In March this year, 14-year-old Thulani Chiliza from Umlazi made 125 not out in match during a KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union Township and Rural Development junior camp. He smashed four sixes during that innings and can’t remember the number of fours he accumulated.
A day later, Thulani was asked by his coaches to fill in for an under-16 player in another fixture for the development side, outside of the camp. There the all-rounder recorded one of his most impressive bowling performances to date: six overs, two maidens and five wickets for just 18 runs.
“He’ll play for the Proteas someday,” says cricket coach Sandile Simelane, who has had a major influence on Chiliza. “That’s a definite. He’s one of a kind, he’s a special kid — he’s got staying power at the crease, you can slot him in anywhere and he’ll perform.”
But Chiliza is not just an extraordinary cricketer; he’s an extraordinary individual who lives in an extraordinary set of circumstances. He and his twin brother live with their mother in extreme poverty. Until a few weeks ago, home to them was a shack in an informal settlement, situated near a railway track. Their house was washed away in a storm, and right now they share a room with about 60 people in a community centre.
In spite of these circumstances, Chiliza is a regular at cricket practice. Last year he made it into the KwaZulu-Natal under-13 side. One day Chiliza would like to emulate his hero, Proteas cricketer Quinton de Kock. But he also has another dream. “I’d like to buy my mother a house and a car.” — Fatima Asmal