Sport

BOWLED OVER

It’s been very quick progress for a young Joburg cricketing prodigy

It’s been very quick progress for a young Joburg cricketing prodigy
Kwena Maphaka at the CSA Cubs Week at Coetzenburg in Stellenbosch in January. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Teenage bowling sensation Kwena Maphaka is in the fast lane to success, but his coach wants him to slow down a little.

For Kwena Maphaka, the phrase “life comes at you fast” has none of the usual negative connotations.

Ever since he took a shine to the cricket ball the first time it was tossed to him at Rivonia Primary School, Maphaka’s progress in the game has been meteoric, his raw pace giving not only batsmen but also the entire establishment the hurry-up.

The youngster made his debut for the St Stithians’ First XI in Grade 9, represented the SA Under-19 side at last year’s World Cup at 15 and this week he launched his first-class career by playing for the SA A team in their “Test” series against Sri Lanka A – two months after his 17th birthday.

In keeping with a disconcerting habit of looking at home each time he is introduced to a higher level, the Grade 11 student returned figures of 2/43 and 1/27 in a losing effort, which didn’t exactly come as a shock to his director of cricket at St Stithians, Wim Jansen.

“Kwena’s an unbelievable freak of nature. He’s got an amazing gift,” Jansen explains. “I always say God has a sense of humour: He gives some athletes a lot of talent but not a lot of kop and the lesser talented people He gives more brain.

“Kwena’s got both, which is unusual. The plan with the SA Under-19s last year was to take him with to learn, but he ended up playing and taking three or four wickets. He’s a very mature boy for his age. The amazing thing about him is that he’s so humble.”

Toothpaste out the tube

And now that the first-class toothpaste is out of the tube earlier than expected, Jansen has no doubt his charge will adapt to the level: “I was fortunate to have [Proteas fast bowler] Kagiso Rabada at Saints. Kwena’s 5 to 10km/h quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen at schoolboy level – he’s actually a bit too quick for most schoolboys.

“The thing about him is his setup ball doesn’t miss. Often the classical way to get a batsman out is by bowling one or two bouncers and a yorker. The less-experienced guys have a plan but they can’t execute; Kwena doesn’t miss.”

It’s easy to suspect that Jansen’s faith in Maphaka’s skill comes from his pride as a coach, but it was emphatically vindicated by a spell for the ages by his young charge in a game against Hilton College at the Independent Schools’ Festival earlier this year.

Coming off a short, bustling but rhythmic run-up, Maphaka reduced Hilton’s much-­vaunted top order to 19/5 in 4.5 overs, taking all five wickets in just 2.5 overs – four of them bowled and one trapped leg before wicket.

The hallmark of the spell was searing pace and aggression channelled only at the stumps by a bowler Jansen says can already push the speed gun needle to between 138 and 140km/h.

Like all self-respecting left-arm quicks, Maphaka’s repertoire includes a delivery that goes across the right hander, the one that sneaks back in late, a judiciously used bouncer and an accurate yorker.

“He [also] bowls an exceptionally good slower ball, a cutter that he rolls his fingers across … because he’s so quick that slower ball gets plenty of wickets. He’s got great rhythm and can swing the ball both ways – he’s a pure package,” says Jansen.

Kwena Maphaka is also a punchy lower-order batter. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

 Rabada comparisons

Given Maphaka’s school and the fact that he’s also a punchy lower-order batter, the comparisons with fellow St Stithians alumnus Rabada have been quick.

“He’s not as tall as Kagiso but he’s more of a powerhouse, he’s explosive. I think the hockey and the tennis [Maphaka is a provincial player at both] have helped.

“Fast bowlers have to spend a lot of time on their conditioning. With a lot of the other boys you have to push them and be at them to be in the gym; he’s disciplined and gets on with that stuff on his own.

“If you look at the stats, Kagiso was very quick but he didn’t pick up many wickets. Kagiso’s got one five-for and 10 four-fors, and he only got the five-for in the semifinal against Australia in the [2014 Under-19] World Cup.

“Kwena at the moment is on eight or nine five-fors for the first team alone. He’s so effective – he’s deadly.”

Much like Affies did with former Proteas batter AB de Villiers and Maphaka’s ex-SA Under-19 teammate Dewald Brevis, Jansen has set up a mentorship between Rabada and Maphaka. The two have met once and continue to chat via WhatsApp.

But for all of Maphaka’s seemingly preternatural power, strength and speed for one so young, the SA A call-up has hastened the need for the school to be firmer on the boundaries it has in place to manage him physically. Already scheduled to tour Bangladesh with the SA Under-19 team in July, the SA A trip came as a curveball for Maphaka, who also has a school tour to Sri Lanka in August and has been selected for the SA Action Cricket side to play in the World Cup in the UAE this October.

Having already moved to a stage at which Maphaka – whose older brother Tetelo (22), is a left-arm spinner for the Gauteng Lions – bowls little or works on his conditioning at practice because “everyone wants a piece of him”, Jansen is of the view that also playing action cricket will mess with his actual cricket.

“I’m totally against it,” Jansen says. “I’ve had two meetings with his parents. I’m not dissing the sport but there’s no space for Kwena to play action cricket at all. It’s a very hard surface and, with his workload, it’s the last thing he needs.

“We’ve had conversations with [Lions CEO] Jono Leaf-Wright and [CSA director of cricket] Enoch Nkwe to come up with an integrated plan for Kwena. The SA A selection was a curveball because we thought he was only going to Bangladesh.” DM

This article first appeared in DM168 on 17 June 2023.

 

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