Lawrence Mahatlane is the new man in charge of South Africa’s U19 cricket talent and he says their future success will be down to how self-aware and mentally equipped they are for the challenges of the professional game.
Mahatlane has big boots to fill, succeeding Ray Jennings after he steered the U19s to Junior World Cup glory in Dubai on March 1, but he is already bringing a new emphasis to the development of South Africa’s young stars.
“My job is to get them ready, mentally as much as anything. It’s about how they adapt to match situations and we need to accelerate the process of their up-skilling.
“It’s all linked in to their self-awareness. Are they comfortable with their own technique? Technical matters can create doubt – thinking about your head falling over or your hands not going through the ball while you’re batting is not ideal,” Mahatlane told The Pretoria News on Monday at the University of Pretoria, where the U19s are having trials.
“If you’re worrying about your technique, worried about where your toes are pointing when someone as fast as Dale Steyn is running in to bowl at you, then you’re in a lot of trouble. A player is going to run into a hundred coaches through his career and if you’re not self-aware, you will struggle emotionally. You need to understand your technique and grow with it. The game is a lot more about the mental aspect higher up and the youngsters need to be able to survive the heat.
“So that’s why I’ve had them all fill in questionnaires about how they see their own games. By writing it down, they become more self-aware and then we have video analysis to see if they are actually doing it – it’s a different thing doing it under pressure in the middle,” Mahatlane explained.
Mahatlane is taking over the SA U19s at a time of natural change, when a procession of new cricketers come through the age-groups; there are only three players eligible for selection from the World Cup-winning squad.
The first engagement for Mahatlane and his team is a tour to England. A month today they will be playing the first “Test” against England in Cambridge. The tour includes two four-day internationals and then five ODIs.
“We’ll take 15 over from these trials and it’s going to be quite a challenge for them. There’s only a couple of players available from our World Cup squad, while England have just about their whole team back. But there have been some very impressive performances at this camp,” Mahatlane said.
The SA U19 job marks a return to mentoring junior cricketers for the 37-year-old, who was previously the Highveld Lions assistant coach and the head coach of Pirates Cricket Club, but first made his name as the 2002 SA U19 assistant coach. The next year, he was in charge as the team won the Junior Commonwealth Games title, and he also worked under current Proteas coach Russell Domingo in the 2004 Junior World Cup in Bangladesh.
Although Mahatlane has the credentials and respect in cricketing circles, his appointment to succeed the popular Jennings so soon after the Junior World Cup triumph was controversial and poorly handled by Cricket South Africa. Many have seen it as a hospital pass for the well-known radio commentator.
“I don’t see it as daunting, I see it as exciting. At this age-group, every year there is change and growth and if players are going to perform at such a young age, then they need to be mentored better and for longer,” Mahatlane said.
That 2003 U19 side included AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Vernon Philander, JP Duminy and Aaron Phangiso. There’s no doubt Mahatlane’s early mentoring was good for their careers and he will be hoping to have a similar impact for the current crop of young talent.