By Alvin Reeves
THE first thing that strikes you when speaking to new Eastern Province Cricket president Graeme Sauls is his undying passion to see the game headed in the right direction.
Brought up in a family driven by sports administration, the 40-year-old Sauls has been exposed to the running of sports clubs. And his theory is that if you have good youth structures the rest will, with supervision and good old hard work, take care of itself.
Amateur cricket in this region has numerous challenges. A bloated Super League of 20 teams has resulted in mismatches. Clubs in the northerns areas and townships do not have the required basic facilities and structures in place to properly support a team playing in the Super League.
Cricket South Africa do provide all their regions with a grant for the upliftment of amateur cricket but that is not enough to sustain clubs and Sauls recognises that EP Cricket will need to source funding for their own specific programmes. To do that, local business needs to buy into the system and in order for that to happen, there needs to be confidence in how cricket is run in the province.
That’s the challenge Sauls and his board face going forward.
But Sauls is a get-in-the-trenches kind of man. He is the guy you will see roll up his sleeves, take a shovel and get to work. And he is confident that he has the experience and manpower working with him on the board to get EP Cricket headed in right direction.
“EP cricket has a very experienced board with guys like Fezekile Tshiwula, Terry Reid, Malcolm Figg and Julius Majola, who have been part of the set-up for some time. As a group we want to strive to conquer the challenges that we have,” Sauls said.
“I was very impressed with the board members in our first meeting. They are very determined to make this thing work. I’m very optimistic that we will work very well together. I just sense that there is an air of optimism in the board.
“We have got some young guys like development director Luvuyo Mtati, who are very keen. He’s very mindful of our transformation objectives but he also knows of the need to have strong clubs.
“We want this board to be transparent. We will have a direct reporting structure towards the clubs. If an issue needs to be addressed, then it needs to be addressed and brought out in the open.”
Sauls was schooled at Triomph Primary and Bethelsdorp High and then went on to study at UPE in 1990, doing his articles through articles at Fisher, Hoffmann and Stride. He then became group accountant for the Jeeva family, who used to own Alliance Cash and Carry.
In 1996, he joined General Motors and moved through the ranks, predominantly in finance, before moving to production in 2010. Spurred on by his family’s involvement, he moved into administration after co-founding Northville Cricket Club in 1991.
“I come from a family that was very involved in sports administration. My uncle Freddie Kriel was an honorary vice-president of EP Cricket. My father used to serve on the EP Cricket Association board serving juniors,” Sauls said.
“We formed Northville Cricket Club in 1991. I captained the side and I eventually took over the running of the club. We started in the first league and won promotion to the premier league. But the real change for me came when I joined Old Grey in 2001 and Gavin Hogg pulled me onto the committee.
“Serving on that executive was a big job and I learnt a lot from Gavin. He was the one person I viewed as the ideal administrator. Gavin then asked me to stand as president. I took to that job well and I really enjoyed it until 2009.
“I then got involved in the then Nelson Mandela Bay Cricket Board as vice-president. Up until then, I had served on a few committees on the NMBCB, particularly on the competitions commission where we supported the full board on how the league structure should work.”
EP Cricket will now focus on making sure clubs are given the full support of the board.
“We have a short and long-term upliftment programme we would like to put in place to try and uplift clubs. We are looking particularly at new clubs like Kwadwesi and Northerns. I’m quite impressed with the progress at Motherwell. Gamrose have become competitive but they still need a lot of help because their facilities are not up to standard.”
Northville were decent last year, but have struggled at the start of this season, partly because there is no proper feeder system.
“When we were at Northville we had a good youth system and we had two other teams that supported the Super League team. Now the clubs don’t have that depth and feeder system because schools cricket is struggling in the northern areas and they haven’t really had junior cricket, so the guys just stop playing.
“Hopefully this season we’ll put in place a junior structure and the guys will retain all these players and they’ll become good club members at these clubs and build the club numbers and make the clubs stronger.
“Ideally, the way Gelvandale operates is what I would like to see at all the township and northern areas teams. They have a good management team, a good youth system and a culture of helping themselves, driven by an executive team who work very hard throughout the year.
“There are 20 to 24 teams at the moment who are looking to play junior league cricket and the plan is to have that starting this season.”
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, November 3, 2012.