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February 29, 2000


The Rediff Interview / Goolam Rajah

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'We are not dependent on one superstar. We have superstars in our own ranks, but I think we play as a team and that is the difference'

Goolam Rajah 1991 marked a watershed, in both cricket and politics. That year signalled the end of South Africa's exclusion from the cricketing club, following the end of apartheid.

And one of the first signs of affirmative action came with the appointment of Goolam Rajah as the team's non-white manager.

Rajah has been a permanent presence with the South African team for the past nine years - a token of the respect he enjoys among the players and administrators.

A second generation South African who boasts an Indian ancestry, Rajah got to the top after years of struggle. Growing up in an era when the colour of your skin defined your opportunities, he fought the odds to qualify himself as a pharmacist. A devout Muslim who, even in the thick of Test battle here in Bombay, did not miss his Friday prayers, Rajah took time off from his schedule to discuss cricket with Faisal Shariff.

Mr Rajah, your designation says 'manager' -- could you tell us exactly what that entails, and what your job demands?

Well, basically I am in charge of everything. There are two things I don't do in the team -- I am not a physiotherapist and I don't coach them. But everything else is my responsibility.

Does that include being part of team strategy meetings?

No, it does not. I listen to the discussions, but I don't take part in it. That is not part of my job. Essentially, my job involves administration. However, when I talk about administration, I talk about the actual playing administration. I am responsible to make sure that we have adequate net facilities, there are enough net bowlers and everything else we need, that is my job. My job also involves hands on administration in the dressing room. I don't step into the president's committee in the long room and have a glass of wine and watch my cricket. I am different, in the sense that I am more hands on. I believe that there are more problems within the dressing room. Like, for example, when they come back out of the ground, the players will come looking for me. So it is important for me as manager to stay close to the team.

Are you, as your name seems to suggest, of Indian origin?

Yes, my grandfather was from Gujarat. Although I was born in South Africa, as was my father. So I am a second generation South African. Originally, my ancestors were from Surat, a village called Khatoor.

Is this your first time in India?

I have been here plenty of times. This is my fourth cricket tour.

Could you tell us about the earlier ones?

I was here in 1991, on that historic tour when we were readmitted to world cricket. I came here for the 1996 World Cup, next. Then, in 1996 December, I came back with the team for the full tour, and this is my fourth visit.

Over three previous visits, what has been your assessment of a cricket tour of India?

Goolam Rajah In India you find the people with the most passion for the game, in the world. I have met lots of nice people all over the world, and I think the the Indians have more of a capacity for hospitality than anyone else. They have extended their friendship to us to a level beyond our expectations. For me, it is a pleasure coming here.

Have you ever played cricket?

Yes, I have but more like club level. When you look at the South African political background, unfortunately I was not of the right colour. I am not saying I would have made it to the international level, everything else being equal, but I was at a disadvantage on those grounds. But yes, I have played up to club level cricket.

Tell us about your cricket -- it has been less than 10 years since the re-entry into the international club, and already you are up there with Australia. What lies behind this success?

I think a sense of total commitment, dedication and the discipline levels are tremendous. And of course, deep down there is a passion to do well. I think there is an element of pride in our players when they wear the green cap. They know they are representing their country, and a very big portion of pride goes into it. I think a lot of them are naturally talented, and they have got a goal in mind, and I think we are also blessed with one of the best captains in the world cricket. We have a leader who is totally respected and who has the support of his team. And one of the biggest pluses we have is that we play as a team. Everybody plays for one another. We are not dependent on one superstar. Yes, we have superstars in our own ranks, but I think we play as a team and that is the difference. There is no fragmentation, the team thinks as a whole.

Would you say that the period of isolation has actually increased the drive, the desire to succeed?

Yes, to an extent. Although South Africa was isolated, our cricketers played in the county circuit. So there was some contact with the outside world. And within South Africa too, the domestic circuit was very strong. Also, there were a lot of coaches coming to South Africa. So, despite the isolation, our cricket didn't go into total decline.

Talking of Hansie as captain, he hasn't been too successful with the bat, lately, and he did say that his team was so good, anyone could lead it. So in your mind, what makes him the best captain in the world?

Hansie Cronje I would disagree with him, I think he is modest when he underrates his own batting. If you look at his Test average, he is doing close to 40, so he has his moments and like everybody else, he goes through fluctuations. But there is no doubt that he makes the team on merit. And above all, I believe that he is the best captain in the world. I have worked with him for seven years. I have great respect for him as a team leader, because Hansie Cronje will not ask you to do anything which he himself is not prepared to do. So he leads by example. He has got very high moral and ethical values. And those values are reflected in his cricket. He has his own high standards, and everybody respects him. From time to time every nation will have a true leader, for whatever sport. And I think we are going through that phase with Hansie, which I say without taking due respect from previous South African captains.

Hansie of late has become spiritual, is there some reason for this?

I think quite frankly that he has remained the same person I met in 1992. I think that he was very young at the time, and the principles then haven't changed with time. When I say he is a true leader, I guess I mean that his character is such that he would have been successful no matter in whatever field he had taken up. He is religious, he stands for good values, and in simple terms, Hansie is a good person, period. If I were to remember Hansie Cronje I would remember him, outside cricket, as a good person, period.

To get back to what you said earlier, about your colour. Do you think racism still exists in South African cricket?

I think there is no open racism in South African cricket today -- if there was, I would be the first person to walk away, because I grew up living in the heart of apartheid. I wasn't actively involved but I was very politically minded, so I would be sensitive to any form of racism. But I can assure you that in this team, I am accepted and never in my seven years in this field have I see some incident where I could turn around and say that was an act of racism against me or any body else.

Players of colour are slowly coming through, for us. Obviously, it would take longer than one would expect, because I always believe that transformation is a process, it is not an event. It always takes time. You can't have 11 black cricketers in the South African team overnight. But already, we can see signs of the impact of the development programme that is intended to spread the game among the coloured community.

The Goolam Rajah interview continues:
'India is a challenging assignment, so the drive is even more intense, to succeed'


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