CRICKET: Woodhall Spa’s Etienne’s hoping his form and weather will hot up

Etienne Botha - aiming to make a big impact at Woodhall Spa this season
Etienne Botha - aiming to make a big impact at Woodhall Spa this season

Six o’clock in the evening in Jubilee Park, Woodhall Spa. The sun is beating down from a brilliant blue sky.

There’s not a cloud in sight. There’s hardly a breath of wind either. The temperature is in the high teens. It is one of the warmest Aprils on record.

Most locals are walking around in shirtsleeves. Not Etienne Botha.

He’s sat at a picnic bench outside Woodhall Spa Cricket Club’s pavilion. He’s wearing a hat, a fleece, what suspiciously looks like two sweaters and a couple of pairs of trousers - and he’s still cold.

Woolly gloves anyone?

As his name indicates, Etienne is from South Africa.

He lives in Pretoria - a province where there’s a major scare if the temperature dips beneath the low 20s...even in the middle of winter!

Etienne has been in England for almost a month. He admits the one thing he’s still getting used to is the weather.

“The boys are telling me this is pretty warm for this country,” he says, shielding the sun from his eyes.

“I’ve told them, sure, this is not bad...for a winter’s day back home. The sun might be shining but is it always this cold?”

Woodhall’s coach Paul Timby tells a marvellous story about picking Etienne up from the airport.

Apparently, he arrived with his trusty bat...and not much else. The first port of call was a shop to buy a couple of warm coats.

Etienne is one of South Africa’s top young players.

Now 18, he has played provincial age group cricket for Limpopo and impressed in a number of games.

He excelled for his college, playing a starring role in the prestigious Coca Cola Week - one of South Africa’s top junior tournaments - in 2013 and 2014.

That form earned him a place at South Africa’s Cricket Academy, a proven nursery for future Test players.

His move to Pretoria is designed to boost his career.

A promising all rounder - he’s a left hand bat and leg spin bowler - he should be a shrewd acquisition for Woodhall in the ECB Lincolnshire Premier League.

It’s a tough league - the best in the county - but Etienne is ready for the challenge.

He adds: “I always wanted to play cricket overseas. It’s a dream and you’ve got to follow your dream.

“It’s all about getting experience, getting the T-shirt. It’s a great opportunity for me. I want to make the most of it.”

It is, of course, a big challenge leaving family and friends behind.

Etienne pulls his coat even tighter around him before he adds: “I didn’t know anything about Woodhall Spa.

“I didn’t know anything about Lincolnshire. It’s really good. I love it. I love the people.”

He’s living with club official John Luffman and his wife Ann. They’ve given him a warm welcome.

They’ve also made sure his wardrobe has been expanded.

On the pitch, the early signs are encouraging.

He helped Woodhall to a win in their opening league game before rain washed out their second match against Market Rasen.

He explains: “I’ve made a few runs but it’s so hard when you get here. Before I came, my coaches back home told me I must be patient.

“The conditions are a lot different to what I’m used to. The pitches are a lot slower.”

“I knew it would be difficult but everyone at the club is very supportive and I know my form will come.”

He’s hoping his spell at Woodhall - he’s here for the season - will boost his chances of international cricket.

The smile disappears from his face as he briefly explains the size of the challenge he faces.

And, it soon becomes clear it is not just about talent.

South African cricket has a hotly debated quota system with rules and regulations essentially stating a set number of coloured players have to be picked.

Etienne says: “The quota can make it difficult to get into the team. It’s not always a about talent.

“It shouldn’t matter whether you are pink, green or grey. You have to fulfil your potential. You have to produce the stats’. You can’t just be there because of your colour.”

The odds might be stacked against Etienne. However, if he can shine for Woodhall, then it could open the door to future honours.

As for the weather, then it should get a lot hotter...just like his form.