“From Potch to Toronto, and back”
For some reason, I woke up this morning more excited than usual. I am, most definitely, a morning person, but today, everything just felt, amplified. It then dawned on me that our three Ontario Cricket Academy boys; Rohan, Shlok and Mamik, are flying to South Africa this coming weekend, for the start of the High Performance Exchange Program in Potchefstroom. The next hour or so was just like any other morning, chatting to Liz, cooking a high-protein breakfast, breaking up the fight between Lilly and Lexi over some teddy bear or iPad. But through it all, I was transported back in time, and I found myself in Potchefstroom, my hometown…
My mentors Gordon Parsons and Jacques Faul giving me an opportunity as a 17 year old against a touring English county team; Leicestershire. I scored heavily in every game, and in many ways that set me up, as I signed my first pro contract in the weeks that followed. I remember Gordon’s wife, Hester, taking me to a jewellery store the evening before my first game, to buy a “chain”, the same one I wear to this day.
The amount of hours we spent on that Senwes Park outfield, suffering under Oom Jaco’s fitness regime, oh what memories! “You, my young Dragons, will be the fittest and strongest cricketers in the world”, he once told us. In between the training, Playstation marathons, meeting Liz, chats with my dad around the fire, nights at Castillions and Bourbon Street, 8Mile lyrics with Wurm and Bertie in the Ferrari, De Vos and Ken’s boerewors rolls…Oom Jaco’s vision manifested. He turned us into absolute beasts.
A year before, I’m sitting in a hostel at KHS. I’m in my room with Eduan Roos talking about slog-sweeping, bouncers and Valentine’s Day. He is a year younger than me, with eyes far too wild to be sane, but he is a champion. We were members of a live-in Cricket Academy Jacques had started at our school. It was the beginning of a dream. A dream he told us we would achieve. We believed him. And we did.
I drift further back, to the early 90s, training at my dad’s school; HTS Potchefstroom. Being quite a few years younger than the group, somewhere down the line, my name changed, from David, to Davy. My dad and his fellow teacher and good friend, Oom Jan Weideman, peppered me for hours and hours on the bowling machine, thousands of on-drives, hooks and cuts.
Not long after I stroll over to the tennis courts to meet up with one of my friends for our weekly tennis match. We mess around for a while, and as the light starts to fade, it was time to head home. My friend jumps on my brand new Bomber Western Flyer bicycle, to take it for a little spin. As he pulls away, an 18-wheeler comes out of nowhere, hitting him side-on, literally running over him. Confined to a wheelchair for months, he made a full recovery, and we were told the tennis balls in his pockets saved his legs. One distinct moment I remember vividly, was standing next to him as he was lying on the ground, grunting, surrounded by paramedics. Someone asked me where he lived, so they could get hold of his parents. Of course I knew, but at that moment, I didn’t. I just stood there, frozen. My friend looked up and whispered, with an eerie calmness, ”Strausslaan, oom, Strausslaan…”
Fast forward more than two decades. I am retired from professional cricket, and live in Ontario, Canada. Jacques is CEO of the most successful Cricket Franchise in South Africa, the Titans. Gordon is at the Lions Franchise, and the most experienced and longest serving professional coach in South Africa. Eduan is the Sports Editor of News24, and the biggest Afrikaans newspaper in the country; the Rapport. Bertie is coaching in Ireland, De Vos and Wurm went into business. As for my friend who cheated death, his name is Heinrich Strydom, and he is the CEO of North West Cricket, the basecamp for our three OCA cricketers. They will get to meet Jacques and Gordon. They’ll train with the Dragons, and play for Potch Dorp, Oom Jan’s club. Oom Jaco might get hold of them, and I’m sure Eduan might have a chat with them as well. And through it all, they’ll experience the lifestyle of a student-town that buzzes with energy, excitement, opportunity and hope. A place where people are real. A place where many a dream has started. The home of the Dragons.
I want to wish our boys only the best on their trip. Coach Derek and I will join you all real soon, and it is going to be an amazing three months. I know it will bring substantial changes to you, being on your own, on the other side of the world. But it will alter the course of your journey to the top, of that I have no doubt.
Thank you Heinrich and Oom Jan, I am so happy to do something as special as this with you, it means a lot. And hey Hein, about that bicycle you still owe me…don’t sweat it, a cold beer and a “lang branna” next time I see you, will do just fine, my friend.
It wouldn’t feel right to end this piece off in any other way than with the words that have dominated the North West Dragons change rooms since November, 2002.
“As die geelperskereёn veertien dae in die boorde val. En dit reёn bietjie-bietjie en dit reёn bietjie-bietjie, en dit reёn in die Wes Transvaal – HEY!”