Where South Africa stars learned to shine

Last Updated 22 January 2018, 18:55 IST

Established in 1920, the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool also known as Affies, is one of the oldest public schools in Pretoria. Spread over a vast area in the heart of South Africa's seat of power, the school building -- a blend of past and modern architecture -- is pleasing to the eye but what catches your attention the most is its sports infrastructure -- it houses a cricket ground with turf wickets, a rugby pitch, a swimming pool, astro tennis courts and hockey turf among other things.

For a public school, it has maintained pretty high standards for itself. Rich in tradition and adherent to Afrikaans customs and language, the school has churned out many international sportsmen of great repute, especially in rugby and cricket. As you walk through the corridor of the school, you can see group photos of school's cricket and rugby teams adorning walls on either side. And it's hard to miss some familiar cricket faces in them.

In fact, cricket was not their forte for the longest of time. It was played largely by the English-speaking kids whereas Afrikaans boys followed mostly rugby. It was only in the 90s that cricket assumed importance at Affies and it was further fueled by a couple of boys that go by the names AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis – the former and current captain duo of South Africa. Besides these two, Jaques Rudoplh, Heino Kuhn and Neil Wagner (New Zealand player) too played at the highest level after graduating from Affies.

In their style of play, reveals their coach at the school Deon Botes, de Villiers and du Plessis were as different as chalk is from the cheese but at the same time they were as thick as thieves. "They were 'naughty buggers'," reveals Botes when you ask him about the kind of characters the two were.

"Classrooms, Faf always used to come and take his shoes off. He was a bit sloppy and it's a strange thing because if you look at him now, he tries to look slick. He has got those tattoos now, I think the looks is very important for him now. I saw him once at a function and he had this Proteas' jacket on him. I said to him, 'hey, that's a nice jacket.' And he said, 'yes, I designed it.' He has become so now but you wouldn't say that about him when he was at school. He was sloppy, unneat, untidy or whatever. AB was rather a guy who walked the straight path."

Interestingly, though, it was de Villiers who once got expelled from the hostel for his misconduct. "Because of the radio station he had, in the radio station he flirted with girls and one of the parents picked it up, complained to the school and they expelled all of those boys that were part of it and AB was one of them. So, we had to arrange accommodation for some weeks for him," he discloses.      

For the three -- Botes, de Villiers and du Plessis -- it all began in 1998 at the school. "I started as a teacher and they started as students (14 years). That year, we had the under-15 cricket team and it wasn't a great side and I remember Faf actually playing a couple of games for them as a 14-year-old. Faf at that stage was considered maybe the better player between the two."

Botes then tells you an interesting anecdote about du Plessis that he made the first-side in his school as a leg-spinner. "Nobody knows it, but he was actually very good leg-spinner. Because we didn't want a youngster to bat at No 9 or 10, so we batted him at No 3." And the rest, as they say, is history.

Not only, du Plessis was considered a better player than de Villiers but he was also known for his leadership abilities. It comes then as no surprise that he captained de Villiers for two years (2001 and 2002) at their school after Kruger Van Wyk (who went on to play for New Zealand) and Rudolph had led the previous two years.

"Faf as a leader was very good," Botes feels. "I think also for the Proteas now. If you think about it, when he is there, it does get better with the team. And he is actually very good off the field with the players. So, behind the scene, he will call the youngster, sit him down, give him advice. He is very good working with people behind the scene. So, I think when he is the captain, the players play for him. You will get the feeling that Amla is happier if Faf is the captain, whatever the situation," he explains.      

After graduating from the school, de Villiers' graph grew high and fast while du Plessis struggled to keep pace with him. By the time du Plessis made his Test debut in 2012, de Villiers was already an established star. Du Plessis' first match at Adelaide, however, gave a sense of stuff he was made of as he batted for 466 minutes for his unbeaten 110 (376 balls), denying Australia the victory.                    

"The one thing about the two is, when they got picked for the higher level (provincial side), AB immediately performed. Faf had to go through a lot of opportunities before he actually started performing at a level," says Botes.

(Published 22 January 2018, 18:40 IST)

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