Mzaidume - A migrant with a difference
Fast bowler Siphe Mzaidume is an exception among South African migrants - he is black African. He qualifies for England in June and he hopes he will get the opportunities he was denied, despite the quota system
January 10, 2014
This is not a new story. It is about a cricketer, frustrated with what he terms 'lack of opportunity' in his home country. He sets up house abroad in the hope of making it elsewhere.
The country of origin is South Africa. The cricketer could be anyone from Kevin Pietersen, who blamed the quota system and not his own skills as an average offspinner at the time for his lack of success here, to Neil Wagner, who accepted he was struggling to force his way into a strong franchise team which included the likes of AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and the Morkel brothers and went to New Zealand, where he admitted the barriers to entry were lower. These players have one thing in common: they are all white. Until now.
Meet Siphe Mzaidume. The 24-year old quick from the coastal town of Port Alfred in South Africa's Eastern Cape, will qualify to play for England this June. He left this country for the same reasons as Pietersen and Wagner. But he is a black African and that makes this story quite different.
"The system in South Africa looks like it favours black players, but it does not," Mzaidume said. "People in high places say they are looking out for black players but they are not. Black players do not get the breaks they deserve. It would be great to be judged simply on your skills, which is what happens in England."
There's great irony in that statement. The merit argument is exactly why Pietersen said he turned his back on South Africa. He felt white players were being marginalised and players of colour unfairly fast-tracked. Mzaidume claims the opposite is true and that black African players are being deliberately overlooked because those in positions of power do not show any faith in them.
I was told that I was not good enough to be a professional player but I believed I was good enough. I didn't want to give up on my cricket career. When all you know is cricket, it's devastating to be told cricket is not your path
So the question really is, is Mzaidume good enough? Until 2009, he thought he had what it took to make it in South Africa. He played provincial cricket for Eastern Province at Under-13, 15 and 17 level before moving up coast to play for Border in East London at U-19 level. He was part of South Africa's 2007 U-19 training squad, which he described as a "fantastic experience," and spent two years at the Border academy.
Then, his progress stalled. "Unfortunately, I wasn't afforded the opportunities to progress further than that. I was told that I was not good enough to be a professional player but I believed I was good enough," he said. "I didn't want to give up on my cricket career. When all you know is cricket, it's devastating to be told cricket is not your path."
Along with Ayabulela Gqamane , Mzaidume went to England to try his luck there. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with. I struggled with the weather, to relate to the English guys, and I struggled with the culture," Mzaidume said. "But my dream was bigger than those problems. I went door-to-door to all the clubs in London looking for a trial. It was hard."
The pair did not travel together and Gqamane eventually returned to South Africa. Last season, he was contracted to the Warriors franchise and has since played for the South Africa A squad as well. "He was very fortunate and one of the few," Mzaidume said. "He can tell the opposite story from mine, so credit to him."
But Mzaidume stayed in the UK and finally got a break thanks to an unexpected source. He contacted Pietersen for tips. "He was one of my links. I wanted advice from KP as to how to go about this move," Mzaidume told South African talk radio station PowerFM. "He obviously left because of the quota system. It's quite ironic that it would probably have been easier for me to get into the system but I am leaving for a similar reason KP left."
His first gig was in the Northamptonshire premier league where he played for Wollastan in 2010. He then moved to Southern Oxfordshire and was also picked in the Northamptonshire second XI. In September 2011, he joined the county on a pre-season tour to... you guessed it... South Africa's Eastern Cape.
At the time, Mzaidume told journalist Peter Martin he had taken 27 wickets in the previous season at 15.30. Martin asked him if he would return to South Africa that summer but Mzaidume said he felt "my cricket future will be in England," and that he intended to, "spend as much time as possible in England as I am applying to get a British passport."
Mzaidume preferred the structures in England, because he felt they valued him. "Everything was just judged on performance which made it easy for me to progress through the ranks," he said. He went on to play for Holmesdale and spends off-seasons at clubs in Australia.
In November 2012, he took 9 for 47 for East Malvern Tooronga Cricket Club in Melbourne. The club's president, John Gilbert, said no-one could remember such a successful return in "more than 90 years of cricket played in Stonnington." Currently, Mzaidyme is playing for Horsham Cricket Association, also in Melbourne, and was part of a training session with the England squad during the recent Ashes.
Ultimately, its Mzaidume's goal to spend more than just one practice with them but he recognises he has a lot of work to do before that can happen. "I don't for one moment think I am going to walk into the England squad. I know I have a long way to go before that happens. But for me to be in a position to be picked for England is a dream for me," he said.
While he concentrates on his cricket , he has managed to pick up big-name sponsors such as Oakley, Blackberry and Adidas and also works as a brand ambassador. "I've pretty much got two careers which is quite hectic," he said. But he stresses it's better than having none at all.
While Greg Hayes, the development officer who discovered Makhaya Ntini, is "flummoxed to hear there are no opportunities for black guys," because "if you are good enough, there are plenty of opportunities." Mzaidume is adamant that the system is failing black African players. "I do feel let down by the system but the best way to try and fill that void is to make guys aware that the world is a big place - it's not the end of your dream," he said.
It's a foregone conclusion then that like Pietersen, Mzaidume will not consider returning to South Africa. "Never. I'd never come back. England has given me everything I have and I need to give something back."