South Africa news November 13, 2017

Erwee grabs the spotlight with audacious hundred

Sarel Erwee is having the summer of his life: after hitting two big hundreds for Dolphins in September, he won the Hong Kong Sixes tournament for South Africa and on Sunday became the first centurion of this Ram Slam T20 season

Sarel Erwee smashed the first hundred of the Ram Slam tournament on Sunday © Getty Images

Sarel Erwee had already hit an audacious 89 off 52 balls for Dolphins in their Ram Slam opener against Cape Cobras when he decided to take it one step further. He reverse-paddled the last ball of the 18th over, delivered by Vernon Philander, for six.

"That's when I decided I was going to make sure I got a hundred," Erwee told ESPNcricinfo. "Even if I had to inside-edge for four, or whatever, I wanted to get there."

Erwee didn't have to rely on a stroke of fortune to become the tournament's first centurion of this summer; instead he got another juicy delivery from Philander, midway through the final over, which he smacked for six. Not bad for a man who said he "struggled" through the week's pre-match nets and admitted to being "very nervous" to face an attack that included four internationals in Philander, Dane Paterson, Rory Kleinveldt and JP Duminy.

"My preparation didn't go according to plan at all. I just couldn't get the ball in the middle," Erwee said. "And I have never been that nervous for a game before, not before my first-class debut or my List A debut. It's amazing what pressure can do."

It really is amazing and in this case, pressure has given Erwee his chance in the spotlight. This is his story:

Erwee is a "born-and-bred" Pietermaritzburg-er, same as Kevin Pietersen, except that the 28-year-old did not attend the prestigious Maritzburg College. Instead, he was schooled at St Charles College and only started to take cricket "seriously" once he got to high school.

His early years were spent as an offspinner and he fared well enough to be invited to the Dolphins Academy. Keshav Maharaj and Cody Chetty were part of the same intake, so Erwee was advised to train as a batsman.

From there, he spent seasons with the Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland set-up, playing under current Dolphins' coach Grant Morgan and then moved to Durban to try and make it in the big city. Cricket remained his main occupation, either as a player or as coach at the Graham Ford Academy and occasionally privately, while his winters were spent in England, first at a club in Manchester, then in Brighton and for the last five years at the Weybridge Cricket Club in London.

When he travels to the UK, he sometimes stays with his best friend Jason Roy, and that's where things get interesting.

Roy was born in Durban but left South Africa when he was 10. He returned several years later to play club cricket in Durban one summer, where he met Erwee. The two became friends and have stayed close since. So close that Erwee was in attendance at Roy's wedding in France last month.

In itself, that would not be anything too remarkable but several small incidents that took place around the nuptials are worth noting. The week before the wedding, Erwee struck 151 for Dolphins against Knights and he could feel he was starting to get on a roll.

"It wasn't ideal to miss a match but I guess that's going to happen sometimes. Hopefully he doesn't get married again!" Erwee joked. Luckily, he returned with the same touch that he left with and in his comeback match scored 132 for Dolphins against Titans.

It was also while in France that Erwee received a message informing him he would be contracted by the Durban Qalanders, a franchise in the T20 Global League, as a replacement for the injured Daryn Dupavillon. Erwee had been "disappointed not to be picked up" in the draft, which took place in late August, and saw this as a second chance to make a name on a big stage.

He had already shown solid twenty-over credentials, finishing as the leading run-scorer in the Africa T20 Cup. His province, Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland, won the tournament and Erwee said semi-professional players - the category he fell under not long ago - valued the event highly. "Guys train so hard and prepare so well for the Africa Cup," he said. "Amateur cricketers don't often get the chance to showcase their talents on TV so this is big for us."

The T20 Global League would have been several times bigger. But two days after Erwee received news he was going to be part of it, the tournament was postponed. In its place, CSA moved forward the franchise T20 - usually a low-profile affair, which clashed with international fixtures thus making the national players unavailable. This time, all internationals were available, but in the opening week it was Erwee and his reverse-paddle that dominated the headlines.

"I wouldn't say I practice that shot because in net sessions if you do something like that and you miss the ball, the coach will analyse it and ask you why you don't hit the ball down the ground instead," he said. "So rather save that stuff for match day and by the time you get off the field, hopefully the coach would have forgotten about it."

But few are going to forget about Erwee's shot-selection now. Already, he is having the summer of his career. He believes he is finally "grasping my own game properly," and he has reason to believe he has a shot at achieving his dream of playing for South Africa. And he did don the green and gold recently, representing the country in a victorious campaign at the Hong Kong World Sixes tournament last month.

South Africa boast a strong and mostly settled batting line-up, but Erwee, 28, can take heart from the fact that new coach Ottis Gibson is open to experimentation - especially in shorter formats - as he seeks to widen the player pool ahead of the World Cup. Erwee needs to look no further than his team-mate Robbie Frylinck for proof that anything is possible. Frylinck made his T20I debut at the age of 33 after Gibson asked around for a reliable white-ball bowler. Though Frylinck did not make a big impression, Gibson stressed that his experience, and that of others like him, would come in handy. "If I look at Robbie, he sticks to the basics and he has been consistent year after year," Erwee said. "I've just got to keep doing what I am doing."

The good news for South African cricket is that Erwee plans on doing that in his home country, despite attempts to persuade him to seek a future on the county circuit. "Jason has pushed me to stay there and see if I can get a deal but it is my dream to play for South Africa."

And to play against Roy. "Every time he scores runs, I tell him you're another hundred ahead of me but we keep it light banter," Erwee said. "It's a good way for me to see that maybe I'm not that far away."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent