Down the Eastern Cape way, they churn out Mercedes-Benz models at a rate that even the Germans themselves call highly efficient. Every car that rolls off the production line is a source of pride, a testament to a standard that hasn’t slipped in decades.
Outside of Germany, the East London Merc plant is one of the biggest in the world – and for good reason. They deliver. A cruise up the proverbial autobahn, perhaps two hours from the three-pointed star setup, the Warriors are in the midst of crafting their own fleet of fine wheels.
In South African cricket, that part of the world has always quietly gone about its business, churning out players of substance and skill.
The latest developments at St George’s Park have seen Anrich Nortje, Sisanda Magala and Lutho Sipamla emerge as an attack worthy of troubling any batting line-up in the country.
“We’ve definitely got a good thing going with them,” says Warriors head coach Rivash Gobind, purring like a cat who has stumbled upon some cream.
Already, in the four-day component of the domestic season, they have ruffled feathers and roughed up reputations. They are good; very good, in fact. And they are all very different, distinctive Benz models, if you will. Nortje has quickly shown himself to be the supercar, a lithe and ferocious V12, capable of switching from raspy to rascal at the flick of a switch. His injury in the second week of the Mzansi Super League (MSL) has hurt the competition, but he has already left two giant skid marks on the tarmac.
The world certainly knows who Anrich Nortje is after he accelerated off the starting blocks, hurtling his way to 150 clicks an hour. Magala, meanwhile, has the sonorous bellow of a bruising SUV. They say he hits the bat unapologetically hard and though his approach to the crease may seem leisurely, his pace is as anything but.
The third wheel of the trinity is hardly spare, however. Sipamla is no afterthought. He is the turbo diesel in the range, surprising those who judge books by their covers with his intensity.
“He is a very driven young man,” Gobind explains, “He lives for the game, and he is improving all the time.”
Led by team-mate AB
For the MSL, Nortje was drafted for the Cape Town Blitz, Magala was kept by the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, and Sipamla, 20, was summoned to Tshwane. To be a Spartan.
There, he has found himself sharing nets and death-bowling options with one of the finest batsmen of the modern era.
“It’s incredible. I never thought I would get to say that AB de Villiers is a team-mate,” Sipamla smiles. “It’s just amazing to see how driven he is, and how he is always looking to win. He also keeps me calm from mid-off.”
By virtue of his brilliant ability to absolutely destroy bowling attacks, De Villiers is an authority on young leather fingers coming through. Tellingly, the Tshwane Spartans skipper is effusive in his praise and excitement at working with young Sipamla. “He has got a very bright future ahead of him. He is athletic, humble and bright – which is always a bonus when it comes to fast bowlers!
“What has really impressed me is his clarity and courage. When we make plans in the middle, he says no problem, and backs himself to deliver, be it a yorker or a bouncer. And, if he disagrees with my opinion, he is not afraid to say so,” says De Villiers, beaming.
Quite clearly, Sipamla has impressed many observers with his skill and temperament. Naturally, then, there is already speculation about him being tested at the next level. “I think he has a massive future ahead of him, with lots of World Cups. Who knows, maybe even in this World Cup [next year]. I am very happy to have played a small part in his development, and I look forward to watching his progress,” says De Villiers.
As progress reports go, Sipamla’s is a thing pregnant with delicious possibility. De Villiers, a former South African skipper, has quickly become a mentor, teaching him a few lessons about fine margins in the nets. “I wouldn’t say I knock him over in the nets,” Sipamla winces. “He is one of the very best in the world! It’s tough bowling to him, but you are learning every time.”
Brave new world
It has been educational, and that theme has rung true across all six franchises in the newly spawned South African T20 competition. For players, it is a breath of fresh air, a chance to go on a sort of work experience for a month.
“It’s brilliant because they go to different parts of the country, pick up new skills and come back as more rounded cricketers and people,” Gobind enthuses. Sipamla concurs, as he revels in the novelty of being based at Centurion and coached by yet another product of Eastern Cape, and led by the outrageously gifted De Villiers.
“The competition has been great for us because it exposes us to different cultures. I have learnt a lot working with Mark Boucher, as well as all the players,” says Sipamla. The injury to Lungi Ngidi may have robbed the Spartans of yet more star power, but Sipamla has assumed the responsibilities eagerly.
He has taken the new ball, and De Villiers has entrusted him with spells at key junctures in matches. The skipper’s faith has been rewarded with wickets and excellent control – perhaps even beyond Sipamla’s tender age. “He asks all the right questions, and you can see the benefits of him having a really good winter,” says Gobind.
The 20-year-old spent part of the winter after his matric on a mountain, taking part in the Xhosa rite of passage to manhood. It was a necessary step in life, and the maturity has also manifested itself on the cricket field. As a South Africa Under-19 player, the Grey High product was already earmarked as a prospect. But things have accelerated in the past few months. He is operating in the fast lane, and exposing a set of skills that have already caught the eye of those who matter in South African cricket.
“My focus right now is this tournament. Sure, to play for my country would be a dream come true, but I am not looking at that now,” Sipamla explains sincerely.
Among his heroes, he counts that eternal S-Class model of South African cricket, Makhaya Ntini, as an early influence. “Of course, we all saw what he did, and wanted to be like him. My father introduced me to the game at an early age and I have always just tried to bowl as fast as I could,” he says of his early days.
These days, it doesn’t even look as if he is straining to produce the speeds he conjures up.
But that’s just the thing with turbo engines – they suddenly slip into the higher revs and leave you eating their dust. Sipamla has that inherent ability to bowl quickly, a testament to a coaching line that included Grey High’s renowned tutelage, as well as fine-tuning from Wandile Gwavu. The current Lions assistant coach, who already has quite the coaching CV, ran a private coaching school in Eastern Cape. Sipamla’s father saw the need to equip his son with all the skills necessary to get him to the top. Gwavu is still in touch with his star pupil.
As they say in African parlance, it takes a village to raise a man. The MSL might add that it takes a cricket community to raise the next star. That investment in Sipamla’s early promise is now paying off. The turbo engine has already taken in some of South Africa’s most scenic routes, but the GPS seems unerringly set for the national team. And, as Sipamla has already shown, there is plenty of real gas still in the tank.