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South Africa's first keeper after readmission looks back at the early 90s, and the influences on their cricket, from Wessels to Woolmer to Cronje
Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi
October 2, 2009
My father was a wicketkeeper, so my first pair of gloves were his old ones, which were probably a size too big. But that's an advantage sometimes because the bigger the glove the easier it is to catch the ball.
First ball of a 1992 World Cup match, in Sydney, Geoff Marsh nicks Allan Donald straight into my hands. To us it was obvious, but because it was given not out we thought we were seeing things. Kepler Wessels checked with Marsh, who said, "I nicked the cover off it, mate."
As dressing rooms go, Lord's is pretty ordinary, especially with such a small balcony. It is not so practical to sit there in such a small balcony, but the tradition makes up for that.
The phrase that the umpire is always right doesn't ring true anymore. Because the batsman is not out when the umpire says he is out. The batsman is out when Mark Nicholas or Tony Greig or Ian Chappell or Ravi Shastri says he is out.
We won the Sydney Test  by five runs where Australia needed only 120 and everyone had written us off. I had a small part to play in the victory - in our second innings I had a good partnership with Jonty Rhodes. He got a hundred [it was 76 not out], and every 10 runs we got he would say, "Okay, that is enough for an Australian wicket." So when we got 100, we thought that was enough.
Mike Procter was a fantastic cricketer, who coached from gut feeling. His answer to many problems the team faced on the field was, "Just bounce him out" or "Hit him over extra cover."
Bob Woolmer looked at every aspect of the game. He would work out if it was quicker to the stumps from the boundary flat with one bounce or with a loop. He worked out if was it quicker to take the ball in front of the stumps as a keeper and just bring the ball back into the stumps or take the ball behind the stumps, the traditional way, and then move the hands towards the stumps. And he would discuss that with anyone who would care to listen. He didn't force anything down anyone's throat. You could always talk back to him if he got over-technical or over-enthusiastic.
I always liked a medium-sized pair of gloves: if the catching area is big and if you have got soft hands, you can manage to hang on to the ball.
Adam Gilchrist changed the role of a wicketkeeper. For teams to compete with Australia they started to shift from having a specialist keeper who could bat a bit to batsmen who could keep.
One over to go, five runs needed and I'm keeping. The worst thing I could be thinking is, "What if I miss this and it goes for four byes?" But if you rather think, "What can I do that is special and has an effect on the game?" it makes you so alert that you can, maybe, make a diving stop.
I'm very wary of people who say they are not prejudiced. In order to be non-racist you have to be aware of your prejudice.
|"In retirement you become a much nicer person. Guys like Shane Warne and Ian Healy, who are prickly on the field, have a completely different demeanour off the field"|
I was at home in Port Elizabeth when the convener of selectors called to say I was in the team. It came as a complete shock. The remarkable thing was I was already 30, and at the beginning of the season I'd decided that it would be my last season in first-class cricket and that I should start thinking of taking a real job.
The quota system will soon be a non-entity in all walks of life, probably in 10 years.
We didn't have television in South Africa till the mid-70s, so we relied heavily on the radio and used to go to the grounds to watch the matches. My first memory of international cricket was going to watch the 1967 series Test at Newlands and Graeme Pollock getting a double-hundred with a runner.
The whole of the 1992 World Cup was a nerve-wracking experience. Before that, the most nerve-wracking was our first ODI on our readmission, in Kolkata. It was such a big occasion for someone like me. Nelson Mandela had just been released and we were re-admitted so quickly, and that came as a complete surprise.
Players are more accepting of bad decisions, often more than the fans and the media.
In the Sydney Test  Kepler broke his hand, to the extent that you could actually see the bone. In those circumstances normally a guy wouldn't go out to bat, but he did. He only made 17 but batted for about 40-odd minutes. I've never seen anyone do that.
My father said to me that in international cricket when you go out to bat you need to pretend that you are the best batsman in the world. As soon as you take a backward step and have self-doubt, you are never going to score any runs.
As far as match-fixing is concerned, Hansie Cronje gave evidence about accepting money during one Test match. This was on the 1996 tour of India, the third Test. We were chasing a sizeable target in the fourth innings and the pitch was like a gravel road, and any person who knew cricket would've known that it was highly unlikely that South Africa would've been able to get that total. He subsequently gave evidence to the effect that he took money to make sure there would be no surprises and that South Africa would lose. Afterwards I said to Hansie that he had to accept we were going to be angry with him, because he had himself giving a team talk before that Test how we could be the first South African team to win a series in India. So to think that on one hand he was asking you to do your best and on the other hand he was accepting money to predict the loss, was a disappointment. I think he acknowledged that.
I never thought I would play international cricket.
Did I win a Man of the Match as a wicketkeeper? I always thought the wicketkeeper's role is underestimated. They are only noticed when they miss catches as opposed to when they take catches.
The 1992 World Cup semis, where we needed 22 off one ball, was one game full of mixed emotions. I had just hit a boundary off the last ball and when it started to rain I thought that was the end of the game. We were extremely disappointed that it had to end the way it did. But I also had an overwhelming feeling of, "Well, that's it now. Tomorrow when I wake up I don't need to be nervous anymore."
Allan Donald was the best bowler I kept to.
Ali Bacher was a very shrewd administrator. He realised that for South African cricket to survive he needed to arrange rebel tours, but you also have to give him credit that when the time came for rebel tours to be abandoned, he took it on board. I give him a lot of credit for being open to change and to discussions with political parties from both sides of the fence.
I still think it doesn't work to simply have a batsman who can keep a bit. If he is going to miss a couple of chances, all the runs he scores cannot compensate for that.
|"The batsman is not out when the umpire says he is out. The batsman is out when Mark Nicholas or Tony Greig or Ian Chappell or Ravi Shastri says he is out"|
Kepler once arranged for Alan Jones, the former Wallabies' captain, to motivate us. His whole point was, "Don't think that you can just go out on the field and things will happen. You should be asking yourself what you can do to change the course of the game rather than sitting back and thinking, 'Kepler will score the runs and Jonty will take the catches.'" Those words struck a chord with me throughout my career, especially in a tense situation.
I would've like to turned those 80s into hundreds. At the time I didn't have the hunger or drive to get a century. I regret that now. I would've liked to score at least three or four Test centuries, as opposed to just one.
Bob Woolmer was the first coach to help me with my wicketkeeping. It was a pity because I was already in my 30s when he became the coach. He taught me things that he had learned from Alan Knott. If you would have asked me when I move to my left or right, do I cross over the feet or sidestep, do I cross at the back or at the front, I would never have been able to tell you. He was much more conscious about the theory behind wicketkeeping.
It is not so much bowlers that are difficult to keep to, it is the pitches that are difficult.
If we had played the same first Test on re-admission two years later, we would've, if not won, at least come a hell of a lot closer to winning than we did. Because we would've learned that on a pitch that was keeping low, hitting the bottom of the bat every time you tried to play a shot, you had to bat out of the crease or come down the wicket, even to the fast bowlers. Meyrick Pringle had brought a bottle of champagne to the dressing room on the last day, and when Kepler saw that, he asked him to get rid of it because he knew that it was not easy.
In retirement you become a much nicer person. One of the things you appreciate once you retire is that your opponents, ones you disliked on the field, become your friends. So guys like Shane Warne and Ian Healy, who are prickly on the field, have a completely different demeanour.
The main difference between Kepler and Hansie was that Kepler was a disciplinarian - very hard, very serious all the time. Hansie had those traits, because without that you cannot be a good captain, but he was a much more gregarious, fun-loving and open person. He was a head-boy type of a leader: always said the right things, spoke well, was always friendly. He was similar to a political leader.
Cricket is a cruel sport. It is cruel because you can feel top of the world one moment and desperately disappointed the next. It has taught me to take nothing for granted.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo.Feeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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