SA Cricket magazine reviewed Wiaan Mulder’s startling progress, six months after he was named our future star.
If a picture could paint a thousand words, then there’s no better example than the one Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana tweeted on 5 October.
It’s a picture of Wiaan Mulder sitting in the changerooms, in his St Stithian’s College No 1s, zipping up his school bag and then donning his whites in preparation for his Sunfoil Series debut against the Cape Cobras. Mulder quickly switched his focus to one of the proudest days of his career to date.
School, nay university, is supposed to brace you for the big, bad world of the professional working environment. But Mulder became a professional before he’d even sat down for his matric examinations. And he’s become a pretty good professional at that, very quickly indeed.
He walked out to the Wanderers that day, and the following two days, and blotted the first bit of ink on his CV with match figures of 7-64.
Is this all a bit too much, too soon for an 18-year-old? Toyana doesn’t seem to think so, who jokingly complemented the picture with ‘I’m a toppie’.
‘We’ve done this all before with guys like KG [Kagiso Rabada] and Quinny [Quinton de Kock]. The difference is that he’s a batting all-rounder, and that’s what South African cricket needs at the moment,’ he tells SA Cricket magazine. ‘Obviously we need to be smart in how we deal with him, but he’s a quality human being and it doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re ready then you’re ready,’
Much like the striking features and solid build that makes him look beyond his years, the way he’s gone about handling the expectations has been extremely mature too, stepping up for leadership responsibilities in just about every side he’s played for so far.
He was our Future Star in the July-September issue, released barely before he cleaned up at the CSA Breakfast Awards. His three awards were largely thanks to his efforts at the Coca Cola Schools T20 Challenge, where he almost single-handedly captained his school to the trophy, scoring the most runs (275) and taking the most wickets (13), on his way to being named Player of the Tournament.
His captaincy duties extended to the SA U19 side in July, where his individual performances far outweighed that of the team, topping the run-scoring charts in the ODI series and the wickets in the Test series.
In South Africa’s disastrous World Cup campaign that saw them lose to Namibia and Zimbabwe, Mulder was one of the few to emerge with credit, taking 11 wickets at an average of 10.6.
If his Lions debut was amazing enough, then the next two games that followed were nothing short of remarkable. He took 7-25 in the second innings against the Dolphins and followed that up with a century against the Knights. This was against a bowling attack boasting brilliant pace pair Marchant de Lange and Duanne Olivier, and ex-Proteas spinner Robin Peterson. He did so off just 123 balls, reaching three figures with his first-ever professional six.
The question now is, how much better can Mulder get? His matric exams are out the way and he’s eyeing up a university degree, but Toyana believes he’s level-headed enough to handle both.
‘It’s been tough juggling matric and playing professional cricket, but if you see talent, you’ve got to back him. He’s a good kid, but he’s got plenty of work to do. He’s always talking about cricket; he reminds me of Rabada, who always used to ask the right cricketing questions. It’s a sign of someone who’s going to go far.’
Director of St Stithian’s cricket Wim Jansen is making a habit of rubbing shoulders with greatness, and points out that Mulder’s progress is quicker than that of old boy Rabada.
‘Kagiso didn’t play as early for the Lions as Wiaan did, so he’s already playing at a younger age than Kagiso,’ says Jansen. ‘He’s scored just under 3 000 runs at 1st XI level for St Stithians. His biggest asset is he has a very level head on his shoulders. He’s very humble.
‘And he’s there at the St Stithians nets everyday hitting balls. It proves that hard work pays off. He had to miss a lot of school with the U19 World Cup, but he’s handled both. It just shows the type of character he is. He’s a well-balanced chap.’
The only problem with Mulder’s incredible start for the Lions, and a problem with all class all-rounders, is that the public will be expecting performances from him in at least one discipline week in, week out. One South African that springs to mind in this regard is Jacques Kallis, so perhaps it’s fitting that the comparisons are flooding in for Mulder, something that Jansen says Mulder should ignore for the time being.
‘Just leave him to play for now,’ says Jansen. ‘He’s a super talent, but to compare him to Kallis is unnecessary at this stage. He’s done incredibly well and we just need to let him play.’