The Rondebosch Boys' High School, in suburban Cape Town, might be the only school in the world to produce cricketers who have played for four different countries. Gary Kirsten (among others) played for South Africa, Jonathan Trott represented England, Ralph Coetzee turned out for Ireland, while Michael Rippon plays for Netherlands.
They're all similar players, full of grit and skill who more often than not punch above their weight, and this seems to be a trademark of the Rondebosch ethos. Take the 23-year-old Zubayr Hamza for example, one of the youngest members of the South Africa A squad currently touring India, their leading run-scorer on the tour, and a recent alumnus of school.
Three fifties and two hundreds in his last five first-class games for Cape Cobras helped Hamza earn a maiden A-team call-up, and he hasn't disappointed. The right-handed top-order batsman smacked 104 in the warm-up game against India's Board President's XI, followed it up with a second-innings 63 in the first unofficial Test and then capped the series with a 93 in the second. These returns would satisfy most players on their maiden away tour, but not Hamza. Instead, he's always thinking about his own game and yearning for ways to refine his skills.
"Scoring a hundred in the warm-up game, and then getting a third-ball duck on the first innings of the first Test - it just showed me cricket's two opposite spectrums," Hamza said after the penultimate day of the second unofficial Test. "One day may be yours, the other day it may not. In the second innings of the first Test as well, I could've converted into a hundred, so it's the small things mentally, where decisions are made in the moment, that I think I could do better."
One of Hamza's qualities on this tour has been to play positive cricket: with intent, confidence and a clear mind. His shots, to both spin and pace alike, have displayed a certain clear-headedness, and the extra hours at training have helped him achieve that level of zen.
"I worked quite a lot with the batting coaches regarding footwork, playing the ball as late as possible, and kind of respecting the power which a spinner can have in various conditions, Hamza said. "I worked on the simple things - the basics and the strength of my batting. As an individual, you try and learn as much as you can. It's something all batsmen thrive to do, regardless of conditions - to know how to go about executing their game plan.
"For me, it's more about the mindset. One of the toughest challenges in any match - at any level - is to see if I can try and compete at that level. So It's a question I keep asking myself, 'can I compete here?' Russell [Domingo, the coach] and I worked on some subtle changes in my technique, but a lot goes to the mindset of playing at a higher level than usual."
Despite a successful tour on a personal front, Hamza's team is destined for a series loss. After losing the first unofficial Test with just seven balls remaining in Bengaluru, a rain-hit second Test in Alur is unlikely to produce a result. But, South Africa A have dominated multiple spells of play over the last four days, and Hamza puts that down to the team's attitude following the early defeat.
"I think we took the loss quite harsh," Hamza said. "Before coming to India, we were upbeat and positive but getting dominated in the first Test is quite a tough pill to swallow. So, I think for us to have come back, and change our mindset, we had to be positive to come back and try and compete in this game. I think we've done well. It was a collective team decision to forget the previous game, besides the learnings we took from it. We had a good momentum shift on the second day, and we're back in this game, but unfortunately the rains played quite a big part In this fixture."
Next for Hamza, perhaps, is a call-up to the national side - with the senior Test team struggling against spin in subcontinental conditions as seen in their 2-0 loss in Sri Lanka - but the resident of the "Mother City" says he tries to live in the present and prefers working on his own game. As a non-Asian, Hamza understands the importance of batting well in Asia, and knows that acing it abroad holds the key to bigger things in his cricketing career.
"I haven't thought about it at all," Hamza responded on his hopes for a Test call-up. "As I said before, it's about proving to myself whether I can play in this level, which is obviously a step above my usual. I'll take it one step at a time, and I haven't thought about it yet. The pitches obviously don't spin as much at home, but if you want to go forward and think progressively in cricket, then you need to be able to play in subcontinental conditions."