Couch Talk 42 with Neils Momberg

Couch Talk Episode 42 (play)

Guest: Neils Momberg, Head of Youth Cricket Development, CSA

Host: Ant Sims

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Ant Sims: G’day and welcome to Couch Talk. I’m your host Ant Sims. Today, I’m joined by Neils Momberg, head of youth cricket development at Cricket South Africa (CSA). We will be talking about the amount of challenges faced in terms of the funding, the amount of players leaving South Africa and he has some real good insights in to the development of spin bowling in South Africa.

Hi Niels, thanks for coming on the show.

Niels Momberg: It’s a pleasure.
AS: Can you just tell us about the job and what it is exactly that you do? which gives us the better idea exactly what exactly your job entails?

NM: I am a youth manager cricket South Africa and basically in short I am in charge of everything from the KFC mini cricket program which is our mass participation programme all the way through to the high performance guys which is the SA U19 side. And everything in between, your national schools weeks all forms part of our responsibilities.

AS: What do you think is currently the biggest challenge that we face in developing youth in South Africa?

NM: The biggest challenge is the lack of facilities. I think if you really want to take the game to the whole of SA, corporate South Africa and the government in particular to be honest with you, needs to come to the party with facilities. At the moment we’re struggling to up keep the facilities that we do have.

In December I was in Nyanga in Cape Town during the Coca Cola Khaya Majola week and I was actually quite shocked to see the state of that square in the pitch there. That is one of the areas that produced If we talking about black African cricket we talking about Thami Tsolekile, Siya Simetu, [inaudible]. They have all got huge roots around their cricket club and we can’t let that go. I think that I suppose is one of the big challenges, facilities on one hand but also maintenance of it.

AS:  On that point somebody asked black people showing an increasing interest in cricket in SA. It’s not our first choice sport (it) never has been but are more of them showing interest in it and do you think lack of facilities could be deterrent for young black South Africans to play cricket?

NM: To answer your question starting at the back, obviously if you arrive at a ground and the pitch isn’t prepared or the outfield is not cut, or you don’t have proper facitites  to change in, it will be a deterrent. But to get back to the first part, it might be a third choice sport of SA but also the statistics or statistics show it is a big proportion of South Africans’ second choice sport. A lot of people will support rugby and cricket or support soccer and cricket and that is a positive. And the sport is growing amongst all communities. But, once again getting back to the facilities yes if we don’t have proper facilities for everybody to play obviously there will be some kind of deterrent.

AS: Again, is it hard? How do you battle that? If you don’t find funding or government doesn’t come to the party what are the other ways means to get people interested in it especially starting at a young age, you know? I think it’s quite important to get kids interested.

NM: I don’t think cricket is… I mean is something for actually growing people into the game. Especially KFC mini cricket program which we believe is a massive success. We putting more than 18000 kids every year, which are new kids through the program. But getting back to that there is natural drop off after that because we don’t have enough facilities to keep kids interested and give them enough matches. In my experience growing around one of the big things if you go to places like the Eastern Cape, which has rich cricket history amongst all communities there people are interested in cricket because people are playing it more than 100 years. But once again we don’t play enough matches especially in our Black African communities because we don’t have enough fields and we don’t have enough. In Port Elizabeth for example [inaudible] you’d have a field in Zwide and you would have a field in Malagor. And that’s obviously not enough because there is a huge interest in cricket, especially in the Eastern Cape and once again, as I said, that is our biggest challenge, making sure that we have enough fields and that we engage local government in particular so that they understand that it’s important to have sports facilities. It’s enoucaring to see at the moment that our minister of sport is quite aggressive when he talks about sport and the role sport can play uplift all our communities so hopefully something will come from that.

AS: Do you think the lack of sponsorship at highest level – does that affect the grassroots development at all?

NM: Obviously the more money you have, the more projects you can run. But I’ve seen a lot of comments in the newspaper by some clever people and other less clever people that not enough money goes into development. And I suppose that’s true, but vast amounts do go into grassroots development through our provinces and affiliates, so yes, big amounts go into development, but if I had another billion rand tomorrow, we’d build four or five facilities in each district in the country and that would make a big difference. But at the moment those amounts are not forthcoming and until that happens, we’ll have to make do with what we have and I think we have to be smart, we have to look at ways. Soweto, for example, which is a township of 4 million people, at the moment it’s only got two functioning cricket clubs. They function quite well, there’s lots of feet which goes through that gate. I think South African cricket should be commended, I think the last year or so, they’ve upgraded the Soweto Cricket Club and the newer club in Dobsonville. And if you go there you would see 100s of kids there every day. But if you had five more of those fields with all the facilities, you’d have exactly the same amount of kids there and once again, that’s our challenge. Cricket clubs cost money and to keep it up, that also costs money, so it’s a fine balance and a challenge we need look at all the time.

AS: Because with the Nicholson enquiry there was tremendous amounts of criticism about money not being distributed properly and loads of things being said, but obviously that’s not true. Because it’s such a difficult thing to get right because there are so many different clubs that need to be sustained, I suppose. It’s not as black and white as people seem to think it is.

NM: No, it’s not. I haven’t really studied that Nicholson report, but I obviously followed a lot of the submissions, which you don’t see in the report, apparently, but some of it was actually just quite funny. People make assumptions like no money goes into development, but more than R50 million goes straight into grassroots development every year through our provinces.  That’s just direct monthly funding for KFC Mini Cricket, Schools Cricket, Club Cricket and the works. I thought some people went there and they probably had their own agendas. And yes, as I said earlier, we should have more money and I suppose people look at the reserves that Cricket South Africa has got and think more of that should be spent into development and maybe that’s true, but that’s not for me to decide. All I know is that the funds that I have in front of me and that do get channelled through our office and into the provinces is quite substantial. And we do have very successful programmes that run in our townships and in our other formally disadvantaged areas. And I’m sure with the changes that’s going on in cricket, there will be people who ensure that we do things right and maybe there will be changes, but I mean once again, that’s not for me to decide. From what I know and for the information that I have and in my experience there is a lot of good work going on and I think especially from a development point of view I think there has been quite a lot of unfair criticism recently. You feel people are looking at Cricket South Africa and you’re now being tainted for whatever reason and people think you are not doing the right thing and maybe we’re not but there’s a lot of goodwill and hard working people in our provinces. Just yesterday I addressed 60 KFC co-ordinators and they are people who run KFC Mini Cricket from Limpopo to Paarl to Paternoster to Witbank and all over the country. The facts are there, a lot of good things are being done, but things might change going forward and we might get some other clever people running cricket in the near future and they might come up with some very good ideas and plans to improve everything.

AS: What sort of influence do you think t20 leagues are having on kids and the youngsters mindsets? Because all the see is the glitz and the glam and they see all this great stuff and the fancy lifestyle and the celebrity-dom that cricketers have become. Do you think it’s having a negative impact on our youth  and how they sort of develop their game?

NM: It’s a difficult question. T20 cricket, I suppose is a symptom of the modern world, things have changed. A large portion of Cricket SA’s income comes from t20 cricket, as I understand and from the IPL and the Champions League. So, you can’t really slag it off and one the one hand say we need more money and on the other hand say we don’t need it. If you’re talking as a cricket traditionalists, as I see myself, yes I do like Test cricket more, it’s more interesting to watch 50 over cricket. But I’ve got young kids and I’ve seen young kids and I think if used correctly 20-20 cricket and the IPL and the MiWayT20 competition could be used to draw people into the game. And from a technical point of view, it’s still cricket. And you still need the same skills. You sill need to be able as a bowler to bowl a slower ball and slow ball bouncers and as a batsman, you know, it’s a chess game. It’s just a very quick chess game compared to the five day chess game. But it’s still a bowler against a batsman and it’s certain skills, maybe it’s a bit skewed at the moment because of flat wickets and fields getting smaller. I think maybe that’s something that needs to be addressed is the size of the fields and what we do to bat nowadays, but I don’t think…I would be quite reluctant to say that it’s actually bad for cricket. I think there probably is too much of it at the moment, but I think in the next 10 years or so you’ll probably see it balance out again. For cricket to be sustained, you need a longer version and need a 45 or 50 over version as well. I’m not really overly concerned about it.

AS: The number of youths who are leaving South Africa to pursue first class cricket in other countries – is that a concern for South Africa and is it something that needs to be addressed?

NM:I don’t think it’s a concern, I see it as a tremendous positive that South Africa can have cricketers playing for other countries, surely we must be doing something right in our programmes, in our development programmes if we can produce players of the calibre of Trott and Pietersen and those guys to go and play for other countries.  To get a bit more serious, Jonathan Trott was a big loss for South African cricket. We invested a lot of resources into his career, he played at every level, he played provincial cricket, he was at the national academy, he had two professional contracts and then when he left to go and play in England, that was a massive loss for us. That money could’ve gone into another player that could’ve played for the Proteas. But a guy like Kruger van Wyk, lovely young guy, he’s a world class wicketkeeper, but if he came back tomorrow or he never left, I don’t think he was really ever good enough to play for the Proteas. A guy like that, I wish him well, I’m proud of him, I’m happy for him that he gets to play Test cricket, but he’s gone to a country with 4 million people, that doesn’t have a whole lot of resources and I don’t think that is necessarily a concern. What we need to look is at what stage to players star to leave. I do believe that we’ve got more than enough players to have at least one or two more franchises and I know you’re thinking that the Impi didn’t do very well, but Impi only had a few weeks to gel as a team. I don’t think they got enough support from the franchises and the provinces because a lot of players weren’t released.

AS: And Khaya Zondo was just, you know he was such a revelation and such a breath of fresh air.

NM: And Siya Simentu from the Cobras did very well and Khaya did very well. There were a number of players who should’ve played for the Impi but didn’t because they were in the provincial squad. We could use a lot of cricketers at the moment through various structures, and if a guy can play for another countryI basically see that as a compliment to our system.

AS: Just the last question about spinners in South Africa. We’ve never really been a country, but in the last few years spinners have been doing really well. Leading wicket taker in the Super Sport series was a spinner, Dane Piedt has done really well for the Cobras. Is it something that’s become more popular and what sort of challenges do the youngsters face because of our conditions not being friendly to them?

NM: For at least the last six to eight seasons now we’ve instituted, at all our national weeks, a spinning quota, at the lack of a better word. We’ve dropped it down a bit now to 12 overs out of the 50, but at one stage we implemented a rule that out of 50 overs, 18 overs had to be bowled by a spinner. So for the last few years we’ve actually actively gone out and prompted spin bowling. Most of the teams now have at least two spinners and some open the bowling and they bowl in PowerPlays in the 50 overs. So we’ve created a bit of a balance. But in South Africa we’re basically known for our fast bowlers and that’s our strength. We’ve also got lots of spinners through. But I think we need to be careful to not neglect our real strength which I believe will always be fast bowling.

AS: Awesome. Thanks for coming on the show.

NM: Pleasure!

AS: Bye!

[Download the episode here]

Episode hosted & transcribed by: Ant Sims