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April 1, 1999


The Rediff Interview / Fanie de Villiers

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'It hurts when you know you are good enough, but you don't make the side. So I quit!'

For Indian cricket fans, the name Fanie de Villiers always evokes interesting memories.

 Fanie de Villiers
When the South Africans came here for the 1996 tour, it was Allan Donald everyone wanted to see -- but as it turned out, it was Fanie who did the star turn, his duels with Sachin Tendulkar being the particular highlight.

Fanie's cricketing life has been a story of triumph against the odds. He grew up in Vereeniging, well away from South Africa's traditional cricketing structures, but by sheer force of talent bowled his way into the Northern Transvaal team.

He was seen as a sure pick for the 1992 World Cup, but injury -- a Fanie bugbear -- laid him low. He finally made it to the national ranks in 1992/93, in the LOI series against India, before making the breakthrough into Test cricket.

Fanie was always seen as something of a one-day specialist, despite the fact that in all the Tests he and Allan Donald bowled in together, it was Fanie who had the bigger share of success. Injuries -- including a military accident that came within a toucher of blinding him -- have played havoc with his career, yet Fanie, typically, went out on a high note, bowling his side to victory in his last Test, against Pakistan.

Stump Vision Besides his claim to cricketing fame, Fanie is an inveterate traveller. During his visit to Bombay, in 1996 for the Titan Cup, he spent his spare time roaming the metropolis, camera in hand, and came up with a portfolio of Bombay as he saw it. We present some of those images in the accompanying photo feature.

The South African ace speaks his mind, in an email interview with Prem Panicker. Excerpts:

How did Petrus Stephanus De Villiers become 'Fanie'?

Fanie is a derivative of Stephanus. In Afrikaans, the "ph" in Stephanus is pronounced "f". The English equivalent of my first two names would be Peter Steven.

You were a champion javelin thrower at one time, weren't you? So when did you switch to cricket, and why? Did your javelin experience in any way help you with your cricket? Your throwing from the outfield, very flat and fast without any windup, was a distinctive feature of your fielding, was that the result of your javelin years?

Yes, definitely, from an early age I enjoyed throwing stones at any object that I could see. I grew up on a farm and because of all the throwing, I must have developed a good whiplash, which you need as a javelin thrower or, as I found out later, as a boundary fielder. I became a champion javelin thrower, won all the different age group competitions in my schooldays -- and all because of growing up on a farm with lots of stones, and things to throw them at. And later, when I took to cricket, it helped me get in those throws from the boundary line, flat and hard.

And then came that accident, involving your military service -- how serious was it, and did it have any lasting impact on your cricket?

It was quite a severe accident, a freak thing that happened when I was a lieutnant in the army. Unbleached lime exploded in my face, and I was blinded instantly. If it were not for a lady working in the same department who quickly led me to the nearest tap, I would have lost my eyesight permanently. As it was, it took two weeks before I was able to see properly -- I had lost about 6-8 layers of tissue in my eye, and it took some time for it to heal completely. I don't think it affected my cricket, though -- I went to play for Kent a few months later, and I didn't lose any of my speed, or anything like that.

You started out as a limited overs specialist, with the main feature of your bowling being economy. How does a fast bowler develop that ability? What was the trick to bowling quick yet cheap, and was that the result of a conscious effort on your part?

 Fanie de Villiers
As an opening bowler, you have two choices. You either attack, try to take wickets -- and when doing that, take the chance of going for a few boundaries; or you try to keep the runs down, and get wickets by frustrating batsmen into making mistakes, playing silly shots.

I took the more conservative second option, and that must be the reason I am still the most economical bowler in one day cricket, when it comes to runs per over.

"I couldn't figure out why I wasn't playing" -- the concluding part of the Fanie de Villiers interview

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