• Country’s best do battle

    Come Monday 21 March, there will be a new national schools cricket champion at the finals of the Coca-Cola Schools T20 Challenge

    The seventh edition of the National Schools T20 Tournament that takes place in Potchefstroom from 18-21 March, saw some 665 schools participate in the competition that started back in October 2015. Through the various regional and provincial finals, each of South Africa’s six cricket franchises determined their champions through a knockout format. From 665, there are now six, each with the dream of being crowned as the best 1st XI in the country.

    Defending champions Menlopark Hoërskool, the only team to have won the National Title twice, will not be in action at the 2016 Nationals having failed to qualify. Instead, Afrikaanse Seuns Hoërskool (Affies), will make their first appearance at the tournament. Affies, the alma mater of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, have, for some time, been one of the top cricketing schools in the country and will be looking to make this opportunity count. One player worth keeping an eye on is all-rounder Ruan de Swardt, who plays an integral role in the middle order with the bat. The left-handed batsman is also a very talented flyhalf who finished the U18 Academy Week as the top points scorer with 57 for the Blue Bulls.

    2015 runners-up Hilton College were knocked out by Kearsney College in the Dolphins Final. This will be Kearsney’s first ever appearance at the National Finals and the Botha’s Hill men will look to their captain Brad Porteous, among others, for inspiration. Porteous has been a consistent performer with both bat and ball this season and his three-wicket haul in the Dolphins final helped Kearsney defend a meager 88.

    Representing the Knights once more will be Grey College. They narrowly missed out on a spot in the final in Stellenbosch last year, losing out by one log point to eventual runners-up Hilton College. The Bloemfontein men will be among the favourites this year, especially with the prolific Raynard van Tonder in their ranks once more. The hard-hitting right-hander placed fifth on the run charts at last year’s National finals before earning an SA Schools cap courtesy of his 208 runs at the Coke Week.

    Along with Grey, Lions champions St Stithians will be the favourites to take the title. The Johannesburg school lifted the title in 2014 and with the likes of Wiaan Mulder and Wandile Makwetu in their ranks, the Saints lads will be confident of their chances. Added to their SA U19 stars are the likes of Joshua Richards and Curtis Campher who have been performing well this season.

    Grey High School feature at the Nationals for the first time since 2012 as the Warriors champions. Having beaten the likes of 2015 Warriors champs St Andrew’s College and Hudson Park, the Eastern Cape powerhouse school will quietly be eyeing the big prize. Opening batsman Matthew Breetzke has undoubtedly been the standout for the Port Elizabethans this season, piling up runs in all formats of the game.

    Finally, there is Paarl Gimnasium, the Cobras champs who displaced arch-rivals Paarl Boys’ High as the Western Cape representatives in 2016. Perhaps more known for their rugby exploits, Gim have actually produced two Proteas in Justin Ontong and Louis Koen. 2016 will be Gim’s first appearance at the National Finals with the Paarl schools looking to the likes of all-rounder Wian van Niekerk and opening bat Andre Hanekom for inspiration. The duo have been in good form of late and will play a key role in Gim’s campaign.

    Previous winners:

    2015: Menlopark Hoërskool – Titans
    2014: St Stithians College – Lions
    2013: Rondebosch Boys’ High School – Cobras
    2012: Paarl Boys’ High School – Cobras
    2011: Waterkloof Hoërskool – Titans
    2010: Menlopark Hoërskool – Titans

    Compiled by Warwick Austin

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