Mul­der such a gifted kid

The Sunday Independent - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

WIAAN Mul­der is liv­ing the dream he had as a kid – ex­cept he is still that kid. Mul­der still shakes his head as he thinks back over the last three weeks of his life: Star­ing at AB de Vil­liers as he un­packed his gear in the change-room; train­ing with Ot­tis Gib­son and the Proteas; shar­ing din­ner with Quin­ton de Kock and Kag­iso Rabada; and hear­ing Faf du Plessis telling him he’d be mak­ing his in­ter­na­tional de­but.

Mul­der is still 19 years old. He can sound very grown-up, as his coach at the Highveld Lions, Ge­of­frey Toy­ana, ad­mits, but there are times he sounds like a kid still and that’s okay, be­cause he re­ally is a kid.

“Faf came to me two days be­fore (the third ODI) and said, ‘ You’re go­ing to make your de­but’,” Mul­der re­calls. “Just hear­ing that from him, I’d never thought I’d share a change-room with him be­cause I thought they’d be done in the next three or four years be­fore I’d have a chance to spend time with them, to learn from them, jis, it was a dream come true.

“Speak­ing to AB about cricket, shar­ing a change-room with them, be­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment, go­ing for din­ner with Quinny and KG, it’s a lit­tle boy’s dream. You’re walk­ing in the ho­tel and ev­ery­body is de­mand­ing my sig­na­ture … stuff like that. It’s very sur­real.”

It’s been that way the last three weeks but in many re­spects the past 12 months have been pretty sur­real too for Mul­der. It’s now well known, thanks to Toy­ana’s Twit­ter feed, that he pitched up for Lions train­ing last year still wear­ing his St Stithi­ans Col­lege school uni­form.

In be­tween train­ing and play­ing for both the Lions and the SA Un­der-19 team, there was the small mat­ter of sit­ting for his ma­tric ex­ams – which he passed.

He went from be­ing sur­prised at sign­ing a pro­fes­sional con­tract while still a school­boy, to train­ing with the se­nior Lions team, then play­ing for them (even his dad was a lit­tle wary about that) to get­ting an SA A call up, then grab­bing the at­ten­tion of the new na­tional coach Ot­tis Gib­son and fi­nally play­ing a se­nior match for his coun­try, all in the space of a year.

His de­vel­op­ment has been rapid, but even though he’s packed so much into one year, he still feels that the pe­riod has dragged out – kids, huh. “It’s all hap­pened quite quickly, al­though it does feel like it’s taken time. Play­ing do­mes­tic cricket, I looked up to KG even though I played with him at school, I just wanted to play with him... so it felt like time was be­ing dragged out.”

Gib­son be­came a fan al­most in­stantly. Hav­ing just com­pleted his first press con­fer­ence as Proteas head coach he popped in at the Wan­der­ers ar­riv­ing just in time to see Mul­der pick up three wick­ets in a sin­gle over. Gib­son stuck around and watched Mul­der score 79 cru­cial runs as the Lions faced some stern pres­sure from the War­riors. “I saw him, I liked him,” Gib­son said later.

“I’m ex­tremely lucky,” Mul­der claims. “My dad al­ways tells me cricket is about tak­ing your op­por­tu­ni­ties – about tim­ing. At that stage when Ot­tis ar­rived dur­ing the four-day game I took three wick­ets in an over and then he watched my en­tire in­nings when I bat­ted. He didn’t watch me bowl in the sec­ond dig which didn’t go as well.”

In 12 first class matches he’s scored 620 runs at an av­er­age of 44.28 and has notched up two cen­turies, the most re­cent com­ing against the Ti­tans, when bat­ting at No 8 and with the Lions un­der se­vere pres­sure he scored an un­beaten 127 in over four hours at the crease. He’s taken 35 wick­ets at an av­er­age of 22.71 and while those stats in­di­cate an out­stand­ing all-rounder, Mul­der is lean­ing to­wards be­ing a bat­ting all-rounder and is eye­ing a spot in the top five.

“I’ve bat­ted quite well in the four-day stuff, in our (T20) warmup games I’ve been used in the top four, and hope­fully that’s where I end up. I ob­vi­ously love my bowl­ing, I want to be as good as I can be, to keep learn­ing, maybe bowl quicker at some stage. I think I’ll be in there as a bat­ting all-rounder.”

Gib­son has said Mul­der is a can­di­date for se­lec­tion for the 2019 World Cup, in what is rapidly be­com­ing a ro­bust com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the coun­try’s seam-bowl­ing all-rounders.

“I’ve had a sniff now, so yes, it will al­ways be a goal for me to play for South Africa at the World Cup. But with guys like Chris Mor­ris com­ing back from in­jury, you must be re­al­is­tic and see where you are at. That’s why a tour­na­ment like the Ram Slam (T20 Chal­lenge) is so im­por­tant be­cause if you can per­form and show that you’re not far be­hind some­one like Mor­ris for ex­am­ple, that’s mas­sive, that puts my foot in the door.”

The Ram Slam starts for Mul­der and the Lions this af­ter­noon with a clash against a star-stud­ded Ti­tans out­fit. It’s just the kind of match in which Mul­der will be des­per­ate to make an im­pres­sion – again.

Mean­while that Cricket World Cup is just 18 months away. It wasn’t even on Mul­der’s radar when he was pitch­ing up to prac­tice in his school gear last year. But a year’s a long time in cricket; it can cer­tainly seem that way for a 19-year-old.

To­day’s T20 fix­tures (dou­ble-header at Su­per­Sport Park): Cape Co­bras v Dol­phins, 12pm; Ti­tans v Highveld Lions, 4pm

PIC­TURE: BACK­PAGEPIX

BRIGHT-EYED: Wiaan Mul­der of the Highveld Lions talks to the me­dia at The Wan­der­ers on Thurs­day.

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