Two of Templepatrick Cricket Club’s brightest young stars have returned home from a 10-day pre-season tour in South Africa.
All-rounders Harry Warke and Adam Clarke were part of the Northern Cricket Union’s U15 Development Squad.
Club coaches Andy McCrea (NCU U18) and Artie Campbell (NCU U15) also made the long trip to Cape Town after being selected among the coaching staff for the tour.
The U15 side played six games during the trip, winning four of them and impressing their coaches with some great cricket. The U18s played seven games and won four.
Clarke picked up a bad injury shortly before leaving for the tour and was rested for the first few games but featured towards the end of the tour.
Warke captained the U15 side to one of their victories and scored a fine 40 in another match.
Here both players give their account of what was an unforgettable for the young stars of future.
I was lucky to be selected to go on a tour to Cape Town in South Africa with the NCU as part of the Under-15 team. We left with a touring party of over 50 with two squads of 15 players, eight coaches and then a number of parents and family members and unfortunately for me, a broken thumb!
The intent of the tour was shown straight from the outset, when, after travelling for 20 hours, we went straight from the airport to West Province Cricket Club to practise. This ensured we adapted to the conditions as quickly as possible although it was tough.
On the second day we went to the Gary Kirsten Cricket Academy for what was was another full-on day of coaching in intense heat with the local coaches providing some different perspectives.
Gary Kirsten himself was able to attend so it was great to hear from the top man himself. It gave us food for thought on how to reach our full potential and give the extra 10 percent.
Our first match against Wynberg Boys’ High School didn’t exactly go the way we wanted to start the tour as we struggled in the heat against a strong opposition and we lost heavily.
We corrected things in the second match, beating Western Province Cricket Club easily in the end.
On our first day off we visited Robben Island and this gave us a moving incite into the life of Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners.
In the afternoon we went into a township area and the Amy Biehl Foundation where we handed over sports and educational equipment to give to the local children. We also spent some time playing cricket with the children and coaching them.
I think it made every one of us think and realise how lucky we are. It showed us how we should learn from the children, who, though they may have no shoes or clothes that are too small, and might not have a meal for dinner, were in high spirits and always had smiles on their faces.
Back on the pitch, we then had a tough run of three games in a row, however we got off to a good start with a tight win over St Augustine Cricket Club in a 20-over match.
We kept the good form going with wins over Coronation CC. We had formed together as a team and also had individuals making big contributions.
On another day off we went to the Aquila Private Game Reserve where we got a safari viewing of the magnificent ‘Big 5’ which was another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My favourite was the Springbok!
In our last game we played a strong U16 regional side in District North who showed their class against a tired team.
The long journey home began after a visit to the Cheetah Outreach Programme and another night of travelling saw us arrive back in Belfast with plenty of sleep to catch up on!
The tour helped us improve as cricketers but also as people. It encouraged independence, like being at the right place at the right time in the right kit which comes easier to some of us than others!
Another point that the coaches reiterated numerous times was respect; respecting yourself, your coaches, your equipment and your opponents.
It was a new, unique and really enjoyable experience for me as this is my first tour of this kind.
It is something that will stay with me my entire life; the good cricket played, the banter we enjoyed and the things I learnt.
I was part of the Under-15 squa and while I was in South Africa I learnt a lot about my game and also how to adapt to the surroundings and playing conditions in another country.
There were many highlights on this trip for me, but I will pick out just a few. First of all, winning four out of our six matches, especially when the teams we played were of a high standard.
Playing conditions in Cape Town are very different from back home. The wickets are much bouncier and harder and outfields generally much quicker - you got full value for your shots.
Fielding for 45 overs in 30-degree heat was very tiring. We generally had three drinks breaks. It wasn’t easy batting after fielding in this heat for so long. Every opposing team also had a number of very good spinners - especially leg-spinners. It was a challenge to face them on the bouncy and turning wickets, but something we had to learn how to deal with.
I will also remember the tour for the the general enjoyment and the new friendships I have forged, which, hopefully, will last throughout my cricketing career.
Throughout my stay there were also many events I will never forget; visiting Newlands, the home of South African cricket, the poverty and shanty towns within some areas of the city, visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for so long, and the fact that you could buy steak and chips for under £10!
Last of all, my favourite was going on safari and getting so close to the Big 5.
This was my first cricket tour abroad which I won’t forget for a very long time. I want to thank all the coaches and management team who travelled and helped us so much with our game - it was especially good to have Artie Campbell and Andy McCrea with us from Templepatrick CC, who had been selected as coaches for the tour.
• Pictures courtesy of CricketEurope.com