Cape Town - It is nominally called the "Stellenbosch" franchise at this stage, although the matches will be played at
regular modern home Boland Park in Paarl, some 35km away.
But despite the minor sense of confusion
over its rooting, the important thing is that the Boland region is back on the
cricketing map in a pronounced way with the revelation in London earlier this
week that it will be awarded one of the eight slots in the all-new, glitzy CSA
T20 Global League starting up next summer.
Whether increasingly ubiquitous Twenty20 is
your thing or not, it is an undoubted fillip for the broader game in what has frankly
been a long under-appreciated area, by my book.
The franchise owner, Mustaq Brey, is one of
only two South Africans holding that status for the Global League - he is a
director of Brimstone investment company - and the fact that the Proteas' Test
and T20 captain Faf du Plessis is the designated marquee SA player for the side
certainly represents a good start.
For several years, Boland has been the
slightly snoozy, if you like, junior partner of Western Province under the Cape
Cobras franchise banner, although Boland Park regularly hosts Cobras matches
across the major existing domestic competitions.
Perhaps a certain apathy - blame the
fatiguing Paarl summer heat, or the fatal lure of the plentiful nearby "grape",
perhaps? - has only bred further apathy, but it has just seemed as though the
(geographically surprisingly vast) Boland region has not quite "kicked on" subsequently
from the huge potential it showed as a cradle of talent up to a decade or two
It is something that might disappoint
someone like the late, globally legendary coach Bob Woolmer, who spent many of
his years in the Western Cape - his long-time popular home, despite his birth
in India and then Kent and England heritage - doing tireless, influential work
in developing decent players and infrastructure with Boland.
I have had a soft spot personally for
Boland cricket stretching back to the days when they were a B-section province
in the old Currie Cup in the early 1980s, and first began to stir as a
potentially bigger force when the likes of up-and-at-'em Eddie Barlow and Peter
Swart switched base from WP.
Those were the days when Boland still
played their matches at the quaint little Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery Field on
the outskirts of that town.
Psst, the press meals and general
hospitality were excellent - better than at Newlands = and it was always fun watching
and listening to the thud of sixes onto vats or crates at the adjacent SFW complex.
In the handful of years immediately
preceding unity and democracy, Boland played their part in "normalisation" of
cricket as the provincial team - spearheaded by the seasoned likes of Barlow,
Swart, Danie du Toit and Stephen Jones - infused several players of colour,
even if to the distaste at the time of the non-racial, strictly
non-collaborative struggle era rival SA Cricket Board.
Omar Henry, later to become CEO of unified
Boland Cricket until his retirement a couple of years ago, was the staple left-arm
spinner on the usually slow track (little has changed on that front in Paarl ...)
and men like Howie Bergins, Salieg Nackerdien and Johnny Hendricks gave the
side a notable tinge of colour even during the ongoing oppressive tenure of apartheid.
Boland even managed to lure decent
first-class players from abroad as "overseas pros", including Kim Barnett of
Derbyshire, Essex's John Stephenson and the Aussie quickie Ian Callen (all
played Test cricket fleetingly for their countries).
In the year before unity, in 1990,
confirmation that Boland could indeed be a fine nursery of own talent came when
the supposedly minnow union, in an unprecedented development while Graham Bam
was industrious CEO, provided no fewer than four members of the SA Schools XI
in the final year of Nuffield Week (to become Khaya Majola Week, post-unity).
It was a richer crop than any of the traditional
juggernaut provinces provided at the time, and the quartet were Claude
Henderson - later to become a national cap and currently the Proteas' spin
guru - Riaan Oosthuizen, Elmar Liebenberg and Rohan Hoffman.
Possibly at the start of the next summer, I
also recall Boland hosting a pre-season Sunday limited-overs game against big
brothers Western Province while at a temporary base at Brackenfell Cricket
Club, and an enthusiastic crowd estimated at some 4,000 packing its picnic-friendly
The Boland region stayed a noteworthy
cradle of talent soon after democracy, happily starting to quickly provide
players from previously disadvantaged communities who would go on to altogether
bigger, top-tier honours: such names include Justin Ontong, Roger Telemachus,
Henry Williams and Charl Langeveldt.
There has been a slightly sad "dry-up" in
more recent years, but development of fine cricketers geographically can be a
cyclical thing and I have steadfastly been of the belief that Boland is a
sleeping, potential near-giant in terms of both calibre of cricketers it could
unearth - there are big, sports-mad school within its boundaries - and spectator
interest in the game.
The ever-expanding township of Mbekweni has
a cricket club, and any broader shot in the arm for the Boland cause in the
sport could just inspire youngsters in its sometimes challenging, troubled
midst to emulate in cricketing terms the rise to fame of someone like 2016
Olympic long jump silver medallist Luvo Manyonga, an illustrious product of the
area who overcame several demons and drawbacks to excel in Rio.
Give the Boland sports folk good cricket
and I believe they will embrace it, go to it, in short.
If you wanted some proof, simply recall the
last two one-day internationals featuring the Proteas at Boland Park, after a
gap of almost a decade.
The ground was packed to its fairly humble
rafters for the day-night match against Sri Lanka in January 2012, and then
similarly well-subscribed again for New Zealand's (daytime) visit roughly a
Of course the venue has a reputation for a
sometimes notoriously slow and low or even under-prepared pitch, one which
forced a couple of high-profile match abandonments in the now reasonably
It is hardly the most comfortable or modern
of places, despite its blissful setting near the Du Toitskloof mountains, but
with a significant upgrade, I steadfastly believe it could yet become a Test
venue option - potentially even a solution to the long-time problem of where to
host the "Boxing Day" fixture.
That game has bounced between Port
Elizabeth and Durban in recent years, and still struggled to lure meaningful
A canny former boss of mine in the
publishing world used to constantly bang the drum of "fishing where the fish
are". With its additional ability to capture a good portion of the steadfastly
still Test-conscious Capetonian public only some 65km down the N1 - keep in
mind how many South Africans from elsewhere are in the Western Cape over the
summer holiday season - Paarl could be the answer.
Some concern would be raised around the
particularly stifling heat possible in the Boland at the height of summer, but
is it really any more extreme than in a Perth or Melbourne heatwave? Or at some
of the steamier grounds across the Subcontinent?
But on the infrastructure issue, something far
less in the lap of the gods, it was heartening to learn in the Cricket Boland
press release immediately following the confirmation of the T20 side that
substantial, desperately welcome upgrades to the Paarl ground are already
underway with the 2017/18 inaugural Global League in mind.
The home union, together with the Drakenstein
Municipality and CSA itself, are pumping R23-million into phase one of the
improvement, including state-of-the-art floodlights, changing room and media
centre enhancement, water infrastructure and better outdoor nets.
I strongly fancy that a healthy "derby vibe"
will be created between the Boland- and Cape Town-housed franchises in the
Global League, especially with the aggressive tournament marketing and PR we
can surely expect.
Certainly if the Gauteng/Highveld region
can boast three sides (from Johannesburg, Benoni and Pretoria respectively) in
the fledgling competition, the Western Cape, long a fertile plundering ground
for player recruitment to other provinces, should comfortably justify and
There’s dormant cricket potential in the
Boland ... this T20 franchise opportunity could just reawaken it at last.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing