UCT cricketing stars for WP amateur league

06 February 2009 | Story by Helen Théron

cricket players
Practice run: The UCT first team will face the University of the Western Cape on 22 February and 1 March, a game that should determine the winners of the Western Province Premier League

Four promising stars from UCT Cricket Club's first team have been selected for the Western Province amateur side, news that should boost the young side ahead of their big Western Province Premier League game against the University of the Western Cape on 22 February and 1 March.

The game will be played over two consecutive Sundays at the UCT oval and should decide who wins the league.

The players are leg spinner Chris Arkell, who has a haul of 17 wickets this season, regular no 4 batsman Martin Walters, Peter Laing, captain of the Western Province amateur side, and Chris Cook, who represented Western Province in the 20/20 league. Cook has also been named in the Cape Cobras squad, a professional league of first-class cricketers.

Coached by former national cricket team coach Eric Simons, the amateur side is just one step below the Cape Cobras.

As things stand, the UCT club is second in the Western Province Premier League and will want to finish the season on a high. The first team lost their coach, alumnus Gary Kirsten, when he took on the job of coaching India. During the off-season administrator Kobus Olivier approached another veteran to fill the gap, former South African first-class cricketer Hylton Ackerman.

Ackerman had spent eight years coaching at the Plascon Academy, which fast tracks South Africa's best young players into first-class and international cricket.

"Hylton is unbelievable," Olivier said. "He's the best coach I've worked with."

Besides Arkell, Walters, Laing and Cook, there are other players 'bubbling under': opening batsman Travis Townsend (chair of the UCT Cricket Club) and Dean "Biff" (he's a dead ringer for national captain Graeme Smith) Forward.

Townsend, who averages 50, has notched up 386 runs this season and a highest score of 114.

Collectively, the team has knocked five centuries this season, and have won three of their five games. But it hasn't been an easy ride.

In 2002 the UCTCC won the SA Club Championships, won the WP league, and hosted and won the SA universities league. Since then the club has lost a generation of players.

"The UCTCC doesn't have the advantage of really blooding players," Olivier said. "They leave when they graduate or perhaps play one extra season. UCT used to field five teams in the premier league but now only three.

"The average age of our side is 21/22, playing against older, more experienced cricketers in the league."

The club hovered around relegation for the first part of the 2006/2007 season before rallying to finish in third spot in the premier league. At the nets during a recent practice was Charl Langeveld, placed with the UCTCC by Western Province Cricket Union. Graeme Smith, still a registered member of the UCTCC, played two games for the side last season.

"He's [Charl] just fantastic to have around. The younger guys look up to older professionals," Olivier said.

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