- Malibongwe Maketa has been entrusted with the precious and precocious Under-19 group that’s critical to South African cricket’s health.
- Maketa replaces Shukri Conrad, who has moved into the Test team as coach.
- The output of the Under-19s is critical to ensuring that SA produces cricketers who can compete on the world stage.
South Africa has tended to be one cricketing nation that’s acutely affected by the output of its Under-19s.
When the Under-19 groups, like those of 2000, 2002, 2008, 2012, and 2014 are healthy, the output of the players graduating to international cricket generally comes through and shines at the highest level relatively quickly.
When they’re not in the best of shapes, like the 2004, 2006, 2016, and 2020 units, it often shows a small sample size of players pushing through into first-class cricket and the international stage.
It’s for this reason that the right choice of coach is critical, along with the uncontrollable factor of the player cycle coming through in a particular two-year section.
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This was something former Under-19 coach Shukri Conrad, who has now moved up to the Test team, spoke at length about and something his replacement Malibongwe Maketa must keep in mind when approaching his new position.
The issue of player cycles was something that dodged Conrad’s predecessors, Ray Jennings and Lawrence Mahatlane.
The players that came Jennings’ way in 2008 took him to the final, with the 2014 group remaining SA’s only Under-19 World Cup-winning team, with Kagiso Rabada and Aiden Markram being the stars that emerged from that unit. They remain cornerstones of the men’s national team across all formats.
Mahatlane wasn’t so fortunate with his player output, with Gerald Coetzee, Kyle Verreynne, and Tony de Zorzi being the high-profile graduates from his time.
What Maketa, who will also be heading the national academy, will have is the experience of having worked at every level barring this important formative stage.
He assisted at provincial level with the Titans before taking up the head coaching role at the Warriors.
The latter position saw him elevated to Otis Gibson’s assistant until the end of the disastrous 2019 World Cup, from where he has floated around in the CSA system with South Africa A and the high-performance teams.
His last major role was with the Proteas on their forgettable tour to Australia, which to be fair, wasn’t his fault in terms of how the results panned out.
His trip to Bangladesh with this current group of Under-19s will be the first in the step of producing a new group of prospective internationals.
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The 2022 group under Conrad may not have made it past the quarter-finals in the West Indies, but in producing the likes of Dewald Brevis, George van Heerden, and Valentine Kitime, there’s already something to work with.
With the provincial setup now extended to 14 teams across two divisions, with the Under-19s also participating in the second division limited-overs tournaments, he’s got an even better pathway for accelerated talent development.
However, the Under-19 group remains a tough one for the fine line between an explosive talent and a late bloomer has to be delicately measured and tread on.
When there’s a player who slips through the net at that level and prospers elsewhere, it’s the Under-19 coach who carries the can.
The age-group job is a thankless one, yet a necessary one that will require all of Maketa’s tenacity and smarts to make it work.