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Monday, 03 November 2014 10:43

Cricket: Feature on Grant Roelofsen


King Edward VII School (KES) first XI captain and SA Schools and SA U19 wicketkeeper/batsman Grant Roelofsen is making waves and the SA School Sports mag went to find out the why and what of this impressive young man.

Grant RoelofsenKES’s highly regarded High Performance sports manager Mario Olivier, who spent a number of years at Maritzburg College before moving to Houghton, says Roelofsen is one of the special ones. “”He works very, very hard, is a good guy and has a healthy respect for the game and what it takes to be successful.”

Ryan Cook, who was Roelofsen’s KES first XI coach before a move to Cape Town says he first met the lad when he was in Grade 10. “He played U16A in the first term and immediately impressed with half-centuries, although it was for his club Mavericks, where he was scoring big in Sunday third league that caught my attention,” says Cook, whose world-renowned former opening batsman father, Jimmy Cook, a top coach, has taken the first XI helm at this great cricket school.

Ryan Cook says at the 2012 Oppenheimer Week at Maritzburg College in the Michaelmas holidays Roelofsen opened the batting with Yaseen Valli and the pair were involved in big stands and match-winning performances. “It was here that Grant’s appetite for batting long periods was seen for the first time.”

 In Grade 11 there was an even bigger sense of purpose, Roelofsen working throughout the winter, especially on his attacking options, and was involved in an intensive conditioning programme with Highveld Lions trainer Jeff Lunsky. This single-minded focus and commitment included a lot of wicketkeeping work.

Last year, Roelofsen scored two excellent centuries in the Gauteng trial week and was selected in the strong Gauteng U19A side as wicketkeeper/opening batsman. He also moved clubs to Gunn and Moore Old Edwardians and ended the season with the highest aggregate runs at the club as Old Eds went on to win the league. “It seemed playing with the likes of Neil McKenzie, Stephen Cook and Devon Conway really elevated his game to new heights,” says Cook.

Roelofsen maintained his form through the year and at Khaya Majola Coca Cola Week “Grant was impressive from the get-go, ending up the leading run-scorer in the tournament and was selected for South Africa Schools along with KES team-mate Valli. He also represented the SA U17 Invitational team at Cubs Week in Stellenbosch in January this year and looked good.” 

On his return to school in 2014, it seemed the KES first XI captain’s hunger had grown even further. Roelofsen scored 208 not out before lunch against Parktown and has plundered 1 410 runs for KES so far this year, including six centuries and the double century. “His 126 off 54 balls against Jeppe in a T20 fixture was also a highlight, as all the skills he had worked on during the off-season came to light,” says Cook.

Since then, Roelofsen has attended the SA U19 selection camp in Pretoria and was selected for the team to tour England in July. He scored 149 in the first innings of the first Youth Test against England U19 and in the second Test broke the record for the most dismissals by an SA U19 wicketkeeper in an innings, with seven to his name. With Grade 12 exams being his focus, Roelofsen did not play many games leading into the season, although four games at the St David’s Festival, batting low in the order at times, he nailed down 176 runs.

So what is it that makes Grant Roelofsen the batsman so special? “He is tall, has an athletic build and takes pride in his conditioning,” says Cook. “I believe Grant has the ability to make the step up to a higher level and succeed quickly. His strong defensive technique and method allows him to bat for long periods, while he has a variety of options against fast and spin bowling, especially off the back foot.”

Cook is particularly impressed with Roelofsen’s “unrivalled passion for the game and his long-term improvement and growth mindset”. 

“To go to the next level he needs opportunities, continued support and backing. He has shown an ability to raise his game, especially under pressure and at a higher level, and has the skill to back it up. He is very humble and down to earth and has a deep intrinsic motivation.”

Roelofsen’s desire to make a career in cricket, the supportive family around him, his innate professionalism and work ethic suggest he has got the full package to excel at first-class level sooner rather than later.

Over to Roelofsen’s SA U19 coach Lawrence Mahatlane, who took serious notice of this prodigious young talent during the 2013/2014 Gauteng Cricket Board Premier League season before meeting him at the National Camp to choose the side to tour England. 

“The first challenge I threw at Grant was move him from his preferred batting position at the top of the order to bat in the middle for the SA U19 side,” says Mahatlane. “The way he took on the challenge was very impressive. He was able to adjust to the role, is very strong on the back foot and can bat for a long time. His love of batting and work ethic should see him make it further in the game, while the work he has put into his keeping will also stand him in good stead.”

The SA U19 coach says what is important for Roelofsen is to keep working hard, especially on some of his technical ‎challenges, and to keep learning. “He showed this ability on tour and I hope he keeps that hunger for learning.” 

So what does Grant Roelofsen think about the pressures of being a top-order batter as well as a stopper and poucher? Does he find that having to keep wicket mentally drains him; then he still has to bat? The answer is an unequivocal “No”.

“I've grown up with it and enjoy the challenge,” is the long and short of it. “I started as a 10 year old, it adds a whole new dimension to my game and always keeps me in the game,” says the likeable lad who attended Laerskool Helderkruin in his primary school days before going to St Stithians and then KES.

Surely the 149 he scored in the first Youth Test against England U19 at Fenners in Cambridge is the highlight of his career? The answer put me on the back foot. “No, the highlight so far was scoring my first school hundred, which got me into the Coke Week team and quick-started my career. My proudest moment, though, was getting a hundred on debut for my country.”

SA drew the Test series and unfortunately lost the ODI series but Roelofsen says it was an experience “we can all learn a lot from - and the level that they played at”.

Roelofsen says the KES first XI played well in the St Davids T20 festival and the guys are keen for the upcoming season.  “This will be my third Oppenheimer Week, it’s enjoyable and we get to play against schools that we don't play against in our general-season fixtures.

“My goal at Oppenheimer Week is to get my first hundred at the festival; it’s still a bit of a monkey on my back!”

Does he prefer, T20 cricket, 50-over or four-day matches? “I like them all; they test different skills and aspects of the game.”

And who has been the biggest influence on his career? “There have been a few people but my dad has always been there for me and helped me see the positive in everything. Dad has encouraged me to succeed since I was young, when he first introduced me to the game, and coached me for hours on end, while Ryan Cook has helped take my game to the next level and provided me with opportunities.”

How would Grant describe his temperament? “Calm and mature, I guess.” A glimpse into the Grant Roelofsen character can be drawn from a few more insights: “I love golf and have always admired how people can be so passionate about winning and so focused on the job at hand.”

Steve Waugh, extremely tough, who respected the game and opponents, is Roelofsen’s all-time favourite cricketer, while his favourite player to watch when he was a youngster, was Adam Gilchrist. That tells you Roelofsen won’t stand back for any bowler and loves to attack the when well set.                                            

“Roelfie”, as his mates call him, has a treasured possession. “It’s a gold chain with a cricket bat and my name on it. I have never taken off since the day I got it.” But his enviable work ethic and love for the game is tested a bit on occasion. His least favourite training drill is “probably rowing, but I do it because it's very beneficial to my keeping”.

A sports person he admires the most is Maria Sharapova: “She is exceptionally focused and was determined from a very young age to become the best tennis player in the world.”

Grant Roelofsen, wicketkeeper/batsman with a work ethic and ambition to match.

Watch this space.

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