Johannesburg, 13 February 2024 – The future of Lions Cricket is bright. We are incredibly proud of the recent performance of the SA Under-19 side at the recent ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024 and have even more reason to celebrate as a union as Kwena Maphaka was named the Player of the Tournament. The 17-year-old record breaking pace bowler’s success against the world’s best abroad has been rivalled by his youth team mates locally.

Undisputed champions of the Khaya Majola Week, the u18 boys performance was matched by the u16 girls as they too were crowned National Week champions. In the four official National Weeks of the season, Lions Cricket won two and placed third twice – an admirable and unmatched performance by the Union.

The u18 boys were the only side that went through the Khaya Majola week unbeaten and had three players named in the prestigious SA Schools team, as well as another two in the SA Colts side. The Lions Cricket U16 girls also went unbeaten through their national Week in Pietermaritzburg and played some brilliant cricket. 

Lions Cricket boys U19 coach Ahmed Nawab, said excellent preparation was top of the list of reasons for his team finishing first.

“The most important thing was preparation and it was very specific in order to ensure the team played as a unit. It was my third year with the team and it took a couple of years of hard work to get that elusive first title. The boys played really well and they trusted our preparation and plans. We started with a winter group of players, to work on player development, and the U16 national weeks in the last couple of years also helped us to identify potential talent. We would have specific days of training where we were building towards the Khaya Majola Week, we prepped through the winter and we also had a trials week. All of that was also very important for me to understand the players better, to build trust and relationships. It has been a very important exercise to show our depth as a union,” Nawab says.

While providing six members of the SA U19 World Cup squad (David Teeger, Esosa Aihevba, Kwena Maphaka, Sipho Potsane, Lhuan-dre Pretorius & Richard Seletswane) is a source of tremendous pride for the Lions Cricket, it did make life challenging at times for the coaching staff because it meant our young Pride had to rely on other players to triumph at the Khaya Majola Week.

“A lot of the time our six SA U19 players were not available because they had to go away to national camps. We had them all together for a week-and-a-bit before going to Makhanda and once we were there, they each had to sit out at least one game in the week,” Nawab explains.

“So the rest of the squad had to understand that they themselves were actually the core of the team and it was up to them to put us in the good position. The key performances during the Khaya Majola Week actually came from those outside the national squad. Our two main values as a team were to be resilient because conditions meant you had to grind, and to make sure that all our sticks were in the fire, burning bright.”

While the new-ball bowling of Maphaka and Aihevba befitted their status as SA U19 stars, Fayaaz Vawda was also phenomenal up front. Luke Francis played a couple of key innings that dug the side out of tough situations; and Tjaart Mentz was an absolute find for the Lions, coming from one of the smaller cricketing schools in Helpmekaar Kollege. He showed he can hit a long ball as well as playing unorthodox strokes, while his wicket-to-wicket bowling was also very useful.

But the talent in the Lions Cricket U16 girls team is just as exciting. Neo Molefe, who scored back-to-back centuries without losing her wicket in the opening two games, was named both batter and player of the tournament. Fay Cowling was honoured as all-rounder and fielder of the week.

“There’s definitely a lot of talent in Lions cricket and our winning week was testimony to that,” triumphant coach Teboho Ntsukunyane says. “We did lots of hard work in preparation, we began our work earlier in the year so that we could expose the girls to lots of middle time. By August I had pretty much identified our squad and we were able to work in groups. I already knew the balance I wanted and the girls really complemented each other. In October we played games against senior Division II teams just to try and expose our players more and see how they expressed themselves under pressure.”

“We also had some specific preparation like getting them to bowl at our senior DP World Lions star Sunette Viljoen-Louw, who hits the ball extremely hard, so they could get used to that. Their mental strength got better and better and all that exposure meant they were able to handle the pressures of the week in Pietermaritzburg. That also enabled us to get our conditioning on-point and hone our game-plan, our role-clarity was very good and we understood what brand of cricket we wanted to play. Then it was just a case of making it easy for the girls to express themselves,” Ntsukunyane says.

The success of the Lions U18 and U16 teams is a clear warning to their rivals that they intend to dominate domestic cricket for some time yet.

“It really is a proud moment for us as Lions Cricket to have witnessed the performances of our teams in both our regional and national Weeks hosted in all parts of South Africa. The achievements are testament to the hard work done over a long period of time in preparation of the players. We knew that 2023 was going to be rough with all the changes implemented to the format of the Weeks and the trophies at stake. These changes include the promotion and relegation at both U16 and U18 for boys’ and girls’ sections,” Reuben Mandlazi, the CGL Cricket Services Manager, says.

“One could not be prouder with the achievements of both U16 girls and U18 boys as they were crowned champions. A hearty congrats as well to the U16 boys and U18 girls, finishing third. We could not have achieved such good results without the support and hard work of our schools, as they continue to play a pivotal role through the strong cricket system. In addition, we thank everyone who played a role, including parents and selectors who identified these players under pressure. We recognise that selection is not an easy task and we are proud of them. We are also proud of the boys who represented South Africa at the ICC U19 World Cup hosted in South Africa. We know that year two of the new era will not be any easier, therefore we need to keep working harder and not be complacent about anything. Well done to all the teams and they continue to be the pride of Jozi,” Mandlazi said.

Lions Cricket umpires also shone during the busy December period with very pleasing results.

Amy Gear stood in the final of the Girls U19 Week, as did Angus Gouws in the final of the Boys U16 week. Gear then went on to officiate as third umpire in the CSA 4-Day Series match between the DP World Lions and the Tuskers at the DP World Wanderers, a remarkable achievement for a 17-year-old.

Davies Radebe stood in the third/ fourth place final of the USSA A Week, while Zuber Saleh officiated in the SA Schools vs SA Colts match, the third/ fourth place final of USSA A Week and was selected for Cubs week in January.

Mbekezeli ‘Randy’ Nkomo,  Mpumelelo Ngwevela, Nelisiwe Madondo and Roodt Jacobs were also appointed for national Weeks and acquitted themselves well, according to Lions Cricket Umpire Administrator Brian Catt.

There was also good news on the scoring front with Central Gauteng Lions scorers co-ordinator  Kishen Pillay happy with the ratings achieved by the members of the association during an extremely busy festive period.

Natasha Nyoni, who scored at the Khaya Majola Week and was rated at 96%, and Mary Ramphela, who officiated at the U19 Girls Week and notched 99%, both finished in the top 2 of their respective Weeks.

Kagiso Taukobong finished fourth at the U16 Girls Week with 91% and Lebohang Dinake was in the top 10 at the U16 Boys Week with 87%.

“As a scorers association, we are pleased with the feedback and ratings received from the National Weeks, however we will strive to get even better,” Pillay says.

Lions Cricket CEO Jono Leaf-Wright bursts with pride;

“Winning the prestigious Sports Organisation of the Year award at the back end of last year and then having even more great performances inside and outside the boundary rope, what more could one ask for from my Lions Pride – both on the field and off it, we roared loudly and proudly. Our development pipeline strongly supported by our fantastic Telkom Talent Acceleration Program, is more powerful and productive than ever and I am so appreciative and thrilled with our players, administrators and all involved. The future shines bright with the promising potential of our Pride. A hearty congratulations to Kwena and all those involved in our youth teams, and best wishes for the year ahead – Lions Cricket is behind each and every one of you every step of the way. Remember at Lions Cricket we Live. Love, Learn, Lead and never lose because we either win or we learn.”

/ ENDS /

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