5 December 2017 – The year 2017 was another good one for Saint Andrew’s cricket. The 1st team, in particular, showed it remains one of South Africa’s elite schools’ teams and the future at Saints continues to look bright.
Reflecting on the year recently, Saints’ Director of Cricket and 1st team coach Gregg Hobson spoke about the highlights: "The National T20, I'd say, was the main highlight… qualifying for the National T20 and then giving a good account of ourselves at the tournament.
"I think we were definitely one of the top teams there. Unfortunately, we lost in the semi-final, but to win the thing we would have had to beat Saint Stithian's [number one in South Africa], either in the semi-final or the final. That was definitely the highlight of the year."
The Saint Andrew's 1st team the Knights' regional champions, posed for a pic at practice before leaving for the Coca-Cola Schools National T20 Finals in Stellenbosch
"The other thing that stands out immediately is the Zim tour. The boys have probably also put it in that sort of order. The Zim tour was really good for us. We played some very good cricket. The boys enjoyed it."
In Zimbabwe, Saints claimed the Saint John’s Rams T20 Tournament title for the first time, dominating the event unlike any team before, winning their matches by 145 runs, eight wickets, 121 runs, nine wickets and 35 runs.
Lest anyone think the opposition was weak, Hobson said after the tour: “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.”
Astonishing batting displays
The massive Saint Andrew’s victories underlined a string of astonishing batting displays. "The scoring rates were unbelievable. It wasn't something that was necessarily planned. It just happened like that,” the coach said.
“When we made the decision to send Henré Koekemoer up the order and that worked, everything clicked after that. Also, using Gerald Coetzee at number three – we had never done that before – he just scores with such freedom. He naturally hits boundaries. It was those two players that allowed us to score that quickly.
"Garnett Tarr was the glue that kept everything together and he paced his innings, depending on the situation. When he didn't need to go for it, he ticked it over at a run a ball. There were times, for example in the final, when Henré got out and then Gerald got out, where Garnett took over the mantle of getting on with it, which he did really well.
"The batting was something special."
"The batting was something special", coach Gregg Hobson said of the Saints' 1st XI's performances in the Saint John's Rams T20 Tournament
On the bowling front, while Gerald Coetzee was the man all opposition feared, it was leg-spinner Ruan Cronjé, who produced two of the most astonishing performances with the ball in the history of Saints’ cricket.
Against Saint Alban’s, with the opening bowlers, Coetzee and Koekemoer, both missing through injury and the spinners having to send down a huge number of overs in a timed match, he knocked over 9 for 69.
Then, unbelievably, he again captured nine wickets in the Cape Schools Week, snaring 9 for 82 against Paarl Boys High.
Ruan Cronje's two nine-wicket hauls in one term will, very likely, not be repeated in our life times
"Looking back, that was one of the highlights as well. I don't recall anyone taking nine wickets, certainly not in my time, playing or coaching. To have done it twice in a season was something special," Hobson said.
Saints continued to produce strong results and this was despite the 1st team in the fourth term, as it usually does, playing without its matrics, who were preparing for their final exams, against sides that continued to play their grade 12 learners.
Young team, strong results
"Consider that we actually had only three grade 11s,” Hobson said of the timed cricket festival at Saint David’s early in the fourth term. “We're playing with three grade 11s, five grade 10s and the rest were grade nines.
“The first game we played was against KES, with their matrics. We struggled on day one, but then managed to fight back really well to save the game. We didn't have matrics and we didn't have both our opening bowlers [who were injured]!"
"The three grade 11s [Gerald Coetzee, Garnett Tarr and Calvin Flanegan] are all seriously good cricketers," he added.
"Calvin Flanegan is probably the most improved player in the side over the last few months. He has been really good. I think the thing that stands out about Calvin this term is the innings he has played have often been under pressure. He has often come in at five, when we were not in a great position, and almost inevitably he has got us out of that and into a strong position.
“Consider also that this is the first year that he has also made a Free State team. He has been dominant at that level as well. He has been, by far, the leading run scorer for the Free State under-17 team. He has really blossomed."
Coach Gregg Hobson called Calvin Flanegan the most improved cricketer in the Saints' 1st XI
In the fourth term, the Saints 1st XI proved themselves to be a huge force in T20 cricket, playing nine matches in the shortest form of the game and running roughshod over all opposition. In terms of runs, a 35-run win over Peterhouse was their closest outing. The next closest was by 121 runs. In terms of wickets their closest victory was by 7 wickets!
Hobson explained his team’s success: "What makes us dangerous is the firepower that we've got in the top three, with Henré and Gerald both being really good strikers of the ball and scoring quickly without going too far from their natural games. And Garnett is the foil for them.
“The challenge is if and when they both fail. But we've still got guys like Calvin Flanegan, Ruan Cronje and Pheko Moletsane to come. We're not totally reliant on the top three, but to get those really big scores we do rely on one of them to go big."
The cost of Gerald Coetzee's excellence
While South African under-19 star Gerald Coetzee provides Saints with a huge advantage, his excellence, in a way, comes at a price when national duty comes before school duty, which means he is likely to miss a lot of Saints‘ cricket in the first term of 2018, when he will likely be in New Zealand representing South Africa at the ICC under-19 Cricket World Cup.
"From a school point of view, it is obviously a big loss not having him around. It makes a massive difference. It's the difference between dominating games and having to hang in there and be patient and wait for something to happen. But it is what it is. He is not here, so we've got to get on with it and try to do what we can without him," Hobson said.
The Lindsay Tuckett High Performance Centre's effect
During the course of 2017, the Lindsay Tuckett High Performance Centre, with its outstanding Pitchvision technology, became fully operational. The effect it has had on the players’ games has been marked, Hobson reckoned, especially for the 1st XI’s batsmen.
"There is no doubt, particularly from a batting point of view, because, besides Gerald at the moment, more of our top players are batters, there has been a big difference. For example, a guy like Calvin Flanegan's learning has been accelerated by the fact that he can see himself on the screen ball after ball and reflect on what he sees. For a guy like Garnett [Tarr], by his own admission, it has made a difference. There is no doubt that it has made a big difference and it will continue to make a big difference."
Having the indoor facility with its world class technology has also been a huge bonus, not only to the 1st XI, but to Saints’ cricket in general.
Coach Gregg Hobson provides some one-on-one coaching in the Lindsay Tuckett High Performance Centre
"They can, basically, practice whenever they want to. It has not only been the first team cricketers," Hobson explained. “There have been quite a few under-15 A guys and some under-15 B guys, who have been practicing, including throughout the exams. As far as is practically possible, when the guys wants to practice they can go and practice."
At the same time as the boys in the high school are developing their skills, a programme, which also makes use of the High Performance Centre, was introduced for some of the younger boys in the junior school.
Hobson said: "We started with grade one, two and three, with ball skills and sports-specific [skills] as well. In the two cricket terms, we do cricket with them. In the hockey term we do hockey and in the rugby term we do rugby skills. The cricket is in the Lindsay Tuckett High Performance Centre, the other two are outside.
“It is difficult at that age to say whether it is making a difference or not,” he admitted, “but my logic says to me it must be making a difference. If you do the right things with kids, they should develop better than if you don't do the right things with them."
Special attention has been given to junior school boys's ball skills and sports-specific skills
"With the grade ones, twos and threes, because there is not that much competition – okay, the under-nines do play competitive sport and they have done well – we will hopefully see the fruits at under-11 and under-13 level."
"What we did last term, which we will hopefully carry on doing in terms of cricket, is that we'll have under-9, under-11 and under-13 winter squads."
Looking ahead to the first term of 2018, Hobson said plenty of very important and very challenging cricket lies ahead for the Saint Andrew’s 1st team.
Tough challenges coming up
"We've got a busy term. Obviously the Schools T20 competition is important, so we've got all those games to play and then, hopefully, playoff games and the final. Hopefully we'll give ourselves a chance to do well there again.
“We've got big games against Saint Stithian's, Saint John's, KES, Clifton, Grey College, and the Independent Schools Festival. We've got a lot of good quality cricket coming up. Those games against the Johannesburg schools are here in Bloemfontein."
Facing the top Johannesburg schools in Bloemfontein is a boost for Saints, who boast an outstanding home record, having lost less than a handful of matches at home in the past five years. As much as those schools will test Saints, Garnett Tarr and company will also be challenged by having to take them on without Gerald Coetzee.