A 14-year-old farm boy from from Bathurst in the Eastern Cape has started one of the most unusual cricket sides in South Africa.

Issue date: 25 April 2008

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A 14-year-old farm boy from FROM Bathurst in the Eastern Cape has started one of the most unusual cricket sides in South Africa. Over the 2007 Christmas period Ross McCreath, a ninth grader at St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown, formed the team with boys from Bathurst’s Nolukanye township, after he heard from a domestic worker on the McCreaths’ farm that the township youths had “nothing to do” during the holidays. His mother, Anne, says her son is mad about cricket and when he came up with the idea of forming a township side, he even had a cricket field in mind.

No flies on Ross
Ross had spotted a derelict field in Bathurst, which he wanted to restore for his cricket side. Anne says he contacted the mayor of Ndlambe Municipality with his idea and was put in touch with Port Alfred High School’s cricket coach, Duzi Mkalipi. The field and pitch had not been used for 20 years, but with the help of Ross’s dad, a Nguni farmer, and his workers, the ground was cleared of weeds, thorn trees and cow pats. Word spread about the new team and on the first morning of practice over 30 township youths appeared in an array of tatty clothes, broken shoes or no shoes. But one thing they all had in abundance was enthusiasm. Anne says the U-14 team, which Ross called the Tiger Titans, practised every day of the week, using Ross’s two bats and two sets of pads. Anne supplied water and Oros.

The Titans gain a mentor
Help came unexpectedly from 68-year-old Gladman Xali. A retired South African Breweries (SAB) lab assistant, Xali had played cricket as a young man in Bathurst and was a keen follower of the game in Cape Town, where he’d spent 35 years with the SAB. He was more than willing to step in and act as a scorekeeper and mentor. “They are coming on all right,” he says. “This is keeping them busy and away from the streets. They are so fired up now.” His cousin’s son, Mandla, is also in the team. Gladman reckons half the team come from homes where the adults are unemployed and the rest survive on humble wages. Coach Duzi, who mentors the team, believes the cricket team has changed the boys’ lives. “Look how focused they are now. Ross has come up with a brilliant idea.”

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Support from the region
Ross has pursued funding for his team with fierce determination, writing letters and appealing to businesses in Port Alfred, Bathurst and Grahamstown. He has received shirts from Grahamstown’s PG Glass, bats and cricket kits from Sotheby’s, caps from Independent Plumbing, while the McCreath family bought the wickets, whites and shoes. The Tiger Titans’ first game against Port Alfred’s Station Hill XI saw the team losing amid controversy. A Station Hill player swore at Ross, who was acting as umpire, and he followed the rule that the penalty for cursing the umpire is a loss of runs.

The Titans still lost by a wicket, but the game was “fabulous”, says Anne. Their second game was an invitational from Ross’s school, St Andrew’s College. Amid great excitement the team was collected by a St Andrew’s bus and taken to Grahamstown to play against the school’s U-15 B side during the last week of February. Anne says Ross gave up his place in the Titans so that one more Bathurst boy could play. Ross played for his school, causing great excitement when he came to the crease. “He’s scared! We know him! We can take him!” were the taunts in Xhosa and Ross promptly went out for a duck. But he took his dismissal in his stride saying afterwards, “I have three dreams for the side. I want them to get scholarships, I want them to play provincial cricket and I want another Makhaya Ntini to come from our team.” – ECN/WCN Contact Anne McCreath
on 083 249 5191. |fw