Johnny Morton (www.jmsport.co.uk)
Since arriving in the NCU in 2015, there has been few more consistent performers than Ruhan Pretorius.
Playing with Waringstown for one season before joining North Down in 2017, the 29-year-old overseas professional has scored 3,529 runs in all competitions and also picked up 118 wickets across four campaigns with the two clubs. The 2019 season was one of his best yet with the bat as he reached 1,006 runs and topped the averages list with an astonishing 67.07, finishing marginally ahead of CSNI’s Andre Malan.
Soon, Pretorius will shed the overseas tag and will qualify as a local player after making the decision to relocate to Northern Ireland on a full-time basis from South Africa.
Living a stone’s throw from The Green, Pretorius has enjoyed getting to gather new experiences and wasn’t even too put off by the weather!
“I have really enjoyed it,” he said. “I have been doing a lot of coaching and training with the Knights which has helped a lot. I’m keeping myself busy and I’m living with my girlfriend.
“It has been really good in terms of the cricket aspect and it hasn’t been as cold as everyone said it would be!
“It’s been surprisingly good and it was my first time experiencing things like the Christmas markets because we don’t really have that in South Africa.
“It was great to see the festive things that you guys have so it hasn’t been too bad.”
The decision to permanently move across the world wasn’t one that was made quickly or lightly and has been something in Pretorius’ mind for the past couple of years. Despite putting in impressive performance game after game in his homeland, a big breakthrough opportunity never came his way and he knew within that something had to change in order to satisfy his ambition of playing at the highest level.
“Probably about two years ago, I spoke to Johnty (Simon Johnston pictured below) about moving here full-time because I never really got a breakthrough at the higher levels in South Africa,” he added.
“I kept being one of the top performers and always had promises but it just never happened.
“I want to play at the highest level so I spoke to Johnty about it a bit and once I started dating my girlfriend, it just made it a lot easier.
“I would average fifty at home and one of the leading wicket-takers and still nothing happened, so I thought it was time to go and change.
“It is (frustrating). I had been putting in hard work for six or seven years. I can understand that the first one or two years in First Class cricket back home did damage to my career because I didn’t really do a lot of good stuff.
“I was young and trying to bowl as quick as I could and trying to hit the ball as far as I can. I didn’t really care about my career in the way I have over the past four years or so.
“From my stint at Waringstown, my whole cricketing mindset and career turned around and I became a batting all-rounder and really tried to fix it.
“My stats in terms of one-day and T20 cricket has really come through and shown. After I got my first hundred in First Class cricket, my batting has really turned around.”
His year with Waringstown was a catalyst for the way Pretorius thought about his own game and what he thought was possible. He will be well remembered for blasting six sixes in an over during their Irish Senior Cup victory over Clontarf where he finished 101* and ended the season with an average of 64.09.
Pretorius always had a feeling he would turn into more of a batting all-rounder during his career but that campaign seemed to give him extra confidence to fulfil his potential. “I always knew growing up that I was going to be a batter that could bowl,” he said.
“For the first few years, I batted at six and seven and always came in during situations to finish games and was more of a bowler, opening and at the death because we didn’t really have many bowling options at that time in KwaZulu-Natal.
“My main focus was more bowling than batting and I think I neglected my batting a little a bit.
“After Waringstown where I did pretty well, the coach back home gave me opportunity up the order and in the next game I scored the fastest fifty in the African Cup. From there, it turned around and I started to get opportunity.
“I was the second highest run-scorer in our team and then I came back over here and have done pretty well in every year since. “In terms of mindset, I want to be a batter who can bowl. I want to be a guy who scores a lot of runs but is also able to take wickets at crucial times.”
With the news that Pretorius is set to qualify as a local player at the end of next year, a number of clubs reached out to him with an offer to acquire his services. He says a move back to Waringstown was something that was on the table but he is set to stay firmly put with ‘second family’ North Down.
“The guys here are like my second family,” he added.
“As soon as I mentioned it to the club, there wasn’t just North Down that wanted to jump onboard. There were three or four clubs that made an offer.
“I had a meeting with Greg and Waitey as well and they were very eager to get me back at Waringstown to stay here full-time and work in the schools and do basically what I’m doing at North Down.
“I definitely do (feel a sense of loyalty). They’ve been very good to me in terms of the way they have treated me and how they have looked after me in the four years I’ve been there.
“It’s an amazing club. We might not have put the performances in which are needed to win trophies, but I don’t think we are that far off. The players train hard enough and there is no lack of effort or ability.”
2019 also marked the first time in nine years that Pretorius hasn’t returned to South Africa to play domestic cricket. With the coronavirus pandemic, he hasn’t been able to fly back to visit family members and the whole situation left Pretorius wondering if he had made the right decision.
“There was a period about two months ago when they had announced lockdown that I really struggled mentally and emotionally – I really went through a bad dip,” he said.
“There was a stage where I was thinking if I had the made right decision and done the right thing. “I was really struggling and I couldn’t fly back home if my parents get sick or anyone passes away. There was a point where I thought this was a wrong decision and I needed to go back home.
“Luckily, my girlfriend works in mental health in the NHS and she helped me massively through this and my parents have played a big role.
“I live next door to Neil Dalzell, who plays a massive role in the club youth cricket, and he has been a massive help as well in terms of that. There was a two-week period where I really struggled.”
Through the struggle, Pretorius had to remind himself why he is making these sacrifices and knows that achieving his dream of playing international cricket is going to come with some hardship.
“I’ve made the sacrifices and knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to be easy,” he added.
“It’s a whole different culture and English is my second language but these are the sacrifices I have to make.
“Giving up family back home, the Afrikaans culture, the sunshine – all of those things you’ve to give up. “Fingers crossed if I get to play higher up, put in performances and win matches it will all be worth it.”
Pretorius isn’t about to leave anything up to chance while striving towards that dream and is doing everything within his power to make sure he is in the best position to strike. Success is often achieved when hard work meets opportunity and Pretorius is certainly putting in a lot of the former so he can capitalise if and when the latter comes around.
“Mentally, it is good to take a break, especially after nine years,” he said. “My body has now got a proper rest and I’m now on a strict diet along with strength and conditioning and running,
“I definitely think there are a lot of things I’m going to be better at in terms of my body. I will be the fittest I’ve ever been and it will definitely benefit me when cricket starts again.”
On the subject of opportunity, Pretorius made the most of the games he got with the Northern Knights last season, scoring 96 in his first List A game against the North West Warriors and also scored a half-century during Ireland’s inter-squad games ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers at the backend of 2019. Pretorius is confident that working within the Knights set-up and alongside head coach Simon Johnston will help bring the absolute best out of him.
“I was down at Knights training about three or four times a week and with North Down we started training twice a week,” he said of his schedule before lockdown.
“I was probably training six times a week and then sometimes there was a Sunday group session with the Knights so there were some weeks it was seven days a week depending on the bowling workload.
“I know people praise Johnty a lot, but he needs to get all of the credit because he’s a brilliant coach.
“He worked with me at Waringstown and he definitely brought the best out of me. He knows people individually and spends time not just as a coach or sportsperson but as a human.
“He tries to be there for you in all facets of life, not just as your coach. He tries to invest time as a friend and works out what makes you happy or angry and he stays that person throughout.
“When it comes to work, it is time to work and then after we can settle down and have a chat. You can trust him and I like that he’s honest and straightforward with you.
“They are a great bunch of guys and it’s a great set-up.
“Every first cap that you get for any team is an honour. Even though I had played 50+ First Class games, it was a real honour getting my first Knights cap.
“I was happy with how I bowled and then the first List A game against the Warriors went really well. I opened the batting because James (McCollum) couldn’t play and got 96 and we won the game which helped a lot.”
When Pretorius does get back onto the pitch, every performance will be important as he looks to put himself into position for an international call-up when the time comes around. If he continues in a similar vein of form for North Down and picks up from where he left last season off with the Knights, you could see a very clear path for him to achieve higher honours.
“Every sportsperson will be as determined as anything to get back.
“I also think there is a fine line with being over-determined because it can break you as well being too eager.
“Being ready in all aspects will give me the best success because I know my game. I’ve been playing for a lot of years so I won’t be overdoing it but will be more than ready for cricket season.
“I qualify at the end of next year. I have to first put in all of the performances in order to get there.
“I have had a good start in making a fifty on one-day debut and bowling pretty well in the First Class game. “Fingers crossed there will be a cricket season and if we do get games for the Knights I want to put in the best performances I can.
“At club level, I want to keep putting performances in and knocking the door down.
“Hopefully next year everything is back to normal and once cricket starts I can put in performance after performance.
“I want to be first in line because of my performances at club and Inter-Provincial level.”