Thursday, 4 July 2019

Happy Hopper's journey from Harare to Horspath

Kyle Hopper batting for Horspath in the Home
Counties T20. Picture:
KYLE Hopper is more than happy that Horspath has become the latest stop on a cricketing journey which began in his hometown of Harare.

The 22-year-old all-rounder, who was born and grew up in the capital of Zimbabwe, joined the club after getting to know Horspath seamer Will Robertson while the pair were playing for Oxford MCCU. Kyle says: "So far I am loving it and enjoying it here. It's a friendly, family club, and having the likes of Robbo here I've settled in quite nicely."

Registered to play for Horspath with a residential qualification, the Oxford Brookes University student has already made an impact since arriving at the Recreation Ground. Making just his second appearance in the Home Counties Premier League Division 1, he hit an excellent 93 in the thrilling tie at home to Finchampstead last month.

His innings was even more impressive as Horspath were 28-4, but he proceeded to show a cool head along with Stephen Green, who made an unbeaten 92, as they shared a Home Counties club record fifth-wicket stand of 169. "It was a lot of weight of my shoulders," says Kyle. "Being new to the club I wanted to prove I can play and that I have got a bit of talent. I just had to get in with Greeny and we did. It was nice that it was a record partnership."

Batting at the Rec is a long way removed from Kyle's early cricketing experiences at St John's College school in Harare. He recalls: "I played for the A team at 14, 15 and 16s and was in the first team as a 16-year-old. Throughout I was selected for the Zimbabwe age groups from under 14 to under 18, and played in the Coca-Cola Cricket Week in South Africa against all the provincial sides.

"At one my team did pretty well. We went to a place called Ekerhuleni in Benoni. It was quite a big Festival for South Africa and I was the best batsman of the tour getting the most runs. That was probably my biggest achievement representing Zimbabwe. I got a couple of 70 and 80s in the five games and in the other two I was not out. I must have scored roughly in the area of 300 runs."

Kyle bowling leg-spin for Horspath.
Kyle also took up leg-spin bowling after being encouraged by his father, Myles. "My best figures for the first team at school were 6-4 in seven overs, which included a hat-trick when I was 16," he says. "That has probably been my bowling highlight. At a schools' festival called Ram Slam T20 with two touring teams from South Africa I took 13 wickets in four games and ended up being the top wicket-taker.

"If it was not for my dad I would have not have ever become a leg-spin bowler because everyone wants to run in and bowl fast. There were not many leg-spinners in the world then. Probably the one when I grew up was Shane Warne. He was my idol throughout cricket. You look now and leg-spin has changed massively.

"Everyone has a mystery spinner who bowls a googly every third ball, but Warne was the best and I mimic my action based on his. His coach, Terry Jenner, was the leg-spin bowling coach at Harare Sports Club and I had a couple of sessions with him which was nice, and more recently I went back home and had sessions with Chris Brown (ECB spin consultant)."

Seeking greater career options, Kyle took the bold step to move to this country. He says: "I was at the age where I was thinking of furthering my cricketing career, and with all the politics and financial issues going on in Zimbabwe I took the decision to come over to the UK in December 2013. I looked at various schools. I went to Millfield, which I ended up going to, and Stowe as well. I went to Millfield for cricket and hockey. I was awarded the headmaster's scholarship, which is awarded to one person every year and I was lucky enough to get that."

Taking up the offer, which came with a 50 per cent fee reduction in recognition of exceptional excellence in a particular area, Kyle flourished at the prestigious Somerset school. "The facilities there were unbelievable compared to Zimbabwe and the standard of coaching is so much better," he says. "At Millfield I played some of the highest standard cricket I have played against Surrey and Sussex Academies, all the MCCU sides, Wales Under 17s and the MCC.

Kyle hits out for Oxford MCCU
"I came over to England as a leg-spin bowler who could bat and after developing with Mark Garaway (director of cricket coaching) and Richard Ellison (master-in-charge of cricket) my batting came on and kept getting better. A good thing to my game as well is I thrive on my fielding."

Among Kyle's Millfield teammates were Tom Moores, George Hankins, George Bartlett and Tom Lace, who have gone on to play first-class cricket, along with fellow Zimbabwean and close friend Eddie Byrom, who is opening the batting for Somerset. He adds: "My highlights from Millfield were scoring 97 at home to the MCC and then at the Tonbridge Festival, I got two fifties in three games."

After two years at Millfield, Kyle continued his education at Oxford Brookes University where he has recently graduated with a first class honours BSc degree in Sports and Exercise Science. At the same time, he was a member of the Oxford MCCU squad, playing regularly, although not quite at first-class level. "The closest I have come was 12th man against Surrey," he says.

During his time in Somerset he had a season as the overseas player for Sherborne, helping them win the Dorset League Premier 1 title, making an unbeaten 103 against Stalbridge along the way. He then moved to Taunton St Andrews for three seasons playing alongside the likes of Tom Banton, his old pal Byrom and twin brothers Keith and Kevin Parsons, who all represented Somerset, in the West of England Premier League.

Kyle in action for Taunton St Andrews
The club went down from Premier 1 in his first season, but bounced straight back to win Premier 2 the following year with Scottish international Michael Leask, who played for Somerset, their overseas star. By then, Kyle was at Oxford Brookes and was travelling down to Somerset to play. "I was looking to do less commuting and it's nice to be here two minutes' drive from the house," he says.

Moving forward, he has been accepted to do a Masters Degree in Physiotherapy at Oxford Brookes. "I am looking to stay there for another two years, so obviously I will be in Oxford and be here playing at the club," he adds. "My main goal is looking to get more time here and get a British passport and that's another reason to stay on and do a Masters and get a higher level of qualification.

"No matter how cricket goes I want to work in the sport. I want to be a physio for an IPL team or a county cricket team over here. I will always be involved in sport over here and play as high a level as I can. I have been employed by Oxfordshire cricket as a strength and conditioning coach, and I'm looking to do more coaching there as well. I have a Level 2 in coaching, which is always good."

In the meantime, he has set his sights on helping Horspath climb up the league. "I'm hoping now to go on and score more runs and swing it round so we are not fighting relegation and able to be mid-table," he says. "Confidence is a massive thing, so we need to get a couple of wins under our belts."

Posted by: Russ