January 10, 2013

The Kleinveldt generations

A Cape Town veteran talks about seeing his son and nephew flourish by grabbing opportunities that were denied to him

It was in the mid-1980s that Johnny Kleinveldt was offered the biggest chance of his career. Frank Brache, Basil d'Oliveira's brother-in-in-law, asked him to join Pinelands Cricket Club.

"My parents and my family said no," Johnny remembered. "I just wanted to play, but only afterwards I realised it was the right decision."

Pinelands was a whites-only club that was starting to accept players of colour who were willing to cross over. Johnny, a Cape Coloured, was a Victoria Cricket Club member. If he moved to Pinelands, he would stand a chance of being selected for the Western Province provincial team. If he stayed at Victoria, he could only play South African Cricket Board (SACBOC) matches, reserved for non-whites and, at the time, not officially recognised as first-class matches.

Switching allegiances was a suspicious business in that time. Those players of colour who did it were thought of as sellouts in their communities, even if all they were doing was trying to further their own careers. "People all believed Hassan Howa's words that we could not play normal sport in an abnormal society. My family told me that, and I decided to continue playing where I was."

Later, when the SACBOC records were compiled and Johnny's career was recorded, it was revealed that he turned out for two provincial non-white teams - Transvaal and Western Province. In total, he played 15 matches and took 44 wickets at an average of 16.63. Those are small but impressive figures, but they do not tell the full story.

Talk to people involved in Cape Town's vibrant and diverse cricket community and you will find one thing they agree on: if Johnny Kleinveldt had had the opportunity to play international cricket, he would have been a star.

Johnny, who formed a formidable pairing with former national bowling coach Vincent Barnes, was not just fiery with the ball, he was a handy lower-order bludgeoner too. He was in the mould of the classic 1990s allrounder, the type of players South Africa produced en masse, and if the whispers are to be believed, he would have fit right in.

Johnny himself is tired of hearing such assessments, although he obviously enjoys the appreciation. Occasionally he allows himself to indulge in the what-ifs. "If the opportunity existed, I think I would have played in the 50 overs or the T20s. I like that."

In 1989, Matthew Kleinveldt was born in Hampshire. His father, Johnny, was doing missionary work in England. The family returned to Cape Town shortly afterwards, where Matthew's brother Gary was born.

The two were schooled at Wynberg Boys and then Johnny decided to return to the United Kingdom. "They grew up with cricket bats in their hands, they went to the toilet with them and they went to sleep with them," Johnny said. "I always knew they wanted to play cricket and Matthew was going to be a batsman, so I took them to England because I thought they would get good opportunities there."

Matthew completed his education at Crawley College, where he was noticed by various professional sides. He had stints in the Sussex and Essex 2nd XIs but came closest to a county deal at Hampshire, who were "over the moon with him", according to Johnny.

"I wanted to play in England and play for England. I've always supported England actually," Matthew said. But it all fell apart when the entire family were denied visas to continue staying in the UK four years ago. For a while it seemed Matthew's career path was taking a turn in the wrong direction.

On their return to South Africa, Matthew decided to enter the Western Province structure and found it to his liking. "I've got a lot of respect for South African cricket and I am really enjoying my cricket at the moment."

To date, he has only played for the amateur side but he scored an assured 78 opening the batting for a South African Invitation XI against the New Zealanders in Paarl two weeks ago. His was the top scorer and was watched keenly by his father.

"He has improved a lot," Johnny said. "I knew that going to England would be the best decision I would make for him. He got very good technical coaching and has been scoring quite a bit of runs, but I think he needs to step it up a bit and get three figures. In the next year or two, he should be playing franchise cricket. The Kleinveldts are very late bloomers, you know."

In 2008, Rory Kleinveldt, aged 25, made his T20 debut for South Africa against Bangladesh. He played another match but was soon sent back to the domestic circuit to work on, among other things, fitness.

Three seasons later he was picked again for a one-day series against Sri Lanka, but an injury to his thigh saw him ruled out before the series began. Two months later he failed a drug test and admitted to using marijuana and was banned from the game for three months. His career of stuttered starts seemed to be heading backwards.

"As a family, we stood by him," Johnny said of his nephew. "His father, my brother, actually stood by him the most, and that was a really important thing for him because his father is quite strict. Rory is a very soft person. He knew he made a mistake."

Before the year had ended, Rory had played two Tests for South Africa and his father, Keith, was in Australia to see them both. In the first, he gave a poor account of himself, went wicketless and overstepped 12 times. It was thought he was not of the quality required to play at that level. But he came back to take three wickets in a masterful spell in the second Test, and will play his third on home soil in Port Elizabeth.

The family will be watching again. "In the first game he was a bit nervous, but he came into his own in the second one," Johnny said. "We are all very proud of him. When I was playing, every one of us wanted to play for South Africa. That was our goal. We could not ever achieve it, so we are glad to see our children doing it."

The Kleinveldts are one example of what South Africans are likely to see in the coming years. The descendants of those who were denied their chances are slowly coming through and Johnny only expects the numbers to increase - though he is unhappy with the rate of progress in his own area.

He did a two-year coaching stint at St Augustine's, Basil d'Oliveira's club, and was unimpressed with what he saw there. "It hasn't really improved. It's very bad. The nets are in an atrocious state. The dressing rooms are very tiny. When I played, that was a fabricated building and it's still like that."

Johnny also wants to see a greater attention to coaching in less privileged areas. "There is quite a big interest in cricket in the coloured community but we need more facilities for the juniors. Most of the coaches are dads who also have to work. They give up their time on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, but we need proper coaches."

Players who make it higher up are an ideal catalyst. Johnny said he will encourage Rory to give back to the community, and he already sees Rory's potential mentoring ability with his cousins. "Matthew always goes to Rory's house and sits and talks with him about cricket. Rory has been a good influence for both my boys."

Matthew acknowledges that he has benefited from being part of a cricketing family. "It's as though it's in the genes. I have a very good support base at home with my father, who played at a high level, and Rory playing at a high level. It helps with improving my game and learning more about the game, especially from a mental perspective. Technically there's obviously coaches that I talk to but my family help more with the mental side of things."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent