I went up against Fanie de Villiers when he played for Torquay in the Devon league in 1992. Fanie was over here trying to get fit so he could press his claim for a place in the South African team. He'd missed out on the 1992 World Cup through injury. I was a 19-year-old opening batsman at Barton Cricket Club with aspirations of playing professional cricket.
Luckily the wicket at Barton was very slow. The first ball Fanie bowled to me was a loosener. First ball of the innings, half-volley, and I punched it down the ground for four. The guy I opened the batting with said to me, "For Christ's sake, don't wind him up."
Later in that innings Fanie tried a short ball. It didn't get up but was on me quick. I clipped it and it went for two past square leg. That was an invitation to him to try a bit more of that because I hadn't played it that well.
But on the slow, low wicket, the short balls sat up quite nicely after that and I managed to pull a few away to the boundary.
Fanie was an absolute gentleman. Unlike a lot of overseas pros I played against in league cricket, he said very little. If you hit him for four, he didn't stand there and stare or swear at you. He'd just go back to his mark and try something else to get you out.
In my experience, with some other overseas bowlers, if you did get on top of them, they'd revert to using their reputations to make a big deal of things. Rather than worry about what you had done, and any affront it might have caused him, Fanie would just focus on what he might have done wrong the previous ball to give you an opportunity to score and look to put that right the next time. A very professional attitude.
"Fanie was an absolute gentleman. Unlike a lot of overseas pros I played against in league cricket, he said very little. If you hit him for four, he didn't stand there and stare or swear"
He was easily the best seam bowler I faced in the Devon league. What stood out was his accuracy. With most club bowlers, you know if you keep the good ones out, the bad ball is just around the corner. With Fanie, there were few of those.
He also had that wholehearted competitiveness. Always came off the long run and always seemed to be bowling at 100%, whereas other overseas bowlers I've come across would take it easy from time to time.
But he never stepped over that line. He respected the opposition, which doesn't always happen when pros come into league cricket.
Later in my career, when I played a bit of professional cricket, I came across quicker bowlers than Fanie. He was quick enough, but also had a range of skills, could move the ball, swing and seam it, which was different to what we'd seen before.
To play against someone like that was a good testing ground for me. To go up against that kind of bowler was fantastic - very exciting, stimulating, and exactly what I needed.