But Njoloza, who obtained his Honours degree in sport management at UWC, said he was taken aback when he was called up to the podium at the CSA’s annual award ceremony in August. “The award came as a big surprise; after all, there were many other guys who had performed well last season,” he says.
He shouldn’t have been surprised, given his good run of form last season. The left-arm seamer, who also plays for Bellville Cricket Club in the premier league, topped the wickets table in the CSA One-Day Challenge with 24 wickets in eight matches at 4.43 runs per over, for an average of 13.45.
As noted in the CSA Awards booklet: “His performance was all the more special when considering that many of his rivals played 10 matches. He claimed two five-fors, including a career-best five for 26 – and struck every 18.2 delivery. In a format that has heavily favoured batsmen in recent years, Mpilo has restored some balance between bat and ball.”
For Njoloza, who works at Podion Group (Pty) Ltd as a Marketing and Operations Manager, the defining games in his outstanding season were against KwaZulu-Natal and Border. “I got fivers in both games,” he recalls. “That allowed me to work even harder and get wickets in other games when the wickets were flat.”
Born in East London in the Eastern Cape, Njoloza was named after his grandfather, who loved sport (and community work). Inspired by his example, Njoloza started cricket at a young age, playing for the under-9 team at Hudson Park Primary School: “From a young age I've always wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
His cricket skills were honed further when he joined the University of the Western Cape’s Sport Skills for Life Skills (SS4LS) programme, which helps students in disadvantaged communities to develop their cricketing talents – while also providing opportunities to obtain a tertiary qualification.
Njoloza’s skills blossomed, and he soon found himself playing cricket at a professional level for the Cape Cobras, where he took a hattrick in his debut.
With the help of the SS4LS, he obtained his Honours in sport management in 2014 (having completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Fort Hare).
“I was lucky to be part of the SS4LS programme, which arranged tutors for me whenever I needed them – for free,” Njoloza notes. “Being a student-athlete is very demanding and you need a good support structure around you. I’m forever grateful for the help I received.”
The CSA accolade comes at just the right time for Njoloza - he’s just retired from professional cricket.
“To finish as the Western Province Player of the Year and CSA One-Day Cricketer of the Year is out of this world.”
Main image courtesy Peter Heeger.