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Most valuable bulldog

When Roelof van der Merwe burst onto the international scene in 2009 he was just 24 years old and was presented, as so many debutants are in South Africa, as the ‘next big thing.’

He made a tremendous ODI debut at SuperSport Park, his home ground, and seemed set to take the limited overs formats by storm. But form is a fickle mistress when the opposition is the best in the world and, skilled as the hard-hitting left-arm spinner was, his lack of a plan ‘B’ was exposed.

He is not the first player to return to the drawing board and emerge far stronger as a result. A couple of years playing the game below the radar of international cricket have strengthened him immeasurably and this week he was given the singular honour of being named the SA Cricketers' Association's MVP for the season.

The SA Cricketers Association use an internationally recognised system to reward franchise players for runs and wickets in all three domestic competitions, over-and-above mere totals and averages.The match situation, the ‘quality’ and importance of the runs and wickets, whether the game was won or lost and even the condition of the playing surface are factored into the grading of a player's performance. It is a simplistic dumbing down of the system to say it measures ‘BMT’ (big match temperament) but sometimes a simplification is useful!

It’s a damn good measure, too. The other three players who finished in the top four this year are Kyle Abbott, Andrew Birch and Hardus Viljoen – and you won’t find a dissenting voice at the Dolphins, Warriors or Lions about the value they provided this season.

When the MVP programme was started six years ago, it included an off-field component in which the franchise players were required to complete educational modules ranging from personal finance to media and communication and physical fitness. While SACA still runs those courses and encourages its members to enrol in its ‘Player Education’ programme, it no longer forms part of the MVP.

There is good and bad news in that. The good news is that more players than ever before are currently making use of the further education opportunities afforded to them by SACA. The bad news is that there is now more chance of cricket producing the one-dimensional robots that characterise many sports in which youngsters move straight from school, often at 16, and into sports academies and then fulltime, professional life, bypassing the real world as they go.

But when the MVP did include off-field, real-world modules SACA found it all but impossible to cajole the stubborn youngsters into completing their assignments and decided it was better to have a smaller, voluntary and committed group rather than a watered down, largely distracted one. And still, the educational options provided by SACA don’t ‘run out’. There’s always the option to take them up later in a cricketer's life.

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