Here at World Cricket Badger, we are introducing a Team of the Week feature where we look in depth into a state, county or franchise. We will be working our way around the globe. This week we move to South Africa to feature the Highveld Lions, who have just started the 2013/14 summer.
As the Highveld Lions prepare for Friday’s Momentum Cup match against the Knights at Bloemfontein and their supporters look forward to the beginning of the Sunfoil Series against the Titans at Centurion on November 21st there may be some disquiet at the start to the season Stephen Cook’s men have enjoyed.
Three defeats in four 50-over games was not exactly the opening envisaged by the team’s diehards. Yet it is also pretty certain that one man unlikely to be pressing the panic button is team coach Geoffrey Toyana, one of the most highly regarded men in his somewhat precarious profession.
Toyana, you see, is renowned as a cool, analytical man, a person who is capable of listening to his players’ points of view and then making the right decisions. The results of his coaching have been impressive. In his first season in charge of the Lions he steered them to victory in the t20 cup and a second place in the four-day competition, all this along with being joint winners of the Momentum Cup. It was some achievement for any coach but particularly remarkable perhaps for a man who played his first cricket at Soweto CC, where any ability he possesses had to flower in an environment of poor facilities and limited equipment.
But it was also an environment and a time when cricketing talent began to be recognised in South Africa, wherever it was to be found. Toyana’s ability was recognised by Ali Bacher, who arranged for him to be accepted onto the groundstaff at Lord’s. He was thus given an opportunity which he did not pass up.
“It was a fantastic learning experience,” said Toyana. “On match days we used to sell scorecards and we got to bowl at the internationals in the nets. I learned a lot and when I came back, I was offered my first contract.”
Yet playing the game was not to be the field in which Toyana would excel. Despite being a well-regarded skipper of Soweto for eight years and playing for both Gauteng and Easterns, he eventually had to accept that he would never reach the higher echelons of the game simply as a cricketer.
Coaching, though was something different. Initially offered a role as player-coach at Easterns, a job at which he excelled, Toyana was soon lured back to the Lions and became head coach on the resignation of Dave Nosworthy at the end of the 2011-12 season. He was the first black African to be appointed as a coach of one of the new franchise teams.
Toyana’s influence was viewed as very beneficial by those on the Lions board. “He didn’t go in with a headmaster’s style. He just wanted everybody to enjoy themselves,” said Mohammed Moosajee.
Toyana decided to trust the young players in the Lions squad, to pair each of them with a more experienced cricketer and to make few radical changes aprt from encouraging an atmosphere in which each player could excel.
“I expect that by the time players get to franchise level, they know what to do most of the time,” he said. “My job is just to serve them. Even though I am a coach, I am a person as well, and that’s how I approached it.
“My goal is to keep the guys focused, to keep them coming back and performing again and again. Our goal is to be the best franchise in the country and to do that we have to win year after year. “
All the same, it must have been a moving moment when Toyana saw 100 ex-players and officials from Soweto turn up at last year’s t20 final. Such encouragement and the result of that match will be enough to help Toyana survive the temporary blips which will inevitably arrive in any player or coach’s career. Indeed, placed in that context, three defeats in four 50-over games are probably a relatively easy mishap with which to deal.
As the editor of Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author and a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications.
He's unsurprisingly a complete cricket badger!