Born in Pretoria, South Africa, he started Cricket at an early age by the time he was eight, his mind was set to be a cricketer. THE CRICKETING NOMAD
Under the mentorship of the Great Bob Woolmer, he blossomed as a cricketer and later on took his coaching teachings as a coach, today I have the absolute pleasure to chat with the Cricketing Nomad Kobus Olivier.
Hey, Mate tell us a little about yourself?
I am a bit of a cricketing Nomad. This incredible game has taken me on a journey across 3 continents and more than 30 countries. I have lived in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, having to adjust and adapt to different cultures.
I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, my dad was a university lecturer and my mom a teacher for kids with special needs. Teaching was in my DNA.
How did you first get involved in cricket?
At the age of 8, I played for my schools under 10 team. Auckland Park Primary School was a traditional conservative Afrikaans school in Johannesburg.
Bob Woolmer, then a young 22-year-old Kent county pro, came to spend the English off-season coaching and playing cricket in Johannesburg. He coached our under 10 side that season.
Seeing Bob at our nets in his whites and the Kent sweater, with his sponsored Gray Nichols bats and British accent, made a huge impression on me as an 8-year-old kid.
I decided that I want to become a professional cricketer, get sponsored bats and a cricket coffin with my name on it and play in England. Just like Bob Woolmer. I want to see these grounds and players that Bob was telling us about. Lords, The Oval, Canterbury County ground and names such as Alan Knott, Deadly Underwood and Mike Denness became my Disneyland and Superheroes.
Growing up did you have any idol you looked up to?
My first role model and hero was Bob Woolmer. My dad loved sport and particularly cricket and rugby.
In summer we would go to the Wanderers and watch Transvaal play and in the winters he took me to Ellis Park to watch rugby.
At this time Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter, Eddie Barlow, Clive Rice and Vince Van der Bijl were playing in the domestic Currie Cup and one day Nissan Shield competitions. It was during the South African isolation time due to the Apartheid regime. For my 10th birthday, my parents gave me a book written by Barry Richards, Attack to Win. It became my cricket bible and Barry became my hero.
I decided then that I will be an opening batsman just like Barry Richards.
Tell us your relationship with the Great Eddie Barlow?
By the age of 17, I was on my way to fulfil my dream of becoming a professional cricketer.
Cricket dominated my life & I practised 5 days a week at my school and at Pirates Cricket Club in Johannesburg.
At Pirates cricket club Jimmy Cook was the star player and he was just breaking into the strong Transvaal team, known as the Mean Machine captained by Clive Rice.
I was offered free education at the University of Johannesburg where my father was a lecturer.
At this time Eddie Barlow was the Head Coach at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape,Under Eddie’s guidance young players such as Peter Kirsten and Garth Le Roux played for the University.
It was a easy decision,In January 1978 I arrived in the beautiful student village to study for my degree in Physical Education.
Stellenbosch is surrounded by mountains and wine farms. After getting selected to play for the cricket club, you first have to play for your hostel in the Koshuis( residence/ hostel) league, I arrived for my first net session at Coetzenburg the sports fields at the University.
As a freshman I was batting against Le Roux( won a car as best player in the Kerry Packer World Series)Danie du Toit ( WP alrounder) , Adrian Kuiper( played for South Africa in the World Cup) and the legendary Bunter Barlow. Barlow was this larger than life character. He had a presence , an aura that is hard to describe.
Eddie led his young troops with an iron hand, he was a strict disciplinarian, he set the example, and they followed.
He was one of the pioneers in believing that cricketers had to be fit to be successful. And took us on runs in the mountains next to the cricket oval after 3-hour net sessions.
The notorious Bergpad( Mountain Road) where we all shed litres of sweat, with Eddie always leading the pack. Bunter was in his forties then, and most of these students were playing rugby in the winter. Peter Kirsten was a magnificent rugby player. But it was just Eddie’s will to win, to be the best, to never give up that would not allow him to let any player run in front of him. I will always remember Eddie with his red face and drenched in sweat, huffing and puffing but shouting to the guys in the back to keep going and not to give up. Barlow made a huge impact on me as a 17-year-old.
He became my role model and hero. I made my decision to never touch alcohol and to lead a healthy lifestyle. During the 2nd year of my Physical Education degree, Eddie arranged for me to play in the Derbyshire League in the UK during our summer holidays. I played for Langley Mill in the Border League ( Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire)Our home ground was built on a slope. If you were fielding on the boundary on the deep end, you could only see the batsmen from their waists up. Fred Swarbrook, the Derbyshire batsman, batted number four and was my first mentor in the art of batting on slow damp seaming English wickets.
On Barlow’s advice and very much against my dad’s wishes, I decided to play out the season for Langley Mill and to repeat my 2nd year at University. Thanks to Eddie, I started living my dream. I was 12 th man for Derbyshire against Northamptonshire at the Derby Country ground, which used to be a racecourse for horses. My first taste of the Big League was a bit of a shocker.
I arrived about 2 hours before the scheduled meeting time and went to the club’s secretary office to collect my Derbyshire second eleven sweater.
I chose a locker, but as soon as the players arrived, my belongings were promptly dumped on the floor by John Wright, the New Zeeland batsman and one of the two overseas players in the Derbyshire team. The other one was Peter Kirsten. Peter took me under his wing and let me share his locker and got me involved with some fielding drills with himself and Bob Taylor( England’s wicketkeeper) Geoff Miller( Captain and England spinner) and Mike Hendrick ( England seamer). John Wright scored 10 runs and went home with tonsillitis, which meant that I had to field in both the Northamptonshire innings. In the second innings, I dropped both Northamptonshire openers, Geoff Cook and Wayne Larkins. Northants chased down a target of close to 300 after tea with Allen Lamb scoring a fifty as well.
With my dream falling apart and getting my only mention in the Wisden Cricket magazine, stating that Derbyshire lost the match thanks to a young South African student from Stellenbosch University who dropped two catches as 12th man, I phoned Eddie in Stellenbosch. Eddie told me to forget about it and to score a hundred for my club that weekend. I managed a fifty.
You have travelled around the world, in different cricketing roles what country have you enjoyed the most?
This is a tough question,These countries were all so diverse.,Different cultures, different challenges and different roles I had to fulfill.
Kenya was the most challenging, but probably also the most enjoyable.
To become the CEO of Cricket Kenya one month before the qualifying tournament in Dubai for a place in the T20 World Cup and 2 months before the World Cup qualifying tournament in New Zeeland presented the biggest challenge of my career in cricket.
Having participated in all 5 previous World Cup tournaments, the expectations were high. I asked GARY Kirsten for advice, having won the World Cup as Indian coach. Gary offered to fly in from Cape Town and spend two days with the team with Cricket Kenya only covering the cost of his air ticket, economy class, and accommodation.
He immediately had the respect of the players and the captain/coach, the experienced Steve Tikolo( more that 130 ODI’s).
Unfortunately, there were lots of internal politics and personal agendas at board and selection level and the player’s interests were never a priority. I made some lifelong friends and the ex Kenya captain, Aasif Karim, was always on hand with advice and guidance on how to deal with differences with the board and the then Chairperson of Cricket Kenya.
My time in Amsterdam and Den Haag as National Youth Coach for Holland was my most enjoyable as a coach.
Holland plays in the annual ECB tournaments against Ireland, Scotland and Denmark across all age groups( Under 12, 15, 17 and 19)As National Head Coach I coached all these teams. I worked closely with Emerson Trotman, ex West Indies player, who was the National Coach for the Dutch senior team. Trotman was the University of Cape Town cricket coach when I was the Director of Cricket at the university, and we shared a mutual respect for each other.
I also had a season as a professional player for a club in Holland. It was quite a surprise to be given my sponsored bicycle for the season.
None of the luxuries I experienced as a pro in the UK. My first season as an overseas player was for Poloc Cricket Club in Glasgow. To be honest, I never settled in and had a pretty miserable 6 months in Scotland. I never saw the sun and played cricket in long johns and 4 sweaters. In my first match, it rained the whole week before the match. The pitch was covered with a layer of water and yet we started on time.
I opened the batting in boots with metal studs, got bowled the first ball and literally got stuck in the mud. Two opposition players had to pick me up and put me down on the grass next to the pitch, much to the amusement of my own teammates. The fact that I am a teetotaler also did not go down well with the lads. After 3 matches and an aggregate of zero, I heard my captain telling the opposing captain that the pro is “shyt” , can’t bat and does not drink.I had a long 6 months in Glasgow.
You are currently based in Ukraine how did you end up there?
After my time in Kenya, I moved to Dubai. In Dubai I set up two cricket academies.
One for the GEMS schools. GEMS have more than 70 schools in the UAE. They also have schools in Africa and Asia. I was appointed Director of Cricket and set up the ESM cricket academy across 5 centres of excellence, schools with state of the art facilities.
I managed to get Ashwin, the Indian off-spinner, and at that time the number one ranked bowler and all-rounder on the ICC rankings, to launch the academy.
It created a kind of hysteria within the Asian community in Dubai, who are passionate about cricket.
At that time there were more than 30 cricket academies in Dubai. Kings School Al Barsha then offered me the position as Director of Cricket at the school and asked me to set up a cricket academy for the school.
During the same period, they appointed Henry Paul, ex England rugby international, as Director of Rugby at King’s. After getting to know Ashwin at the launch of the ESM academy, I flew to Chennai with one of the parents in my academy, Ramesh. He is a close friend of Ashwin and made this possible.
Ashwin is very closely involved as the mentor for the Gen Next cricket academy in Chennai, which is owned by his father.
We agreed on a partnership between King’s school in Dubai and his Gen Next cricket academy.
Ashwin flew into Dubai every 3 months with his coaches and conducted Masterclasses at the academy at King’s school in Dubai.
During this time I had a small break and decided to visit Kyiv. It was in December and I wanted to visit a country where there were snow and experience a white Xmas. It was love at first sight, I loved the energy of Kyiv. The little coffee shops and beautiful parks and old Soviet-era architecture and the history of Ukraine. And to be honest, the absence of cricket. After 40+ years of playing, coaching and administrating, I needed a break. Seven more visits to Ukraine followed within one year. At the same time, I was offered the position as CEO of Uganda Cricket. I made my decision, a new life in a new country as a businessman, importing wines and other products into Ukraine. In a country where most people think that cricket is some insect.
We understand that you have introduced cricket in Ukraine, tell us more about your project there?
You can take me away from cricket, but cricket always seem to find me eventually. I started my new life without cricket two years ago in Kyiv. Setting up my own import company and started teaching English to corporate companies and in the top private school in Ukraine, Gymnasium A+.
The owners of the school, KAN Development, one of the leading development companies in Ukraine, approached me to conduct a team-building exercise for their top management.
I decided to take them completely out of their comfort zone by introducing cricket games and drills. It certainly levelled the playing field and the girls outplayed the men. I ordered some mini cricket equipment ( plastic bats and stumps and softballs) from the UK the week before.
The KAN Development team loved it. Seeing that I now had cricket equipment in Kyiv, I approached the Director at Gymnasium A+ and suggested that I start the first-ever cricket academy in Ukraine at the school. The school agreed and produced a fantastic video on YouTube to promote the cricket program at the school.
How are the people of Ukraine taking to Cricket?
I started some taster sessions during the winter at the school.
Obviously these sessions had to be indoors.
The kids and parents have shown a real interest in this new game.
They started looking at cricket on YouTube and asking questions about the rules of cricket. It is seen as a British sport here, and I use my English lessons at the school to let them play cricket.
I don’t speak Ukrainian, so the classes are all conducted in English. So they learn a new sport and new skills while improving their English at the same time.
What are your long term plans regarding Cricket in Ukraine?
The goal is for Ukraine to become an Affiliate Member of the ICC.
I am working closely with Andy Hobbs, Senior Manager- Development Services International Services and has his full support.
David Jenkins who used to be the Director of the ICC cricket academy in Sports City, Dubai is also very involved in the project.
David is now employed by the Rajasthan Royals, the IPL franchise and tasked with growing their support base globally.
They are specifically focused on countries where cricket is in a developing stage. We are discussing the possibility of a joint venture, where the academy will be able to use the RR branding, uniforms and have access to the RR coaching materials and their coaches.
The South African ambassador in Ukraine, Mr Andre Groenewald is a cricket lover and has been very supportive. He introduced me to the Indian ambassador in Ukraine who have set up a meeting for me with the Indian Club in Ukraine. The Indian Club organizes all cultural events in Ukraine for the large Indian community here.
Currently, there are in excess of 10 thousand Indian medical students in Kyiv. I am aiming to involve the Asian community in Ukraine in the academy. They are already playing a lot of informal cricket in Ukraine.
What sort of Cricketing Facilities are there in Ukraine, and do you have any sponsors backing your project?
Gymnasium A+ have state of the art sports facilities, the best in Ukraine.
We have a indoor sports hall which is perfect for indoor cricket as well as a smaller sports hall where one can do cricket drills, fitness and yoga.
There is also an outdoor sports field with floodlights.
I am planning to introduce a night league for schools as well as a night league, T20 format, on Friday nights for corporate companies. By involving corporate companies in team building as well as leadership exercises, using cricket games and drills, I will create awareness for the game and attract sponsors.
KAN Development, the owners of Gymnasium A+, owns the biggest sports complex in Ukraine.
It is situated in Respublika, one of their residential complexes. It has state of the art facilities, including indoor sports halls, football fields with floodlights, basketball and tennis courts as well as a fully equipped gymnasium.
I am planning to eventually use that facility as the home base for the academy. Mr Shyam Bhatia, who is a close friend, and is the owner of the biggest private cricket museum in the world, as well as Cricket for Care, is my main sponsor. Cricket for Care is a charity organization and Mr Bhatia donates cricket equipment to countries all over the world. Mr Bhatia lives in Dubai and during my stay in Dubai became a friend and mentor to me. We share a passion for cricket and he has already sent me 5 full sets of cricket equipment to Kyiv.
You also practice Yoga, tell us how yoga can be beneficial to a cricketer?
Practicing Yoga offers so many benefits to any sportsman.
It teaches calmness, concentration, breathing as well as balance and core strength.
To meditate is perfect for visualization which is an essential part of the mental preparation for any sport.
Yoga teaches you how to control your breathing, which leads to focus and calmness in pressure situations.
I practice core yoga which focuses on strengthening the core muscles by doing different arm and leg balances.
Core strength and balance are essential for any cricketer in all three disciplines of the game.
I know Jonty Rhodes practices yoga every day.
How often do you reckon a professional cricketer practice yoga, if he/she takes it up?
Every day. There are many forms of yoga: meditation, stretching and the various balances. A professional sportsman will do one or a combination of these every day.
I personally meditate every morning. I get up at six every day, then meditate and stretch. Later in the day, I do my core balances and gym work. Yoga forms part of a lifestyle.
This lifestyle is part of a life long commitment to your health,
It’s a combination of a daily routine of exercise and eating healthy. It is a discipline in itself, it is a way of life.
People always ask me how important is a natural talent in a young kid and is it a guarantee for success in his/ her chosen sport.
I firmly believe it helps to have talent, but passion and discipline are the keys to be successful in any sport for a long period of time.