In 1991, South Africa is reintroduced into international cricket. The team flies to India, plays three one-day internationals, goes to a World Cup. You didn't make the team at the time but were very close to being among the top 15-20 cricketers in the country.
Well, if it had been a year or two earlier, I'm convinced I would have gone. I was in a squad of 20 or 15 and it was a huge disappointment for me, because I believed I should have gone. I was then 25. After eight years of first-class cricket, cricket was going to come second in my life. In 1991 I was planning to go to Australia. But with Mandela's release suddenly the opportunity obviously beckoned with a tour with India.
What was the 1992 World Cup like for someone like you, who thought he should have been part of the squad?
I never watched a game. I just felt it was a huge disappointment, and it was actually a motivating factor going forward.
In that first tour in India, we played obviously very good cricket, but it was the result of a very competitive first-class structure. Our domestic cricket was some of the toughest cricket I played. Some of it was tougher than some of the Test cricket that I played. And obviously the guys were very hungry, very determined. You can imagine the desire to do well.
Kepler Wessels was the captain. He had come back from Australia. His experience and knowledge was invaluable. I don't think we would have done as well as we did and even after the World Cup for a good four to five years had it not being for his leadership, his knowledge and his experience about playing cricket abroad, which was an eye-opener - preparation, arriving, touring. It was a huge plus for us and you'll find a lot of guys in that era will always acknowledge Wessels for his presence.
Can you think back to your Test debut?
I debuted against India in Cape Town. On the first morning I was walking behind Hansie Cronje at Newlands and as we were about to go into the field down the steps, the flags were at half-mast. I said, why are the flags at half-mast? He said Dr Danie Craven had died. I had played rugby at Stellenbosch and Craven is one of the greatest rugby personalities I had personal contact with. So it was very memorable for me and at the same time quite a shock.
Then we got to bat. There are certain times and moments in your career that are vivid that you can see over and over again. To me, it was Kapil Dev running in and bowling an awayswinger. It was sort of back of length, probably middle and leg, and I had clipped it around the corner and I was off the mark with two.
You also set yourself a very precise and clear target.
I was 26. I wasn't going to play a lot of international cricket. We became contracted three or four years later when [Bob] Woolmer took over [as coach]. So I said, look, I want ten Test hundreds and I want to play everybody home and away.
What do you remember of the team environment at that time?
Cricket in the early '90s was still in white hands. There was a lot of talk that facilities need to be upgraded, and this is where the game needs to get to and needs to be changed. But I think it's been given more lip service than anything else. We were still a white team, still playing with our mates.
The '96 World Cup was the first with enforced selection. They picked Paul Adams when Nicky Boje should have gone. Some may say we could understand Adams' selection - he got Test wickets with his freakish action, he was difficult to pick and that sort of thing, but if you think of the quality cricketer Nicky Boje was, he should have gone. We all knew that, and at first-class level, I don't think there were too many guys of colour coming through. In terms of cricket, things had not changed, but the pressure was slowly going to start coming. Khaya Majola was a spearhead. He and Percy Sonn were starting to make their presence known.
"I wish I could have been there in the '95 rugby World Cup final. We have come from nowhere, no one gave us a chance, the president walks out in a rugby jersey - I can't tell you what it meant to the country, what a unifying thing it was"
I'm particularly interested in the merit-versus-opportunity debate within the team. You are a cricket team wanting to go out there and win at all costs and here's another line of thinking, saying we've got to introduce these players because otherwise there will be no opportunity for young emerging players. How did that play out within the team?
Well, in the team, and selection-wise, it could only happen as quickly as the transformation process was happening. Within the team at that time it wasn't really an issue with us. There was no one that was going to be able to make the team. No one that was good enough. By 1997, 1998, domestically we started to see change at the ground level. When we were faced with or one or two guys who were in the squad and you wondered what's really happening. I will be honest - Makhaya Ntini, when he came on the scene, the first two to three years, Shaun Pollock bowled all of his overs. These sorts of things were happening.
Did you sense that you needed to embrace a player who perhaps can be replaced by a better white player, but you've just got to get this person an opportunity to be in the team? Was there an understanding the team needed to do that?
I don't think anybody had an issue with who was selected, but it did come to a stage where if a guy - I remember Lance Klusener was one - was being left out of the team and we said, no, hang on, we want to be compensated for that. Yes, we wanted to see the best team player.
I think even today that's still the same sort of issue. I don't think we grasped what we know today - that there is a much bigger picture to sport and transformation. So there was resistance. The understanding started slowly, and through that we started to appreciate and understand where everybody is coming from. I wish that had happened more often and quicker because suddenly two worlds have come together and we've been very suspicious of each other. On both sides there were hidden agendas. I don't think in the team that was an issue, but there was definitely a question of wanting the best team.
Makhaya Ntini became one of South Africa's great bowlers. He went on to be very successful, have a very good Test record, but can you remember the time when he came in? Would it be fair to say there was a little bit of resentment about his introduction? Was it felt that he wasn't ready for international cricket?
He is a story on its own. He is worth a movie being made on. I don't think his life - from where he came from and what he achieved - has been truly appreciated. But there was potential and the system also started to get a little hungry. They wanted a black cricketer, wanted to see transformation being recognized, and they wanted to see kids watching TV.
And you were on board with that?
At that stage, if he was good enough and he was performing, absolutely no problem.
Was he good enough?
Initially he had pace, he had raw talent, but he wasn't the finished product.
So he was not ready for Test cricket?
It was probably a bit too early. I always remember Cronje's statement. He always said: Test cricket is not a finishing school.
That way, Makhaya was brilliant. Makhaya made it his own and that's why I say he is a remarkable, remarkable human being. I think his first Test was at Newlands. Everybody wanted to see heroes like him. I'd put down two catches and I was booed by basically a white cricket audience.
People on the outside find it difficult to understand, but here you are in a very competitive sporting environment and you look over your shoulder and see England, Australia, these teams that don't have to deal with all of this. You've got to play the match on the cricket field and then deal with all of this baggage that comes from outside of it. Did that create a certain resentment within the squad?
It was always the elephant in the room and still is and it's not going to go away, but there have been a lot of cricketers that have emerged and done well. I think it was just that initial period. The issues today lie more at the first-class and at junior representative level.
My generation will have mixed views on it and say, well, it's always going to be the best team. I think there's been a more mature approach now. If I think of my own children, they frown at me when I say, oh, we're going to have the best team and that type of thing. It's just a different outlook from how we grew up.
When South Africa won the 1995 rugby World Cup at home, you were an international sportsman. What was it like seeing what was seen as this great unifying event? Did that percolate down to the cricket team?
Well, that was a very special day because it was more than a sport. I was actually in England, playing for Derbyshire. Iwas in Newcastle, about to watch the final in a room. I wish I could have been there. We have come from nowhere, no one gave us a chance, the president walks out in a rugby jersey - I can't tell you what it meant to the country, what a unifying thing it was. Because there was probably no black person in that stadium. It was 70,000 Afrikaaners primarily seeing this man walk out there.
Ten years down as an international team, you get embroiled in a huge match-fixing scandal. Your captain gets indicted. Did that damage you as a cricketer? Did you feel like it was almost traitorous to do this to a young cricketing nation?
That put us back many, many years, from the leadership point of view. I can only speak for myself but it left us very disappointed. We didn't expect that from a man of his stature and leadership. I have a lot of respect for the man [Cronje]. I know his family, I knew his brother better than I knew him. His father did more for cricket, for people in the country, than anybody I know. So I never condemned the man, and you couldn't side with him in terms of what he did, but how it was handled, the way we were put out to slaughter, the way that we were now considered guilty and had to prove our innocence.
The biggest thing that we wanted to do was to get South Africa back inside in the cricketing world. To say that we can still play cricket.
"There was a report from one of the sponsors. He had sat next to some man on the plane and he had said that we are all corrupt. We were never defended, at least some of us. We were lambs to the slaughter and just thrown out there"
But what was the choice? The whole country feels let down by the actions of its captain. There's talk of this infamous meeting where Hansie Cronje offered the team a certain reward for underperforming. All these factors, when they come out in the public domain, almost feel like you're cheating a whole country.
I'm not for a moment saying that we should have kept it quiet. I was part of that team meeting so I know exactly what we talked about, when and how it started and what followed.
When he confessed, we were told to appear [before the King Commission]. We had to submit our bank statements, our phone records. It basically invaded our privacy. And going back to that meeting, I was one of three guys who said we are not doing it, and Cronje had said look, we are all in or we are all out. A meeting was called but Woolmer wasn't there. Cronje had said, right, it's on the table. This is the amount, we are all in or all out. What do you guys think?
This is the amount to lose a cricket match?
Yeah, basically to throw the game in a benefit match. David Richardson couldn't play, Gary Kirsten kept wicket. It's the only cricket match in my life that I knew we were going to lose. Then to get back and go through this. We were interviewed, we had to give statements. That experience was traumatic.
I look back on that and in many ways, serving cricket died for me. There was a report from one of the sponsors. He had sat next to some man on the plane, and he had said that we are all corrupt. We were never defended, at least some of us. We were lambs to the slaughter and just thrown out there. In that sense I was very, very disappointed with the likes of [Ali] Bacher, the minister of sport, etc.
What do you think of Hansie Cronje?
As a kid, I played rugby against his brother. There was one occasion when I stayed in their family home. Cronje was good for my career. I was dropped four times but he had belief in my ability. He was a great leader, a good captain. He was just an enormous public figure.
Have you forgiven him?
I could understand why it happened. I don't feel I need to forgive the guy. I was disappointed, but I am proud of the fact that I never publicly condemned him. I saw him a week before he died. I was more disappointed in some his friends and team-mates who came out very critical of him.
His father was a phenomenal guy. Ewie Cronje built up Free State Cricket with his own two hands. He was a groundsman, he helped build the stadium, he coached. There was a cricket servant like I've have never seen. Obviously this would have been a shock to the family. I've never discussed it again, I don't feel I've needed to, but what happened happened, and I can understand because I kind of knew him.
Where do you see cricket in South Africa right now? Is it still largely a white man's sport?
It's probably going to be. My issue around that is, it's inherently not a black man's game in the country. Soccer has been and is the most popular sport amongst our black youth. In government schools there are three times more soccer fields than cricket fields. Why? Because there's a demand for it. So I question where they are going ultimately with that because it's got to be something that's part of you, what you've grown up with. That you understand, that's a passion. So maybe through these efforts we will get somewhere. Now you don't find an Ntini.
But you do find a Kagiso Rabada. You're seeing young black guys who are potential role models for a bigger generation of black cricketers to come.
The question is, why haven't we seen more? What people don't understand is how deep the soccer influence goes and where that love and passion is. But the legacy of apartheid - if you look at the townships, they were built on the outskirts of white South Africa. If you want to get a kid from Soweto, it can take them two and a half hours. A young kid that's got to travel an hour and a half both ways to come to a cricket academy, the Daryll Cullinan Cricket Academy. It's probably going to cost you 40 rand. His mom is a single mom, a domestic worker - that's a quarter of a monthly salary - and he is in a taxi, you don't know how safe it's going to be, and he is getting home late because of the whole distance issue.
It's schools now where cricket is - I think of schools like King Edward and Queen's College.
Ntini is one in a million. You need numbers. It's quite remarkable that we still see kids coming through, but if you're going to now develop black cricketers, you need to get those numbers and growth.
The other thing is club cricket in the townships. Those facilities and taking care of that and growing that has not been there, and where that money is being spent and why - because it's been this urgency to get numbers at the top level. I see now at junior representative level there's going to be eight black African cricketers in the squad.
But yeah, there are massive challenges in our cricket, but it's always going to be controversial in terms of selections and enforce this and enforce that. We hope that we can just get through the thing, because all South Africans, whether our whole team is black, we will support it, and that's not just saying it for the sake of it. That is true.
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