than time practising out in the middle or do they complement each other?
“At Jeppe we run one middle session and one turf net session per week, with a Friday session dedicated to fielding skills. I firmly believe that there is nothing better than training in the middle. In the event of lightning strikes or rain we always have the Indoor nets to turn to which is a big bonus as it does mean that no training time is ever compromised. Ideal training is that all team members get to bat but we do place restrictions on how much bowling is done by our bowling specialists.”
Well said Bech. There is a tendency nowadays to employ professional, non-teacher-trained coaches in cricket-strong high schools. Do you feel this has its merits or do you see the teacher/coach as the better option?
“In all honesty, Jono, it is wonderful to have the right type of professional coach in a school BUT there has to be a schoolmaster involved. Effectively however, I see the schoolmaster coach as invaluable in that in an educational environment, one still has to pay attention to the academics, the manners etc. of young kids.
“One can pick up where schoolmasters are NOT involved as kids tend to lack in what we are trying to produce i.e. well rounded youngsters with manners who have a passion for the game. Schoolmasters coach for the love of the game whilst outside professionals tend to coach as a job and for copious amounts of cash.
“Sadly the depth in schoolmaster coaches is on the wane. Personally, if coaching had not been part and parcel of a teaching career, I would have left the profession a long time ago. When coaching one gets to see and influence kids in a completely different environment to that which exists in a classroom situation.”
You have, throughout your teaching career, held senior positions in boarding establishments, in the sports office, at provincial and national coaching level in both cricket and hockey, how do you fit it all in and what or who would you consider to have been a great help in enabling you to produce such impressive outcomes?
“Jono if you want something done, give it to someone who is busy! I have known no different.
“When I arrived at Maritzburg College, I was told by the then Headmaster, Mr Keith Olivier, ‘You will be required to move into Nathan House Hostel and do hostel duties.’
“So I did just that and subsequently became the Senior Housemaster at Hudson House. I was also toldby the then Games Master at the time, the late Mr Dave Dell, that, “As the new Physical Education man, you will be heavily involved in athletics,’ so I did that too. I was a cricket and hockey coach, so I did that too. And then I initially taught just Phys Ed, and then after a couple of years taught junior Mathematics as well.
“How have I fitted all of this in? I just have, because that’s what the job entailed. Sadly it’s not the same these days. I have been self-driven in achieving all of this but have had the support of my family all the way. Being involved at National level in hockey and cricket, as well as having to take cricket and hockey teams away on national and international tours, my family have been very understanding and supportive.”
Bech I hope I don’t sound like a fawning groupie, but your achievements never fail to take my breath away. Many would hope to achieve just a quarter of what you have done.
But enough of Jono waxing Bech lyrical. How would Bech describe Bech the person?
“Jono I don’t suffer fools gladly, I can be seen as stand-offish at times, but with my teams that I coach, I am passionate, caring, determined, highly motivated, self-driven and demand the best at all times.”
What is it about coaching cricket that drives you?
“I am driven by passing on as much information as possible to those that I coach, and hopefully at the same time instilling a love for the game. My wish is to see as many of the boys that I coach make it on to the big stage and to be successful.
“Not all boys that one coaches are destined to become professional cricketers, but the tough lessons learnt on the cricket field can be transferred into the job market in whatever career a kid chooses to follow.
“Cricket is arguably the toughest of sports in that teaches you the most about oneself as ‘you get only one chance’ and it’s how one stands up after being knocked down… that is what ultimately measures one. It also teaches one to respect good form and to not take advantage of the game at any stage in any specific match.”
So Bech who are the cricketers you have coached that give you the greatest satisfaction when seeing them do well post-school?
“Jonty Rhodes, David Miller, Kevin Pietersen on the international front, and the numerous Franchise cricketers that have gone on to make successful careers out of cricket.”
Bech, for me personally it has been an absolute honour to have had the opportunity to talk with you – it is one of the privileges of being a sports journalist. So, finally, anything else you would like to add?
“Jono, it is as always great to chat with you, particularly when it comes to our common passions for cricket and hockey and our youth. My last message to you and the SA School Sports readers is simple: My coaching journey has been an emotionally rewarding one from day one and I would not have changed it in any way.”
Thanks as always, Bech. I am sure allSA School Sports readers will join me in saying, stay strong; there is still plenty fight in the Bech dog and long may it continue to inspire our young cricketers.