Neil Rogers, the man who describes himself as Sinethemba Qeshile’s “stand-in uncle”, tells an 11-year-old story that has become a metaphor for the new Proteas wicketkeeper-batsman’s career.
“When he was about nine, Sine was left out of the cricket team at Gonubie Primary School and my son Kyle – who has been his best mate since preschool and hates playing cricket – was in the team,” explains Rogers. “Because he was a great ball player from an early age, I asked my son what the problem was and he told me Sine didn’t have white shorts, so he wasn’t picked.
“My late wife Eileen went and organised him shorts, then my laaitie was dropped and Sine was selected in his place. He has just achieved and achieved ever since. I wish my wife was around to explain him to you better. The thing about Sine is that if you give him an opportunity, he’ll make you proud.”
On the evening of Friday 22 March, everyone who had ever taken a punt on Qeshile – from his mother, Priscilla, to his coach at Hudson Park High School, Dave Alers, to his current guide at the Warriors, Rivash Gobind – had reason to be proud as he made his international debut for South Africa in the second T20 against Sri Lanka, just a year after embarking on his first-class career.
Lights on at Centurion, lights off at the Rogers
The night Qeshile made his bow in international cricket, Rogers and a few others gathered at the Gonubie Hotel in East London to watch the game. He didn’t get a chance to bat, but contributed with two catches behind the stumps.
“We were supposed to meet at my house, but we got together at the Gonubie Hotel because we got load shedded and couldn’t organise a generator in time,” says Rogers. “This wasn’t parents from the school or anything, it was local fathers who had seen all three of my sons grow up. I call Sine my son because he grew up with my laaities and stayed over at my house.”
While becoming a Protea just 41 days after turning 20 has come as a surprise, one still gets a sense of inevitability about Qeshile’s ascension when talking to those who know him. Not only were there broad hints as to the young man’s outrageous gifts from an early age, but he is also something of an institution at the two schools he played for in East London.
According to Rogers, Qeshile holds the top four batting scores at Gonubie Primary; once helped their rugby side win their first-ever match over Hudson Park Primary by nailing a late penalty from inside his own half as an Under-13 flyhalf; and was the flyhalf when Hudson Park High School staged a comeback from 19-3 down to beat local powerhouse Selborne College for the first time in their history in his final year of school in 2017.
As a high school cricketer, Alers says Qeshile played for and captained the first XI from grade 10, went on to do the same for the Border provincial side and has been the patron saint of so many lost-cause victories for school and province that the coach struggles to remember any one in particular.
Destined to be a Protea from a young age
Rogers did his best to explain why they were not surprised at Qeshile making the Proteas side: “Having been involved with him when he was a youngster, my wife and I said, ‘Watch him, he’ll wear the green and gold one day,’ from his primary school days.
“He’s got phenomenal ball skills … I get goose bumps just telling you this, but when you see this little laaitie running and getting a bad pass from the scrumhalf, only to pick it up off the ground with one hand… But it was all good and well for us to have said it for a long time, that he would make it, but how quickly it came is phenomenal because he’d only been out of school for a year.”
Alers, who along with former Border, Eastern Province, Northern Transvaal and Nottinghamshire fastbowler Kenny Watson has been responsible for the slew of first-class cricketers Hudson Park has produced in the past decade, listed the qualities that have made Qeshile the school’s first international player.
“When he first started with us as an Under-14 player, I could see he had something special about him. He’s got steely determination, incredible self-belief, doesn’t get overawed by the situation, rises to the occasion and he’s not fazed by a bigger platform. He’s one of those guys who plays each ball on its merits.
“I’ve coached a lot of guys who possibly are as good as him on the playing side. But there are two sides to cricket, one is the talent and the other is the mental strength. To make it at the top level, a player needs to have incredible mental strength. A lot of guys have faltered on that side and he’s not one of them.”
Qeshile’s mature approach and outlook translated into his form for the Warriors the moment Gobind, a former KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins player, gave him an opportunity in franchise cricket. Having marked his 4-Day Franchise Series debut with a half-century, he then went on a run that saw him finish fifth on the top run-scorers’ list (735 runs at an average of 52.50, which included seven fifties and a highest score of 99 against the Knights) in his first full season as a professional.
Qeshile, who was drafted by the Jozi Stars without playing a game in the Mzansi Super League T20 tournament towards the end of last year, followed that up with a One Day Cup campaign in which another half-century on his debut in the 50-over format helped the Warriors beat the Cobras.
Comparisons with Hashim Amla
He finally scored the maiden first-class century – an unbeaten 121 off 105 balls (13 fours and three sixes) against the Lions – he had been threatening to all season, which pleased Gobind no end as he’d had to pick up the pieces when the youngster had fallen short by a single run in the four-day competition.
“His greatest strength for me is his mental capacity to absorb pressure from the bowlers and transfer it back,” Gobind had said at the beginning of his working relationship with the youngster. “I was there when Hashim Amla scored his first first-class hundred and I see similarities.
“The standout thing for me has been his capacity to learn by taking advice on board and going out there and implementing it in the middle. When Kevin Pietersen was at the Dolphins, he told me what the great players do is take what they do in practice and translate it into performances in the middle. Most players work on things in practice, but few can implement it in the middle. Sine is one of them.”
While happy that his charge got the century monkey off his back, Gobind has been more impressed with Qeshile’s reaction to failure during their time together. “We played a four-day game in Durban and he got a pair (two ducks in the same match). But there was no change in his personality, preparation or demeanour.
“For me, that was an outstanding thing to see in a young guy, because what you want is a level of consistency in terms of temperament. A lot of guys get extremely high when they do well and get down on themselves when they have a couple of failures. He’s been able to portray consistency in the way he carries himself.”
As compelling as Qeshile’s cricketing numbers are, his life story rivals them. The second son of a domestic worker, Qeshile became friends with Rogers’ son Kyle at preschool and soon became a permanent fixture in the Rogers household, to the point of sleeping over and going on holidays to the former Transkei with them.
Despite being a single mother (Qeshile’s father died) and a domestic worker, Priscilla made it possible for him to go to Gonubie Primary. Rogers – a project manager for a local property developer – then helped get him a last-minute scholarship to Hudson Park, with a contribution from Cricket South Africa (CSA) enabling him to be a boarder in his last two years at school.
“When Priscilla’s employer died, we found out that she was a very good seamstress,” says Rogers. “So I used to send her rugby jerseys that needed mending from the Gonubie Sports Club. Then my wife found her work at a sewing company. She’s done so well, you’d swear she was the manager there.”
Rogers’ wife was also responsible for making sure Qeshile’s mother could share in his success. She convinced her husband to transfer his plane ticket, which Hudson Park gave him to accompany the youngster to the CSA amateur awards in 2017, to Priscilla, who had never flown before.
Perhaps as a result of his humble beginnings, Qeshile – whose WhatsApp profile status reads “Be Humble” as a possible reminder – is painted as a determined and proud man.
Rogers says the youngster, a perfectionist known for remaining behind after practice to play shadow shots with just his bat and not a ball in sight, wouldn’t take spending money from him when going on tour, despite not having any pocket money. The Rogers family got around this by slipping Kyle his share for when he needed it.
When asked why they invested so much in Qeshile when they didn’t have to, Rogers reckons: “It wasn’t because I felt sorry for him, it was for the simple fact that he was my son’s best friend. And seeing how good he was at cricket and not getting an opportunity … if he wasn’t good, maybe I wouldn’t have pushed as much.
“You can help somebody, but it doesn’t help helping people who don’t want it. You give Sine help and he takes it all in and makes the best of it at all times.”