Sportstar archives: Hansie Cronje - 'We are learning all the time'

In this 1998 interview, South Africa's skipper Hansie Cronje reflects on the tour of England, his own batting form, and the upcoming World Cup.

Hansie Cronje after leading South Africa to the ICC Wills International Cup in 1998.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Hansie Cronje first showed his zest for captaincy when he led Free State in South Africa's provincial championships. He was marked as a future South African captain by none other than the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) supremo Ali Bacher.

The UCBSA knew that Cronje, as a batsman, had genuine problems handling short pitched deliveries. But his sharp cricketing brain and leadership qualities offset a few negative points. And despite his shortcomings as a batsman in Test cricket, Cronje has led South Africa with distinction. Had South Africa not stumbled often in the final, Cronje would have won more one-day international tournaments.

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In Dhaka, Cronje led South Africa to its first significant win – Wills International Cup. "Hopefully we should be able to repeat this showing against the West Indies in the home series," said Cronje. In this interview to Sportstar, during the Wills International Cup in Dhaka, Cronje talks about the disappointment of losing the Test series to England, the forthcoming series against the West Indies and his own improvement in batting.

On the England tour and the defeat in Test series.

We were obviously disappointed after the third Test match at Old Trafford. We could not bowl out England. They derived all the strength from that Test. We had five sessions to bowl out England. But Lance Klusener was not fully fit and our bowlers were feeling more and more tired. Paul Adams did not get as much turn I thought he would from that pitch. Allan Donald bowled extremely well. As I said they drew all their strength and confidence from this drawn Test match at Old Trafford. And then in the fourth and fifth Tests, we were not able to put up big scores together. We made 374 in the first innings at Nottingham and could not get any big score after that. We just needed a good win at Nottingham to clinch the series. It was so close, but we did not really get there. We are still young in international cricket. We are just seven or eight years old in the Test arena. And we are learning all the time. But some important matches have slipped away from us. We have to address to certain issues. We know what they are and we are working on them.

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On the long duration of the English tour and its effect on the South Africans.

Yes, it was a long tour. But I don't think it had anything to do with our performances. Just look at Allan Donald. He took six wickets in the last Test at Leeds. That suggests he was perfect at that time.

On Alec Stewart's captaincy.

Mike Atherton was a good captain in his own right. But I think Alec Stewart as a captain is more
positive, more outgoing. He demands a lot of respect from the players, and gets it. This is very important. I think he is a very good captain.

On the England seam bowlers.

I guess Angus Fraser and Dominic Cork bowled well on wickets that helped them. On flat wickets they did not do much damage. But when they got superior wickets at Nottingham and Headingley, where the ball was doing a little bit, they bowled a little bit better.

Cronje describes Allan Donald as the perfect fast bowler to play with. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES


On his own improved batting performances.

I had played two Test series against England before the last tour. I was not very successful in both the series. I realised I had to make a weighty contribution with the bat as well. As the captain you got to make some runs. I thought I hit the ball well in the series against Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka and England and I was consistently scoring between 50 and 80. I just could not convert three or four of those into big hundreds. I got only one hundred against England. I was happy with my overall performance in England. I have worked a lot on my batting. I worked a lot on trying to hit the ball a lot more straighter than I was doing before. I decided to back my strengths. In Test matches people concentrate on your weakness. So the best option is to bat straight. The same is the case with Jonty Rhodes. He was very positive and started hitting his shots straight. He never lost an opportunity to put away balls that were loose. His running between the wickets was sensational.

On certain umpiring decisions.

Obviously one or two decisions went against us. There's nothing you can do about decisions. England also got one or two against them. At the end of the day that did not decide the Test series.

On the coming Test series against the West Indies.

I think the West Indies is the sort of team that plays on confidence. When they are on top they are a very fine side. But we can put them under pressure. We have got to make sure that we go out there and put them under pressure in the very first Test match. It will be a big occasion for us to play a full West Indian side at home for the first time. We have to make sure that their bowlers have to work hard. I won't say they don't play as a team. Bowlers like Ambrose and Walsh, when on top, can be devastating. And Brian Lara is one of the best batsmen in the world. We are not going to underestimate those players. We have to make sure that they don't settle down. If we do that, we are not going to be on the losing side.

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On playing Australia.

Australia is all about Shane Warne. Without Warne, Australia is a different team, I believe. Wame makes such a hell of a difference.

On South Africa's preparation for the World Cup.

I think ifs perfect. We played the Commonwealth Games and we are playing here now in Dhaka. Then we play seven one dayers against the West Indies. And then we have got six against New Zealand. It's more than enough I think. We thought our best chance was in the sub-continent in '96. We were playing good cricket there but then we lost to the West Indies. The other night we saw Sachin Tendulkar. Well, one player can change the whole game. Lara if he gets going can change the game. So it's one performance on a given day. We hope we will do this in the 1999 World Cup. We are playing India in the first match. Sachin is striking the ball very well and Azhar too is dangerous. It's going to be a good match.

On Test matches and limited overs games. His preference.

I think the two run very closely. But to me Test cricket is the ultimate. I think five-day cricket is something special. Anything can happen in a session. Even one good session can change the game.

On Allan Donald

He has got the ability to get wickets when you need them. He plays the strike bowler's role... especially with the old ball. And he is very fast. There is no question about that. To me he has been the perfect fast bowler to play with. He is with me in my provincial side too. I really enjoy playing with him.

(This article was first published on Sportstar on November 14, 1998)

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