Cachopa brothers making their mark in NZ

BRAD CACHOPA: In action for the Canterbury Wizards.
BRAD CACHOPA: In action for the Canterbury Wizards.

From a backyard pitch in Welkom, South Africa, to the first-class wickets around New Zealand, Ben Stanley talks to Carl, Brad and Craig Cachopa - three brothers making their cricketing mark here.

Grass worn to dirt at the bowling crease. Trees standing at square leg, and in the covers. The family home as a boundary rope, and grandstand.

The Cachopa backyard in the old gold mining town of Welkom, Free State, South Africa, was no different from that used by young cricketers around New Zealand.

There, countless overs would be bowled down the slightly sloping backyard pitch by three eager young cricketers. Balls would somehow disappear for good over fences and into hedges. One-on-one test matches won and lost. Technique slowly, but surely, refined.

After hours of moaning, the brothers' old man Joe would install a floodlight, allowing the trio to keep rolling their arms over well into the night.

For most kids who spend their summers this way, the high water mark of cricketing careers might be a few games for their high school's second XI, or maybe the dusting off of the pads for a social Saturday team later down the line.

But for Carl (26), Brad (24) and Craig Cachopa (20) - three South African-born brothers currently playing first class cricket around New Zealand - that backyard in Welkom, thrashed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, would be the place a fascinating sporting journey would begin.

"I used to certainly enjoy my backyard cricket ," Craig Cachopa, now a middle order bat with Auckland, told Sunday News.

"Me and Brad used to play a lot, Carl was obviously a little bit older to play as much as we did together.

"His technique was already pretty good, so he didn't need to play I suppose. It's definitely something pretty unique and special.

"You've got the Waugh brothers in Australia and obviously the Hussey brothers as well. [But] I don't think there's many three brother combinations, so it is pretty special."

Their current arena for cricketing effort is much different now.

The oldest brother Carl plies his trade for Central Districts after a spell for Auckland when he first made the top level, while Brad is in the Canterbury set-up and youngest bro Craig back home in Auckland.

Without knowing the backstory of the trio, cricket fans around the country would be forgiven for tuning into radio commentary and hear, over and over, how "Cachopa is making runs". Must be a bloody handy player, one might think.

Brothers in arms have been regular figures in New Zealand cricket, and sport.

First it was the Hadlees, Sir Richard and Dale, then the Crowes, Martin and Jeff, and the Bracewells, John and Brendan, before Hamilton twins Hamish and James Marshall cracked the international set-up.

And while none of them is yet to make the Black Caps, three brothers playing first-class cricket at the same time is unusual.

It's a situation that echoes the likes of the four Whitelocks currently playing rugby for Canterbury, or the famous Clarkes of Waikato, or Goings of Northland.

While Craig only made his first- class debut in February for Wellington, the records of all three are encouraging so far.

Carl is averaging 38.24 in his 27 first-class games for Auckland and Central Districts since 2006, and is in the midst of a hot streak that has seen him notch three centuries in his last five games.

Things have been a little leaner for Brad in Canterbury, with the wicketkeeper only averaging 26.21 in his 22 matches,with a high score of 71.

Youngster Craig has hit the first-class scene like a hurricane with an average of 56.28 already, and a high score of 166.

"I'm really happy for my brothers," Carl said. "I do sometimes pinch myself and say 'wow. It's pretty cool'. We all play for different teams so when I bump into them I catch up. Otherwise I don't see much of them over the summer."

THE CACHOPA family moved to Auckland from Welkom in 2002. Father Joe and mother Margie were looking for better work opportunities - which they would find at Westlake Boys' School on the North Shore.

Joe, the school's first XI coach, has since become deputy headmaster, while his wife teaches ESOL (English as a second language) there.

The move was a big one for the young family - but one that drew them closer together.

"We're quite close, we've been through a lot together," Craig said. He was only 10 when the move came, and has since lost his South African accent, unlike his older brothers.

"I guess, deep down we just want each other to do well. Obviously moving countries and losing all our friends and family [was tough].

"That drew us closer together because we had to rely on each other a lot more."

Both Carl and Brad have travelled further afield for their cricketing education, with both playing three summers in Adelaide for the West Torrens club, where Jeff Crowe famously played between 1977 and 1982. Carl would go on to play for the South Australian second XI. "I really enjoyed the Australian way of playing, and got a lot out of that," he said.

Given the spread of the three brothers, clashes between teams with a Cachopa in the lineup is common.

While you'd expect some extra juice in the jibes coming from the slips cordon when one strides into bat, they maintain they remain professional. "Normally the case is the captain will put me on to bowl, for a laugh," Carl said. "But it's all serious and professional. Everyone's trying to do their job. Definitely no brotherly love, once you get over that line."

Just the response you'd expect from a nuggety South African. All three harbour international dreams - like family friend Dean Elgar, who recently made his test debut for South Africa, against Australia in last week's test in Perth.

As for now, it's doing what's best for their own careers, and provinces, that counts. Even if they're not all playing for the same side just yet.

"To play alongside one or both of them would be special," Carl said.

"But playing against them is also special. At this stage, I think we've just got to do what's best for our cricket at the moment."

Sunday News