The young roadside cricketers who bowled over an SA legend
When Pat Symcox stopped to check out a game, he was in for a huge surprise that reignited his passion for grassroots cricket
When cricket coach Gift Khuzwayo and cricket legend Pat Symcox saw one another across a dusty makeshift cricket pitch right next to the N2 where it runs past an equally dusty village, there was instant recognition.
It was a slightly younger Khuzwayo who had gone looking for Symcox, who now works for real estate company Remax, a few years back to ask for help to establish the Malangeni cricket club for youngsters.
“He needed money to get a taxi for the team and some kit. I phoned Natal Cricket and asked them to ensure that the club gets into the system. I did what I could but I left it at that,” Symcox said.
But on Sunday two weeks ago their paths crossed again when Symcox, on a whim, stopped to chat to a group of youngsters playing cricket next to the N2 and the Pennington off-ramp on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.
It is here that Khuzwayo, 31, teaches cricket every Sunday evening to about 20 children from Malangeni, a rural community on the south coast.
Symcox and his wife Estelle were on their way to dinner at the local Selborne bowls club when they spotted the youngsters.
It was 6pm and they were already running late, but the 58-year-old retired cricketer just had to stop and watch the youngsters play.
They pulled over and made their way to the makeshift pitch where children were using old bats, balls and stumps.
Symcox joined in and put some of his skills to good use with a coaching session while waiting for Khuzwayo to arrive.
It was then that Symcox realised that he had had a hand in this grassroots club.
He recognised Khuzwayo as the young man who had come to see him at his Hibberdene office.
Symcox said that 10 years ago he had created a cricket ground and nets in another impoverished south coast neighbourhood because he wanted a place for grassroots cricketers to play.
“After a couple of weeks I went back and there was nothing left. That’s when I decided I’m not going to do it again.”
But Khuzwayo’s request resonated with him.
“I couldn’t walk away from what he’s done. I’m going down there every Sunday now to coach and play with the youngsters.
“Gift is the champion. He completed his [coaching] exam and is now a qualified cricket coach,” Symcox said.
Khuzwayo became a coach in 2018 and coaches for the KZN cricket union during the week.
“It was hard after school, I was just sitting at home. I couldn’t afford to go to university and I couldn’t find a job. But I always loved cricket,” he said.
“I was introduced to the [cricket] union by the president of Umzinto and Districts Cricket Union, Ravi Padayachee.”
He began coaching the children in his community when he saw many of them turning to drugs to entertain themselves.
“Where they are growing up there are no facilities, no parks and no gardens. There is nowhere for them to play. So I found a spot. It happens to be along the highway but it’s a place where kids can come and play and learn about cricket,” Khuzwayo said.
Symcox said he contacted Padayachee after Khuzwayo went to see him a year ago and asked him to keep an eye on the Malangeni cricket club.
After seeing the dedication Khuzwayo has to his team Symcox organised a kit sponsorship for them.
“My wife got on my case after a child got a ball to the face, so now we are getting them helmets. We managed to get their clothing sponsored and we’ve got them a whole lot of bats,” he said.
“This really is a wonderful story. We hear so many horrible things, but there are people in small communities doing wonderful things. This is grassroots cricket and it’s great.”