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Friday, 25 December 2015 10:05

Cricket:Ricardo Vasconcelos: model opening batsman

Written by  Jonathan Cook

I watched with an uneasy mix of appreciation and dread. St Stithians first XI captain Ricardo Vasconcelos played a studied innings under considerable pressure to lay a match-winning foundation for his team. I sensed that this opening batsman was the real deal.

“I’ve always loved opening the batting, I feel like I thrive on that pressure, for me there’s no better feeling than being able to put my team into a position that can allow us to be in the driver’s seat to win the game,” was Ricardo’s response to my leading question.

Clearly I am not the only one who sees Ricardo in the same light – and perhaps even more significant, it’s not all been golden-boy moments: It started in the relatively modest surrounds of the Gauteng U15B team – and blossomed without blemish thereafter.

Gauteng U17A for two years, SA U17 and most recently Gauteng U19 for the upcoming Coke Week. St Stithians had no doubts. Ricardo played Saints first team for four years.

A Saints lad to the core, the Vasconcelos brand has steadily taken off since its launch in Grade 0. “I think it was about Grade 3 when I started to develop a real love for the game. For me it’s the time spent with friends that separates cricket from other sports; you can’t stand next to someone for hours a day – day in and day out - and not become good mates.”

His most memorable innings? The answer reveals an appreciation for more than the simple computations of aggregate runs and averages.

“Probably the 76 not out for Gauteng U17 against Western Province, chasing a low score yet losing regular wickets. We ended up winning by two wickets, three balls to spare. Hitting the winning runs, that was pretty cool.”

Ricardo’s highest score (at the time of writing) was 150 not out against Trinity. “The first time I reached 150 was a pretty memorable occasion.”

The skipper recalls one match with particular fondness. “We beat Waterkloof in the Coke T20 final. It meant we were measured as the best team in the country at that time.”

As to Saints’ 2015, it’s apparent that this captain is not easily pleased. “It wasn’t a bad year, we got to the final of the Johnny Waite tournament, but it wasn’t as good as last year.”

Vasconcelos is quick to mention fellow Saints in the Gauteng team. A tidy crop they are: Brandon Glover (bowler), Wiaan Mulder (all-rounder) and Wandile Makwetu (batsmen).

School cricket weeks are great, we all know that, so I wasn’t surprised at the Vasoncelos response to this ask: Oppenheimer Michaelmas Cricket Week, hosted annually by Maritzburg College in the first week of October … Good stuff?Yes, it is so enjoyable. Michaelmas is the highlight of our calendar, because of all the history surrounding it and the fact that so many prominent past cricketers and current professionals have played in that same week.”

That wonderful compliment makes it easier for me, a College Old Boy, to come to terms with the tender memory of Ricardo’s masterfully compiled 90 on our hallowed Goldstones turf that set up Saints’ well-earned victory. (For reference, dear reader, please revert to paragraph one).

So what are the opener’s goals at Coke Week? “I want to be in the top three leading run-scorers to give myself the best opportunity to make the SA U19 side.” Vision uncluttered, straight to the point.

The Vasoncelos ambition is clear, unencumbered by those twin evils – unwarranted arrogance and ill-placed modesty: “I want to go professional and hopefully play for the Proteas one day.”

The man who counts St Andrews Bloemfontein as the SA school team he most enjoys playing against, also has much admiration for the cricket played by that Cape Town institution,Rondebosch, and first stop for Vasconcelos next year is Stellenbosch University.

And once again the vision is flawless in its clarity. “I hope to play for Boland next year.” Working his way into the Western Province Academy follows. The Cobras next.

Honest within himself, Vasconcelos ticks another box on the player-with-character list. “I have not had the best season, but I still managed to score 1 432 runs at an average of 52 with seven fifties and three hundreds.” That unbeaten 150 among them.

His opinion of the Gauteng line-up for Coke Week? “We have an extremely strong side this year, 10 players in our squad were invited to the SA U19 camp.”

Admirable technique is the trademark, enabling substantial time in the middle, but Vasoncelos knows when it’s time to launch: “I think that I am probably a more technically correct batsmen who tries to be attacking when I get the chance. I enjoy 50-over matches because it gives me enough time to build an innings and get a substantial score.”

So who has been the biggest influence on the burgeoning cricket career, and life, of Ricardo Vasconcelos?The answer gives another clue to this young man’s solid foundation, his bright future: “Probably my dad, he has always encouraged me to pursue cricket and has always supported me throughout my career.”

As to the nitty gritty of honing the art and craft, challenging and nurturing Ricardo’s raw talent, two coaches stand out. “Bongani Ndaba and Jimmy Cook have helped me immensely with my game and have been with me for many years,” says the modest, well-spoken Saints man.

The Ricardo Vasconcelos temperament when the pitch is doing plenty and the bowlers are right on top? The answer to this question is the one I like the most.

“I enjoy it when the bowlers think they’re on top. It brings out the best in me, makes me more determined to do well.”

Ricardo Vasconcelos is one to watch. And I am definitely not the first, nor the last, to notice that.

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