Ralph Coetzee, son of a South African father and Irish mother, was in both Birmingham League cricket and for his various clubs in the NCU area, an outstanding all round cricketer. His powerful left handed batting in the upper middle order could take a game away from the opposition in the space of a few overs, while his accurate orthodox slow left arm tested the best batsmen.
However in his South African first class days, he was seen more as a bowler. In his 10 matches spread over a 5 year period, he scored only 181 runs at an average of 12.92. His highest score of 39 LBW to Test man Steve Elworthy, came in October 1990, batting at 9 in the second innings for Easterns v Northerns. He was second top scorer but his efforts were in vein as his team lost by 222 runs. His bowling was much more highly regarded bringing him 36 wickets at 24.75. His best season was 1998/99 when he had 22 at 25.31 but his best bowling figures of 7-74 were achieved in 1997/98 when, playing for Northerns v Western Province B he returned an analysis of 26.5-8-74-6.
He had developed his skills for the game at Rondebosch Boys High School, an academy with an enviable record in producing outstanding sportsmen. Its main claim to fame lies in Rugby having nurtured a host of Springboks as well as one Irish international in Dion O'Cunneagain but it has not been far behind in developing outstanding cricketers, eight South African Test players having passed through its doors, of whom the best known is Gary Kirsten, to say nothing of one adopted Englishman in Jonathon Trott. In earlier times it produced JM Blackenberg, a medium pacer, who gained 18 caps either side of the First World War, but emigrated to Germany in the mid-1930s never to be heard of again. . Another from the inter war years was DPB Morkel, who also played for Sir Julien Cahn's XI against Ireland.
Ralph's contemporaries included Kirsten, O'Cunneagan and HD Ackerman, who won 4 caps in 1997, but played with greater distinction for Leicestershire. During his time at RBHS, Ralph played representative Youth Cricket for Western province in the Nuffield Week, for long a way in which South African talent has been developed.
In 1998 he played a season for Old Edwardians then in Division 2 of the Birmingham and District Premier League and also in the Premier Division of the Berry and Co Sunday League. The OEs had already had an outstanding South African on their books in the teenage Jacques Kallis, whose potential they saw as being immense, but Ralph did not disappoint either. In all matches, the two league competitions and several friendlies, he finished second in the batting averages with 1222 runs at 48.88, including 1 century (117*) and 9 fifties as well as topping the bowling with 75 wickets at 17.51 with a best bowling of 6/61 and three other "5 fors."
He set out his stall in the very first match, a non-league encounter with Aston Manor. Coming in at No 3 he raced to 67* from 66 balls with 6 fours and 2 sixes in a 2nd wicket stand of 101* with NY Khan, captain of the King Edward's School 1st XI, as they saw their team to a 9 wickets victory. The next match was the first League fixture against Blossomfield. The match was won by 8 wickets, largely due to Ralph who achieved his 6/61 - from 21 overs - in this game.
Thereafter hardly a game passed without him making a telling contribution of some sort with bat, ball or both. His 117* came in the Sunday League against Penn a Wolverhampton based team. Again it was made in a run chase. OEs required 196 and romped home by 9 wickets, Ralph's runs coming from 105 balls with 12 fours and 1 six. Another Sunday and another Wolverhampton based side Whitwick and Finchfield were also put to the sword in a much tighter match as OEs won by 2 wickets, Ralph having made 51 from 39 balls with 3 fours and 3 sixes.
We may also note a piratical 92 at a run a ball against Droitwich in the Birmingham League, with 15 fours and 1 six, it paved the way for a 5 wickets win. Finally in this selection from a number of noteworthy performances we may examine a friendly with Worcestershire club, Pershore. Having hit a storming 81, 62 balls, 9 fours and 2 sixes, he proceeded to return bowling figures of 3-1-9-3, bringing about a 23 run win.
The following summer saw him in Belfast as professional for NICC where he was quickly to establish himself with 488 runs 34.86 and 24 wickets at 24.75. However it was the following season with Woodvale that saw him really come into his own. He made 644 runs at 30.67 and took 32 wickets at 19.47. He made an impact in his first match with a top score 42 and then figures of 5/34 to defeat Lisburn by 27 runs.
In 2001, he returned to settle in Belfast and play for NICC, in their final season, as an amateur. Besides scoring a brilliant undefeated 103 against Lisburn at Wallace Park to enable his side to win a high scoring match by 6 wickets, he played a key part in the old club's successful cup run and it was no fault of his that they did not end their days with the Challenge Cup once more in the Trophy cabinet.
In the second round against Downpatrick at The Meadow, he was Man of the Match with a top score 34 at No 5 and then n game changing bowling analysis of 8.2-124-5. He made a telling 37 in the semi-final against his old team-mates from Ballygomartin Road but played an almost lone hand in the Final, an epic three day affair in which the batting of the Haires and Peter Shields eventually saw North Down triumph. However Ralph with 77 kept NICC in touch in the first innings, though he was missed twice by Ian Carser, the first time when only 18. He also put in two economical bowling performances but his dismissal for 19 in the second innings ended any chance the Ormeau side had of finishing their Cup days in a blaze of glory. After some seasons with Belfast Harlequins, not a happy alliance for NICC's members, he joined North Down for whom he played from 2005 until the end of the 2009 season.
That first season was his best with 503 runs at 46.04 and 31 wickets at 20.65, contributing well to their successful Challenge Cup campaign. In the second round against Instonians, he hit 64*, supporting Ryan Haire (78) as ND totalled 288/3, going on to win by 98 runs. He was again in form with the bat against Waringstown in the semi-final, making a vigorous, undefeated 61 as, with Neil Russell (110) and David Kennedy (56*), he saw his side post 291/3. His destruction of the Villagers' attack was seen as the crucial element of the game and won him the Man of the Match award. He was again the recipient of this honour in the Final against Downpatrick, who had home advantage. Having bowled tightly in the Waringstown first innings (10-2-23-2) he then made 51* to see North Down on 217-5 gain a first innings leas of 9 runs. He then had a further tight spell of bowling, conceding only 16 runs from 9.5 overs and taking the last wicket in a Waringstown collapse to 108 all out. Ryan Haire and Kennedy then saw the Comber side home by 9 wickets.
However his highest score 103* came in 2007, a season when he also returned his best bowling figures of 4-16. The century came in an end of season match against Waringstown at The Green. He came in at 19/2 to add 191 for the third wicket with Taimur Khan preparing the ground for a Duckworth/ Lewis win. Earlier in the season he had made 77 against Instonians, again helping the Comber side on the way to victory. The 4/16 which again helped North Down to seal victory had come in late June against Lisburn at Wallace Park from only 31 balls.
In 2010 he played for Muckamore who had just suffered relegation from the top flight. He helped them not only to return whence they had come but to win the Ulster Shield. In an early season win over Holywood at Seapark he made 56, helping his side to total 216 which led to a 10 runs win. He was then in excellent all round form at the end of August against Cliftonville at Moylena with a typical 88* as the hosts totalled 232-8. He then had figures of 5-22 as the visitors could only muster 139 in reply. His best performance in the Shield came against Ardmore at Bleachgreen. Muckamore batted first and with Ralph coming in at the fall of the second wicket to make another 88 in fine style, before being stumped coming down the wicket to George Brolly, posted 280-8. This proved too much for their hosts as Ralph weighed in with analysis of 7-0-11-3, to take another Man of the Match award. He had 3-16 in the final against Bonds Glen which helped Muckamore to an overwhelming victory.
Ralph also appeared in the interprovincial tournaments of 2003 and 2004, his best performances coming in the former year. For NCU against North Leinster at The Green, he was one of the few home batsmen to make anything of the visitors' bowling, being second top scorer with 27 as his side collapsed to 94 all out, a score which NL passed for the loss of 3 wickets. He was to maintain his batting form in the two matches against the North West. At Limavady, the hosts began with a total of 183, owing much to a fine knock from Peter Gillespie who was eventually dismissed by Ralph for 77. Ralph came in to bat at 6-1 as the visitors struggled early on. He proceeded to take complete control of the match, hitting a glorious, undefeated 96, seeing his side to a 7 wickets victory. The crucial stand of the innings had been his third wicket partnership of 96 with Kyle McCallan (40). Ralph was again to the fore in the return match at Stormont, when his 52* was once more instrumental in bringing about a 7 wickets win. In both these games he won the man of the Match award.
His selection for Ireland in 2003 owed much to his interprovincial form and was facilitated by his Irish passport. Unfortunately in his eight matches for the national side he was only able to give glimpses of the player we have seen that he was. While he did have the distinction of having never been on the losing side, he played only one innings of note though he did not bat in two of his matches and was 1* when the overs ran out in the third. Perhaps a higher place in the order would have seen him to better advantage. His best match with the bat came against the Free Foresters at Eton College on Ireland's English tour of 2003. In a match which saw the debuts of Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin, he made second top score for Ireland with an ebullient 34, the centrepiece of a dashing partnership of 52 for the 6th wicket with McCallan. Ralph took 14 off an over from leg spinner Turk but was eventually lbw to Zimbabwe Test player Andy Whittall for 34, hitting across the line. He then bowled economically to return figures of 7-3-17-0 as Ireland won by 13 runs.
In the previous match, against MCC at Lord's he had faced the Marshall twins, both New Zealand Test players with an Irish qualification. . He dismissed Hamish who was, of course, almost to play for Ireland eight years later.
Ralph Terence Coetzee did not play for Ireland after being dropped in 2004. He was asked again early in the 2007 season but, having not played a match as yet that year and having taken the winter off, had to decline.
A primary school teacher in Belfast, he has helped greatly in the development of U11 cricket in the city and, away from the game, ran in the London Marathon of 2011 in aid of a leukaemia charity.