Photo Credit: Cricket South Africa
Five years ago, a young girl named Nthabiseng Nini tagged along with a friend to cricket practise at the Ikageng Hub, just outside Potchefstroom.
Little did she know that these few moments spent as an observer at a training session were a subtle introduction to the game.
That was in 2017 when she was aged just 12. Fast forward to 2022 and Nini is now on the cusp of selection for an ICC Cricket World Cup – something no one in their wildest dreams would have ever imagined prior to that one visit to this flourishing North West Hub.
The 17-year-old, who attends Hoër Tegniese Skool, hails from the township of Ikageng where she lives with her mother, two grandmothers and three siblings.
She is one of approximately 120 learners from eight affiliated schools that are registered with the Hub.
Under the guidance of Head Coach Corne April as well as his two assistants – Patrick Letseleme and Tokelo Nkosingiphile Mosala – the Hub has made excellent gains since its initial formation in 2014.
The Hub / Regional Performance Centres (RPC) programme is a key part of the Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) development pipeline, striding hard each year to find talented youngsters from within the country’s non-traditional playing communities.
Ikageng is no different and April is doing his best to make his presence felt.
“How the identification process works with us is we work with school teachers directly to try and find those players who have potential,” he explains. “We are in constant contact with them whereby they would have meetings with us as coaches to alert us of any players within their schools.
“We will then go through and watch these players and should they tick all the boxes, we would work on a programme with them so that they can attend the Hub regularly to be coached. Here we will work on their skill level and help them improve their overall game so that they can become better as they progress through the different stages and levels.”
Nini is one of those whose journey then started by attending coaching at the Hub in 2017. Two years later, aged 14, she was called up by the North West Dragons Senior Women’s Team and she has never looked back. Her exploits for her province mean she is now on the fringes of the national Under-19 set-up – and is in the running to be selected for the inaugural ICC Women’s U19 World Cup to be hosted by South Africa next January.
Her Hub coach April believes stories like Nini’s show just how much of potential can be found within the country’s rural communities.
“My view is that we really have hidden talent,” he says. “The Hub system is a great way to identify these kids. There really are a lot of players coming through this programme. Particularly if you look at the women’s game where more and more girls are playing the game and are being exposed to opportunities. So I would say it is great for South African cricket.”
As for April himself, he was not there when Nini first arrived after he was only appointed in 2021.
Before that, though, he was a NW Academy player after matriculating in 2012 and then went on to represent the successful provincial Rural team between 2014 and 2018.
His coaching career started out thereafter at Potchefstroom Gymnasium and he also worked as an assistant coach for the NW U17s, prior to his current appointment.
“I am really enjoying what I am doing because it gives me an opportunity to make a real difference to the community,” he adds. “Sport is a wonderful way to help kids progress, they love to play and it’s a matter of just guiding their talent and making sure they are doing the right things so that we can try and give them opportunity. We want them to succeed and if they are giving their best and doing the right things then hopefully it will help make a difference to their lives.”