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Ken Borland

Budaza wishes he had not been playing cricket on 27/10/13 … but that day spurs him on to greater heights 0

Posted on October 12, 2020 by Ken

Knights pace bowler Mbulelo Budaza wishes he had not been playing cricket on October 27, 2013, but the awful tragedy that happened that day continues to spur him on to greater heights in his cricket career.

Budaza, then a 20-year-old playing for the University of Fort Hare in Alice, bowled a bouncer to Old Selbornians batsman Darryn Randall. The former Border representative tried to hook the delivery, missed and was struck a fatal blow below the eye, a freak and unimaginable accident because Randall was wearing a helmet.

The 32-year-old collapsed immediately and never regained consciousness. Amidst the horror and utter grief of the tragedy, Randall’s family forgave and offered support to the young Budaza, and said they wanted to see him rise up and go on to play for the Proteas one day.

“My grief for that day will never end, I could not believe it happened, I never stop thinking about it. But it means I badly want to succeed in my cricket career, because of the support I received from his family and mine, and from people like Greg Hayes and Mfuneko Ngam, plus Prince Dabula, the varsity psychologist.

“The Randall family said to Greg that they wanted to see me go on and play for the Proteas, they said it to motivate me and they have been very supportive. That pushes me and I’m very happy with the success I’ve had so far and I’m going to work even harder towards that goal,” Budaza says.

And an audit of Budaza’s career shows that it has certainly been onwards and upwards for the left-arm quick, who has now bowled himself into genuinely being in the conversation for higher honours.

He has been particularly effective in 50-over cricket and from 2015/16 to the 2018/19 season he played 43 games for the Knights and took 54 wickets at an average of 28.12 and an economy rate of 5.45 runs-per-over. And then last season was his real breakthrough campaign as he was the joint leading wicket-taker with Knights team-mate Shaun von Berg in the Momentum One-Day Cup, taking 18 wickets at an average of just 16.27 and an economy rate of only 4.71 as the Central Franchise reached the semi-finals before the season was cancelled due to Covid-19.

“It was a good season after a tough one the year before when everything just seemed to slow down, it was a struggle, I bowled a lot of no-balls and I just didn’t have good rhythm. But I was chuffed to come back strong and I felt very privileged to play so well, thanks to my team-mates’ support. The work I did with our new head coach Allan Donald was the first reason for my comeback and it was an honour for me to work with him. He changed some technical stuff and helped me a lot.

“I’m not really thinking about playing for the Proteas, although that is my dream. My focus is on winning games for the Knights and whatever comes from that will come. If I do well for them again this coming season then hopefully I will get a look-in with the SA A side, but I just have to make sure I am in form and winning games for the Knights.”

The lanky Budaza comes from the Eastern Cape cricket nursery that just keeps rolling out highly talented fast bowlers, but he is not so much an offshoot of township cricket as a product of the rural game.

“I was born in the farming district of Manley Flats and that’s where my cricket started. My first game was when I was watching my cousins play and they were one man short so they called me to help. I grew up playing on the streets and I was always tall. I played for the Willows Club [who Makhaya Ntini used to play for] because there was no cricket at my primary or high school, until in Grade X I got a scholarship to Woodridge College from Grade XI.

“Playing for the Willows Club in Grahamstown, Christo Esau, the Eastern Province provincial coach, and Piet Botha, the head coach –took me to Port Elizabeth for academy trials and I worked with them. Woodridge then said they wanted me and I did not hesitate because I wanted to play cricket,” Budaza explains.

Woodridge College is a private school situated between Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay, so Budaza’s first provincial recognition came with the Eastern Province rural team.

“In 2010, I was chosen for the EP Rural team to go to Kimberley for the Senior Rural Cricket Week. That was a big thing for me, there is talent there and a lot of it is not recognised. So I didn’t take it for granted. I had two options after matric, to go to Fort Hare or the Eastern Province academy. I chose Fort Hare because as a bowler, to have Mfuneko Ngam as a coach would be brilliant. We worked very hard and we got very close, I was very fortunate to have him as a coach.”

Rural cricket is what used to be called Country Districts and it not only highlights the game being played in great spirit but also exposes the considerable talent that exists away from the cities. Leon Coetzee is the president of Rural Cricket South Africa and he says they desperately need more support especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I consistently argue that some unions are not spending enough to improve the quality of the many rural clubs in their area, to help them with coaching of coaches and better administration. SA Rural should have more to spend on developing talent, people like Ferisco Adams of Boland and Diego Rosier from Northern Cape came from rural areas and a couple of Black African stars like Mbulelo Budaza came through from Country Districts to get franchise contracts.

“If they didn’t play rural cricket then they would not have been noticed. There’s a massive amount of undiscovered rural talent, but South African cricket is focused more on the semi-pros and franchises. I have approached unions to see how we can improve relations and Covid could have a damning effect on the sustainability of many rural clubs, especially if we can only start playing next year,” Coetzee says.

In terms of style, Budaza is reminiscent of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the last Black African left-arm quick to play Test cricket for South Africa, and although they do not come from the same community, the former number one ranked bowler in one-day international cricket is also a product of the Eastern Cape.

“They called me ‘Lopsy’ at Woodridge and we had these warm-up T-shirts and my number was also 68. The first time I watched the Proteas play live was an ODI against India in Port Elizabeth in 2011 and Tsotsobe took the first two wickets for South Africa. He was not quick but he got bounce and had a beautiful action. He was my early role-model.” Despite his talents, Budaza only played two first-class, four List A and one T20 game in two seasons with Border. But in a sign of his determination to succeed, he decided his cricket dreams should not suffer one of those long, slow deaths in a relative backwater, even if it was close to home, and he signed for Northern Cape ahead of the 2015/16 season. By that December he was making his Knights debut.

“But I did not get too many semi-pro opportunities with Border, and then Northern Cape signed me, with JP Triegaardt, who is also a very good coach, very active and works you hard,” Budaza says. “The call-up from the Knights was a surprise because I’d only been there a month or two. My first game was against the Cobras and they had all their Proteas back, bowling to guys like Hashim Amla and JP Duminy made me nervous, I had seen them on TV and now I was playing against them. But cricket is cricket so I changed nothing, I just tried to bowl in a good area for as long as possible.”

And the occasion was not too big for him as three of his first five overs were maidens.

Like Tsotsobe, Budaza is a skilful bowler, but he does not believe in bringing a whole backpack of tricks into play, preferring rather to squeeze the batsmen into submission.

“Playing a lot of cricket in Kimberley and Bloemfontein, you’ve got to be clever as a bowler and make sure your skills are up. You have to make sure you are fit and don’t get tired, because then the batsmen will punish you. Whenever I get the ball, I just try to do the right thing for the team. I’m not really chasing wickets, I try to contain and not concede runs whatever happens. But I can be aggressive if I need to be,” Budaza explains.

The member of the South African Emerging Players squad epitomises the Jewish word “Chutzpah” and the words of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl certainly ring true in Budaza’s case “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Mbulelo Budaza has already overcome significant challenges and is growing rapidly into one of the country’s most exciting bowlers, as well as being, in coach Donald’s words: “nothing but a brilliant human being, it’s amazing how he has got himself up and made something of himself”.

Allan Donald sidebar

Allan Donald had a phenomenal record as a fast bowler and has built up a huge reputation as a bowling coach. In his new position as Knights head coach, he describes Mbulelo Budaza as being a larger-than-life character with a big work ethic.

“He’s been a solid performer for a while and is eager to learn, he tries really hard to execute whatever you’re working on and is a careful listener, before going away to do his drills on his own, he gets on with it. On his day he can swing the ball beautifully, but on some other days the wrist is not quite right and we’re working really hard on rectifying that.

“But he is a lovely character who everyone likes. A funny guy, the room lights up when he’s in it, Mbulelo is a terrific person, when I was consulting we connected very well and he’s a superstar in the making, one of the dependables. What sets him apart is that he stays competitive.

“He’s definitely got a bit more pace than Tsotsobe, but Lopsy used to swing it around corners and really late too. Mbulelo is still working on that side, but sometimes he’s fighting against that naughty wrist. But that can work in his favour because the batsman starts thinking about why it’s not swinging back in … ” Donald said.

“But he can make it move the other way and that’s why he’s so hard to face – he’s unpredictable. I tell him to just keep on faking it on those bad wrist days. But he keeps breaking partnerships on flat pitches, he has golden spells but he also just keeps plugging away. This is going to be a big season for him.”

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