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Full seam ahead — future of SA cricket looks bright thanks to teens Maphaka and Luus

Full seam ahead — future of SA cricket looks bright thanks to teens Maphaka and Luus
Tristan Luus of the Proteas celebrates the wicket of Jaydn Denly of England during the ICC U19 World Cup at the JB Marks Oval in Potchefstroom on 23 January 2024. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

The sky’s the limit for the two Junior Proteas, who recently shone at the U19 World Cup.

South Africa has produced some outstanding seam bowlers in the past – the likes of Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock and, most recently, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje.

If the bowling displays of Kwena Maphaka and Tristan Luus at the recently concluded U19 Cricket World Cup can be used as a barometer for whether this trend will continue, the future is extremely bright for South African cricket.  

Luus and Maphaka played a vital role in helping the Junior Proteas to reach the semi­finals of the South African-hosted World Cup, before the home side was eventually vanquished by runners-up India (who were beaten by Australia). The Indians edged the Proteas by two wickets to end the hopes of South Africa winning a second U19 World Cup.

Thus, the Maphaka and Luus two-pronged pace attack concluded their World Cup campaign with a total of 28 wickets between them. The former collected a massive 21 scalps (the most at the 2024 tournament) and the aggressive Luus complemented his partner with seven strikes.  

The wait continues

In spite of boasting some of the best players ever to pick up the bat or ball, World Cup success at senior level has eluded South Africa, in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. The only time the country’s cricket community has had a taste of conquering the world was when the Proteas’ under-19 side clinched the 2014 Junior World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

That team produced two notable Proteas in skipper Aiden Markram, as well as prolific pacer Rabada. However, they’ve not been able to inspire the senior Proteas men in a similar fashion.

With South Africa hosting the 2024 juniors’ showpiece and boasting some exceptional young talent such as Maphaka and Luus, plus belligerent opening batters Lhuan-dre Pretorius and Steve Stolk, there was hope that the well-drilled South African team would be able to double the country’s World Cup collection. It wasn’t to be.

In matches before that semifinal loss to India, the Proteas had swatted aside almost every team that stood in their way. The only hurdle they’d tripped over was England, who beat them by 36 runs via the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method.

Kwena Maphaka

Kwena Maphaka of South Africa appeals during the U19 World Cup semifinal against India at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on 6 February 2024. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Lessons learnt

In spite of still reeling from tripping at the penultimate hurdle, Maphaka and Luus told Daily Maverick they had many positive takeaways from taking part in the tournament.   

“It was a great experience. Playing for your country is different from anything we’ve done so far. There are also a lot of learnings we had playing there. Building yourself, building your character. Getting tested in areas you’re not used to being tested. It was awesome,” Hoërskool Waterkloof alumnus Luus said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s future stars have been shining at the U19 Cricket World Cup

This was the second Junior World Cup for Maphaka, despite being only 17 years old. He was also present at the 2022 edition in the West Indies. Aged 15 at the time, he took seven wickets in the tournament.

The 21 he took in 2024 have propelled him to 28 scalps and the summit of all-time wicket-takers at the under-19 biennial showpiece. He shares top spot with Zimbabwe’s Wesley Madhevere on that records list.

“The previous World Cup, I was a little bit more nervous compared with this time. Obviously, because [two years ago] I was more inexperienced and I was the youngest in the team at the time,” Maphaka said.

“The lessons I took from the last World Cup were being more confident and backing my game. That helped me achieve better results.

“In terms of the World Cup as a whole, it was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t go through to the final. We put on a good show for the South Africans who were watching us,” Maphaka, who was crowned player of the tournament for 2024, said.

What was the most challenging aspect of the whole experience for the teenagers, though, from a mental perspective in particular?

“Having to wrap your head around the fact that you are representing your country. You’re going to play in front of a bigger crowd. [There are] going to be autographs, people will want to take photos. You’re going to be on live television. So, it’s about wrapping your head around that and being comfortable,” Maphaka shared.

“The coaches helped a lot with the mental space. Even our teammates. Like Kwena said, you just have to be comfortable with the new environment,” his partner in batter torment, Luus, added.  

Formative years

Both starlets’ love affair with cricket began before either can even remember. However, by the time they could walk they were hooked on the game. With Luus born in 2005 and Maphaka a year later, they were quite young when South Africa’s golden generation of cricketers were shining.

The likes of Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla are part of that stellar lineup of South Africa’s cricket all-stars.

Undoubtedly, when they could follow cricket cognitively, these are some players they looked up to. But both have previously cited Steyn as a huge inspiration during their formative years.   

How, though, did their relationships with cricket begin? For Luus it was at home in Centurion, and Maphaka’s journey was ignited by his older brother Tetelo in the garden of their Johannesburg home.

“My first memory of cricket was me being about four years old and playing garden cricket against my brother. And I’d basically just bowl the whole day at him. Because I could not get him out,” Maphaka said.

“I had a plastic bat. And my dad [threw] air balls. I’d hit the balls over the fence… Then I’d have to go and fetch them. My uncle was staying next door at the time. He would also collect the balls and bring them in a basket,” said Luus about his own experience.  

Both players have ambitions to play for the Proteas one day. For now, they are still basking in the glow of an inspired World Cup tournament, where they improved on the 2022 quarterfinal elimination suffered by South Africa.

U19 Kwena Maphaka

The Proteas’ Kwena Maphaka in action during their U19 World Cup Super Six match against Zimbabwe at the JB Marks Oval in Potchefstroom on 31 January 2024. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Future plans

Luus is moving to Durban to be part of the Dolphins’ setup after sharpening his skills with the Tshwane-based Titans.

As for Maphaka, he is focused on completing his final year of high school at St Stithians College, which also happens to be Rabada’s alma mater. After that, the sky’s the limit for the teenager who made his debut for South Africa “A” side in 2023 and is part of the Lions.

Though South Africa still awaits a senior cricket World Cup win, this generation of Junior Proteas has advice that may aid their seniors in finally breaking the country’s World Cup duck in the near future.

“Talent-wise, we’re on a par with [countries such as India, Australia and England]. Or even better. As South Africans, what we need to do is adopt a better winning mentality. Not hoping to win. But going out and saying, ‘We’re going to win this’. That’s the biggest thing,” said Maphaka.

“We should realise that they are just cricket players. We should not play the country. We should play the player,” said Luus. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • D.R. W says:

    To me, the most important thing to talk about regarding SA’s U19 cricket team in this World Cup was the blatant discrimination of the captain of the side as a result of him being Jewish and the chair/president of the cricket administrator being an ardent Hamas advocate. The person in power elected to create a false narrative to remove the young Jewish boy from his position as Captain.

    This is the defining story of SA’s World Cup cricket experience. And it should feature strongly in any media coverage of the event. Particularly coverage from an independent media publication such as yours.

    I thought discrimination was frowned upon by all South Africans, particularly those in leadership positions. But it isn’t. Indeed the defining story of the ruling party over the past 6 months is its steadfast position of condoning terrorism and steadfastly defending it. The effects of this position, which no doubt emboldened Cricket South Africa’s chair/president to use his position of power to discriminate against this youngster, will be likely felt in time to come as SA’s ruling party continues to flaunt its friendship with terrorist organisation that is backed by an axis of evil. That same axis of evil is rumoured to be providing funding for SA’s ruling party.

    Joining the dots, sport and politics, discrimination & vocal support for terrorists – is not a winning formula for nation building

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