Coca-Cola Khaya Majola Week Focus: Morgan Pillay’s birthday is on 18 December, and this year he’ll turn 56 in Cape Town at the Coca-Cola Khaya Majola Week.
The U19 school interprovincial tournament is never on the exact same dates, but the 16 December public holiday is always incorporated in it, so as long as he keeps going there he is going to be away from home on that day.
And he has been going there, for the last 25 years in a row. Pillay has been the honorary organising secretary and technical director of the week since 1996, and he was on the organising committee for three years before that, so he has resigned himself to having his birthday away from his family and he intends carrying on in that role for a few more years.
‘I have spent my birthday away from home every year since 1993, but I have gained another family in cricket,’ he said. ‘It’s tough being away from home, of course, but I get to spend my birthday every year surrounded by the many great friends that I have made at this week and in the service of the youth, which is what I am really passionate about. My involvement in cricket has allowed my family to grow, it hasn’t affected them adversely.’ It’s been a feature of this tournament that the honorary secretaries stick around for a long time. Morgan Pillay is only the eighth in the 68-year history of the event. His 23 years of service has been the longest of all of them.
‘My involvement began in 1993 in Pretoria when I was a member of the initial steering committee to unify schools cricket together with Greg Fredericks and Mike Burton,’ he explained. ‘Andrew Layman was SA Schools chairman and I was sent to what was then the Nuffield Week to report on the logistics of running it.
‘In 1994 the week was in my hometown of Pietermaritzburg and I was on the local organising committee working in the office updating the match summaries. That year I was appointed the manager of the SA U19 cricket team to tour England the next year. I continued in that role until I stepped down two years ago.’
It was while he was in England that he was told he would be the next organising secretary, taking over in 1996 from St Alban’s College master Patrick Hamilton, who had been in the role for six years.
‘So, Boksburg 1996 was my first week and it was challenging. It rained almost every night and the resources were limited. But there were supportive people around me. Andrew Layman was a pillar, and Khaya Majola was there representing the national body,’ he said.
The tournament changed from a festival of friendlies to a limited-overs tournament that year which meant everything had to be more professional and precise.
‘The week was more inclusive by then and there were more teams. Eventually we had all the United Cricket Board affiliates there, along with Zimbabwe and Namibia,’ said Pillay.
‘Over the years format was changed. T20 games were introduced, and to develop spin bowlers as well as pace bowlers, time cricket was introduced.’
In the early years, Pillay explained, the week was organised by school teachers with CSA supplying some of the selectors.
‘At that stage schoolboy umpires and scorers were used, but that changed as the week became more professional and now it is used for the development of aspirant umpires and scorers as well.’
Coca-Cola’s sponsorship has been a constant feature throughout and it has allowed for sponsored clothing, a captains’ dinner, and a grand awards dinner to be introduced.
‘First Khaya Majola, then Maxwell Jordaan and now Niels Momberg have been our partners from CSA and they provided great support to the week through the years,’ he said.
Pillay believes the Khaya Majola Week provides a motivation for every school boy cricketer and it plays a vital role in the CSA talent pipeline.
‘It’s a stepping stone to the CSA Academy, the SA U19 team, the CSA Cubs week and into Varsity and Tertiary cricket,’ he said.
When pressed to name the players who stood out for him over all those years, he named Makahaya Ntini, AB de Villiers, Wayne Parnell, Graeme Smith, Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada.
‘I can still remember AB de Villiers’ performance in the SA Schools game when they beat the home province Gauteng at Randjesfontein 2002, the day after he was not selected for the SA U19 team going to the World Cup the next year. That day we knew he was going to be special.’
Pillay’s role as the SA U19 manager is a personal highlight that he looks back on.
‘My job was to ensure that there were no distractions for the cricketers. It was a privilege to be part of a professional and winning culture and to touch the lives of the youth. The crowning moment was winning the Youth World Cup in 2014.’
Morgan Pillay sees his ongoing service as a tribute to his great friend, the late Khaya Majola. ‘Khaya always gave me 100% of his attention when I was with him and he gave me so much advice on both cricket and life. The Coca-Cola Khaya Majola Week is his living legacy and I am proud to be part of it,’ he said.
Spending the odd birthday away from home, thankfully, doesn’t come into it for him.
Photo: Theo Garrun