Ryan Rickelton – South Africa under 19 cricketer

Photo by George Franks

Photo by George Franks

Handling the highs and lows

Ryan Rickelton describes both his great successes and his disappointments with the same calm precision. He appears to embrace each extreme of experience, in Kipling-esque fashion, as necessary parts of the road to realising his potential as one of South Africa’s most promising young top-order batsmen.

The modesty and groundedness of Rickelton, who turned 19 in July 2015 while in England playing for Sale CC, comes across when he talks about first recognising he may have a future in cricket. These positive thoughts didn’t occur after a particular innings, or when praised by a coach, but waited for something much grander.

There’s a week at the end of December when all the provinces’ age-group sides get together for seven days and play each other. 13 was my first year. Then under 15, I did quite well. I got two hundreds and two fifties. I ended up being the highest run scorer and player of the tournament. From there I got invited to Cricket South Africa’s national awards, where you get the Test player of the year announced. I was named out as the under 15 player of the country. From there, I had a bit of a go and said. ‘I want to do this’. I realised I could play a bit, but I wasn’t banking on it.

Two years later, a low point came. Rickelton was part of the squad of 23 players preparing for the under 19 World Cup, but did not make the final party of 15:

I was under Ray Jennings, and he was a different coach completely. And so as I walked in, I was a little bit sure of myself at that stage, I guess. But he brought me down. He actually took me apart to show me it was a different level. And it is.

With the World Cup (and Jennings) out of the way, Rickelton was back in contention for South Africa’s junior team and on the 2014 tour of England, had the opportunity to learn from his earlier disappointment. On debut, on the first morning of the 1st test, he opened the batting at Fenners.

The night before they lay out the order and luckily enough I was squeezed in… We won the toss, we batted first and got 400-odd. I got 85, batted through the day, to eventually get out 15 or 20 overs before the end of the day. Very disappointing on my part. Should have got a big hundred. Had a few good partnerships with the other guys and we kicked on and made 420 on a good wicket. From there we were able to control the game.

But Rickelton is very aware that success at the next level will require the same philosophical approach and ability to learn from success, failure, inclusion and rejection. Coming off a first season in English club cricket that sparked, but not consistently ignited, he goes straight into the Gautang pre-season two days after he lands back in South Africa. Aiming for a position in the Lions Second Team and then from there to work his way up, Rickelton acknowledges, “there are very good players in the system.. there are tons of good players out there. It’s not easy. But it always comes down to you.”

Photo by George Franks

Photo by George Franks

The key influences

Rickelton acknowledges the role played by two figures in his progress as a cricketer. Firstly his father, Ian (Sports Director at St Stithians Boys College, Johannesburg).

I’d say ‘Dad, can we go to the nets? We were quite fortunate, we lived on the school so could use the nets. We would spend hours in the nets, playing and playing and playing. We’d have fights sometimes. I’d sulk and he’d say, ‘I’m not going to coach if you’re going to sulk’. And sometimes he’d sulk because I’d be doing something else.

My father’s always pushed me on. I think after every game I’ve played, even at Sale, he’s the first guy I’d talk to. After every game played in England and the sub-continent. A bit more than a coach. He knows me inside out: what works for me, what doesn’t work for me.

He played schools cricket and probably could have gone on from there, but wasn’t able to attend a trial for Transvaal schools and then decided to join the army when he left school. So, his cricket fell away. He’s the first one to admit, it was a bit daft, but too late now.

The second influence is Bongani Ndaba.

I used to train with one of the coaches at the school, Bongani Ndaba. He loves coaching more than he loves playing. Knows technically everything about you as a player. So I used to work with Bongs when I was 10, 11 and still work with him today.

The sort of relationship where he knows what I’m doing wrong and lets me find out before he tells me. He’s been a big influence. Even if I kick on further, I’ll always go back to Bongs and Dad.

The stability of his father’s and Ndaba’s mentoring plays an even more important role for a young cricketer whose achievements have seen him move from one team at one level on to another at a higher level and then move again.

Each coach has their own perspective on the game and their own opinion on the player. A lot of them try to correct you or change the way you play for what they think is beneficial for you. There’s been times when I’ve tried to listen to the coach as I’ve gone up and I’ve said. ‘OK he’s my coach. I’m going to listen to him.’

And I’ve tried to do that and I’ll go and I’ll not score runs for a bit and my Dad will take me to the nets. ‘What are you doing? Go back to normal.’ So I’ve swapped back to normal. There’s always differences. Player-wise, it’s what works best for you.

Rickelton accepts that the coaches are trying to get the best out of the player, but the player must take responsibility for their own game.

South Africa and England compared

After a season as an overseas player in the Cheshire League, Rickelton has some interesting perspectives on club and junior cricket in this country.

Club here is way bigger than it is at home. There’s more connection. At home, I play club cricket and I just rock up on a Sunday, play from nine to six and go home. That’s it. There’s no club day where everyone comes to watch the firsts play. It’s not like that.

[In England] there’s a lot more support of club cricket. It’s all over the internet. Even the newspaper that rocks up at my door every week. It gathers a lot more support than at home.

Junior cricket, on the other hand, is markedly less intense in England than was Rickelton’s experience at St Stithians.

Cricket at that age is at school, so it’s forced upon them. After school, they know they’re going to cricket. They’re all friends from school, all in class together, all net together. It’s not club cricket where you can say I’m going to play this weekend, but next weekend I might go away. At school you have to be there.

At nine, ten, eleven, I used to practice four times a week, play two games. You’re there every day, over and over again. Whereas over here, some of the kids will turn up on a Monday, maybe play a game on Wednesday. That could be the difference.

Finally, with England touring South Africa in 2016, I asked Rickelton if he had seen anything this summer that should worry his country’s top cricketers.

Joe Root, as usual. Mark Wood – he’s a bonus to the side. Good pace, good movement. James Anderson might struggle a little bit.

A lot more responsibility on the batsmen to not get knocked over for 200-plus. South Africa’s a place where you’ve got to put on 350, 300 minimum.

A prediction?

We’re going to take it.

———————

Post updated 20 September 2015 to correct factual inaccuracy. 

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

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