Passionate school teacher and cricket coach, Sandile Lukhele, travels 70 kilometres to work every day, from his home in Piet Retief to Esinqeni Primary School, in Altona, UPhongolo Rural in KwaZulu-Natal, as he plays his part in shaping the academic and sporting future of youngsters in the area.
He initially wanted to be a psychologist but it didn’t work out academically for him and he was urged to join the Sports faculty, where he obtained a Diploma in Sports Administration.
His dream was to work for a PSL team but instead found employment as a teacher. One day, the school was invited to a Mini-Cricket tournament and he was asked to put a team together. Since then, cricket has been his way of life.
During the day, Lukhele focusses on his role, teaching Grade four and Grade seven learners, and after school, it’s when he comes alive as a cricket coach.
Driving to work every daily, he makes time to stop by at schools along the way, to introduce them to cricket and has succeeded in creating a cricket culture in areas previously not exposed to the sport.
Coaching cricket in rural areas come with its challenges and Lukhele is hoping he can attract sponsors that can help power the work he is doing to change the lives of young girl cricketers.
In this touching interview with gsport Founder, Kass Naidoo, Lukhele takes us on a journey of hope and reminds us of the importance of levelling the playing fields to ensure cricket becomes a truly national sport of winners.
Sandile, thank you for making time for gsport, where does your passion for sport come from?
Thank you for having me, I really appreciate the opportunity.., my passion for sport comes from way back. I have always been involved in sport growing up in a typical rural environment where there is less entertainment, and one would either be on a soccer field or in a tavern, so with me it was sport all the way and specifically soccer since we were not exposed to any other sporting code at that time. Sport would save us from making wrong friends and wrong decisions.
You are a teacher and you also coach cricket, how did this come about?
(Smiles) yhoo! I never thought I would be a cricket coach or a teacher for that matter (laughs), I guess when you are destined for something, it will eventually catch up with you no matter how hard you run, see Kass , after I matriculated back in 2002, I was convinced that I would study towards being a Psychologist, and yes I was accepted at Rand Afrikaans University(UJ) for a Psychology degree, well I failed dismally! And when I was about to be expelled, the Dean said to me I must go to the sport faculty and see if they can offer me anything.
I went there, got registered for a Diploma in Sports Administration. From there I was convinced I would work at one of the PSL soccer teams, but it did not happen. After graduating , I became unemployed, went back home, stayed for a few years, then got temporally employed as a teacher in the rural areas of Pongola(KZN). At school, I was expected to know every sporting code since I had a sports qualification, so one day the school got invited to a Mini Cricket tournament and guess what? I was asked to put together a cricket team of both boys and girls in 3 days and so it started.
Tell us what a typical day in your life looks like and how you manage to balance teaching and coaching?
My typical day includes travelling 70 km from Mpumalanga (Piet Retief) to Esinqeni Primary School, which is in the border line between Mpumalanga and KZN. There, I am teaching Grade 4 and 7 on a daily basis. I am an SGB member and a Departmental head.
During school hours, I juggle classes, school meetings and running the intermediate phase department. Other days I have a webinar meeting with other cricket coaches and design playing and training schedules especially towards CSA Schools National weeks. All cricket activities, from admin to training kids, is attended to after schooling hours, and I find myself leaving the school very late most of the time during the cricket season.
What has been some of your Coaching highlights that make you want to push on and achieve more as a coach?
See Kass, I am privileged to work in a Primary School which is in between two Provinces, On my way to school daily, I pass many schools which fall under Mpumalanga Province, then my school is in KZN, so I have been able to introduce many schools around that area to cricket and now they have a cricket culture. I have introduced cricket to the Schools I pass by everyday as I travel to and from work, and these schools are in Mpumalanga.
So players from some of these schools (both Provinces) have made youth Provincial teams repeatedly, and that melts my heart because as soon as they are selected they come to me for a training program.
In 2019 alone, I had 14 girls from my schools make different provincial teams for the Regional and CSA Natonal weeks in Mpumalanga, and 4 in KZN. Same year, I also attended the Mini Cricket Natonal Seminar in George for the first time. I was inspired by other coaches and their stories. So seeing the girls make provincial teams, attending the National Mini Cricket Seminar and obtaining my Level 1 Coaching Certificate encourages me and makes me want to push on.
What are the biggest challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
My biggest challenge is not having a net facility and having to train the girls on a dusty netball field. It finishes the balls quickly and does not give my batters that competitive edge they mostly require for provincial and club cricket.
Another challenge is transporting them to club matches and shortage of equipment. To overcome these challenges especially with regards to batting, we spend a lot of tme trying to perfect the skill, we will have the boys team to collect all the balls for us as some get lost in long grass.We also share equipment a lot, and notify parents as early as possible if we are going to need transport money for club cricket, sometimes we end up not finishing the season.
If someone could help you right now, how could they change your life as a coach?
If someone could donate a net facility, or a bowling machine, or any other cricketing equipment for the girls, I think that could be life changing to me as a coach and the players because it will help me do more cricket drills to better the skills of these young girls, and eventually they will be able to do well in their provincial games and get selected to high performance and then Proteas later on, definitely that would be life changing for me Kass.
How would you describe the state of women’s cricket in South Africa and how can we improve it?
I would say it is not there yet! If I may put it.. I mean it does not have the recognition men’s cricket has, the pipeline is not well developed, and not much investment is put in women’s cricket. To begin with, we need to have proper cricket facilites in rural township areas where there is evidence that cricket is alive, secondly we need to have a pipeline office at CSA, that will focus on women’s development and ensure we build a proper structure from Mini Cricket to Proteas, thirdly we need to have TV coverage that will showcase women’s cricket to the vast masses from its pipelines all the way to the Proteas and lastly we need more sponsors to join Momentum and sponsor the development of women’s cricket and the Proteas.
Who are some of your favourite women cricketers?
Eish I have so many , but I would like to highlight Chloe Tryon, Tumi Sekhukhune, Ayabonga Khaka and the under 19 National Women’s Coach Dinesha aka ‘D ‘, in fact the whole Proteas are my favourites. (Laughs)
Who are some of the up and coming young stars who we should keep our eyes on?
(Laughs) look Kass I am involved in the Mpumalanga Women’s Cricket development, so I would say watch out for the Mpumalanga Senior Women’s team, and remember these names: Nicolien Janse Van Rensburg and Ntokozo ‘TK’ Mzizi.
And on the younger ones, please do keep these names in mind because these are the upcoming Proteas – Sbonga Hlatshwayo ( MP Under-13 opening batter) and Slindile Mlotshwa (dot ball specialist) Please! Please! watch the space!!
What is your advice to young girls who want to play cricket?
I would say, itis possible, itis doable, the future of women’s cricket is very bright and quickly growing strong, they should hop on this train now before it moves even faster!
What impact is gsport making on women’s sport and what more can we do?
Yhoo! gsport you beauty!!, I think gsport is doing a great job exposing the role and the impact of women in sports at large. Without gsport some of the great talented women would not be known and their great work would not be recognized to this day.
gsport is doing the most, but they can stll do more by fristly sponsoring my girls team with a playing kit with the big G in the front! (LOL). On a serious note, gsport can visit schools, girls cricket matches and talk to our girls and hear their daily struggles , I can also send an invite to gsport to come honour us with their presence during our school farewell functions, provincial games and club cricket.
What is your motto in life?
My motto is very simple, when you are given a chance, do your best!, give the world the best of you and never cease doing the right thing.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the works of the legendary Gary Kirsten Foundation , which has done so much to grow cricket in the rural and township areas of the Western Cape, the Temba Bavuma Foundaton which supported people who were heavily stricken by the Covid-19 pandemic, Tshepo Mokwena , the women and girls head Coach for Mpumalanga Province , who goes all out to ensure that girls and women from various backgrounds that are selected for the Provincial teams are well cared for and are not vulnerable. Last but not least, gsport! As long as you exist we are rest assured that our hard work will be known and be recognized, and for that, we are forever grateful to you.
What is your greatest career ambition?
I would like to work for CSA, just to ensure that there is a proper pipeline from Mini Cricket to the Proteas for our girls to have hope that one day they will make the Proteas team. I wish for a cricket career that would allow me to assist rural township schools to constantly produce players into a proper pipeline and be equally recognized as a cricket focus school.