Although the bold move may be seen as a gamble given that Toyana has never been a head coach at franchise level before, the 38-year-old has been steadily working his way up the coaching ladder and has done his apprenticeship.
He was the assistant coach to previous Lions mentor Dave Nosworthy, who resigned last month, and was the head coach of the Easterns team between 2008 and 2011. Toyana has also been an assistant coach with the SA U19 and Emerging Players teams.
“This is a very important and historic day for the development of cricket in this region. Geoffrey has a wealth of experience and talent, he played at the highest provincial level and he’s the right person to make sure there is a constant flow in the pipeline from amateur to professional cricket. We decided not to advertise the post because we felt we had somebody with the quality and experience to replace Dave Nosworthy in Geoffrey,” Lions CEO Cassim Docrat said at the Wanderers on Tuesday.
A left-handed batsman and part-time offspinner, Toyana played 84 first-class and 71 List A limited-overs games for Transvaal, Gauteng, Easterns and the Titans, between 1995/96 and 2011. He averaged just 24.49 and 18.95 respectively, scoring just one century, but his career was marked by the impression that his talent was never quite set free to blossom.
But you should not judge a coach by his playing record – Graham Ford, John Buchanan, Richard Pybus and Nosworthy himself are proof of that – and Toyana is confident that his own struggles as a cricketer will give him the empathy and understanding to help his charges.
Toyana should perhaps be more wary of the growing level of interference coaches now have to put up with from their boards – which is believed to be the reason Nosworthy resigned – but the Soweto product said his predecessor had taught him well.
“I’m very close to the board and there are no issues between us. But Dave also taught me a lot in terms of how to handle selection and budgets,” Toyana said.
The new coach will also have a hardened right-hand man in bowling coach Gordon Parsons, your typical crusty old county pro who was also the head coach of the Lions between 2005/6 and 2007/8, with Dumisa Makalima (video analyst), Craig Govender (physio) and Jeff Lunsky (trainer) the other support staff.
While the Lions played fantastic, entertaining cricket during their MiWay T20 Challenge run to the final last season, they ultimately fell short in the final, extending the franchise’s trophy-less run to five seasons. Toyana will inherit a squad with some exciting youngsters as well as a handful of experienced veterans, but he knows the lack of trophies will be the first thing he has to remedy.
“We have a good, experienced squad, but for the last five years we have struggled to win trophies. I hope I can turn this around and I’m walking into a structure that is all set up, so I want to create an environment in which the players can grow,” Toyana said.
“But I’m very delighted and humbled by the appointment and I hope I can be an example for other coaches in the townships and show that if you do the work, you can make it.”
Toyana’s appointment has been lauded by the Soweto Cricket Club, where both he and his father, Gus, began their playing days.
“As a club, where Geoffrey has played most of his cricket since his late father, Gus Toyana, led the club as captain and chairman, we are overjoyed at the message this sends to not only our players, but to all previously disadvantaged cricketers in both province and country. Geoffrey has always been a sterling example of a rolemodel throughout his cricket career,” Soweto CC chairman Gordon Templeton said.
“The board of the Lions franchise have illustrated the ability to be visionary in their outlook for the future of cricket not only in the Gauteng province, but also in South Africa. History will reflect that they have taken a cricketing decision to usher in a new era in the sport.”