The answer is Cape Town. More specifically a school in Cape Town. A school that has nurtured an Ashes winner, the ICC Cricketer of the Year, an IPL winner and a World Cup winner. A school that has become a venerable cricketing factory. We profile the rich cricket tradition at one of South Africa’s oldest and most prestigious schools, Wynberg Boys’ High School.
The very first time I ever played on “The Oval” at Wynberg, as it was called in my day (it has since been renamed the “Jacques Kallis Oval”) I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the checkerboard, lush outfield. It didn’t feel as if I was in Cape Town but rather at Lord’s or its namesake in London.
What was even more incredible for a diehard cricket fan such as me was walking down “Century Mile”. Rows and rows of trees honouring every boy who has scored a century for the school’s 1st XI on The Oval or has performed spectacularly with ball in hand. Walking down the mile I encountered an old, rusty plaque on a certain tree with the name “C.M. Willoughby”. Quite curious, I thought. I had no idea that long-time Western Province, Cobras and Proteas bowler Charl Willougby was a Wynberg Old Boy.
Further along I inspected a large clump of trees all growing together. Plaque after plaque had the same initials and surname. The most famous of Wynberg Old Boys, the greatest South African batsman of all time and arguably the greatest all-rounder the world has ever seen. Yet when these trees were planted, the shiny plaques of “J.H. Kallis” were nothing more than a memento of an extraordinarily talented young 18 year old boy, whose footsteps I was now walking in. Who would think that 18 years later he would be one of the most legendary names in the world of cricket.
On the edge of the boundary ropes near what the boys nickname “The Cabbage Patch” are two forests. That’s the only way to describe the achievements of F.D. Telo and R.E. Levi. While Telo was a pupil at the school in the early 2000’s, he smashed all of Jacques Kallis’ schoolboy records. Records which cricket scribes in and around the Cape Town area thought would stand the test of time. Two years later a 17-year old named Richard Ernst Levi broke Telo’s records.
If that isn’t enough cricket fan mania, head over to the school’s museum. In one of the many glass cabinets there is housed an old, worn out cricket bat. While it might not seem like much at first glance the description explains that this is the bat used by the legendary English batsman Allan Lamb in his only Ashes century at Headingley in 1989. Yes, even the great Allan Lamb is a Wynberg Old Boy.
The History of a School (1961) by DH Thompson credits Mr Lloyd, a popular master at Wynberg during the 1880s, for establishing cricket as an institution. He would hold lunchtime coaching sessions which would conclude with him having a knock against the schoolboys. Legend has it that the boys went to great lengths to avoid getting him out so as to prolong the ringing of the end-of-lunch bell. Two graduates of these lunch sessions, Robert Reid Dower and Robert Graham, were awarded international colours when they represented South Africa against Lord Hawke’s English team in 1898, becoming Wynberg’s first national cricket representitives and beginning a tradition that would change the face of cricket both at the school and around the world.
The first South African side to win the prestigious Sir Garfield Sobers International Schools Cricket Tournament in Barbados in 1994, the first schoolboy side outside the subcontinent to tour Pakistan in 2006 and thus far the only school to represent the Cobras franchise in the Standard Bank Schools Pro20 Challenge are just some of the achievements the school has garnered as a whole. While the famous Wynberg End at Newlands is no doubt named after the suburb, many boys will claim that the end was in fact named after the school, another one of the numerous myths and legends that contribute to the rich culture and tradition of this old institution. Legend has it that Jacques Kallis was terribly upset that Wynberg was invited to the Barbados tournament a year after he matriculated. So upset was he that he opted instead to break all of Sir Garry Sobers’ international records instead.
I am still startled by the incredible cricketing tradition of this school. In an attempt to understand what breeds such a standard of cricketing excellence, I took a lazy summer stroll around the grounds one afternoon. As it happens it was the day of 1st and 2nd XI cricket trials. While the boys were being put through their paces in the nets and with drills on the field, I observed an incredibly large crowd for a schoolboy trial. Among the crowd were cricket scribes and scouts all hoping to scoop the “next big thing”. All this from a school’s cricket trials! Yet when you see that of the 13-man WP U13 squad, 7 headed to Wynberg for their secondary schooling in 2011, while the 2011/12 WP U19A side boasts no less than 5 Wynberg players, its no surprise that trials would generate so much interest as all the who’s who amongst young talent are gathered in one team.
The reason for this dominance is that fierce competition for spots in the school team has engineered a High Performance culture at the school. No longer is spending hours in the nets hitting balls in an attempt to crack the 1st XI an option. There are 2, sometimes maybe 3 or 4 other players with the same talents as you at the school all training exactly the same as you are. This forces boys to deconstruct their game, analyze every aspect and fine-tune every bit of their game. It also enables them to think laterally, adopting various forward thinking training strategies. One only has to attend one of the school’s Professional Coaching sessions every Friday to see the efforts being put in by the plethora of boys hoping to excel.
Performing and training in such an atmosphere has numerous benefits, chief among which are the boys are equipped to handle almost any game at schoolboy level, and the step up to provincial and national level is made far less daunting. The professionalism and discipline required to excel at the top levels has already been ingrained from a young age.
It comes as no surprise then that Wynberg Boys are flooding the cricket scene all around the country, currently featuring very prominently at domestic level in the 1-Day and Pro20 competitions. Names such as Richard Levi, Shadley van Schalkwyk and Malusi Siboto have all been churning out match winning performances for their respective franchises while youngsters such as Grant Edmeades and Chad Fortune are generating major interest at EP & KZN U19 level, knocking on the door of selection for the Warriors and Dolphins senior franchise sides. With the big question looming as to who will inherit the throne of Boucher, a 17-year old wicket-keeper named David Bedingham has stuck his hand up as one of the leading contenders to fill the great man’s shoes.
Renowned sports psychologist Paddy Upton, Gary Kirsten’s right-hand man, was along with Kirsten at the helm of the World Cup winning Indian cricket side and is currently also part of the Proteas management team. Adrian Holdstock, captain of the 1987 1st XI, is one of the Cape’s up and coming young umpires, making his international umpiring debut during the SA v Aus T20 match recently at Newlands.
There’s a saying in sporting circles. If you want to become a Springbok, head to Grey College. I’d like to suggest a cricketing alternative. If you want to become a Protea, head to Wynberg.