The silent assassin of the South African U19 cricket team possesses more chances than most to represent the Proteas one day after receiving the award as player of the Youth One Day International series against England, said Siya Sibiya, Western Province’s U15 and U17 coach.
He was referring to Jonathan Bird, 17-year-old opener who struck a total of 193 runs in his two innings. It included his exceptional unbeaten 142 in the second match at Newcastle last Friday in which South Africa recorded an emphatic six-wicket win against the England U19 team.
He also scored a 47-ball 51 in the first match of the series for the South African U19 team.
It was the first Youth One Day International series since 2003 that a SA U19 team have won on English soil.
The third match was washed out, and the South African youth team clinched the series 2-0.
“Jonathan is very strong, a very good player who hits the ball very hard. He is quiet, a silent assassin, but he has tremendous presence at the crease,” Sibiya said.
“He is good against the short ball, possesses a beautiful cover drive and has developed his play against the spinners.
“He can go all the way and represent the Proteas one day,” the young mentor said.
Graham October, Western Province Academy manager and CSA’s scout of youth cricket in the Western Province, shared the sentiments about Bird and said he hits the ball tremendously hard. He is steeped in cricket as his father, Wayne, was also a good cricketer.
“His challenge is spin, but technically the coaches are sorting him out. He has made big strides, is enthusiastic and possesses a clear mind. He is also calculated and doesn’t take high-risk options.”
October also heaped praise on Thando Ntini, who took 4-19 in the Youth One Day series opener in Durham which propelled South Africa to a 79-run victory.
“Thando has all the makings of a top-bowler,” said October. “I cannot see him not playing for South Africa in the future. In fact, it could happen in the next three years, but it will depend on how the transition is managed during that period.
“How will he fare in the semi-professional series against cricketers who have played in that campaign the last five years?” he said.
October was almost overawed by the work-ethic of Ntini, who does not want to play cricket in the shadow of his father, Makhaya, but wishes to forge his own identity.
“He bowled some scary deliveries against England, possesses a good bouncer, slower delivery and yorker,” said Sibiya.
October said Ntini works in the gym and in the nets at least four days a week and nobody ever has to remind him of his duty to train hard.
“Thando bowls with lots of energy. He generally nips the ball back into the batsmen but can also take it away. He also shrewdly changes the angle of the attack,” Sibiya remarked.
“He is very aggressive. Thando is mild mannered off the pitch, but a different man when he crosses the chalk,” said Sibiya.
Paul Adams, the senior provincial Western Provincial team, is upbeat about Ntini.
“We have identified Thando as a future prospect and that is why he is contracted with the senior provincial side. It is important that young players like these understand the journey they are on and also have the academic focus.
“Thando has all the attributes – he is tall and bowls with good pace, but he also possesses the work-ethic, the passion and he wants to excel. We have the structures in place so they can be looked after nicely after school,” Adams added.
Nabeal Dien, chief executive officer of the Western Province Cricket Association (WPCA), said he is thrilled by the dual performances of Bird and Ntini. “The WPCA sees it as its duty to further nurture the skills of Bird and Ntini and to make every effort to take the two to the next level while keeping them in the Western Province.”
Clinton du Preez, manager of amateur cricketing services of the WPCA, said the individual brilliance of Bird and Ntini was one of the highlights of the excellent series win. “It is a tribute to the good pipeline structures of WP. We will not leave a stone unturned to safeguard their development and give them possible opportunities to shine at a higher level.”