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Ken Borland


Thanks to Lions pipeline, Potsane contemplates world cup after discovery seven years ago

Posted on February 06, 2024 by Ken

Seven years ago Sipho Potsane was your typical Alexandra township 10-year-old, crazy about soccer. Now 17 years old, he is contemplating playing in the U19 Cricket World Cup, which will be hosted in South Africa, starting in January.

The dramatic transformation in Potsane’s life is a testament to the work of the Central Gauteng Lions union’s pipeline; their work is not just about ensuring the DP World Lions men’s and women’s teams remain amongst the strongest in the country, but also about making sure that success is sustainable by growing the game at grassroots.

It is something CEO Jono Leaf-Wright is passionate about and he is not the sort of leader who limits his role to shuffling papers and editing spreadsheets in his Wanderers office; he is out there getting his hands dirty and there is a sense of urgency when it comes to his efforts to uplift all the people who the great game of cricket touches in Gauteng.

Potsane is an up-and-coming left-arm spinner and Leaf-Wright, who has a Level III coaching qualification, remembers their first meeting well.

“At 10 years old, Sipho was a big soccer boy and he had no clue about cricket. But we saw when we brought cricket to his school that he could throw, catch and hit the ball. After a lot of nutritional work and extra coaching, he was given a bursary to Jeppe and is now playing for the SA U19s and has been named in the squad for their World Cup.

“He was a talent we discovered in Grade V and we and the other parties involved embarked on a journey then to make sure that he succeeded in making the best of that talent.

“Cricket is not being played much any more in township schools, but the Lions pipeline reintroduced them to the game. It’s a real challenge though because they don’t have fields, so they are playing cricket in corridors and car parks.

“Sipho’s wonderful story shows how our pipeline can get kids playing cricket at a higher level. And that pipeline is only going to get stronger thanks to the new pipeline sub-committee of the Central Gauteng Board that has been created by our new president, Dr Mohammed Moosajee, who was the Proteas manager for so long,” Leaf-Wright said.

Karabo Meso is a player who has already announced herself at a Junior World Cup, being named in the ICC’s team of the tournament after the T20 event also hosted by South Africa in Benoni and Potchefstroom in January 2023.

The wicketkeeper/batter was a resident of Rockville in Soweto when she was introduced to the game through the KFC Mini-Cricket programme and it was not long at all before the Central Gauteng Lions spotted her talent. She was playing for the DP World Lions senior provincial team before her teens.

Meso was one of three players included in the girls SA U19 squad that came from a Gauteng township, the others being captain Oluhle Siyo and Refilwe Moncho of Soweto Pioneers.

“It all starts at grassroots and we are grateful for the support from our partners,” Reuben Mandlazi, the Lions Amateur Cricket Manager, says. “There are 124 schools in Gauteng that play cricket, 94 of them are high schools. And the Lions have 26 teams at various national weeks this year.

“Infrastructure is what distinguishes a lot of these schools though, that’s the great challenge. It’s something township schools don’t have. We at the Lions ensure that we create an environment that enables us to spread the game. We make sure the children are well-transported, kitted and coached.

“A strong Lions means a strong Proteas and if we don’t have strong schools programmes then that will impact that. We ensure that we have sustainable programmes that feed into making us a world-class brand,” Mandlazi said.

Words alone will of course not accelerate the development of all the talent in the province, neither will one-off, showy gestures for good PR. Fortunately, those accusations can never be levelled at the Central Gauteng Lions union. Their success at age-group level and their thriving club leagues make sure of that.

“We need to bridge the gap between U19s and the Lions teams, not everyone can be like Kagiso Rabada or Quinton de Kock and just make a straight jump to senior level,” Mandlazi says.

“The players are all on their own journey and we have to ensure there is a platform for them. We have the strongest club leagues in South Africa, that is one of the most important things, and our Macrocomm, Enza and Black Widow leagues are that platform for the players.”

That the Central Gauteng Lions boast a premier pipeline is borne out by their results in the various national weeks in December. Lions Cricket were the champions in both the U16 Girls and the U19 Boys weeks, while they finished third in the U16 Boys and U19 Girls tournaments.

As champions of the Khaya Majola Week in Makhanda (Grahamstown), the Lions also dominated selection for the SA Schools side with three players in Richard Seletswane, Kwena Maphaka and Esosa Aihevba.

Luke Francis and Potsane were named in the SA Colts team.

In the U19 girls week, Meso made the SA Schools side, not only making the opposition chase leather in the field, but her wicketkeeping was also of the finest quality.

Which epitomises the Central Gauteng Lions pipeline, ensuring durable success for the Pride of Jozi.

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