23 March 2018 – Standing on the Tuks Oval, right after Saint Andrew’s had clinched the national title in the Coca-Cola Schools T20 Challenge, Saints’ coach Gregg Hobson was asked: “How many years has this win taken off your life?” He grinned: “"It doesn't matter. It's one of the highlights, if not the highlight of my life so far," as his voice faltered with emotion.
It was a very emotional victory for Saints, and it meant a lot to the three matric boys in the team – Gerald Coetzee, Calvin Flanegan and captain Garnett Tarr – who have walked a long road with their 1st team coach and had nothing but the highest praise for him after they had beaten Hilton College to lift the title.
Players' thoughts on their coach
Gerald Coetzee commented on "Mr Hobson" and the team's victory: "It is great. It has just proved, again, that he is a really good coach. It just shows that all the hard work, the indoor facility, all the help that we have received, is unreal."
"Mr Hobson has done everything for me," Calvin Flanegan said. "He has taught me so much about the game and so much about life, not about the game alone. Being a part of this team has taught me so much about life and it is indescribable. It is really emotional to speak about it. I can't explain in words how much it means to me."
The captain, Garnett Tarr, was equally effusive in his praise of the coach: "He has changed my game completely. He's taken me from being an average schoolboy player to being a player that some people could actually watch," he said with humility. "I can't even describe what he has done for me. He's a father figure in cricket and has helped me so much."
Assistant coach Ryan du Plessis, Gerald Coetzee, Garnett Tarr, coach Gregg Hobson and Calvin Flanegan savour winning the national title in the Coca-Cola Schools T20 Challenge
"It is barely believable. I don't think it has sunk in yet," Gregg said of his charges’ six-wicket victory over Hilton College, which came with only two balls to spare. Saints had recovered from being 3 for 3 and on only 35 for 3 after 10 overs to chase down the 124 needed for victory.
"It might be in the moment [that I am saying this], but it must be one of the best schoolboy innings, if not the best schoolboy innings, I have ever seen. Under that sort of pressure, to be 3 for 3 and chasing in a final is just incredible."
Saint Andrew’s had done a good job in the field and that meant, despite the dire start to their innings, they were still in the game. "Luckily, we still needed only about eight runs an over. We still said [we need] ones and twos.
A fortunate defeat
"Almost luckily, we lost against Hilton, chasing in the first game. That made us go and sit down and carefully explain the equation when chasing to the boys.
"Runs needed minus the balls remaining gives you the number of boundaries you need to hit. We knew, with seven overs to go, we needed to hit three or four boundaries. Knowing that makes it a bit easier."
Coach Gregg Hobson doesn't easily give away his emotions, but he couldn't stop smiling after leading his team to national title success
So, what were his thoughts with his team on 35 for 3, midway through their run chase? "Block it out," he laughed, before saying: "Try and get sixes. Try and get a run a ball and try and stretch it (hit sixes)."
The three matric boys in the 2018 Saint Andrew’s first team made a massive contribution to the team. At times, though, it seemed that the rest of the players might have leant on them too much, but at the national finals other players needed to also shoulder the load, and they did.
"They stepped up"
"They stepped up,” Gregg said. “Henré [Koekemoer] was the bowler of the tournament. He's very underrated sometimes. He looks innocuous.
"Ruan [Cronjé] was just incredible with the ball throughout the tournament, and then in his knock here today.
"Pheko [Moletsane] has been brilliant with the ball. Even at the end there, with the bat, he showed a lot of composure.
Phillip Schoeman, who also represented the Colts this season, bowled beautifully too, and sent down his four overs on the trot.
"The idea was because of his extra bit of pace and the skiddiness,” Gregg explained. “In the first game, all the Hilton batsmen walked across and targeted the short boundary, so we decided to go full with him with his skiddy ball, to try and take the short boundary out of play, and it worked. They didn't hit one six to the short boundary.
Leading by example, like any good Saints' boy should, Gregg Hobson thanked the umpires after his team beat Graeme College to secure a place in the T20 national final
A team effort
The victory was “a big time team effort,” Gregg added. “It's a team effort over a long time, as well.
“If you take not only the number of games that we have played, after we got the Lindsay Tuckett High Performance Centre, if you take last winter, how many balls did Ruan hit last winter? Thousands. Garnett? Thousands of balls hit in the indoor centre when it was dark and cold. That's the hard work that pays off. There's no guarantee that hard work is going to pay off, but sometimes it does!”
On Friday, looking back on winning the national title, he said it was more special because it was a complete Saint Andrew’s effort, including him and assistant coach Ryan du Plessis. No imported talent at all! Ryan played for Free State Schools and the Knights Cubs team for three years each, from grade 10, and that included Saints’ first visit to the National Finals in 2013.
He's hidden in the background, but it's not often you'll see Gregg Hobson letting loose in celebration!
The Hobson family has a deep connection to Saints Andrew's too, starting with Gregg’s grandfather Errol, who matriculated in 1942. They were followed by Gregg’s uncle Carey (1968), his father Neil (1969), and his uncle Adrian (1973). The next generation included Gregg’s cousins, Garth (1994) and Richard (1998). Gregg was Head Boy of Saint Andrew’s in 1999. His journey at the school began in 1991, when he was in standard two, or grade four, as it is now known.
There won’t be a long break for the Saints’ 1st team before they start working towards the new season. They will start with winter training early in the second term and concentrate on technique."It's technical fundamentals, not necessarily format specific," Gregg elaborated.
Hope for the future
He said the three matric boys would likely play for Saint Andrew’s later in the year in the Cape Schools Week, but, inevitably, one must start looking towards the future. There was reason for optimism, Gregg reckoned, considering how the younger members of the team have made the step up.
"In the main, it has been reasonably good. When a guy comes into the team and he is young, inevitably the performance isn't quite there. But, with almost all of them, there comes a time when the penny drops and things just start falling into place. Fortunately, with quite a few of them, that started happening."
Looking a little further down the road, he said he was very pleased with what he saw during the past season from the Colts (under-15 A) team, which featured six grade eight boys.
"Very excited," he admitted. "The grade eight guys that have come in have probably performed a little bit above expectations. I think it is because of their character. They have some fighters. The guys’ character is often more important than cricket skills. That's what is exciting about our cricket. To have guys that are young and do it from ball one is exciting."
Questioned about the response he has received from the Saints’ community to his charges’ national title win, Gregg said: "Incredible! Massive! It is quite incredible how much interest it has generated.
"There is a saying that success breeds success. I think it shows that the more successful you are, the more people want to be involved. When you're not successful, you hope that people will get involved. They don't really, for whatever reasons."
Old Boys' Ryan du Plessis and Gregg Hobson enjoy their team's big win at the Tuks Oval
The start of the journey
Gregg has been coach of the Saint Andrew’s 1st XI since 2005, but it was only in 2007 that he became a full-time member of the school’s staff. He reflected on the improvement of the cricket programme at Saints during his time in charge: "In 2005, we had quite a good side, a naturally talented side. But, to give you an example of where we were then, only Lefa Mosena [now captain of KZN Inland] was picked for the Southern Free State team. We had no other boys that were even picked for Southern Free State.
"The years from 2006 to 2008 were building years. From 2009, we have been able to hold our own against anyone. There are ups and downs. There was one, maybe two years, in between, that weren't as good. From 2009, we could compete and beat anyone, not that we always did it, but we could.
Cricket South Africa
Some people in the Saint Andrew’s family have suggested that Cricket South Africa (CSA) should be utilising Gregg’s talent. It turns out that they are already doing that!
"I am contracted by CSA as the Knights' region talent scout. Going to under-17 Week and going to Coca-Cola Week to pick the Cubs Week team was my first job,” he explained.
“Now I will be organising regional talent identification camps, going to provincial weeks and the Cubs Week. The scout is also then the head coach of the Cubs Week team."
CSA has played an important role in his development, Gregg concluded, “"There are various ways in which they have helped me. I have been very lucky through the support that CSA has given to me as a coach. I don't think that anyone of us can complain about the support that we have received from CSA."
In much the same manner, Saint Andrew's has been very lucky to have Gregg Hobson running the cricket programme at the school. As a passionate Old Boy and a very knowledgable and excellent coach, he has done a spectacularly good job. His players and his record prove that.