Post-apartheid, Nicky Boje remains South Africa's most renowned and successful spinner.
A veteran of 43 Tests (100 wickets at 42.65 and 1,312 runs at 25.23) and 115 ODIs (96 wickets at 35.57 and 1,414 runs at 26.67, including two centuries), Boje was one of those players whose name figured prominently in the match-fixing scandal that broke out in 2000 and rocked cricket like never before, though he has always denied his alleged role in it.
But the fact remains that he refused to tour India with the South African team on one pretext or the other as the Delhi police which had charged the late Hansie Cronje, Herschelle Gibbs and Boje with the match-fixing wanted to question him.
However, he had no other option but to visit this country after he signed a contract with the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Haresh Pandya had an opportunity to interview Boje in Chandigarh, where he had been playing for Hyderabad Heroes in the inaugural edition of the ICL in the nearby Panchkula, even before the Delhi police finally succeeded in interrogating him.
How do you view the current cricket scenario in South Africa?
Cricket is very good in South Africa at the moment. The national team, too, has been doing very well at present. A lot of promising young players are coming through. So I think the current state of cricket in South Africa isn't bad.
You have played for the South African team captained by Hansie Cronje and the one led by Graeme Smith. How do you compare the two sides?
You are talking about two different times, two different eras. Under Hansie Cronje, you had so many great players involved. There are some very fine players in Graeme Smith's team also. But most of them are quite different from what you had under Hansie Cronje. Even the captaincy is quite different. But, to be fair to Graeme Smith, if you look at our present team, we are still second only to Australia at the moment. And South Africa is doing very well in Test cricket in particular. So, yeah, it's not bad.
Who was a better leader, Hansie Cronje or Graeme Smith?
Each one of them had his own different ways of doing things. But I enjoyed playing under Hansie Cronje. I think things were always different under him.
What role did Bob Woolmer play in the team that Hansie Cronje led?
He was my coach for five years. He was a fantastic guy, not just as a coach but also as friend. I think his sudden death is a big, sad loss to South African cricket. He had been planning to have many cricket academies back home. A lot of youngsters could have benefited from them.
It must have been very hard to come to terms with the stark realities of life as both Hansie Cronje and Bob Woolmer, who built the strong South African team, died tragically in a short span of time
Yes. It's very sad to lose quality cricket brains like them. But life goes on. We've to take South African cricket further and try and do our best.
Don't you agree that for such a richly talented cricketing nation, South Africa is a bit of an underachiever in terms of winning major tournaments like the World Cup?
Yes, the major competitions continue to elude us in terms of wins when they matter the most. We make it to the semifinals or so and then we fall out. But it all has got to do with experience. As I said, there are a lot of young players. And as soon as they learn about the game, the easier will it get when they get to those situations. I think that's where Australia is very good at the moment because they've got a lot of experience. When the Australians get to the main games, they win them.
How is the picture of spin bowling in South Africa at the moment?
Spin bowling is always a problem in South Africa. They say the wickets in South Africa aren't conducive to spin bowling. But you've got to learn and adapt yourself quickly to bowl on different wickets. They've now got Paul Harris as their main spinner for Test matches. But one-day cricket they still play around with different spinners. I think if they get a couple of quality spinners, it would be very good.
But is there proper encouragement for the spinners in South Africa?
I think there is enough encouragement for spin bowlers in South Africa. The guys playing in domestic set-up have been doing well. So I think it's fine.
You were never given many opportunities to prove your true worth. In fact, the world has probably not seen the best of Nicky Boje. Or has it?
But that's always a problem with spin bowling and those who practise it in South Africa. They always feel that the seamers will do the job. And that's why I said I enjoyed more playing under Hansie Cronje. He always gave the spinners a lot of opportunities. If you look back, South Africa had Pat Symcox, Paul Adams, Derek Crookes and myself at that stage. A lot of spinners got opportunities to play for South Africa when Hansie Cronje and Bob Woolmer were in charge of the national team.
But isn't it true that none of them was a regular member of the team?
Yes. But I think that's the nature of the game. Yet, I've always tried my best whenever given opportunities. I'll continue to do well and hopefully get another opportunity to play for South Africa.
A reverse kind of apartheid is being practised in South Africa now. The authorities have been forcing the selectors to pick more and more coloured cricketers, regardless of their talents and performances, and keep the white players away. What are your views on this?
I can understand what you are saying and what you mean. It's always going to be a problem in South Africa. But there are some quality players in the South African team who are there purely on their merits and not because of their colour of skin. So you've just to give a little more time and opportunities to these guys. Hopefully they'll prove their talents and justify their selection.
But don't you feel the selection ought to be on merit and not at all on the basis of one's colour of skin?
Yes, that's probably the way most guys want it to be. But that's South Africa at the moment. This is going on, not just in sports but in almost everything, and a political game can always bee seen there.
Can South Africa hope to become the top team in the world in such a situation?
Yes. Why not? It's just a matter of experience. The guys are really doing well at the moment. They just have to keep building on what they are doing.
Has the match-fixing scandal affected cricket in South Africa?
No, I don't think it has really affected cricket in South Africa. People have forgotten the match-fixing episode. It's all over. Things go on. People want to play cricket. And that's why I'm here in India just to play cricket.
Your name was also allegedly linked with the match-fixing
Well, I've already said I've nothing whatever to do with match-fixing. I've long
denied all charges levelled against me.
Would you want to serve South African cricket as, say, a coach, manager or administrator after you stop playing for good?
Well, I'm still playing. I'm going to play County cricket in the winter time. I think when I retire, I want to try and get away from the game. But then you never know! We aren't sure what the future holds for us.