Ali Bacher weighs in on South Africa's struggle to re-embark on road to success

Former South Africa captain and veteran administrator Dr. Ali Bacher speaks about the state of South African cricket and what the administrators and players need to do to right the state of affairs.

Published : Feb 02, 2021 15:29 IST , MUMBAI

Ali Bacher, former chief of United Cricket Board, weighs in on the state of South African cricket.
Ali Bacher, former chief of United Cricket Board, weighs in on the state of South African cricket.

Ali Bacher, former chief of United Cricket Board, weighs in on the state of South African cricket.

Former South Africa captain and veteran administrator Dr. Ali Bacher is mightily impressed by Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy in the just-concluded Border-Gavaskar series, which India won 2-1.

“India’s performance at the Gabba in Brisbane was one of the greatest performances in the history of Test cricket. What India also did in Australia is also the greatest in the history of Test cricket. India’s replacement captain (Rahane). He is an unbelievable man. He was calm and cool and he to me was the man of the series. His leadership; he did not emote at all, he was just guiding the ship most confidently. I have enormous respect for him”, Bacher said before responding to the current situation in South African cricket.



It appears Cricket South Africa (CSA) is rocked by conflict and hence stability in its administration is missing...

Absolutely, absolutely. One has to look at the history of West Indies cricket and English cricket. When Jeff Stollmeyer was the president of West Indies cricket, its cricket team was very strong, and when 20 years later Clyde Walcott was in charge, its cricket team was strong. When Doug Insole was in charge of English cricket, the England team was pretty strong; the same when Gubby Allen was in charge of English cricket. I am not saying that the cricket boards must be dominated only by top cricketers. No. But the boards must have one or two people who have played cricket at the highest level.

The problem with South African cricket is twofold now. There is not one person in the administration who has played cricket at the highest level. That’s the problem No. 1. The problem No. 2 is, I would put it this way. One of the reasons for Australian cricket to be so strong is because it still has only six states – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and after the Second World War they got Tasmania and Western Australia. That’s it.

"There is only one in South Africa now who can lead. That’s Aiden Markram," says Ali Bacher.

The classic example of Australian cricket is Glenn McGrath. He was raised in the bush. Someone realised his potential and soon he went to Sydney. Rest is history.

What has happened in South African cricket is that its highest body has 14 delegates. Why 14? Because now they have created 14 provinces. Each province has a president. South African cricket was at its strongest when it had Transvaal, Western Province, Eastern Province, KwaZulu-Natal and Rhodesia then. We had five strong entities. And it’s has been proven that the majority of South Africa’s top cricketers went to about 35 cricketing schools. They are placed in all areas. I went to King Edward and so did Graeme Smith. These schools are very strong in cricket. I have seen it. That’s a good plus. The problem, though, is that the administration is diluting the game with 14 provinces, and no way can one think of having a first-class team in the province of Mpumalanga. If you dilute the game, it will never work.


Do you think the national team’s performance has suffered in the last few years because of uncertainty and instability in the CSA administration?

Of course, it would impact the national team’s performance. Running a cricket board is like running a public company. If you have a good CEO, a good financial direction and good board, everything will be normally fine. There is no question about it. A dismal cricket board administration will affect the national team.

Recently, South Africa beat Sri Lanka 2-0, but was outwitted by Pakistan in Karachi...

The South African national team at the moment is problematic. Its batting is up and down and erratic. If you have a good Test side, your top six batsmen are top class. Then you might have a wicketkeeper who can also bat. Our batting now is iffy. And that’s not going to go away.

Our strong point is our fast bowlers, but they are very young and inexperienced. Potentially, they will come through. When I introduced Kagiso Rabada to Dale Steyn, he told me that Kagiso will become South Africa’s best-ever fast bowler. The other chap is Anrich Nortje. He is 27 and he is quick. I can say that on the hard wickets in South Africa like the Wanderers and Centurion, Rabada and Nortje will cause a lot of problems and take wickets.

The disappointment for me is Lungi Ngidi. He showed so much promise. I remember Michael Holding saying that Ngidi is not strong like Rabada. He was not sure if Ngidi was doing the same hard work in the gym that Rabada does. Ngidi has been very disappointing; he should have been better. If he gets better, South Africa will have three very good fast bowlers.

The other problem is the captaincy. In the history of world cricket, only one cricketer has succeeded as a wicketkeeper, batsman and captain. And that’s M. S. Dhoni.

There is only one in South Africa now who can lead. That’s Aiden Markram. He won the under-19 World Cup for us in Dubai and the then-coach, Ray Jennings, was right. He told me this is your man. He is a tough chap. He is a born leader. He should be made captain right away.


In the last three years, from 2017, the results have not been good for South Africa in away series. It lost to England, Sri Lanka and India. And now it looks as though there will not be good news coming from Pakistan...

It has been up and down. We don’t have 11 top players at the moment. Batting, in particular, is suspect. And so the erratic results.

The home record though is good. In this context, how do you see the three-Test home series against Australia likely to turn out?

I have said many times that Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon are one of the best bowling attacks of all time. All four are great bowlers. Two of the three Test matches are to be played at the Wanderers and Centurion where the pitch will afford bounce. I will be very surprised if the Australian fast bowlers don’t cause enormous problems on an erratic batting lineup.

Two years ago, South Africa beat Australia 3-1 in the home series...

Things have changed since 2018. Our team is erratic; it wins one, loses another. It’s not a consistent performer. Its batsmen are going to face a great bowling attack on hard bouncy pitches. I think we are going to have a lot of problems.

Steve Smith and David Warner return to South Africa for a Test series after that controversial last tour. What will the public reception be like? Will it be hostile?

Look, Kevin Pietersen (playing for England) was booed all along before a 30,000-strong crowd at the Wanderers gave him a standing ovation. South African crowds are very patriotic, but they appreciate good cricket and applaud.

The last time they (Smith and Warner) came to South Africa, there was a function at the Australian High Commission. I spoke to both Smith and Warner. I asked them if they are prepared to listen to my advice. They listened. I told them that when I was doing medicine, a most respected professor of surgery told us: “You are allowed one mistake, but never make the same mistake twice.” I think their behaviour has been fine since.


The three-Test series could be still competitive. Could South Africa lift its performance?

A bit of South Africa-Australia rivalry and history. I would like to answer it this way. Look, before the Second World War, Australia demolished us regularly, but after the Second World War, we had some good fast bowlers. Things started evening out with Peter Heine (14 Tests, 58 wickets at 25.09) and Neil Adcock (25 Tests, 104 wickets at 21.11) coming through. I played against both of them. And then in the 1960s, we had good fast bowlers, and we started to compete with Australia and beat them. South African cricket historically have been successful when they had good fast bowlers.


There has been only one good spinner. His name was Hugh Tayfield (off-spinner). I played with him when his career was dwindling. He is the best competitor I have ever seen on the field. He was a replica of Shane Warne. But he never abused anyone verbally. He inspired me. I was 18 and went to Durban to play Natal and we shared a room. He never knew the word defeat.

Who are your top three all-time best South African players?

I would say that the three greatest batsmen the country has produced are Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and A. B. de Villiers. The greatest spin bowler was Tayfield. No discussion on this. Who are the three greatest fast bowlers? Dale Steyn, Neil Adcock and Allan Donald. Steyn is the best-ever because he was a great competitor. He bowled late away swing. He was able to reverse at high speeds. He never gave up even at 5 pm. He bowled as fast as he had in the morning. Steyn, according to me, would rank among the best fast bowlers of all time.

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