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South Africa's Volkswagen

He's been likened to Sylvester Stallone and Billy Joel, he's Johan van der Wath

Telford Vice

February 2, 2006

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With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In a new weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of South Africa's new star, Johan van der Wath



Johan van der Wath: swinging onto the scene © Getty Images
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He's been likened to Sylvester Stallone and Billy Joel, and when commentator Ian Healy failed miserably to clear the hurdles posed by his surname he became, weirdly, "Volkswagen". But if Johan van der Wath continues to impress in international cricket he won't need help from Hollywood, honky-tonk or Hitler's revenge to be widely known by his own name.

Less than 24 hours after he arrived in Australia as a replacement for the injured Jacques Kallis, Van der Wath made an eyebrow-raising debut in a VB Series match under the dome in Melbourne. South Africa went down by 59 runs, but van der Wath bowled well enough in his return of 2 for 21 from five overs to convince even those Aussies whose single glass eye was in the reglazing workshop that night that he was the real deal. Van der Wath removed Phil Jaques for 94 and Michael Clarke, and he beat several others. And he had obvious fun doing so. In short, he belonged.

Four days later against Sri Lanka in Adelaide, Van der Wath was a dud as a pinch-hitter. But his timely dismissals of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were important factors in South Africa's nine-run win. He bowled with swing, enough pace to bother most of those who faced him, and zest. Of course, this is old hat to South Africans who are familiar with the consistently high quality of van der Wath's performances for the Eagles - that's Free State to foreigners - in domestic competition.

Van der Wath made his first-class debut for Easterns all of ten seasons ago, the same year he represented South Africa against Pakistan at Under-19 level, and he has become a perennial threat around the country. Where has he been all these years? He wasted his first few summers in the big league when an Eagles contract came his way too soon. But for the most part he has been battling the prejudices of a national psyche that diminishes any fast bowler it doesn't consider the next Allan Donald. Swing? Only Kallis can do that well enough to bowl at international level. Oh, right, he's injured ...

Is it coincidence that van der Wath only seemed to catch influential eyes after he played a handful of matches for Sussex in 2005? In the National League, he scored two half-centuries in four innings and conceded less than four runs an over in his 40 overs.

Van der Wath was in the South Africa A squad that won a triangular tournament against New Zealand and Sri Lanka last October, and he crowned a fine first half of the 2005-06 domestic season with a matchwinning display in the Standard Bank Cup final against the Titans. You can see the trivia question now: how many VWs have run over AB de Villiers for a four-ball duck in a major final?

What he says

"The first over [he bowled in his ODI debut] I thought I was bowling with someone else's action." - Johannesburg Sunday Times

What they say No. 1 - Corrie van Zyl, Eagles coach

"He was picked for South Africa when he was on form, and the fact that he is 28 years old and has several years of first-class experience behind him has helped him feel at ease. He swings the ball nicely, so he's effective with the new ball and at first-change. He also bowls well at the death, he changes his pace very effectively, and he has a good bouncer. He's also had some really valuable knocks for us, especially when the team is in trouble. In fact, he's won games for us with the bat."

What they say No. 2 - Davey Jacobs, Eagles teammate

"He's not the neatest room-mate, but he's easy-going and relaxed. He's happiest out-of-doors and I think, after he's finished playing, he'll probably end up buying a game farm."

Did you know ... ?

van der Wath enjoys nothing better than roaring around the wilds of Bloemfontein on his quadbike. It's illegal to drive these supersized, motorised dung beetles on public roads, but, as Jacobs points out: "Sometimes we have to cross a road ...". van der Wath spent much of his Christmas holidays at a legendary Transkei fishing spot, Hole-in-the-Wall, where he quadbiked, fished and barbecued the days and nights away.

Telford Vice works for the MWP Media agency in South Africa

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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