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May 11, 1999


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The man in the iron mask

Fanie de Villiers

Brian Lara recently complemented Hansie Cronje as follows: "I have learned a lot from Hansie as captain during the last four weeks - on and off the field. He posesses a real cricket brain and he is a gentleman."

I think this is a true picture of the man: a good intellegent cricketer and gentleman.

Kepler Wessels in action against England at Lord's, July 1994.
Pic: Adrian Murrell/Allsport
I played a number of games with Hansie before he was appointed as captain of South Africa, replacing Kepler Wessels. His first match as captain was a memorable one: the second Test in Sydney in 1994, when we beat the Aussies against all odds. I happened to catch the limelight by capturing 10 wickets in the match.

Hansie took over the captaincy in the fith day of the Test because Kepler sustained a compound fracture on his hand the day before. Kepler was always a determined sort of cricketer and captain, and batted through the day with the injury.

The morning of the fifth day, Hansie gathered us all round in a tight circle. Going in to that day, we needed six more wickets, and the Aussies needed 45 more runs on a batsman-friendly wicket.

I will never forget his words that morning. He said: "Guys, we came a long way with Kepler. Let's go out and win this game for Kepler" We then gave a kind of rugby shout, where everybody screamed yes, yesssss, and we went out and with Hansie leading, won the game for South Africa.

Hansie Cronje warms up for the battle
Pic: Graham Chadwick/Allsport
That for me is the essence of Hansie Cronje's captaincy -- from day one, he motivated individuals better than any other captain I knew. That indicated to me that he would become a world-beater as captain, and he has proven me right.

I think Hansie learned a lot from Kepler Wessels, especially regarding dedication and team discipline. But once he took over from Kepler, he forged his own path, and never looked back -- and his record speaks for itself. No wonder Neil Manthorp, the well-known cricket writer, says that the nineties will always be known as the Hansie's Decade.

To elaborate: no other captain in world cricket can boast of statistics like these: before the New Zealand tour of earlier this year, he had led in 102 ODIs and won 78, scoring in excess of 4000 runs and taking 70 wickets.

The outspoken Geoffrey Boycott says Hansie is, after the West Indies tour, the best captain in world cricket.

Hansie Cronje is all smiles at Heathrow, on arrival in England for the World Cup
Pic: Graham Chadwick/Allsport
So, what makes Hansie such a successful captain? In short, I would sum it up as discipline, self confidence, and the will to win. He was only 25 when he took over the captaincy. He soon developed into a leader with more than usual power to take decisions, and the self-confidence to carry his decisions through to a conclusion.

His belief in discipline is nowhere as evident as in exercise sessions the team participates in. When he is leading the session, it is serious stuff with no time for jokes and fun. Who is the first on the field? Hansie! Off the field, he is a true gentleman and a diplomat, always more than approachable, very helpful, and popular with the press and other media. But on the field, there is only one leader, and he makes sure we all know who that is.

Hansie enjoys a horse-cart ride in Rawalpindi, before the side's 1996 WC fixture against Holland
Pic: John Parkin/Allsport
The best summary of Hansie's abilities is presented by Colin Breyden, a well known cricket writer in South Africa. He describes five of the necessary qualities for a good captain, which Hansie apparently has at his disposal, thus:

First, a player should be an outomatic choice for the team. Hansie qualifies.

Second, a captain should be able to get the best out of his players. The South African players obviously have enormous respect for Hansie, and this helps him fulfill the second condition to perfection.

Third, he should be tactically astute. Hansie is a planner who believes in meticulous attention to detail, and thorough pre-match preparation, he spends enormous time studying the strengths and weaknesses of the team he is leading us out against, and that is reflected in the strategies he adopts in the field.

Hansie Cronje
Pic: Gary M Prior/Allsport
Fourth, he should be a firm disciplinarian. Hansie is not the sort of guy to indulge in the fiery half-time oratory beloved of soccer and rugby legends, but he sets high standards and will not brook players who do not give of their best all the time.

Fifth and last, he should be articulate and image-conscious. Hansie sells his sport at the highest of levels, only Mark Taylor came close to the standards that Cronje has set in the field of media relations. He has earned the respect of journalists around the world and presents a smiling, intelligent face on television.

Somehow, I can't see the typical old school-tie captain being a friend to every player, on and off the field. Hansie is just that, and to me, that is his biggest attribute.

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