MASERU — Lesotho’s national Under-19 cricket team leaves the country today for the Easterns Cricket Festival in Benoni, South Africa.
The annual tournament, which starts tomorrow and will run until next Wednesday, draws sides from regional countries.
Even though the event is nothing more than carnival, its importance to Lesotho cannot be understated — a fact underlined by Masusu Ramothello, a board member of the Lesotho Cricket Association (LCA).
“The tournament is important because it will give us exposure,” Ramothello, who is also the manager of the national cricket teams, told the Lesotho Times.
“It is also a chance for our players to test themselves.”
As well as the much-needed exposure and match practice, the six-day event will provide Lesotho a launchpad for this year’s Zone VI Championships to be held in Malawi in September.
“We are looking forward to that particular competition,” Ramothello said.
“This competition will serve as preparation and as a gauge for our team.”
Cricket’s fortunes in Lesotho plummeted after the LCA was disbanded in 2003 due to internal wrangles.
The association was only re-established three years ago and the rebuilding process has been slow and relatively unsuccessful.
Lesotho remains just an affiliate of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the same status it had since joining the cricket family in 2001.
The ICC, cricket’s world governing body, has three member divisions, the highest being full Test playing membership, then associates and affiliates.
“We want to further ourselves as a team. A country like Swaziland found us here (affiliates) but they are now far ahead of us,” Masiu Tolofi, one of Lesotho’s 12 players going to Benoni said.
“This tournament will be an important part in the development of the team. It will also give us experience.”
Mozambique and Swaziland have both surpassed Lesotho to become ICC associates.
“The problem is that we are affiliates and for years it has been like this,” Ramothello said.
“In truth we have been a bit stagnant since 2003.
“We need to develop more players. For example, if this current crop all stopped playing we would have a serious problem.
“We also need to improve organisationally.”
Ramothello though finds hope in the form of Lesotho national cricket league.
The five-team championship, which runs from February to December, is currently in recess.
It is contested by National University of Lesotho outfit Vampires, Lerotholi Polytechnic, Bails Cricket Club of Maseru, Teyateyaneng’s Ajax and the Leribe-based Lesotho Agricultural College.
“We are doing well at the moment but we need more teams in the league — we need at least eight teams so as to increase the pool of players for our national team,” Ramothello said.
“(But) the league has helped because in the past we would just call a player to a national team trial because we knew they played cricket.
“Now we can monitor players over a longer and consistent period.”
“Youngsters are coming through, but not at the rate we would like,” Ramothello added.
“Right now there are no under-nines or under-sevens. That is where it would be easier to introduce and teach cricket.
“Another problem is the lack facilities. Teams don’t have grounds.
“There is a need for change there if we want cricket to progress in the country.”
The growth of cricket in Lesotho is naturally held back by financial constraints.
However, as Ramothello admits, commitment and will from the sports stakeholder could be improved.
The complexity of cricket — equipment and pitches — is another hampering factor.
“We want to take cricket to the whole of Lesotho,” Ramothello said.
“The most important thing is to break the stigma that cricket is a white man’s sport.
“Soccer is everything to a young Mosotho but cricket is not seen in the same light.
“Yes cricket is complex, but as soon as we can remove that stigma we will have no problems.
“I am positive about the future of cricket in the country.
“Right now there is continuity in our national teams — most of these players here were with us last year which is encouraging.”
Lesotho Under-19 squad
Nkashe Rasoeunayane, Masiu Tolofi, Thabang Mafereka, Malebanye Nkoko (all Lerotholi Polytechnic), Lehlomela Khubetsoana, Pule Thulo, Ralintše Lemphane, Lebona (all NUL), Tšepo ‘Muso, Atanase Mohapi, Thapelo Lintše, Teleki Motsieloa (all Ajax).