RIKI Wessels is an Australian-born, England aspiring cricketer of South African origin. His father — Kepler Wessels — played for both Australia and South Africa.
Riki, a 24-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, played in Zimbabwe for the Midwest Rhinos franchise as an overseas professional in the 2009/10 season and is returning for another spell.
Here are excerpts of a recent interview he did with the SA Cricket magazine:
Q: Do you still have ambitions to play cricket for England?
A: Of course I do, although I have to get a passport first!
Q: You were born in Australia and grew up in South Africa, so why did you chose to live in the UK?
A: I always wanted to. It helped that my dad was the coach of Northamptonshire and I secured a place at Northampton University in 2004. The plan was to do my studies and while waiting for them to start I’d play club cricket and a bit of 2nd XI cricket for Northants. The county then offered me a contract at the end of the summer so I became a professional cricketer. That’s been my life since.
Q: How did the deal with the Midwest Rhinos come out?
A: David Houghton (the former Zimbabwe captain who is now a consultant with the team) chatted to a few younger players at the end of the last English season. He told us that Zimbabwe domestic cricket was being restructured and it was a time for us to get over there and help. I ended up with the Rhinos, who are based in Kwekwe. We finished fifth in the Twenty20 competition, lost in the final of the one-day tournament to the Mountaineers, and drew the final of the (first-class) Logan Cup with the Mashonaland Eagles (the eagles, though, won the trophy as they had topped the log).
Q: What was the standard of cricket like in those competitions?
A: It may not be up to the level of county cricket but it was the first season of the new franchise system and it will definitely get better over time. Everyone knows cricket has suffered in Zimbabwe in the past few years but the process of getting the game back to a proper first-class level has started. Each team has a core group of good players, including some who have international experience, so the cricket isn’t weak. The Twenty20 competition attracted some good players like Sean Ervine, who returned to Zimbabwe and Englishmen Darren Stevens and Ollie Rayner. There are a few players in each side who perhaps aren’t up to scratch at the moment but the games will develop over time. It helps that there are some very good and committed men involved in Zimbabwe cricket, like David, Chris Silverwood (the former England seamer who coached the Eagles) Heath Streak (the Zimbabwe bowling coach), and Allan Butcher (the former England batsman who took over from Walter Chawaguta as Zimbabwe coach in February).
Q: Do you have a sense that Zimbabwe cricket is moving forward?
A: I do. The people involved on the ground are working hard and want Zimbabwe to regain test status.
Q: Are the facilities good enough?
A: They were mostly fine but some money would help to improve them. The outfield wasn’t great at our home ground but the pitches were good.
Q: Did you feel unsafe while you were in Zimbabwe?
A: I felt safer around at night there than I have in many places in South Africa. Zimbabwe is a great country but you need to adopt a slightly laid back attitude and mustn’t expect things to work all the time, or even half the time. It’s certainly not a first-world country and if you come here and except things to work or the infrastructure to be good then you may get frustrated. It’s sometimes best to shrug your shoulders and accept it.
Q: Was playing for a franchise in South Africa an option?
A No, not really. I left South Africa in 2004 after I’d matriculated and it isn’t really my home anymore.
Q: Did your father influence you greatly growing up and learning the game?
A: I went to a boarding school so most of my training and technique comes from there. Dad was hardly around as he was always playing cricket. In fact, I probably use him more now that I am older and have played first-class cricket. I call him whenever I’m struggling and we chat things through.