The rise of Jeppe High School for Boys under Mike Bechet has been one of the success stories of Johannesburg schools sport, writes THEO GARRUN.
Jeppe has a long and illustrious cricket history, but had fallen off the pace when Mike Bechet, formerly the director of sport and first-team cricket and hockey coach at Maritzburg College, moved to the school in 2015.
He was appointed the school’s director of cricket in January 2015 and took the reins as first-team coach in the third term of that year. At the end of the 2015-16 season, Jeppe’s record read 10 wins, seven draws and 12 losses. In 2016-17 they won 11 and lost 17 of the 33 games played. Since then there has been a dramatic improvement in their success rate. In the 2018-19 season they played 29 games, won 22, drew three and lost four, and this season they had played 30, won 20, lost five and drawn five by the end of February.
At the same time, Bechet adds, the quality of their opposition has improved greatly. ‘We still play our traditional Joburg and Pretoria rivals, and we go to the Michaelmas Festival, but we now also play in the St David’s Two-Day Festival and have met top opposition at events like the DHS 125th Anniversary Festival, the Grey High Festival and, this year, the Peninsula Festival in Cape Town,’ he says.
Alongside the performance of the first team has come a concerted effort to improve cricket at the school. This shows in Jeppe’s excellent facilities, and the quality of the coaching and fixture programme.
‘We have three turf-wicket ovals at the school and the use of a fourth at the Jeppe Quondam Sports Club; turf and synthetic nets and an indoor centre with five nets with state-of-the art equipment,’ he says.
‘The number of teams we field each week has grown. We are committed to having each team play at least one match against another school every week, throughout the season. That can be a difficult logistical task, but we manage it.
‘Every team has a coach and all our A teams have two. We are fortunate to have a group of dedicated, passionate coaches who work hard at helping their players develop. Even the lower teams in the junior age groups are coached by men who have a fierce determination to succeed.’
The excellent facilities and top-class fixture list, along with Jeppe’s commitment to transformation and to giving opportunities to players from disadvantaged backgrounds has led to the school being awarded Blue Chip School status by Cricket South Africa. ‘We are one of only a handful of schools in the country that carries that designation and we have been awarded it every year since the programme was introduced,’ Bechet says.
Jeppe has gained a reputation as a nursery for players of colour and has provided numerous players to the provincial teams at the age-group levels every year in recent times. This has culminated in the selection of two black African players from Jeppe for the SA Schools and SA U19 teams in the past two years.
‘I think cricket at Jeppe is in a good place,’ says Bechet. ‘We try to instil a love of cricket in the boys, build a cricket culture and teach the values and etiquette of the game.
‘We want every Jeppe boy who wants to play cricket to be given the opportunity to do so. We promise to give him good coaching, on good facilities, and to provide matches against quality opponents. I think we are succeeding at that.’
Kgaudise Molefe became the first Jeppe cricketer to make the SA Schools teams since Victor Vermeulen in 1990 when he was selected at the end of the 2017 Khaya Majola Week at St Stithians, a feat he repeated the next year in Cape Town. He also made the SA U19 team in both those years and played in the ICC U19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2018. He is a left-arm orthodox spinner who takes plenty of wickets. He is contracted to the Central Gauteng Lions and plays their semi-professional team. He made his List A debut for the Lions in 2017.
Levert Manje was selected for the South African Schools team after the 2019 Khaya Majola Week. He had been named in the SA U19 team to play in the 2020 ICC U19 World Cup before the schools interprovincial week and then also got the nod for the schools national teams on the back of some excellent batting performances. He is a top-order batsman who made lots of runs for Jeppe and he represented Gauteng at all the junior age-group levels. He made his first-class debut for Gauteng in February, in the CSA 3-Day Provincial Cup competition.
This feature appears in the April-June issue of SA Cricket magazine