Cricket fundi and PhD student vies for Mr SA title

21 November 2016 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Michael Hammond.
PhD (Exercise Science) student Habib Noorbhai hopes to lift the Mr SA title in Johannesburg on Thursday 24 November.
PhD (Exercise Science) student Habib Noorbhai hopes to lift the Mr SA title in Johannesburg on Thursday 24 November.

An expert in the backlift technique in cricket, Habib Noorbhai (28) is used to being in the background as a sports scientist and researcher. But the all-round gentleman, humanitarian, biokineticist and PhD student in exercise science hopes to clinch a big title of his own come Thursday.

Noorbhai is one of 14 finalists for the Mr SA title. The finals will be held in Johannesburg. The competition has been staged annually since 1982 and winners include some household names: Michael Moll of Top Billing fame, Egoli actor Marcus Muller and Pasella presenter Dieter Voigt.

Noorbhai has already made his mark as a young South African. In 2013 he was voted among South Africa's 100 brightest young minds and in 2015 he was named among Mail & Guardian's top 200 young South Africans.

The former Roosevelt High pupil completed a BA in Sport Psychology at the University of Johannesburg, Honours in Biokinetics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an MPhil in Biokinetics at UCT. He hopes to be awarded his PhD by the end of 2016.

But in spite of its title, this competition is less about being a male model (“I've never modelled before – I don't know how to strut down a catwalk!”) than a model male, says Noorbhai, whose day job is as a lecturer/researcher in Sports Science at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The Mr SA title calls for someone who is the “perfect aspirational man, balanced in health, intelligence, passion, drive, ambition and attractiveness”. Warm, intelligent and groomed, Noorbhai ticks the boxes.

Model male

But what does being a model male mean?

He doesn't give a glib answer. He's reflective, deeply aware of the 'bad rep' South African men carry generally, given the high rates of femicide (we're world leaders), alarmingly high rates of rape, and less than illustrious record in gender equality.

“It is about being a man of honour and a role model for boys and men to aspire to in building a different and better South Africa.” As a change-maker, his recent call is for men to participate in the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children from 25 November to 10 December. His community and outreach work also stretches to include an anti-bullying campaign and cancer awareness.

Noorbhai says that his biggest achievement has been maintaining and forming relationships with people. The title is thus less about personal glory than opening doors to facilitate change. At heart Noorbhai is a humanitarian. In 2013 he started the Humanitarians, an NPO focused on outreach in Western Cape communities to promote sport, health, education, sustainability and innovation, which is measured through research.

His life motto reflects his dual interests: 'The ink of a scholar and the heart of a volunteer are holier than the blood of a martyr'.”

Revolutionary training bat

Noorbhai is also making his mark as a scholar in a field that clearly excites him. A back injury at school put paid to his own cricket career but he followed on by putting his mind to work on the science of the sport.

His PhD research is about the evolution of the batting backlift technique in cricket. Working with his supervisor, Emeritus Professor Tim Noakes, they have pioneered a new coaching cricket bat design that promises to revolutionise the backlift technique: the direction of the bat or the angle the batter follows in lifting the bat and bringing it down to strike the ball.

The bat, with its racquet-shaped toe-end, was developed with Noakes and Russell Woolmer, son of the legendary late former Proteas coach, Bob Woolmer.

But that is a story for another day.

(You can support Noorbhai's quest for the Mr SA title by voting for him until 23 November. SMS MRSA006 to 47439. SMS's cost R3.)

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