By Justin Asher
Many kids dream of playing professional sport, but for one youngster at Grove Primary in the 1980s, who excelled in everything from cricket to swimming to rugby, his dream would soon become a reality, thanks to sheer determination, and the passionate support of his family.
In 1987, at just 12 years old, Ryan Maron broke into the Western Province U13 cricket team, shortly after making a move to Rondebosch Boys’ Prep School. Just a year later, he also featured in the provincial cricket team, and as a goalkeeper in the U13 football team, as well as starring for the Western Province Maccabi football side in 1988. As a prop, he also played A-team rugby at Rondebosch although two knee operations would side-line him later during his school days.
By 1993, the ambitious Maron, who always dreamed of playing on Newlands’ hallowed ground, would come to take his cricket far more seriously. He received full colours, represented the Western Province U19 side and achieved a Cricket South Africa Level II coaching certification. Between 1998 and 2005, Ryan enjoyed the benefits of a provincial cricket contract bouncing between the A and B squads. He also featured in the Netherlands for five years as an overseas professional, and for clubs in Lancashire and Warwickshire, where he spent a year with former Proteas pace bowler, Allan Donald, who incidentally took 85 wickets that season and was later (2020) voted as the club’s ‘Greatest Overseas Player’.
“It’s tough making a career out of sport,” he says. “Obviously I’d have loved to play more provincial ‘A’ team games and gone on to represent South Africa.”
He continued: “I always wanted to be a professional cricketer and sometimes I had a few distractions along the way which slowed my progress, but I just wanted to play at Newlands and play for South Africa.”
The aspiring cricketer got his shot once though, albeit a little unorthodox. India had been visiting South Africa during the 1996/97 summer and the Proteas squad was hit by injury on the eve of the New Year’s Test in Cape Town. Needing some extra capable hands in the field should any more injuries arise, the Proteas management and Ryan’s mentor and stalwart Brian McMillan invested in Maron’s services as 12th man, driving him to and from Newlands every day. Perhaps he was the lucky charm, as the trio of McMillan, Lance Klusener and Gary Kirsten all scored centuries in the first innings. Although he sat in the dressing room throughout the series eager-eyed, naive to the world of the storm that would follow in the years to come, he’ll always wonder whether it was Hansie Cronje’s captaincy that won the game by 282 runs, or the leader’s post-match conversations with Indian representatives.
But reality would soon set in. Ryan’s playing career wasn’t bearing fruit as had the careers of others such as Gary Kirsten, HD Ackermann, Adrian Kuiper, Brian McMillan, and Meyrick Pringle. While they were moving on to cement their place in the team, represent national sides or start their own businesses, Maron found himself needing to differentiate — so in 1999 he started his own business, Ryan Maron’s Cricket School of Excellence.
A spate of coaching gigs and trophy-winning triumphs began to form his career path. With a Level III coaching certification under his belt, Maron packed up and travelled extensively to coach wherever he could. He won the One-Day competition in Denmark with Esbjerg Cricket Club and the Gloucester Trophy with Cheltenham. In 2005, as the coach and vice-captain of the South African Maccabi side, he won the gold medal while also picking up the Hoofdklasse (Premier Division) in Amsterdam for VRA Cricket Club. He followed this up a year later and in 2007 he cracked the role of Fielding Coach for the Netherlands National team.
One could write a hundred-page thesis on Maron’s career, but it is his latest role that’s really caught the attention of his community back home. In 2014, Maron was called in to assist the Afghanistan cricket side as fielding coach during a One-Day International series in Dubai and heading into the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“I was only there for the Dubai series, and I worked my butt off in the 42-degree heat. It was only when I went back a couple of months later for a second Dubai series that Moles [the Afghanistan coach] told me to pack my bags and join them for the World Cup.”
Although Maron and Moles’ troops lost their first two World Cup games against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, they managed to steal a victory against Scotland with just three balls remaining. Maron stayed on after the spectacle event but would eventually be replaced when Pakistani legend, Inzamam-ul-Haq, took over the reins along with his own coaching staff.
The Jewish kid from Cape Town would go on to travel to the Caribbean with his Afghanistan side where he was offered another job — this time taking the West Indies to England for a two-month tour with series in Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Karachi, and CWC qualifiers. He would later set off on a seven-country tour with former world-class fielder and South Africa middle order batsman Jonty Rhodes, where they ran high performance coaching clinics around the world.
“I took a decision that I wanted to be a focused fielding coach, where I work with these guys to push them out of their comfort zone, bring in different techniques and coaching aides. I thought that would take me to the next level and it really has, giving me the opportunity to work with Jonty and other international sides.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Afghanistan. Many of them have been refugees and they’re incredibly hard workers. For many, this is their way out and a way to make a living from something they love.”
Remarkably, Maron has never told his teammates that he’s Jewish. While he feels it’s important not to bring religion into the workplace, he has assimilated well into life with the Afghanistan side. “I respect their religion. We would often stop practice for prayers which happens about five times a day. I sit with them at dinner, eating with my one hand, alongside all the other players and coaches. I certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed to share my religion if I ever had to, but I’ve adapted well to their culture and enjoyed it.”
So where to next for Ryan Maron? He’ll be heading home from the T20 World Cup after a disappointing string of results sent them packing earlier than they’d hoped.
“I want to see my family and spend some quality time with them before my next tour to Sri Lanka at the end of November and then the start of the Pakistan Super League in January.”
If Maron’s contract with Afghanistan is extended, he could face further travel from March but right now he’s just grateful to spend time with his family who’ve made it possible for him to be abroad for so long to chase his dreams.
“It gets pretty lonely on tour. You’ve got to keep yourself occupied and focused. I’m not able to be with my family, to help around home, to assist my wife Darienne, and my kids, so I am grateful to my family for their love and care, along with their messages of support, whether we win or lose — that keeps me going.”
• Published in the December 2022/January 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.
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