28 September 2017 – The Saint Andrew’s victory in the Saint John’s College Rams T20 Cricket Festival was the first in six visits to Zimbabwe for the team under coach Gregg Hobson. When they finally broke through, however, it was the most comprehensive run through the tournament any team has ever had.
Saints always plays the tournament without matric boys, which means they have fewer resources and less experienced players to choose from compared to the other competing schools, but that made little difference this time around.
Reflecting on his charges’ handsome performances, coach Gregg Hobson, back home in Bloemfontein, said on Wednesday: “I think if people look at the results, they might think the standard of the competition is not that great. We’ve been there six times and the standard of the competition is as good as it has always been.
The winning team and coaches: Back: Brett Hall, Brendon Horwitz, JD Bruwer, Gerald Coetzee, Garnett Tarr, Gerrit Badenhorst, Rikus Allen, Ruan Cronjé, Gregg Hobson, front: Calvin Flanegan, Henré Koekemoer, Corné Viljoen, Reece van Staden, Nathan van der Nest, Tristan Wylie
“Looking at how excited the guys were when we won the final, and how much it meant to them… One of them remarked that it was much better than being unbeaten at a provincial week, for example. So it meant a lot to the guys to win it.”
Saints steamrollered their way through pool play, beating Churchill by 145 runs, Peterhouse by eight wickets and Saint John’s College by 121 runs. In the semi-finals they thumped the defending champions, Saint George’s College, by nine wickets, and then, in the final, they beat Peterhouse, who had upset Clifton College in the semis, by 35 runs to claim the title.
It looked easy, but, Hobson admitted, there were still some nervous times during Saints’ run to the title: “If you look at the results at the end, it looks like it was comfortable. A lot of the games were comfortable, but it doesn’t feel like it’s comfortable when you are playing because every game is important. You’ve got three games for a place in the semis. If you mess a game up, you’re under serious pressure. Every match you play feels like a knockout game.”
The hallmark of the Saint Andrew’s victories was their dominance with the bat, with the team posting massive scores, achieved at huge run rates. Saints put up 316 for 5 against Churchill, 158 for 2 in only 12.3 overs against Peterhouse and 292 for 2 against Saint John’s in their pool matches. They needed just seven overs to post 62 for 1 and beat Saint George’s in the semi-final. In the final, they were bowled out for 214 off the final ball of their innings. It was their least impressive batting performance of the tournament, but Saints still batted at 10.7 runs per over!
Saints’ batting was outstanding in the Saint John’s Rams T20 Cricket Festival, with there being little difference between the number of singles, fours and sixes the team scored
“It started with the move to send Henré Koekemoer up the order,” Hobson explained. “Because that paid off it gave us so much momentum. Gerald [Coetzee] is also naturally aggressive and he has a lot of confidence in his batting at the moment, so without really trying to smash it he just scores really quickly.
“That was also part of the thinking: because Gerald’s going to score so quickly in the powerplay with the field up, the guy who is with Garnett must be trying to do the same thing. Otherwise we would be wasting Gerald. It paid off in that sense, because Henré did come off, but if Henré didn’t come off Gerald would have been able to take over that mantel. In the powerplay he was hitting the ball so cleanly with the field up. It’s difficult to contain him in the powerplay.”
The Saint Andrew’s success was built upon excellent starts up front from both the batting and bowling. Gerald Coetzee was already a known quantity and a fearsome weapon to have up front in the bowling attack, but the question that the coach had before the tour was how his other frontline seamers would perform, especially as Henré Koekemoer had also been out with injury.
They answered that question emphatically in the Festival. “We did a lot of work before the tour with Henre and JD Bruwer, because they were our two back-up seamers and they both bowled really nicely,” Hobson said. “Usually the ball spins a little bit in this tournament, but the ball didn’t spin at all, so you had to have seamers to do a job, because the spinners weren’t that effective.”
“If it wasn’t for the fact that those two seamers did a good job for us, we would have been in trouble. The two of them played a big part in our success.”
In the final, Peterhouse were positioned to make a late charge for victory, but Saints had Gerald Coetzee to bowl two of the last three overs. Despite this, Hobson said he still felt some butterflies in his stomach. “The things is, you don’t know [what is going to happen]. You think you’ve still got Gerald, but last year, in the pool game against Falcon College, we had Gerald and they hit him at the end. But he has come a long way in a year in terms of his ability to bowl at the death. The 17th over that he bowled just killed the game.”
The South African under-19 all-rounder bowled with impressive control and pace and Peterhouse struggled to get bat on ball. “That’s what he has been working on in terms of bowling at the death, because with his pace wide outside of off it is going to be difficult for them to get him away,” Hobson said.
“He bowled very quickly, especially with the new ball. At the death, he didn’t bowl that quickly, but with the new ball he bowled very quickly, especially in the semi-final and final.”
Henré Koekemoer’s impact
With Gerald Coetzee delivering as one expects him to deliver, the excellent job Henré Koekemoer did as his new ball partner was a huge plus for Saints.
Hobson commented: “Yes, the bowling up front, Gerald was key, but Henré’s stats were just as good as Gerald’s stats. Henré was very economical. Gerald had only a certain number of overs he could bowl in terms of coming back from his injury, so we had to try to manage that. The key for Henré was his ability to swing the ball, so he bowled his four overs on the trot up front, while the ball was still swinging. That paid off. If you’ve got eight overs with the ball swinging up front, it becomes difficult for the batsmen to get it away.”
Henré Koekemoer (middle) performed superbly as Gerald Coetzee’s new ball partner and as Garnett Tarr’s opening batting partner
The crucial performances with both bat and ball that Koekemoer delivered made a massive difference to the overall performance of the Saint Andrew’s team, Hobson reckoned.
“I don’t think he would have necessarily seen himself as a match winner, because he hadn’t done it before. He hadn’t been given the opportunity to do it with the bat before, but I’m not sure he would have done it a year ago. It was the right time to give him the opportunity.
“With the ball, we have done quite a lot of work on his action and his run up. That has definitely helped. Those performances will have given him a lot of confidence.”
While success in cricket has a lot to do with individual performances, teamwork is something that is, at times, vastly underrated. Playing with a relatively new team, especially compared to the opposition in Zimbabwe, which had sides that had played together all year, it was important to make sure the Saints’ boys pulled together quickly.
“It has been important to try and get the team dynamic sorted out, because we lost five matrics and the guys that came in are youngsters, so there are some senior guys and some really young guys,” Hobson said. “I think, invariably, at the start the senior guys are a little bit sceptical of the young guys, because they are not sure what they are going to bring to the party. Fortunately, most of the young guys proved themselves, and it started before we went to Zimbabwe already. Once the senior guys get the confidence in the young guys that makes a big difference.”
The Saints’ team’s success had plenty to do with teamwork
“It goes without saying that if the team didn’t play together, we wouldn’t have been able to play like we did.”
He also praised the work of captain Garnett Tarr, who not only delivered with the bat, scoring 281 runs at 93.67, but also kept wicket well and led the team with distinction too. “Garnett is a good leader and he has brought the guys together nicely,” Hobson said.
Garnett Tarr was a standout performer with bat, as a wicketkeeper and as the Saint Andrew’s captain
Winning the Festival was more of a relief than anything else, he revealed. “Happy to see that it really meant a lot to the boys. If the reaction from the boys wasn’t as positive and excited as it was it might have felt as if it wasn’t such a huge achievement, but all of them were genuinely excited.
“In previous years, like last year, we probably had the team to win the Festival, but not at the right time. The team that ended up doing well in the National T20, if they were at that stage when we played in Zim, it would have been a different story. With this team, our key players are now in grade 11 and they’ve got some confidence. We’ve got some special players.”
Cape Schools Cricket Week
There is little time to rest for the Saint Andrew’s 1st cricket team. In fact, they leave for the Cape Schools Cricket Week in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
“It is definitely going to be a challenge for the batsmen. You now have to leave the ball. It’s probably more a mental thing than anything else,” the Saints’ coach said. “It is just about the game plan for the batsmen. Even in a T20 game, when you are hitting the ball, you’ve still got to have a game plan. They’ve got to get back to their 50 over or timed cricket game plan. It is not going to be easy, but they’ve just got to do it.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, especially on our bowling. Batting-wise, we’ve obviously got the players. We’ve just got to make sure that we try and get them to be as consistent as possible.
“There is no doubt that we can beat anyone that we play against, if we play properly and things go our way.”