Friday, October 18, 2019

The Big Question: Enoch Nkwe (Part one)

ZA cricket: Thank you for joining us, Enoch.
Enoch Nkwe: Ja no, it is great to be hear and thank you for having me.

ZAC: Alright, for those who don’t know who you are, or didn’t follow you as a player, could you explain your first exposure to the game, and how you came up through the ranks.
EN: I could almost write a book (laughs/). I started playing cricket at eleven years of age. I took part in mini cricket. It was called Bakers mini cricket back in the day, and obviously today it is called KFC mini cricket. I was based in Dobsonville (Soweto). I played that (mini cricket) for about two weeks and then graduated into hard-ball cricket for the under elevens. Ja things happened quite quickly. So ja, then I had to learn my trade in this new sport, which wasn’t so popular back in the days, in the nineties. My background was football, as is the case for most kids, especially in South Africa. I had to invest a lot of time and I had a very good coach as well as a good support structure. My cousin was the man behind driving me through under 11 and under 13, and eventually falling in love with the game. That was all at Dobsonville (pauses), well now you have Dobsonvlle Cricket Club, back then it was just an area team. You had your Dobsonville, your Meadowlands, and the surrounding areas, and the best players from the areas would be selected to make a kind of district team. The best players from under eleven and under thirteen would play against the likes of St. John’s and some of the better schools. So ja, things worked out quite quickly and at twelve years old, I was picked for my cricket club to tour England. This was all in a short space of time. They must have picked up some sort of talent, but I was just playing for fun. My mum used to get annoyed because you are wearing those white shorts, and those white socks, and those white shirts, and always shining the ball because that’s what you see on TV
ZAC: (interjects), Yeah, with some sandpaper…
EN: (laughs) But ja, like I said, I fell in love with the game, and it was quite hard, because all my friends played football, it was quite hard to balance the two. Things were happening quite quickly in the cricketing sphere, I got picked for what was then called the Super Squad, which was the best development team from regions like Soweto, Lenasia and Bosmont. This was being run by Gauteng cricket, and it was sort of like a development program. That team (Super Squad) would be the team that would go to provincial weeks, and trials and play in the night series (a school level One day tournament which was played at… you guessed it… night – ed), and play in independent school festivals. We would play against your Saints (St. Stithian’s – Kagiso Rabada’s alma mater) and other private schools, and that’s where Saints picked me up on a bursary. At thirteen, I made the Gauteng (north) team for the national week. I didn’t do so well, but it was a learning experience and things actually kicked off from thee. Some of the guys I played with also went to Saints. I stayed for five years at Saints, went through the system, played Gauteng under 19 three times. I remember my first under 19 week; the Coca-Cola cricket week as it was known, Graeme Smith was actually my captain. There were some good players, I played against guys like Jacques Rudolph, so ja things worked out. I had a bit of a setback in my last year of high school, I got injured, That made it a little difficult for me to compete at the under 19 week that year, and because of that I didn’t make the (under 19) World Cup team, and I was kind of lost. I felt like I was sort of lost, like “What do I do?” I made the decision that I was going to take a gap year. Fortunately enough, I went back to Saints and did some work for Saints, coaching, but focusing on my cricket as well. I coached the under 14s, and also helped with the first team, so it was quite a nice little, experience, those three months, to help them finish off the season.
ZAC: Was that your first experience coaching?
EN: Ja. I actually enjoyed it you know. I was sort of an old boy, and someone that had played provincial cricket at almost every level. Obviously then, the first team was also doing well. I really enjoyed it, and it was my first experience coaching. I obviously didn’t think I’d get this far, but I did it because I enjoyed it. I then played club cricket for three months, and did well there. I was then invited to represent the Senior Gauteng Cricket Academy. In that academy we had the likes of Grant Elliott. I actually went to the same school as him. I was in Grade eight when he was in matric. So to see him a few years later, it was a fantastic experience. At the end of the academy, one of the batsmen got injured and I had worked hard on my batting during that winter time. Then I went on a pre-season tour, and I did well, as an al-rounder, and there was actually a spot for an all rounder. That is when I made my debut, my first class debut, scored a hundred, and then the second game I took a five-for. It was an exciting time for me, obviously the professional world. Everything was new. Second season; a bit more challenging because teams begin to work you out. It was kind of an average season, but I still managed to score some runs and take some wickets. But it was a good learning experience. The people I had around me, the likes of Daryl Cullinan, Clive Eksteen, Adam Bacher, Grant Elliott actually left in my second season. So there was a lot international experience around me, and they were good guides. Unfortunately I was hit by injuries. Almost every season I had an injury. I tried to study along the way back then, before SACA (South African Cricketer’s Association) came on board. It was hard. The system was still a bit old school in that if you were gonna study you were going to have to do it full time. When you’re playing four day cricket, and you’re playing one day cricket; you are trying to balance the two (cricket and education), and it’s just not making sense. So I had to do everything through distance learning. It was quite tough for me because I really wanted to invest a lot more into my cricket, because I wasn’t really an established player. Things then kicked for me, things started to pick up, up until I picked up quite a serious injury on my wrist. I got injured in 2007, in March, fell, cut my wrist. It was a very bad injury, and I was out for a year. I tried to make a comeback, and it just did not work out.

During my professional career, I had the opportunity to go to the Netherlands in the off season. So during the summer, I was here, and in the off season, I was that side. I did that for five years. As we all know, the Netherlands is a small country, they are not that big in cricket. The club I played for, however, HCC Rood en Wit, had a lot of youth. So they really wanted to bring in a young cricketer, a first class all-rounder. I got that opportunity. It was then that I strongly fell in love with coaching (Nkwe served as player-coach for the club – ed). As a pro, everyone looks at you to get the right structures in place for the club. I also had a lot of time, so every year I invested in my coaching. Even then, after all those years, I never really thought that I would be coaching (professionally) up until in my second last year where as a club we decided we needed a professional to deal with all the cricketing affairs because the club was really growing, so then they asked me as a pro, as sort of the junior head coach, to deal with all the technical stuff. I was happy with that, because that allowed me to still focus on the game and do well for the club and also work on an off-season program.

ZAC: Did the year round cricket take a toll on your body?
EN: No. The nice thing about the Netherlands is they only played 50-over cricket once a week. My typical program would have four days of conditioning, practice twice a week, and then I’d play on the weekend. I’d do the conditioning mostly in the morning, and in the afternoon I’d do the coaching. It (being in the Netherlands) also gave me time to reflect and plan ahead. Fortunately in 2008 I shared a house with a guy from New Zealand who basically took over the cricketing affairs of the club, and that allowed me to focus more on my game. I asked him a lot of questions, and it was just four months of cricket day in, day out. I learnt so much from him and he got to understand me as a person, a cricket player, and a potential coach then. He saw how I did things, my coaching style, he saw how I coached my team. He would oversee everything, but I still sort of ran the show. He’d obviously sort of assist as well, we shared the responsibility very well. His name is Gary McDonald, I think he worked closely with Dave Nosworthy in New Zealand.

ZAC: You were surrounded by a lot of New Zealanders, hey?
EN: (laughs) Ja! My club captain was actually a New Zealander, and the young pro was a New Zealander as well.

ZAC: Did they have some sort of feeder system going or something.
EN: Well, I suppose from a Visa point of view, Australians and New Zealanders have it easier. South Africans obviously, you need to apply, but because I’d proven to the club that I’m worth investing in, the club was happy to keep giving me a work permit every year. Our first team was basically multinational. We had some Australians, some Kiwis, a Caribbean guy, and a couple South Africans, we had a Pakistani. We had some Dutch players…

ZAC: I’d hope so!
EN: (laughs) It was actually a very nice mix. We blended very well. We dominated, got promotion, and then dominated some ore. We crafted a three-year plan, and in the second year, with my coach (McDonald), we’d started to really dominate, and that’s when he started to ask me some really tough questions in terms of my plan post-cricketing career. Obviously he was aware of my wrist – that year my professional cricketing contract with the Lions was not renewed.

ZAC: That was your second year in the Netherlands?
EN: That was in 2009, which my fourth year…

ZAC: Second year as a coach in the Netherlands? To clear up the timeline

EN: No, I’d been coaching in the Netherlands from 2005 when I got there. This was the second year of the three year plan. So that was in 2009 (when he didn’t get his contract renewed – ed). Dave Nosworthy (who was by now his coach at the Highveld Lions) called me, about my future. I could understand why they couldn’t renew my contract, because of my wrist. We went through the whole process and they tried to keep me involved (in the system), but to be honest I’d already made up my mind about my future. I was struggling to compete with the (necessary) level of intensity. These things happen, and I’d made peace with it. I’d already made peace with it the year before. Then I went back overseas, did well, scored runs. That’s when McDonald asked me the question, ‘why do you coach’? I just hope to make a difference, you know, in someone’s life.

ZAC: Did age play any factor in your decision to retire?
EN: Not really, to be honest, because I was, what? 26? Obviously a lot of people were asking me what’s going on? A lot of people were telling me, “surely you still have in you’? So yes, I did, but it’s heart-breaking when you can’t compete. Every time you would try to compete, your arm and your wrist would flare up. Every time I’d get hit, by a fast bowler, or a cricket ball, it wold be a setback. That’s what happened before I lost my contract. Morne Morkel hit me on my gloves while he was playing for Titans. The next day it was so swollen. That affected my nervous system. So I was out for two months. That’s when I decided you know what, I’m done with this. I’ve had a good run in professional cricket, six or seven years, but it’s time to look forward. I had to look ahead to where I could make an impact. I was quite keen to finish my studies. While I was playing overseas, I got a call from Alan Kourie (former Gauteng cricket board CEO) and Dave Nosworthy. Dave had called to see if I had made up my mind. They were offering me another contract, almost like a semi-professional contract. But I’d made peace with my situation and I declined that offer. I actually felt comfortable making that decision. I already knew that everything was in my hands now, and that I was in control of my destiny. I saw opportunities to be honest. Then Dave asked me if I would be interested in coaching. I told him I love coaching, so I’d love to. Then Dave said he’d speak to Kourie and Kourie never hesitated. He said ‘as soon as you get back, let’s talk’, and that’s when I started coaching professionally.

ZAC: Walk us through the process of coming back to South Africa and joining the Gauteng Cricket Board coaching ranks
EN: Ja that was back in September 2009

ZAC: So that would have been, if memory serves, just after the IPL, which was hosted in South Africa?
EN: Ja, the IPL was hosted in May 2009.

ZAC: So that would have been a bit of a dramatic period in South African Cricket history (The Gauteng cricket board/IPL drama deserves its own story, but jobs were lost, alliances fractured and VIP boxes not shared -ed)
EN: Ja I suppose. There were also opportunities to coach elsewhere, like down in the Eastern Cape under CSA with Mfuneko Ngam, but this is home and when that opportunity (Gauteng cricket) presented itself, I had to really look into it. And I was offered the position of Academy coach slash Strikers assistant. So Strikers is obviously the feeder system for the Lions. So I took that opportunity, not knowing much about coaching professionally. The next step was to then sort out my coaching qualifications. I did a level 2 refresher, then I went to level three, and that was awesome. People don’t understand that it’s not always an easy transition to make. To go from playing to coaching. No matter what level you played, whether you were captain. It was quite a hard period for me, I won’t lie. Coaching the elite u19s, we finished third at Under 19 week. In the three day games before the Under 19 week, I coached a lot of good cricketers, Quinton de Kock was one of them. Very exciting young cricketers, you know. Just working with them, reinforcing, not just the cricketing, but also life skills. I was also in the process of accepting that my cricketing career is done, which was in a way, weird. It took about a year to really get over it, and really invest my lot in coaching. There’s a piece of you, you know, you go to the stadium, you see the professionals warming up…

ZAC: you want some of that.
EN: Ja! ‘I could be there’, but everyone goes through that process, and I learnt a lot from that, and I strongly fell in love with coaching. The other thing was the support structure that I had. It was superb. There was a clear plan from Gauteng Cricket, and also from the Lions, and I bought it into it. My second year there was a change in role from u19/academy coach and I was now strictly a high performance coach. So I worked with Gauteng u19 for four seasons, and I was involved with the South African u/19s for three season. Went to the World Cup in 2012…

ZAC: That would have been when Ray Jennings was coach?
EN: Ja. I actually enjoyed working with him.

ZAC: I heard him and Quinton had some… moments..
EN: You’re not gonna get along with everyone you know, and Ray just wanted to get the best out of him. Obviously today Quinton is grown, and is a pretty good cricketer. Probably one of the guys who will reach that level of greatness, I believe. So ja, in 2012 we went to the World Cup, finished third, we strongly believed that we were going to win it. We had a really good squad; well balanced. A lot of them are actually playing Franchise cricket, and your Theunis de Bruyn’s and Quinton de Kock’s played internationally. So it was a very exciting group of cricketers.

ZAC: As a coach to Lizaad Williams who find it hard to break through the domestic circuit, how do you guys keep motivating such players?
EN: It is a hard one, because at the end of the day, we do our utmost to keep them going, but you gotta have that internal drive as a player, and that belief that you know what, things will turn around. The worst thing you can do as a player, is when things are not happening, you get yourself into what I call a ‘survival zone”. You point fingers, you don’t look at yourself, all you worry about is playing at home and you’re not taking responsibility. Sports is tough, you know, and you find that for some players, when an opportunity comes, they are not ready. Sometimes it only comes once, sometimes it only comes twice, and you still don’t see any difference. Sometimes you are unlucky, and you gotta change your environment, you gotta change your province. I just get a sense sometimes that some of my players are not willing to go that extra mile. To get out of their comfort zone, go to a new market, and who knows, people might see you in a different light. So it is hard, but that’s why it’s important as a coach, soon as you get into a position to reach out to players, to understand them as people first, and then as cricketers. Sometimes those relationships do help. They can help a player to be more patient, and I just work on being honest with players, and I’m not scared to tell a player if they need to move to another province or team because they are not gonna feature, and it’s up to them whether they want to wait or move on. Obviously not everything is going to be smooth sailing.

ZAC: That leads us to our next question; do you think coaches should take accountability for some of those failures the same way players should take accountability for some failures?
EN: Obviously it depends on what kind of person you are as a coach. I know some coaches that do, and one day they’ll go back to their player and apologise. And then it depends on if the player is mature enough to receive that. I was one of them (player-wise). Certain things did happen and I couldn’t understand. There was a coach – when I became a full time coach – there was a coach who came to me and said he’s sorry, and he could have done things a little different. He said he’s sorry and when the moment presented itself we unpacked it. So ja, no hard feelings, and it was one of those things. But, there was a reason for certain things to happen - I have a strong belief in that – to get me to where I am as a coach. I can also learn from that. Become a better person, and a better coach. You’re not going to get everything right, but just try living by your philosophy and what you believe in. Whether it’s wrong or right, you’ll be the one to judge, but ultimately the players are human beings. They’ll always reflect and say, ‘you know that coach I really do respect for his honesty’. Back then I didn’t see it, but now I see it. I live by (the motto of) being accountable for my actions, whatever they may be. I believe that coaching should be the same, but again it goes back to your value system as a person. If your value system is right, it can be easier to take that route.

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