IT may not have been the most auspicious of starts for the Cricket South Africa (CSA) Fort Hare Cricket Academy, but there were enough signs during the provincial academies tournament in Oudtshoorn last week to suggest this team are going places this year.
Since being placed under the stewardship of former Proteas and Warriors fast bowler Mfuneko Ngam in 2008, the operation at Fort Hare University in Alice has been transformed from a wasteland of crumbling infrastructure and broken windows to a state-of-the-art facility with the full backing of the university, Border Cricket and CSA.
This season the academy team will compete in the A Section of its region, paving the way for the young players to make their mark in provincial circles.
"While we did not have a good week in Oudtshoorn, I could see that we have a lot to build on," Ngam said.
"We went down to Western Province in a super over in the T20 matches, and we almost chased down EP's score of more than 300 in another of the matches. But it is still early in the season so we have a lot to build on."
Ngam, who burst onto the international scene by wrecking both Sri Lanka and New Zealand's top order before a series of unfortunate stress fractures all but ended his playing career, was first asked by former CSA chief executive Gerald Majola to oversee the academy about five years ago and then again by former SA paceman Vince van der Bijl.
"I was very enthusiastic about the project but when I got to Alice things were in a very bad state. The grass was so long you couldn't even see the field, the nets were a nightmare and the windows of the complex were broken. I realised then that we would have to start from scratch."
With the help of project manager Greg Hayes he set about instilling a sense of pride in the players who previously had only shown a passing interest in cricket.
For Ngam, developing players from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape is a dream come true in every sense
"When I first played for South Africa, all I wanted to do was earn enough money so that I could be involved in a project like this," he said.