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Cricket youngsters bowl over competition

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South Africa’s junior cricket team won gold at the 2022 Maccabi Games for the fifth consecutive time since the introduction of junior cricket to the Jewish games.

The majority of the team’s players were aged 16 and from Johannesburg. Their coach, Matthew Townsend, believes they were the youngest side in the tournament in terms of average age.

The team scored 292/4 in 40 overs during the final against Australia, with Man of the Match David Teeger smashing 149 off 133, and Giyan Sulcas amassing 79.

In reply, Australia managed only a total of 73 runs as South Africa bowled them out in just 21 overs. Dovi Porter took four wickets for eight runs in two overs, while Jacob Sacks and Sulcas claimed two wickets apiece to seal a win by 219 runs.

“The vibe after we won was unforgettable,” says captain Joshua Jacobs, a 16-year-old student at St David’s Marist Inanda in Johannesburg. “The boys did exceptionally well. They were very good on and off the field, so they made my life a little bit easier.”

“We put a lot of work in during the build-up,” says Townsend. “We executed everything we needed to. It’s just an amazing experience to see these boys perform at such a high level. We won every game by big margins, and we just stuck out head and shoulders above the rest.”

In the team’s matches on their journey to the final, they bowled out Great Britain for just 38 runs and thrashed Israel after posting a colossal 536/7, which Townsend thinks may be a record for 40-over games.

In the latter game, Sulcus scored 196 and Porter made just under 130. Speaking about some of the team’s other standout performances, Townsend says, “Jamie Gronemann scoring 89, Benji Bernstein 87, Jordan Myers 85, and David Teeger in the final. The whole team just chipped in. Benji Stone picked up 10 wickets in the tournament with a couple of runs. Dovi Porter also got some good runs and wickets. But I think a lot of a lot of the team’s credit has to go to captain Jacobs. He was outstanding on and off the field. Having been involved in cricket at professional level, I think he was an amazing asset to the team and led from the front.”

Jacobs got into cricket when he was about five. He has captained his central Gauteng under-16 indoor side, been vice-captain of the South African indoor cricket junior team, and, in outdoor cricket, captained his club side, the under-18 Old Edwardians cricket team, to the final of the Jozi Cup.

Jacob’s best moment on the field during the Maccabiah was when his side bowled out England for 38. “On the way to the game, we were on the same bus as England, and they were singing chants and giving us little chirps,” he says. “I told the boys to be quiet and let the bowling and batting do the talking for us. Bowling them out for 38 was pretty unbelievable. Off the field, I would say probably the tours. My favourite tour we did was of the underground tunnels in Haifa.”

In the lead-up to the games, the team had training sessions every Sunday. “We did have one weekend when we played T20 and a 50-over practice game against a select side in Johannesburg in which two of the Cape Town boys flew down to join us,” says Townsend. “Sulcus was actually overseas playing cricket in England, and he joined us the night before we played England. It was the first time we had a chat as a full team. We kept everything on Zoom, so no one was ever left out. They all knew what we were doing and how things were going.”

From the moment the team left South Africa, Townsend didn’t believe any team would pose his side much trouble. After arriving in the holy land, they would have an hour and a half team meeting before every game. “We would strategise our game plans, and everything seemed to fall into place. Everyone just did their job and executed what they needed to do perfectly,” says Townsend.

Born in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Townsend played nine first-class matches between 1999 and 2002, having made his first-class debut at the age of 18.

“I played for various Zimbabwean sides during the time when I had a national contract, so I was privileged enough to play against the likes of India, Bangladesh, and the West Indies. Those are probably some highlights. But I stopped playing professionally at a very young age – 21 – when I ended my national contract due to the political situation. I played a handful of first-class games after that, a bit overseas, a spell in Australia. I’ve been coaching ever since.”

He has been a professional cricket coach in Zimbabwe and the director of cricket at Crawford International in Johannesburg, and has been approached by the chairperson of Israel cricket to be the head coach of the Israel national side at the ICC World Cup qualifiers next year.

“I moved to Johannesburg a couple of years ago, and I’ve been doing quite a lot of coaching. I actually came to the last Maccabi Games with the junior rugby side. Then, the convener of cricket asked if I would be interested in taking the role as coach. I don’t think I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have such a good team as this Maccabi side. They all just gelled together. We never had a single problem. No leaving someone out. They were just a complete unit.”

The players may be hoping to follow in the footsteps of other South African cricketers to have played at the games such as Dennis Gamsy, who played in two Tests for South Africa against Australia in 1970, and Adam Bacher, who played in 19 Tests between 1996 and 1999.

South Africa’s open cricket team, meanwhile, lost by 27 runs against Great Britain in the final of the 2022 Maccabiah, to take home silver.

Photo credit: Mark Patterson 

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