Sport

SURPRISE CHANGE

New Proteas women interim coach Dillon du Preez ready for ‘lekker challenge’ of leading side

New Proteas women interim coach Dillon du Preez ready for ‘lekker challenge’ of leading side
Hilton Moreeng during the South Africa women's national cricket team reception at CSA Head Office, Johannesbrg. 1 March 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images) Dillon du Preez during a Proteas training session at Groenkloof Oval, Pretoria. 9 May 2022. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

For the first time since 2012, the Proteas women have a new head coach — a man who has walked a long journey with former coach Hilton Moreeng.

A whole-hearted, bustling fast-bowler who could contribute handy runs lower down the order. That’s how Dillon du Preez was known in his playing days.

A mere seven years after bowling his final delivery for his beloved Free State, Du Preez finds himself in the hot seat as Proteas women’s coach, albeit on an interim basis.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Proteas women will have a different coaching voice.

Last week Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced that Hilton Moreeng – who had been in charge of the side since late 2012 — would vacate his post, having declined another contract extension.

With a multi-format away series against India starting next month, CSA had very little time to headhunt a successor to Moreeng and instead opted to hand the reins over to assistant coach Du Preez on an interim basis.

Moreeng’s contract was extended by CSA last year after the side’s success at the T20 World Cup in 2023, where they made the final — the first time a senior Proteas side had made the final of any World Cup.

The cricket body invited candidates to apply for the head coach position and held interviews but could not find a suitable replacement. The main snag was finding a candidate with a level four coaching qualification.

Moreeng was subsequently offered another contract at the close of summer but decided to vacate the position he’s held for nearly 12 years.

Du Preez and Moreeng have walked a long road together, from the former’s playing days at the then-Eagles (now Knights) in the Free State.

Du Preez attributes Moreeng for getting him into coaching women’s cricket in the first place.

“[Moreeng] was here in 2008/2009,” Du Preez told Daily Maverick.

“Whenever you get dropped or you come back from injury, you play for the B side and he was coaching the B side (at the time).

“We had a nice relationship from there. He always has time for a chat, always listening and helping wherever.

“Just before I stopped playing, I saw him again and we had a chat about women’s cricket. He gave me some advice about coaching and [life] after cricket.”

Dillon du Preez

Dillon du Preez bowls during the Sunfoil Series match between Dolphins and Knights at Kingsmead, Durban. 7 April 2016. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)

Head coach

Du Preez, of course, has his level four coaching credentials, which is a box ticked for CSA.

The 42-year-old admitted that he didn’t have any thoughts of being head coach of the national side at this stage of his career, having been assistant coach to Moreeng since 2020.

“The head coach thing wasn’t something I thought of now,” Du Preez said.

“Maybe after two or three years, it would have been something I considered but, with Hilton moving on, I am taking the team to India now.

“It’s going to be a challenge for me. Maybe it’s time I put myself in that space to give myself a lekker challenge.”

Du Preez though, having had very little head coaching experience, is still uncertain if the job is something that’s right for him right now — if CSA does intend keeping him on full-time.

“If I come back and I see this is not for me, I’ll rather stick to being a specialist bowling coach or assistant,” Du Preez admitted. “Then I’m going to be open and honest with CSA and Enoch [Nkwe] and tell them this is not for me.”

But he is looking forward to taking on the unexpected challenge. “I need to do this and I need to grow as a coach as well,” Du Preez said.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, it’s something I need to take although I’m still a bit nervous but nervous is good.

“I’ll make a call after India to decide — it’s not that I’m getting the job, I still need to apply for it — if I going to apply or am I happy to be a specialist bowling coach?

“It’s something new but luckily I know the players and I know the system. We’ll see…”

His familiarity with the group, as well as a World Cup being only five months away — a new coach unfamiliar with the environment is more likely to cause disruptions to the team’s preparation — suggests Du Preez may stay on after the series against India.

Dillon du Preez

Dillon du Preez of the Knights during the Momentum One Day Cup Qualifier against Warriors at Mangaung Oval, Bloemfontein. 26 March 2107. (Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)

The journey

At the backend of his 14-year-long playing career at Free State, Du Preez contemplated his next steps in life once it was time to hang up the spikes.

His adoration for the sport meant he wanted to stay involved in it and once a head coaching vacancy opened up at the Free State women’s side — and he had a few conversations with Moreeng — he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The coach admitted that the transition from playing men’s cricket to coaching women’s cricket was a daunting one.

“You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know if you can do this, if you can help the players,” Du Preez said.

“When I started there, it took me a week or two, but once there’s buy-in from the players, it’s an amazing environment.

“It is sometimes a bit tough but there’s a lot to offer from a coaching perspective. There’s a lot you can help them with when it comes to bowling and batting.”

A tight relationship

Du Preez and Moreeng have come a long way since their days as player and coach at the Mangaung Oval. As the mentor steps out of focus, the student has an opportunity to shine.

“[Moreeng] has been a major part of my coaching career,” Du Preez said. “Especially getting to the Proteas.”

“We used to have coffee at night. We’d go to one of our rooms at night and we’d have two or three cappuccinos, that’s why we’d sleep at two in the morning, talking about cricket.

“He’s always available for a chat. When it comes to helping with certain things or personal stuff, the guy is there.

“I’m going to miss him but he’s on my phone. I’ve added him on speed dial so if there’s an issue I’ll definitely give him a shout.”

After 12 years at the helm, Moreeng has left massive shoes to fill. His replacement, at least in the interim, has walked some of that path with him. DM

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