De Wett schools nation’s future cricket stars at Fort Hare

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UFH-CSA Academy Burton de Wett has produced dozens of provincial cricketers in his six years at the UFH-CSA Academy. Photo Supplied

 

Long before his days as a cricket pro, Burton de Wett knew that he was destined to coach cricket.

The mentor of the Cricket South Africa Academy, which is run in partnership with Fort Hare University, is looking to cross more boundaries as he signs on for his sixth year at the sport school in Alice this year.

Impressively, he remains as enthusiastic about his role as he was on his first day on the job. 

De Wett – who represented Border, North West, the Warriors and South Western Districts in his playing career – has been at the helm of the Academy since October 2018.

In this time, he has developed dozens of cricketers who have gone on to represent various provincial teams.

Nqaba Peter, for example, graduated from the Academy last year and was quickly picked up by the Imperial Lions. A few weeks ago, Peter was called up to the Paarl Royals franchise playing in the lucrative SA20 tournament.

The legspinner’s success had certainly been noticed by younger cricketers and many were interested in the Academy as a result, De Wett said.

Coaching has always been there “subconsciously” for the 43-year-old.

“I wanted to be a coach since leaving school. I wanted to give back to players by developing them.”

He called time on his playing career in 2013, having returned to Border after a six-year stint with South Western Districts where he enjoyed the captaincy for a considerable period.

In his first-class career the classy left-hander amassed more than 5 000 runs, including one double-hundred, nine centuries and 27 fifties.

After hanging up his boots he coached Queens College in Komani for two years before landing the job at the UFH-CSA Academy.

“I’ve gone through the whole process; coaching schools, Border schools and getting my level one, two and three coaching qualifications.”

De Wett also represents CSA as a scout in the Eastern Cape, attending the U16 and Khaya Majola cricket weeks to identify talent. In addition, he recently served as head coach of the Warriors U19 team at Cubs Week.

These experiences give him a comprehensive overview of up-and-coming talent and therefore a good idea who to invite to the Academy.

“If you’re not doing well academically, I will suspend you. If you have a lecture, go to your lecture.

“We have 18 players here and not all will be professional cricketers. In today’s world you don’t just need a Plan B but a Plan C as well.”

De Wett also brings in experts to present workshops on managing finances and making sure players don’t squander their money.

Even those who were not academically strong were constantly reminded that they might be good with their hands and could pursue a trade.

“I don’t want anyone leaving here with nothing to their name.”

The coach’s ambition knows no bounds, both from an Academy and personal point of view.

“Women’s cricket is also being added to our portfolio and that’s a big one for us.

“I would also love to be head coach of a Division 1 team one day, but I’m under no illusions about what it takes to get there. I would first want to be an assistant coach, then maybe a Division 1 side and later SA A.”

While the formula of the Academy was the same each year, the rise of T20 cricket and how it was covered on social media was definitely changing attitudes towards the game, he said.

Younger players tend to want instant gratification and he has to temper this by reminding them that nothing comes without hard work and following the processes.

“How you are mentally is something we will be focusing on a lot more. Visualisation and meditation are so important.

“You can hit a million balls but if you’re not there mentally you are not going to score runs or take wickets.”

He believed while there was much more money involved in cricket nowadays, the work rate had been higher when he played.

The focus was also stronger and players spent hours learning what they could from seasoned professionals.

“Now the young guys play a game and leave. People don’t take time to listen as much.

“I always tell them that their successes will feel much better if they’ve worked hard for them.”

Though these were some of the challenging aspects he encountered, he said his job brought him immense joy. Seeing a young player put in the hard yards and make it as a cricketer is a feeling like no other.

A six or nix approach simply does not do it for De Wett.