Bloemfontein (South Africa) There are those who have loftily accused Hansie Cronje of having the batting technique of an honest journeyman but lacking in flair and then pass on without giving the dismissive comment a second thought. Which is the sort of smug, supercilious attitude you pick up in the sparsely inhabited bars in this part of the country: with South Africa booted out of another World Cup event, and in the semi-finals, looking for someone to blame for the folly of ineptitude in another sport arena in another hemisphere is a typical response.
Cronje is his own man, has his own style and it is far better than most at what he does, his batting has its own style, flair and wealth in character and it was on display at Goodyear Park yesterday as South Africa took control of this first Test against Zimbabwe. An innings of 60 not out as South Africa reached 253 for four in reply to the visitors 192 is, so far, a fair response. Admittedly it is not now an imposing total and much rests with the South African captain tomorrow just how far they can stretch their lead of 61. In partnership with Jonty Rhodes, merrily dancing his way to 24, South Africas captain will be anxious to plunder a seventh Test century and lay the foundation to a match-winning total.
It was early in his innings when Cronje became South Africa?s leading Test run-scorer, beating a record held by Bruce Mitchell of 3471 runs and at the close had advanced his career total to 3525 and should, at some stage this summer become the first South African to breach the 4000 mark. So much for the critics
While bad light and the threat of a late afternoon shower or two cut short play by a mere 4.1 overs and what had been a small Saturday afternoon crowd had long departed to deposit itself in front of television sets around the city of roses, hence the term bloem (flower) to watch their rugby side go the way of most mortals and plunge towards defeat (?See the tear in my eye, guys.?), the South African captain indulged in some solid strokeplay. It may not have been exciting, or pulsating either the way the limited Zimbabwe attack did their best to strangle their opponents of a more steady run supply, but there is no doubt it was highly effective. He had already seen Jacques Kallis depart to a doubtful lbw decision, awarded by New Zealand?s Steve Dunne for 64, and earlier watched as Daryll Cullinan gave it away, throttled by negative tactics into cutting too loosely to Grant Flower off Guy Whittall, Zimbabwe?s all-round hero who barely 24 hours before had rescued his side from embarrassment.
Kallis later admitted he was unsure whether he managed to get bat on ball, but there were two distinct noises and although TV replays of the incident were not conclusive, instinct told there may have been bat on ball. Dunne has been heavily criticised for decisions given in Sharjah, especially during the Pakistan-Sri Lanka final, yet it is often the umpire?s human error touch which makes the game it is: full of uncertainty and fallible judgements. Boeta Dippenaar, in his debut Test inning may have also felt a touch robbed when reaching 20 he was also an lbw victim to a delivery more likely to have gone over the stumps.
No matter, Kallis had that solid appearance of a batsman determined on working the ball around the field and while there were only nine boundaries during his exercise of 274 minutes, he had least knew what he was about. There were times when he challenged the bowlers to bounce him, or try and get in a yorker. The Zimbabwe attack, though, has no one so threatening. Which, as humble as it is, forced their captain, Alistair Campbell instructing the bowlers to keep it tight and outside the off and force the batsmen into mistakes. It is a ploy which can work but as Shaun Pollock showed on the Friday, wickets are there for the taking if you bowl straight and make the batsmen play attacking strokes. A mere lesson in strategy which others should apply if they wish to be as successful as the red-headed South African vice-captain was on the first day.