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SA fielding expert keeps ball rolling for Afghanistan

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As Afghanistan takes on South Africa in the ICC Cricket World Cup, one person integrally involved with the team is likely to have mixed emotions, namely Afghanistan fielding coach South African Ryan Maron.

“I haven’t been involved in an international team against South Africa before,” he says. “I’m excited about it and maybe a little bit emotional, especially during the anthems. But I’m here to do my best for Afghanistan, and to get a win for us,” Maron says.

So far, he’s witnessed the Afghani team have an incredible 2023 50-over World Cup campaign in India.

In his third World Cup with Afghanistan, the team has won four out of its eight group games to stand a chance of qualifying for the semifinals for the first time. The only time Afghanistan previously won a World Cup game was in the 2015 World Cup against Scotland in Dunedin, New Zealand.

“The players love me in the team,” says Maron, who also served as Afghanistan fielding coach at the 2015 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the T20 World Cup last year in Australia. “They treat me with the utmost respect. They love my energy, they love my passion, they like the way I work. I’m a team player and I want to get my hands dirty and always be hands on deck. I’m pretty well respected among players and staff.”

Maron can see the belief the players have in themselves following their victories against reigning champions England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands at the ongoing World Cup. Maron says it was “heart wrenching to come close” to beating five-time champions Australia on Tuesday but losing by three wickets after a sensational double hundred by Glenn Maxwell.

Maron says there are no secrets behind Afghanistan’s good performance at the World Cup so far. “The players just do the fundamentals right and well. They are working with the right methods in the right way so they can perform on the international scene against top players around the world.”

He says the team has also progressed nicely thanks to the experience of head coach, Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott, who played for England between 2007 and 2015, winning the International Cricket Council; England and Wales Cricket Board; and Wisden Cricketer of the Year awards in 2011. “He’s using his playing experience over the years, and he was the number one player in the world at one stage,” Maron says. “He has influenced the players in the way they train and the way they practice.”

Maron’s journey with Afghanistan started in 2015, when the side’s then-head coach, Englishman Andy Moles, roped him in as fielding coach prior to the 2015 World Cup. “Then the coaching panel changed. Inzamam-ul-Haq came in and I wasn’t involved. I came back with them in 2017 as a fielding coach. Then from there, the West Indies national team asked me to come across to them.”

In 2019, he started working with Proteas legend Jonty Rhodes, travelling to about six countries to conduct high-performance coaching before being called back by Afghanistan in August 2022. He has also had spells as head coach of the University of Cape Town and Wynberg Boys’ High School, a fielding consultant for the Dolphins franchise in South Africa, and an assistant coach for the Quetta Gladiators franchise in Pakistan.

Maron says his speciality, fielding, is an important part of the game. “Players spend most of their time fielding. Many games are lost or won with good fielding.” He also focuses on stats and “all the information during the game – where we can get better and where we’re slacking. Obviously, I have the other coaches assist me with the drills that I want to do with the players. But I try to chip in wherever I can with positive energy and my experiences as a player playing around the world and in provincial cricket.”

He says the World Cup has been “special” in “cricket-mad” India. “Wherever we go, fans want to meet and take photos of the players. The crowds have been amazing, and support for the Afghanistan team has been excellent.”

Maron says the team is in its seventh different city since arriving in India about six weeks ago. They stay in five-star hotels and streets are closed off when they travel on their team bus. “We also fly on charter aircraft.”

Maron, whose father was a good cricketer, attended Grove Primary School and Rondebosch Boys’ High School. In addition to playing football and rugby, Maron played cricket for Western Province at school and went on to be a player-coach in England, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

“I won several trophies with different clubs in those countries,” he says. “In 1997, I was selected for the National Cricket Academy, which had the best up-and-coming cricketers who could go on to represent South Africa. Unfortunately, I didn’t go on to represent South Africa. But I was blessed to get the opportunity to travel around the world and play provincial cricket for Western Province senior side among people like Jacques Kallis and other Proteas.”

Cricket has taken Maron to many countries, but the downside is being away from his wife and children, the latter still at school. He has never been to Afghanistan, as the team’s headquarters and home matches are in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Maron says playing in different leagues around the world has enhanced the cricket of Afghanistan players such as Rashid Khan, who plays in the SA20 and other global leagues. “It shows them the wider world,” Maron says. “A lot of our players also live in the UAE or London. The players who aren’t in the Premier League stage do stay in Afghanistan. There are high-performance academies around Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a cricket-loving country and it’s great for the country when we get these wins. The celebrations go on throughout the night.”

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