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Coaching in Freetown is a huge challenge

Coaching in Freetown is a huge challenge

I have on occasions been invited to coach cricket in the least likely regions of the world.

Rather than decline these offers I have accepted these challenges and find Africa the most challenging and demanding of all. But also most rewarding in terms of response.

After my Zambian experience of 2010 I now find myself educating and creating coaching, training structures in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa.

An important part of the programme has been coaching the Sierra Leone national team during the past three weeks.

No, not for the IPL but an ICC African Premier League (APL) Twenty20 tournament taking place in Benoni in May.

Freetown is situated right on the Atlantic Ocean, a very hilly, attractive town with tropical vegetation bearing wonderful fruit. The country, a former British Colony, has Liberia, Ghana and Guinea as neighbours and is very close to the equator hence humid, hot conditions averaging 32ºC at this time of the year.

When informing some of my colleagues back in SA and Zambia that I would be going north west for a while, some exclaimed, especially the Zambian farmers, that they thought Sierra Leone was a place where they still “burn the white man in a three- legged pot”. .

Others remarked that I should bring back some ‘blood diamonds’ – obviously a taunt referring to disgraced former Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor, now being tried by the World Court in The Hague.

Ten years ago, and listening to some horrific tales by the folk here, atrocities did occur, but against their own people.

Locals would be hounded, asked “short sleeve or long sleeve?” and their arms promptly cut off at the elbow or wrist.

The motive was money and political power. Thankfully this civil meanness has been totally eradicated and cured with South African ‘Executive Forces’ being part of the cleansing process.

I am happy to say that Sierra Leone will celebrate its 50th year of Independence at the end of April at the National Soccer Stadium in Freetown.

They are extremely friendly people always ready to greet you with a smile and a wave, some clearly victims of the ‘short sleeve or long sleeve’ era. They speak Creole, very explicit and basic. After tough training sessions the players would ask me next morning, “how de body coachy?” I would reply, “de body fine” or they would reply, “I tanky God for de good body!”

I have taught them some of our own South African slang and quite often I would retort, “What a k*k shot”. They are possessed with a delightful sense of humour and some less fit players would reply with, “de body feel k*k coachy!”

Sierra Leone Cricket president is Beresford Bournes-Coker, known as the BBC.

He has just been elected president of North West Africa Cricket (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Morroco and others) at the Africa Cricket Association annual meeting in Nairobi during the weekend.

When this was announced at practice yesterday the entire squad burst into applause, a clear sign of respect for their president. This will now enable Sierra Leone to stage regular North West tournaments in future as more fancied Associate countries such as Nigeria and Ghana have stalled the progress due to fear of Sierra Leone upstaging them.

Ah, African politics!

The practice and playing facilities here are the worst I have experienced wherever I have played or coached.

Luckily through solid administration via the local sponsor, an Internet Service Provider, and BBC, on my recommendation, we were able to acquire the use of the National Soccer Stadium during my visit.

There are two nets at a gravel field but they are so dilapidated that not even the Kei Cricket Association would use them.

So innovation concerning batting drills, fielding and fitness sessions has been required.

Naturally the guys were thrilled at being able to train at the Soccer Stadium.

Weekends have been spent practicing twenty20 matches on a cement-based pitch with torn astro matting glued to it.

Then to see fielders diving around on gravel outfield is to witness real love for the game. I look forward to my return to the grassy fields of East London this week.

Peter Kirsten

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