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New sport takes off in Umbumbulu

An Umbumbulu resident has invented a new sport in an effort to keep youth off the streets.

Mbonelwa Mkhize devised the thola game, a mixture of cricket and soccer, in 2010, but the sport is now starting to take off.

“I saw a bunch of youngsters bored in my neighbourhood, doing nothing,” said Mbonelwa. “I called them to my house and they told me they were tired of playing soccer. When I introduced them to thola, they were immediately excited.”

The game consists of 11 players and three substitutes. A ‘bowler’ rolls a miniature soccer ball towards a ‘batsman’, who then kicks it into the outfield and, together with his batting partner, runs to the end of the ‘pitch’ and back to record a run. If the ‘batsman’ kicks the ball past the monitors and in a gap to elude the 10 fielders and it crosses the boundary rope having bounced, it is a four. Across the boundary rope without bouncing scores him a six, much like cricket. An ‘innings’ consists of five rolls of the ball from the ‘bowler’.

If the ball is caught after being kicked by a ‘batsman’, he is out. A ‘bowler’ can throw the ball at a ‘batsman’ to run him out before he reaches his crease, called a home box in thole.

Three monitors on the field keep a close eye to ensure the rules are obeyed. The main monitor issues a blue card if the ‘batsman’ misses a ball. After three misses, he gets an orange card and has to leave the field. The other two monitors are linesmen with flags who stand opposite the main monitor. Scores are kept by two scorers off the field.

“The right field to use is a cricket field. A soccer field can also be used, but then you can’t score a four or a six,” said Mbonelwa, who is also the CEO of the South African Thola Association. Hutchison Park is a popular venue for the new sport, as is the Umbumbulu Sports Complex, where a tournament will be contested between four teams on Saturday, 16 November.

“We are currently working with schools in Umlazi to introduce thola as a school sport and it is being played in Soweto after we introduced it there,” said Mbonelwa. “I would like to see it spread worldwide.”

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