Kearsney College captain Hayden Bishop, whose career in the 1st XI began at the end of his grade 10 year of 2021, saw it come to an end against St Charles College on Saturday, 11 November.
Now, after only seven losses in 38 matches, he can look back on an excellent season for the boys from Botha’s Hill, and also a season of personal triumph, which saw him set a school record for the most runs scored in a year.
(Feature photo and two others, Justin Waldman Sports Photography)
Bishop finished 2023 with 1 428 to his credit, bettering the feats of former SA under-19 captain Chad Bowes, who opened the batting with Quinton de Kock at the 2012 ICC u19 Cricket World Cup.
A left-handed batsman, Bishop began the season with a bang, making a big splash before the school year had commenced. He explained: “It was so awesome because we started the year and, before we got back to school, we went to the Ihlobo Cricket Festival at Michaelhouse. I got a hundred on the third day and a hundred on the fourth day of that festival.
“After that I came back to school and I had 350 runs before the term started, and I asked our coach what the record was. He told me and I said this is what I’ve got, and I’ve been chasing it ever since.”
Immersed in the game
Bishop has captained cricket teams throughout the different age groups he has played in. Part of the reason for that, he admitted, is he gets bored if he is not immersed in the game. That is also backed up by the fact that he is actually an all-rounder, which is sometimes overlooked because he opens the batting. Bishop, though, has enjoyed plenty of success with his leg-spin bowling.
He credits his father, Gary, for much of that success, and said it was he who inspired Hayden to change from bowling seam to bowling leg-spin.
“He told me I’m not allowed to bowl googlies until I’m 17. He said just bowl leggies. It made me so accurate, and that’s kind of become my trademark. It doesn’t matter where I’m bowling, I feel like I can be the most accurate on the field, and that’s what enables me to bowl lots of overs and trust myself to bowl lots of overs.”
Throughout his cricket career, Bishop said, his dad has been the most influential figure in his growth, that one person he goes to when he needs advice. He knows cricket, and he knows his son. His support is most beneficial from a mental standpoint, Hayden explained.
In keeping with his desire to always be involved, he gravitated towards opening the batting from the start of his cricket career, especially since it posed a different challenge.
“I’ve always done it and I think it’s quite hard. It’s a niche thing,” he explained. “It’s hard, if you’ve never done it before. I embraced it when I was younger, and it’s just kind of become easy now.”
With a strong top order, Kearsney piled up some large scores during 2023. They scored quickly, which made it appear that they were very aggressive. That’s not necessarily the case, Bishop said.
“Our positivity is not really us looking for boundaries. It’s more that at the beginning of the year we said to each other we were willing to risk a run-out rather than trying to hit a ball for six.
“We are almost looking to get a run off of every ball, and I think that’s what’s made us come across as being so positive. Even if it’s a good ball, we feel like we can score a run off of it, no matter what.”
St John’s Rams T20
That approach served Kearsney very well in the limited overs formats of the game, and one of the highlights of the year was, no doubt, their victory in the St John’s Rams T20 in Harare, Zimbabwe, in September.
The event features mostly Zimbabwean schools, along with some teams from South Africa. On this occasion, the South African representatives included Kearsney, Westville Boys’ High and Clifton College.
Over the years, the Zimbabwean teams have proved themselves a very tough nut to crack, especially on their home pitches. The challenge to win the event is a significant one as South African schools have discovered to their detriment.
Yet, Kearsney, playing in the St John’s Rams T20 for the first time, went all the way, producing a clean record, which included twice defeating the hosts, St John’s (Harare) by five runs. They also beat their neighbours and rivals, Westville, who had beaten them in the 100-ball final earlier in the season, by 35 runs.
Coach Matt Savage was a valuable asset in Kearsney’s run to the title. He had previously been involved with the tournament when he was on staff at Clifton, who have participated in the St John’s Rams T20 more than any other South African school.
“He told us that if anything goes in the air, it will go for six, because the balls just flies up there, and the outfields are so flat and so clean cut that if you get it through the ring, it’s four,” Bishop said.
It helped that shots which would bring one or two at home were going for four in Harare.
The requirements of seam bowlers in Harare are quite similar to what they are at home, Hayden said, but the spinners in Zimbabwe bowl a lot flatter and straighter.
Batting was different, though. He said batsmen from the Zimbabwean schools tended to be aggressive. “They just throw their front leg out the way, and they look to clear everything and go over the top, especially in the first six overs… If you don’t score 80 in the first six, it’s hard to win the game.”
Capturing the title was a huge highlight, he said, especially because the title-decider was against Westville.
“It was so cool because, when we were here, we lost to Westville in the 100-ball final at Kingsmead. It’s always a big rivalry between us and them.”
Buoyed, Kearsney returned from Zimbabwe to the Oppenheimer Michaelmas Cricket Week. There, they enhanced their credentials by winning three out of four – beating KES by 14 runs, Waterkloof by 8 wickets, and St John’s College by six wickets, before a sticky wicket undermined their performance batting first against Affies on the last day. They were the most successful of the KZN schools.
“It’s been an awesome year. Everything this year has been so cool. We really enjoyed it, and I think it’s because last year we only had two matrics in the team, so we basically had the same side That really helped us a lot,” the Kearsney skipper said.
A balanced team
While the strength of Kearsney’s batting immediately caught the eye, the side’s varied bowling attack also played a big part in the team’s many victories. “Our two opening bowlers [Ryan Browning and Sandiswa Yeni] are very good. They are very big threats up front, and we are quite aggressive in the beginning. We are fine to go for a couple of runs because we know that we’ve got decent spinners who can bring it back in, and medium-pacers who can hold a line.
“I wouldn’t say that bowling is our strength,” Hayden shared, “but I think the way we use our bowlers has become our strength.”
Recalling his personal performances, an unbeaten 157 at Michaelhouse during the iHlobo 1st XI Festival in January was meaningful, especially because he carried his bat through the innings. It was a personal highest score.
The most satisfying innings he played, though, was at the Independent Schools Cricket Festival at St Alban’s College in February, Hayden said. The TC Mitchell Oval is known for being flat, he added. “We played there for our provincial week last year, so I knew what the track was like.
“I struggled for the first two days [of the festival]. I think I got maybe seven, and then I got a first-baller on the next day. So, I said to myself that night if I stay in for 30 overs [on the third day], I’ll score a hundred, and that day I stayed in for 35 overs and I got a hundred.
“It was just so special… It showed me that even if you are struggling, it’s just one innings [that can change everything] and it made me feel good.”
Something that helped his game during the course of the year was opening the batting with Dylan Wiggett, a right-hander, Hayden said. Forcing the bowlers to switch up their lines put pressure on them, he explained.
Wiggett also complemented his approach. While Bishop prefers to play himself in, Wiggett is more inclined to go after the opposing bowlers earlier in his innings.
“He plays lots of shots up front, and if he thinks the guy is not bowling well, he’ll go over top and take the game to them. It helps me on the other side because I don’t really want to be doing that… I don’t feel pressure at all because he’s doing what I need him to do on that side, and I can just play how I want to play.”
Despite the different approach, the two openers tended to accumulate runs at much the same pace.
Now that his days leading the Kearsney 1st XI are done, Hayden said he is going to miss the school’s picturesque AH Smith Oval. Looking out upon it, he commented: “It’s so special being here, when we all sit up there under the pavilion, on those benches, just looking over the field and having the scoreboard in front of us.
“I think it is the best view I’ve seen in schoolboy cricket, and the parents have a jol over here every Saturday. They come and set up a braai, so it’s cool for all of us, I think.”
There’s one last tilt at schoolboy cricket that awaits Hayden. He was recently named in the KZN Schools team to contest the Khaya Majola Cricket Week in Makhanda from 16 to 20 December.
After that, he will be heading to the University of Pretoria, where he will be pursuing a B.Com degree. He doesn’t yet know what career he wants to follow, he admitted, but he wants to give cricket a full go at Tuks and see where it takes him.
He appears to have the necessary skills to succeed at the next level: leadership, batting, bowling, and a steely mental make-up.
That’s reason enough to remember the name Hayden Bishop. Where might cricket yet take him?