CAPE TOWN – Curtis Campher is the first Irish cricketer in ODI history to score back to back half centuries and take wickets in both matches. He did it against World Cup ODI champions England.
Campher is South African, a product of St Stithians in Johannesburg’s plush northern suburbs and a former South Africa under 19 international. Campher is just 21 years-old and played for Ireland against England because of ancestry. His grandmother is Irish.
Campher’s meteoric rise to international cricket is because of what he did for a South African invitational side against Ireland a year ago in a tournament in Zimbabwe.
Graham Ford, formerly the coach of the Dolphins in KwaZulu-Natal and Sri Lanka, is the head coach of Ireland, and he was told the bowler tormenting Ireland had an Irish passport.
‘He first caught my eye when he got Andy Balbirnie out,’ Ford told the Cricketer. ‘The word from the opposition coach was: Do you know this guy has an Irish passport? We watched him closely throughout the day – he bowled nicely and smacked us around a bit.’
Ford and Campher started talking but Campher was studying a BCOM in Business Management at the University of Pretoria.
Ford established there was an Irish cricket interest from Campher and picked him for the Wolves (Ireland A) tour to Pretoria, South Africa. Campher didn’t have to travel far to join his new teammates and he excelled in the Wolves’s 4-1 T20 series win against Namibia in February.
Six months later and Campher was creating Irish ODI history against England.
So, who is Campher?
He was born in Johannesburg in 1999 and attended St Stithians, as did New Zealand’s SA-born all-rounder Grant Elliot and Proteas paceman Kagiso Rabada.
Campher’s mentor is St Stithians coach Bongani Ndaba. It is Ndaba who gets the first call from Campher and it was the local South African schools’ coach who got the first call when Campher scored 59 not out in his ODI debut against England and followed it up with an innings of 68.
Campher, who bats at No 7, didn’t get a crack at England’s bowlers in the magnificent seven wicket win in the third and final ODI match, but he contributed with five wickets in the three-match series and also took a catch.
Ndaba, speaking to the Cricketer, said of Campher: ‘His attitude was first class. At Saints we have a culture of: ‘You want to lead from the front’ in terms of your work ethic. He was in a special bunch – the way he spoke to other guys with authority, the way he expressed himself and his ideas were interesting.’
Ford believes Campher has added an intensity to Ireland and hasn’t discounted any other quality cricketers with Irish ancestry getting an approach.
‘He goes to war out there,’ said Ford. ‘A guy like Curtis strengthens our system. I think there will be more and more like him. If they are quality cricketers with an Irish passport, we are obviously interested. It can only be a good thing.
Remember the name Ruhan Pretrious, who is another South African currently playing in Ireland.
According to Cricket South Africa statistician Andrew Samson, Campher is the 27th South African-born cricketer to play for another country and the second to play for Ireland, with the list including 14 SA-born English internationals, six New Zealand, three Zimbabwean and two Australian.
That number will increase to 28 in the next few months with SA-born and raised Devon Conway eligible for New Zealand at the end of August.
Conway, a left-handed batsman, made his first class debut for Gauteng in 2009 and moved to Wellington, New Zealand in 2017. In his three seasons playing for Wellington he has scored 1598 runs at an average of 72.63. In the 2019/20 season Conway was the leading batsman in all three formats of New Zealand’s professional domestic game: He scored 701 runs at an average of 87.62 in the first-class Plunket Shield, scored 553 runs at 55.30 in the List A Ford Trophy and 543 runs at 67.87 in the T20 Super Smash.
Conway has the unique distinction of being awarded a national Black Caps New Zealand contract before even becoming eligible to play for the country.
Several South African cricketers are starring in New Zealand. Some were born in South Africa but were raised in New Zealand, while others like Neil Wagner, Grant Elliot and Conway were schooled in South Africa, played professional cricket in South Africa and then moved to New Zealand.
One of the more interesting articles on the Saffas in New Zealand cricket was written by thespinoff.co.za Alex Braae.
He asked the question: who would win between SA-born cricketers contracted in New Zealand the rest of the Black Caps?
In many of the specialist areas, he said it was too close to call and while he felt the New Zealand-born players would ultimately triumph, the quality of his selected SA-born team showcased the South African influence in New Zealand cricket.
So, why do SA-born and raised players opt for an international cricket future elsewhere?
During South Africa’s international sporting isolation, the motivation was to play international cricket. Post South Africa’s return to international cricket in 1991, it can be summarised as players moving to another country because of professional contracts and then committing to the country of residence, alternatively players whose parents moved and they grew up in the system of the only place they call home.
What it does tell us is that we, in South Africa, produce some pretty impressive cricketers, even if we never get to see them playing for the Proteas.
Current SA-born NZ XI (in batting order): BJ Watling, Malcolm Nofal, Devon Conway, Chad Bowes, Craig Cachopa, Colin Munro, Michael Rippon, Glen Phillips, Neil Wagner, Warren Barnes and Danru Ferns.