July 1, 2014

South Africa in Sri Lanka 2014

Catching practice with South Africa

Firdose Moonda in Colombo
Kyle Abbott directs a fielding drill  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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"Let's try to get 10 catches without anybody dropping the ball," Kyle Abbott said to kick off a little game. He promptly went on to look directly at one of the participants and throw the ball the other way, catching the person he was aiming it at unawares. Ball met floor instead of hand and there was a delicate moment of silence soon broken by a giggle and Abbott's booming voice. "Okay let's try again. I'll do it properly this time."

One, two ... nine, ten.

"Let's see if we can get to 20 now," Greg King, South Africa's fitness coach, said. They managed 15 before letting it slip again and their efforts received warm applause from Abbott and King.

This exercise at the SSC was not a case of fine-tuning the fielding skills of the eleven men who will take the field on Thursday at the SSC - that had taken place earlier in the morning - but a workshop with Sri Lankan schoolchildren aimed at allowing them the advantage of training with professional cricketers.

The children, aged between eight and 15, had paid 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees (US$ 38 approx.) each for the privilege of the session but their money would go to a good cause. All funds raised would go to Sri Lanka's blind cricket team to pay for their trip to the World Cup in South Africa in November and December this year.

Sri Lanka's blind team were in attendance and also got involved in some of the coaching, which was mostly done by the four South African Test reserves and support staff. Dane Piedt, the offspinner, spent time with a 15-year-old girl, the only one there, who is "used to being the only girl because I always play in the boys' teams anyway". He showed her the importance of keeping her front elbow high. Stiaan van Zyl, the top-order batsman, applauded heartily when someone hit a six off the bowlers Adi Birrel, South Africa's assistance coach, was tutoring. Wayne Parnell observed watchfully and pointed out a few technical tips. Abbott participated in fielding drills with King.

South African cricketers are used to giving of their time for good causes - the participated in similar session for children in London and do the same at various sessions around the country at home - and it always brings out their brighter side. For a few hours, they are reminded of the joy of just playing a game for fun, of the excitement of being taught how to do it by people who really know how, and of the dreams that they are making come true simply by being somewhere.

The latter became even more prevalent when the Sri Lankan team arrived. The children spotted their heroes and surrounded them. Angelo Matthews was mobbed at first but abandoned in favour of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene who signed autographs, smiled for photographs and had small chats with children who had endless questions. There would be no more practice today, not for the South Africans at least.

They left with well wishes for Sri Lanka's blind team that they would "hopefully catch up in South Africa". They also left having done their bit to bridge the gulf between cricket's have's and have-not's, which will become a little smaller when Sri Lanka's blind team has the money it needs to compete at a global competition.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Keywords: Disability cricket, Socio-cultural, Spirit of cricket

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