Johannesburg - Akhona Mnyaka, the teenager surprisingly snapped up by the Bloemfontein City Blazers in the global T20 league draft last Sunday, still hasn’t got a clue how he made it into the player auction, but he is grateful he did.
The 18-year-old Grade 11 pupil from Hudson Park High School in East London was picked up in round 15 of the draft for a contract amounting to R130 000 a year. His selection also makes him the youngest player in the competition.
The SA Schools and SA Under-19 left-arm seamer from Mdantsane is unlike most teenagers in that he does not get pocket money – his mother is a domestic worker and his father is currently unemployed – so the contract will come in handy.
He hasn’t had any outlandish teenage fantasies about what he would like to buy with the money – he says he will save it. But the one thing that has preoccupied his mind is pulling his weight alongside team-mates he has not met, including David Miller, Kieron Pollard and Chris Jordan.
“I’d heard I was in the draft, but I don’t know who put me there,” he said from the school hostel this week.
“But I’m quite keen and I’m prepared to work hard and see how it goes. I’m a bit nervous, but I’ve been working hard so I don’t worry much; I’ll just do my best.”
Mnyaka said he was minding his own business watching soccer when news filtered through on social media. His Under-19 coach Lawrence Mahatlane confirmed the reports with a congratulatory call.
Cricket fans may have little or no idea who Mnyaka is, but he comes highly recommended by those who have worked with him.
Mnyaka has toured Sri Lanka with the SA Under-19s and played in the reverse series earlier this year, but missed out against the West Indies in July because he had to undergo his traditional rite of passage in June.
“He’s a left-arm seamer who swings the ball and has got a big heart,” said Mahatlane.
“He ran the whole day in the Sri Lankan heat and he’s willing to learn. He’s got a good yorker; he swings the ball back into the right-hander; can bowl a good bouncer; and has good control and direction.
“The big thing about him has been his growth. He’s grown in confidence from his first tour, where he was a young man who was intimidated by the whole thing because it was his first overseas trip.”
Mahatlane’s sentiments were echoed by former Proteas left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, who is the Blazers’ assistant coach: “I was a consultant for the SA Under-19s and I’d seen him bowl at the Coke Week and in the triangular series.
“He’s tall and wiry, and he’ll get quicker as he grows – the wiry ones do – but I’m most impressed with his work ethic and his skills. He bowls a good bouncer and he’s got a really great attitude – he’s got all the ingredients to be a good player.”
Peterson warned that Mnyaka was not “picked to make up the numbers, he will play. He might be 18, but he’s talented.”
Asked what his main calling card was, Mnyaka said he had the unusual combination of being a strike bowler with the new ball and a good defender at the death. This is backed up by his shutting out Wynberg Boys’ High in a schools’ T20 tournament earlier this year with a blaze of yorkers when they needed six off the last over (Hudson Park won by three runs).
“I was at that game,” said Peterson. “I didn’t know he had that skill, but then I thought that, if he can bowl at the death and open under pressure in T20 cricket, he’s a pretty handy cricketer.”
Mnyaka, who has been at Hudson Park on a bursary since primary school, attributes his appetite for hard work to his role model, former Proteas fast bowler Makhaya Ntini: “He basically comes from a similar background to mine, but he’s a hard worker who’s always put in the extra hours.”