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Back You are here: Home Sports Cricket Gauteng Cricket: St.Stithians Cricket: The Fergus Gray Story
Thursday, 03 December 2015 10:35

Cricket: St.Stithians Cricket: The Fergus Gray Story

Written by  Jonathan Cook

St Stithians first XI cricket coach Fergus Gray watches every single ball of his charges’ matches with intense focus. You will often find Fergus sitting alone at matches, better able to observe proceedings - the ebb and flow of an even contest - unhindered by idle chatter.

I noticed this with keen interest during St Stithians’ excellent win over host school Maritzburg College at Oppenheimer Michaelmas Cricket Week in early October. This is a man who lives and breathes every moment with his team, every high and every low as those uneasy accomplices – fate, ill-fortune and glorious destiny – tussle for supremacy.

Having joined the St Stithians family in 2010, Gray now heads the physical science department and as the first XI coach sees his role as one where the development of cricketers is paramount.

“To be competent, competitive, and not give up during the difficult times, that is key,” says this modest man who prefers to deflect attention away from self towards those he admires.

“I have been involved in cricket coaching for 20 years, coached the first XIs at Ixopo High School, then on to Weston Agricultural College, Kearsney College and St Stithians Boys’ College.”

While his side is right up with the best, Gray is pragmatic when asked what he thinks of cricket rankings, such as those on this mag’s very own SA School Sports website.

“It’s difficult to rank teams if they never play each other. Nevertheless it creates great interest among schoolboy cricketers and for some teams it represents a goal for the season. However there is a fine line between winning and fair play. Winning should never be at the expense of fair play.”

This measured approach extends to the Fergus Gray take on training sessions. “We often begin the practice with fitness drills. Unfit cricketers seldom occupy the crease for long enough to score a ton. Bongani Ndaba is the other coach for the first XI and is highly skilled at planning individualised drills to target specific skills. A team talk at the end of practice is always essential to identify team goals and specific strategies.”

And most significant, in my humble opinion, Gray is a Maritzburra-schooled man, just like yours truly. “I attended Merchiston Preparatory School [so did I, but a little earlier than our featured man] in the KZN capital, as well as Alexandra High School [a couple of kilometres up the road] and completed a Bachelor of Science degree at UKZN (Pietermaritzburg) in 1995.”

Realism and objectivity on the playing field is in keeping with a man of the sciences in the classroom. “I don’t think you need to qualify to coach a schoolboy cricket team. Of course you need to understand the game, but ultimately it’s about discipline and giving a group of players a common goal. Players must also learn to appreciate and celebrate each other’s successes.”

The 2015 season highs? “We had a couple of highlights: The annual Oppenheimer Michaelmas Cricket Week, the Johnny Waite competition, the St Davids T20 festival and the Grey High or Grey College festival. St Stithians counts itself very fortunate to be invited to all these festivals. The standard of cricket is exceptionally high throughout the country and it is extremely difficult to complete a season unbeaten.”

Truer words have never been said.

“Most cricket schools strive for a perfect record at the big festivals and St Stithians is no exception.”

If one looks at the bare facts accumulated through the year – an 80% win record – Saints’ first XI have had an exceptional 2015 by any standards. Played 49 matches, won 39, drawn three and lost seven speaks for itself.

As far as inspiring the boys as individuals and within the team format are concerned, Gray once again has a balanced view.

“All coaches attempt to motivate, but much of that motivation is intrinsic. Successful cricketers have a deep desire to perform well. Winning matches invariably happens when boys are focused and motivated.”

And the art and craft of winning matches? Once again the response is spot-on. “All coaches are pleased when their boys give of their absolute best. It’s very difficult to beat an opposition that never gives up.”

Well said indeed.

The hard work put in by the St Stithians Boys’ College coaching staff bears fruit when it comes to selection time at provincial and national level. “Brandon Glover and Wiaan Mulder were selected for the Gauteng U19A and SA U19A teams. Ricardo Vasconcelos and Wandile Makwetu also made the Gauteng U19A team, while Tristan Blackie-Roden and Matthew Erasmus were selected for the U19B team. Joshua Coetzee, Craig Meier and Justin Watson were selected for the U17A team, and Joshua Richards, Curtis Campher and Jason Knibbs made the U17B team.”

So how important are the lower age-groups to the St Stithians first team’s continued success? “The U15A and U16A players are vital to the success of any first team and it’s always exciting to introduce a young player into the competitive first XI arena. It’s very pleasing to see a younger player perform in this environment.”

Gray says that it is important to have a balance of young and experienced players in the first team set-up to ensure there is some continuity into the New Year. Saints seem to have got this right. Only four senior players leave the team at the end of this school year.

“We are very fortunate to have a director of cricket in Wim Jansen who is not only experienced, but keenly interested in the performance of both cricketers and coaches alike. Wim creates as many opportunities as possible for the boys to play matches. Midweek fixtures, night games and B-team tours are commonplace at St Stithians.

“Peter Stringer, a vastly experienced coach and cricketer is investing a tremendous amount of time and effort into our cricketers. Apart from his first XI commitments, Bongani Ndaba has an all-round influence on the St Stithians cricketers.”

If one looks at the impressive coaching structures already in place, plus the great news that a cricket pavilion is currently being built on Saints’ main oval, all indicators point to the school’s cricket programme going from strength to strength.

Does this busy man ever get a chance to take his mind off cricket and the classroom? When time permits, surf angling and golf are stress relievers, although one fancies there’s not much time in the life of Fergus Gray for these relaxing pursuits.

Ricardo Vasconcelos (capt), Joshua Richards, Wiaan Mulder, Tristan Blackie-Roden, Peter Jordaan, Curtis Campher, Justin Watson, Wandile Makwetu, Joshua Coetzee, Craig Meier, Brandon Glover, Connor Beauchamp, Matthew Bolt, Matthew Erasmus, Nathan Gilchrist.

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