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March 20, 1999


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Fanie de Villiers

Fanie de Villiers From the outside looking in, South Africa's cricket environment was largely English-speaking. And in that context, it is startling to realise that much of our success over the last eight years had, at its heart, an Afrikaans-speaking person in Kepler Wessels.

In 1992, we were an unknown quantity because of isolation from the international cricket scene. And yet, we reached the semifinals of the World Cup, that year. For this, thanks should go largely to Kepler Wessels, and to a selection policy designed to take advantage of the knowledge and experience Kepler had at his command. All those years of playing in Australia had given him a unique insight and knowledge of the conditions Down Under, and he translated that knowledge into team selection. His insistence was on a young, supremely fit, athletic team, filled with experts in different fielding positions.

The bowling attack was also picked with the demands of one day cricket in mind. Players who could bowl line and length, players with a thoughtful approach to the game, were the ones who found themselves in the lineup. We had one advantage going for us -- South Africa's gameplan on the domestic circuit in any case revolves around the one day game. Especially during the latter part of the isolation years, we had placed a lot of emphasis on this form of cricket. And that emphasis was not without good reason -- since we were banned from the international arena, the funds we needed to sustain our cricket was in short supply, and the way to generate it was by playing a lot of one day cricket internally.

Kepler Wessels Thus, when we got back into the international cricket scene after 20 years in isolation, we didn't have too many problems adjusting to the one day game -- it was the four and five day games that were adversely affected by our time in isolation, since we didn't play too much of those. Our mindset was tuned to the one day game, and Kepler Wessels gave us the model that we have adopted and made our own ever since.

Kepler was quite adamant about his requirements from the players -- no no-balls, no wides, he insisted. No getting run out when it is your turn at bat. No giving easy singles in the field. Let's face it, in a 50-over game, if you give away 15 runs as extras or whatever, that can prove costly, that is three overs of batting time at 5 runs per over.

Kepler set extremely high standards, and made us into a team of hard-working scrappers. It is no wonder that we are dubbed the best fielding side in the world -- in fact, a lot of people also call us the most disciplined side in the world, and they are right.

Hansie Cronje Another big gain for us was that just as Kepler was ready to depart, another Afrikaans-speaking person came along to lead us. Hansie Cronje took up the captaincy and, I think, has played as important in our cricketing development as Kepler. Hansie in fact was schooled by the former, and today is leading the side on the principles Kepler had laid out during his tenure. Hansi has been following that prescription, and it has proved to be very successful.

Perhaps the one difference between Kepler and Hansie is that Hansie uses personal motivation a lot more. His man-management skills are extremely good, and I think that is reflected in his outstanding record as captain.

Then there is Bob Woolmer, who needs to be mentioned in any piece that analyses our cricket development. The South African establishment and the cricketers, quite a few of whom played extensively on the county circuit, was aware of his outstanding work as coach of Warwickshire, and when South Africa's cricketing isolation ended, we turned to him to help out as our coach.

Bob Woolmer Right from the beginning, he was, and still is, very innovative when it comes to the short game. When it comes to bowlers, he believes in variety, and in each bowler developing extensive variations. And in the batting department, he specialises in turning everyone into all-round players, comfortable on either side of the wicket. His specialised coaching methods, and innovative thinking, have helped us out in tight scenarios more often than I can remember.

If I were to sum up South African cricket today, I would say that our game is based on discipline, fitness and an incredible amount of hard work. And though I mention this last, it is certainly not the least part of our success -- each individual's commitment to the team is immaculate. Every individual member of the team is so proud to be playing, so proud of the team and of his mates, that each of them will put his life on the line, whether it is to scrape the skin off your knees sliding to stop a ball from going through, or in facing up to an express barrage by the world's fast bowlers.

When I look at the rest of the cricketing world, I must say that the standard of play is uniformly high. However, when it comes to passion, discipline, commitment, the ability to put in enormous amounts of hard work, and then there is only one team in the world -- and that is President Mandela's team! It is that pride in ourselves and our performance that makes us what we are -- the most successful team in the business today.

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