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March 1, 2000


India Down Under

The Rediff Interview / Dr Aaron (Ali) Bacher

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'What's happened in my country is an absolute miracle'

Dr. Ali Bacher Dr Aaron (Ali) Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, will don the mantle of CEO of the 2003 World Cup Organising Committee in June this year. A Jew, Dr Bacher's contribution to South African cricket is invaluable. Although he was criticised for organising rebel tours to South Africa during the apartheid period, it is to his credit that he still enjoys the support of the coloured populace as well.

Dr. Bacher believes that the 2003 World Cup is an opportunity for all the people of South Africa to come together. In a freewheeling chat with Faisal Shariff, he shared his vision for South African cricket as also plans for the quadrennial tournament.

What qualitative difference did the years in isolation make to South African cricket?

It has made us very good, very competitive. The key to the future success of South African cricket is to ensure that the transformation process, which is taking place now, is achieved without dropping standards. We also need to ensure that the ongoing transformation takes us in the right direction. The process has to be handled carefully, to make sure that standards don't drop.

What according to you are the reasons for South Africa's meteoric rise in world cricket ever since it's reentry?

As I said earlier, we are a competitive sporting nation. Our school sporting structures are very good. There are some outstanding schools in the country, which have been producing fine cricketers for South Africa over the decades. The development programmes are taking root at the grassroots levels, in all pockets of the country, black or white, and that is another plus. Our grounds are good. We have full time administrators in every province within South Africa, and there is commitment and discipline within our system. Everyone contributes, and takes pride in contributing, at whatever level, administrative or playing.

Would you say developmental programmes are evenly distributed between the whites and the coloureds? Mr Rushdi Magiet, your chairman of selectors, told me that the grounds for blacks at the school level are alarmingly negligible?

The facilities in the coloured areas are inadequate, there's no doubt about that. We are endeavoring to obviate that problem. For example, we have an association with a cement company, PPC Cement, and we are confident that around the time the World Cup comes to South Africa in 2003, we would have put together, in the disadvantaged areas of our country, 1000 concrete pitches for practise nets, and 21 cricketing ovals. It is a start towards redressing the imbalances of the past. What we also do is, when we find talented young cricketers in the townships, we offer them scholarships to good cricketing schools, like the one I went to. At the moment we have over 150 very talented coloured youngsters, who are not only getting good cricket offers but also getting good education.

You have spearheaded South Africa's climb to the top, both on the playing field and in the corridors of administration. What has been your own personal driving force?

It's not only one person, not just me alone. We have a great team back in South Africa, which has made this possible. We have wonderful administrators, wonderful development officers and a wonderful captain in Hansie Cronje. The board is committed towards the goal of taking cricket to all parts of the country, and towards making our side the best in the world. So it is not a one-man show. My own driving force has been my passion for the game. I love the game dearly, and South African cricket has been very good to me. So, if there is something I can do to contribute to South African cricket, I will do it.

When we won the game here in Mumbai, I was so thrilled. I went to the dressing room and hugged each one of them. It was such an emotional moment for me. So we, the administrators, are behind them and it is wonderful for our country.

Do you believe there has been a radical change in the South African mindset, especially of the whites towards the coloureds, since the end of apartheid? Or are the changes merely cosmetic and illusory?

What's happened in my country is an absolute miracle. Politically, there is stability. In the eighties there were fears that there would be civil revolution, but it never happened because of wonderful people like Nelson Mandela, who showed South Africa the wonderful era of democracy, supported by the process of reconciliation. It was a phase not of revenge or hatred, but of not forgetting the past, but forgiving and moving on. It is also a mindset of working together, whites and coloureds both, for the betterment of our country, and I would say what has happened in our country has been unique.

South African cricket in general, and you in particular, have been in the vanguard of introducing and pushing through technological advances. Do you see umpires on the field playing an increasingly diminishing role in years to come?

I think we should strike a balance. You cannot be too radical, but you must be progressive and you must advance without losing the basic ethos of the game, the basic values of the game. For example, we are the innovators of the third umpire. But I would not go beyond that right now, because to give the third umpire sweeping powers would reduce the men on the field to robots. The onfield umpires are such an important component of the game. I mean this Test match for example, the two umpires, Shepherd and Venkat, were brilliant. It was a pressure game and they were outstanding. Let's not take it away from them. I think technology is fine, but we should allow the top umpires to flourish, show their skills out in the middle.

The Dr Ali Bacher interview continues:
'A good captain can, through strategic brilliance, win a game on his own'


Mail Faisal Shariff