The man who played White Lightning
Dane Vilas' face bears almost no resemblance to Allan Donald's. If anything, Vilas, the Cape Cobras wicketkeeper, with his angular, lined visage and easy smile, has more in common with Fanie de Villiers. Vilas does however have a fast bowler's physique. He is tall, strong and broad-shouldered - attributes that must have helped him land the role of Donald in Hansie, a 2008 movie on the life of former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje and what he went through during the match-fixing scandal he was involved in.
Vilas, who is in India for the Champions League Twenty20, admitted he didn't know why he was selected for the part while speaking to ESPNcricinfo on September 25, coincidentally Cronje's birthday. "I'm not entirely sure why they picked me," said Vilas, whose only bowling experience is as a part-timer in the nets. "They were looking for guys who could play cricket and may be do a little bit of acting. I went through a pretty standard audition, I said a few lines. Obviously they liked what they saw, and they called me up one day and said I've got the part."
Once he was in, though, Vilas got into the White Lightning persona quickly. "I got all the Allan Donald stuff - the zinc cream, the arm bands, a little bit of snarling at the batsmen. I did everything Allan used to do since they wanted to make it as realistic as possible," he said. "I am not 100% sure if Allan has seen the movie though, I haven't heard from him."
While the part wasn't very long, Vilas said it was "quite significant" to the movie. "It wasn't a huge role, but I had a fair bit to do. There were a few scenes where I bowled, batted and fielded. And I also said a few lines. I was in quite a few scenes."
So what was his favourite line in the movie? Vilas took a while recollecting, which came as a bit of a surprise even though it has been over three years since the movie was shot.
"We were all in a team situation, the whole side sitting and joking around in an informal gathering. Hansie was also in the group, and they showed a picture of him on the TV. I can't remember exactly what the line was, but it was something to the effect of: 'Not too bad for an old goat!'."
Vilas was the only professional cricketer to play a major part in the movie. "There were one or two snippets of other players, Friedel de Wet [the South Africa fast bowler] for instance played Glenn McGrath in one of the scenes. But the guys who played Jonty Rhodes and the other major South African cricketers were all professional actors.
"It was a great experience, and completely different to what we are used to doing. I had never done anything like that before or since. Just working behind the scenes, it was actually nice to see how they go about making movies."
While he found it an exciting experience, Vilas said it was also a very emotional time. "One of the producers was Hansie's brother [Franz Cronje] and the main thing about the movie was that they wanted to show his side of the story, for everyone to understand what exactly happened. Different parts of the media went for different angles to get their stuff to sell, but the movie wanted to just tell the actual truth; so there was a lot of emotion on the sets."
The movie was not very well-received in South Africa, but Vilas will always hold his contribution close to his heart. Like many South African kids who took to cricket in the early 90s, Vilas idolised Cronje in his formative years, and watched in disbelief when he disintegrated in front of television cameras a decade later. "When I was a kid growing up watching him, I loved him and the way he played. From what I understand from guys who played with Hansie, everyone looked up to him. He was a great leader, and there was huge respect for him.
"I don't think it [the match-fixing scandal] was something he ever wanted to put his team-mates through. It was an ugly thing, unfortunately it happened, and it spoiled his reputation and what he would have been remembered for."
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo