Centurion - Ten years ago, Malibongwe Maketa was practically in hiding in the UK, running the risk of becoming “a bum who used to bowl fast”, as he neatly puts it.
After calling time on a cricket career during which he had lost count of how many times he was told he would “one day play for South Africa”, a gutted Maketa, at the age of 26, was adrift in England, doing menial jobs like working in printing and construction.
Then he got a call from his old headmaster at Dale Junior College, Mike Hosty, whom he’d done a little coaching for when he was a contracted player at Border. That was before the franchise system forced him to try to revive his career by playing for Morecambe Cricket Club in Lancashire.
Hosty had moved and wanted Maketa, who now coaches Warriors, to head up cricket at his new school, Western Province Prep.
“When he called, he gave me a lifeline,” says Maketa – whose Warriors on Friday ran the defending champions, Titans, to within six runs in the T20 Challenge final. Up until the watershed moment of that telephone call, the 36-year-old’s career in cricket had been a study in unfulfilled promise.
“I’d grown up in my township [Zwelitsha, outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape] with the label that I’d play for South Africa and I believed it.
“When I realised it wouldn’t happen, it was a big knock to my self-esteem. I didn’t know who I was, as I’d put all my eggs in that one basket. The realisation shattered everything and I went to England to escape and be away from the people who would remind me of that [my failure].”
Just a touch taller than 1.70m, Maketa had grown up bowling freakishly fast for someone his size. Then the biomechanics caught up with him, as early as when he played for a South Africa Under-15 side (which included Andrew Puttick, Jonathan Trott, Dumisa Makalima and Burton de Wett).
He suffered the first of many stress fractures to his lower back, an injury that would finally lead to his retirement from the sport after just one first-class game – against a Free State side containing the likes of Allan Donald.
“By the time I left school, I’d lost a lot of pace, which is why I tried to re-invent myself as an allrounder,” Maketa says.
“When it came out nicely, I was bowling at about 130km/h, which is slow at this level. I batted six or seven when I captained Border B. But when Eastern Province and Border merged, I wasn’t offered a contract.”
The job at Western Province Prep led to assistant coaching gigs with the South African A teams (three times), the Titans and the head coach job with the South African A team this year on their tours of Zimbabwe and Australia.
However, the making of Maketa as a coach was at Titans, where he coached under his ex-Coke Week and former Pakistan coach Richard Pybus.
“I still fall back on him for advice. The big thing with him was identifying how people learn and passing the message on as clearly as you can.
“Although it was his [Pybus’] head on the block, he always challenged me to think and behave like a head coach, even if our opinions differed. As a result, I haven’t had to make a big change as head coach because the only difference is the buck stops with me.”
Having matured at Titans, Maketa was surprised to be overlooked for the head coach job three years ago, necessitating a move to the Warriors, where he had been assistant coach to Piet Botha (and then replaced him).
“When they [Titans] appointed Rob Walter, I realised that maybe they didn’t see me as a head coach. I decided I’d be selling myself short if I stayed.”
As a man with an unfulfilled playing dream, he loves being a coach.
“I thoroughly enjoy watching people grow as cricketers. It’s rewarding in the sense that you write your exams every week. You grow during the week and get to evaluate yourself almost immediately.”
In the meantime, his team is beginning to look like a team made in Maketa’s image: resilient, resourceful and determined not to drift again.