When cricket fanatic Jongile Kilani spotted a gap between bat and pad in the University of Fort Hare cricket environment, he had no hesitation aiming for it.
That is the short version of how the former Border semi-professional player became head coach of the university’s cricket club in 2012.
It’s been a journey of discovery for the 29-year-old who grew up in Middeldrift in the Eastern Cape before moving to Gqeberha as a young learner.
It was while attending Vezubuhle Primary School in Motherwell that he was discovered by former Proteas bowler Mfuneko Ngam and he was subsequently drafted by the paceman’s academy.
Here his leadership skills were recognised and he was appointed age-group coach at the academy in 2009.
After a few years in that role, Kilani received a CSA Academy bursary to study at the University of Fort Hare.
“What I discovered was that the university team functioned independently of the academy, so there was no structured coaching for them,” he explained.
“I recognised that gap and decided to throw in my lot to assist them by transferring my coaching skills.”
Players not part of the bursary scheme, he found, were in effect yorked. So, after each academy practice session, he would make his way to the university team to help them out.
His organisational skills were recognised by Thando Ngcete and Mongezi Nzukuma, two senior university team players, who encouraged him to consider becoming the team’s coach.
Kilani was backed by then cricket officer Likhaya Matiwana, who presented a proposal to the varsity centred around appointing him to help grow the sport. That was the start of his fulltime coaching career.
“I enjoy working and helping people reach their full potential. I believe in making an impact on someone’s life because I feel that person will influence others to be better people.”
While his primary goal is coaching, he understands the importance of a holistic approach to the development of players.
“My values revolve around being hardworking, self-belief, empowering others, accountability and a passion for the sport,” he said.
Like bat and ball, there is a very important relationship between sport and academics, a message he regularly drums into his players.
“There are no guarantees in sport and it can all go wrong if you suffer serious injuries or things don’t go quite according to plan. It is essential to have something to fall back on.”
He has guided Fort Hare from the abyss of the USSA D section in 2012 to the A section in 2016/17. Last year, they were promoted to the Border premier league.
A women’s cricket code has also been successfully introduced.
Despite more than half of the team being complete novices, they won the Border women’s premier league under the guidance of coach Lukhanyo Hanabe and captain Sisipho Siswana.
As for the future, he wants to continue recruiting school-leavers to bolster playing resources and introduce fun inter-residence tournaments to attract more players.