AT THE FRONTIER | The man behind the champions

Sunrisers Eastern Cape head coach Adrian Birrell, centre.
TIME TO FOCUS: Sunrisers Eastern Cape head coach Adrian Birrell, centre.

So they did it again.

Sunrisers Eastern Cape, the pride of our province, were crowned champions of the Betway SA 20 tournament for the second year running.

Unlike last year, when the team, regarded by many as the underdogs in the tournament, snuck into the knock-out stages, this year they led from the front and were top of the table going into the semi final where they dispatched a strong Durban side with ease.

It was fitting that they met Durban Super Giants again in Saturday’s final as the KZN outfit finished a close second to the Sunrisers in the group games.

But again Quinton De Kock’s team were no match for our Orange Army as the batters achieved a total of more than 200 runs which was more than enough for our bowlers to defend on the night.

Kevin Pietersen, the TV commentator for the game, mentioned time and again how the Sunrisers had no obvious ‘superstars’ but rather a team ethic that has made them successful.

And he is right.

It is the cohesion and camaraderie of that team that delivers their success.

Behind this ethos is the coach, Adi Birrell, a humble yet proud Eastern Cape farmer and cricket coach who has orchestrated both championship successes.

Birrell’s approach to his team and the game can teach us all, beyond the game of cricket, how to conduct our lives and how to obtain the positive results we seek.

Asked about his secret to success with the Sunrisers, his message was simple: encourage a culture of respect among everyone associated with the team.

He explained how this is done.

Know the names of the full support team and address the cook and the bag carriers by their names.

Be kind and respectful.

Respect the opposition.

Absolutely go for the throat to close out a game but always treat the opposition with respect; no sledging or gloating or petulance.

Back your captain.

Birrell made Aiden Markram man of the match for making an astute bowling change to drive home a win.

This was brilliant man management.

He helped turn Markram into an inspirational leader on and off the field.

Birrell’s ability in just six weeks to coach and guide this disparate group of talent is admirable.

Perhaps it is something he inherited from his father Harry himself was a brilliant coach and inspirer of young men on the cricket and rugby fields.

Birrell, though, has taken this to another level.

Did you know Birrell was one of the first to inspire black talent in the townships in the 1980s as EP cricket development officer?

Then as the young coach of EP, he managed to establish a team spirit by demonstrating resilience and maturity beyond his years by working with Kepler Wessels — the much older set-in-his-ways captain.

Then who can forget turning the amateur Irish side into match winners who not only qualified for a World Cup for the first time but then beat Pakistan in the tournament on St Patrick’s Day!

In addition, in England, Birrell revived Hampshire to win the county T20 trophy and to be runners-up in the County Championship.

For the Proteas, the humble Birrell was also happy to take the number two coaching spot to assist his prodigy Russell Damingo.

But it is what Adi Birrell has done here, with his home province franchise side two years on the trot, that is simply magnificent and we salute him for that.

His coaching methods should also teach us all how to be better human beings.

His mantra includes:

  • Dropping your pride and ego at the changing room door.
  • Be polite and attentive.
  • Get to know the names of the support staff and take time to chat to them, you’re never too busy.
  • Play for each other; it’s much better than playing for yourself.
  • Enjoy it, have fun.
  • Stay humble; humility fuels good people and winners.
  • Savour a victory; don’t just rush on, go back to your farm for a week or two and enjoy your cattle.

Today we salute you Adi Birrell and your team of winners.

You have made the Eastern Cape proud. — Dr Dean Allen





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