Kyle Verreynne knew he wanted to become a professional cricketer the day he couldn't play anymore.
"When I was 16, I broke my hand during a hockey match. It was a really bad break, from my wrist to the knuckles - the bones had basically snapped in half," he says. "I had to have surgery and had four metal plates put into my hand, and I missed out on selection for the school cricket side, which I really wanted to be a part of."
Verreynne's main concern at the time was whether he would still be able to keep wicket, like his role model Quinton de Kock. A few months later, Verreynne tried. To his surprise, there was no discomfort at all. "I was lucky because it could have gone very differently, and that's when I realised I couldn't take risks in other sports, so I put hockey on the back-burner because I really wanted to play cricket."
Less than two years later he was part of the national Under-19 side that toured and hosted Bangladesh in preparation for the age-group World Cup in 2016. Verreynne played in that tournament and finished as South Africa's second-highest run scorer, with 158 runs in his six matches, including two fifties. By then he had finished his final year at school and had begun a bachelor of commerce degree in business management, as a back-up to his cricket career. But there was one problem.
"Quinny started playing when I was 14 or 15 and I looked up to him, but then I realised he was quite young and was kind of in the spot I would be hoping to be in, so it could be difficult for me."
That's where the coaching staff at Newlands came in. Under the guidance of Faiek Davids at Western Province and Ashwell Prince at the Cobras, Verreynne was made to understand that if he was serious about playing international cricket, it would have to be in a different role to de Kock. "Ashwell was the one who told me if I want to play for South Africa, I would have to be able to make sure I can get picked purely as a batsman."
"The value the MSL has had for me and other young cricketers is underrated. In the first season I was with guys like Dale Steyn and Anrich Nortje. That's how you learn"
And so he started racking up the numbers. Verreynne was ninth on the provincial three-day run charts, broke into the franchise team in the 2017-18 summer, averaged over 40 in the 2018-19 season and over 50 in 2019-20. He was also the second-highest run scorer overall in the 2019 franchise one-day cup, secured a contract for the inaugural Mzansi Super League (MSL), and was mentored by some of the biggest names in the game, starting with Hashim Amla.
Verreynne and Amla shared a change room briefly at the Cobras (and played together in one first-class match in 2017). It was time enough to pick the brain of one of the country's calmest. "I learnt a lot about his mental state," Verreynne said. "To the public he might come across as shy or within himself, but he is always willing to share information and be supportive, and I saw that if your emotions can be level across success and failure, you can do well."
Verreynne soon experienced those two opposites first-hand. While his first MSL stint didn't go badly, he also didn't shoot the lights out, and his 107 runs in five matches at 35.66 for the Cape Town Blitz was not enough to get him a deal for the second season. He was not picked up in the draft (he said he "didn't expect to be") and only came in as an emergency replacement for Aiden Markram at Paarl Rocks.
Rocks' captain Faf du Plessis was understood to have had a strong hand in picking Verreynne, whose name was doing the rounds on the local circuit as an aggressor. And in du Plessis, he found someone else to look up to. "I was really nervous [to meet him] and I wanted to make an impression," he said. "And then when we met, Faf pulled me aside and said, 'Welcome to the team, we are happy to have to have you' and I relaxed. He is genuine and down to earth and has said it's in his agenda to help the younger guys, which you can really see."
Verreynne only played in four of the Rocks' 12 matches, including the final, where he did not bat, but has only good things to say about the experience. "At first, I wasn't playing much, and during that period, it was about developing my game. And then when I did play, I tried to make sure I did my bit."
His most memorable showing was a 20-ball 36 in the match in Paarl that secured the home final for the Rocks. They ended up winning the trophy, Verreynne's "first professional cup, which was pretty cool", and he is one of many who speak of the tournament as an important part of the local landscape. "The value the MSL has had for me and other young cricketers is underrated," he said. "In the first season I was with guys like Dale Steyn and Anrich Nortje. That's how you learn."
He was also in the same side as de Kock, although the pair began to form a proper relationship later, when Verryenne was part of the South Africa ODI squad over the past summer. Again, he found someone else he could seek advice from. "He really helped me with my batting. I was doing quite a lot of it with Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, mostly to do with my footwork and how I was holding the bat, and Quinny could see I was struggling a bit, so he just gave me a few pointers."
That's not all Verreynne took from his time with de Kock. "I looked at his attitude. He backs himself and he is not too worried about how he looks or what people are saying. I try and do that too."
Verreynne is not as easy on the eye as other batsmen from the Cape, like Kallis, JP Duminy, and more recently Zubayr Hamza, but he strikes the ball with great power. That is a feat in itself, considering that he once thought he would never be able to hold a bat again. The metal plates that were put into his hand when he had surgery as a teenager are still there but they aren't stopping him from dreaming, or hitting, big.
"Next season, at the Cobras, we have a lot of new guys, so I want to take a leadership role, and then in three years' time I really want to be establishing myself in the Test and ODI side," he said. "Playing at the 2023 World Cup is one of my goals."