The eKasi Challenge not only boosts grassroots cricket by bringing top franchise players to the townships, but also provides the team with valuable competitive action before the more serious competitions start.
The eKasi Challenge has become a sought-after trophy after just a single year – the Titans hosting and losing the inaugural match last August in Mamelodi – with Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana committing himself yesterday into playing his strongest available side, including five players who will have just returned from Australia on SA A duty.
“We’ll have everyone back and will play our strongest team as we’re looking to start afresh this season after being poor last year. Aaron Phangiso, Hardus Viljoen, Eddie Leie, Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada will all be back and although I was planning to give them a break, they really want to be involved in the game.
“The eKasi Challenge means a lot for us, four or five of our players come from Soweto and it’s a great thing for them to go back and play there,” Toyana said yesterday at the Wanderers for the announcement of the venue.
Titans veteran Ethy Mbhalati said there is a similar sense of expectation in their squad.
“It’s very exciting, just remembering Mamelodi last year and the amount of people that came to watch, making a noise and supporting, that makes it a more serious game. I love spending time with the kids, it’s what I enjoy the most and there could be another Ethy Mbhalati in the eKasi.
“You just want to leave something for them, show them that there are people from the townships who are in top cricket.
“The guys are looking fit, we’ve been running and bowling and hitting balls for the last couple of months and we can’t wait for the season to start,” Mbhalati said.
It seems the cries of Black African youth in the townships for greater opportunities in cricket are being heard, thanks to Cricket South Africa, Momentum and the two Gauteng franchises joining forces in such an effective manner.
“I have to thank Momentum for coming up with this plan to bring cricket to eKasi. We would have had so many township cricketers playing at a high level if it had happened before. As Phangy [Aaron Phangiso] always says, ‘don’t forget your roots and where you come from’ – which is eKasi,” Mbhalati said.
The face of South African domestic cricket will change even more in the coming season with every franchise team required to field two Black African players and Mbhalati said the effect of this could be phenomenal.
“There’s always a starting point but we need to go from two to three to four. We’ve got enough talent, we don’t need to worry about that, it won’t be a problem. We can pick four now and they would do well, they would be there on merit.
“Maybe if this had happened in the past, we would have had more Makhaya Ntinis, Lonwabo Tsotsobes or Monde Zondekis by now. If you have three or four Black Africans playing then it brings even more hype to eKasi. If there’s only one Black African in a team, then people in the township wonder if they can make it, but if there are three then they think maybe they can be the fourth player,” Mbhalati said.
The positive effects of seeing role-models in action are obvious; and bringing those same heroes to the townships can only prove the success of the eKasi Challenge concept.