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The one Hansie left out

Submitted by on Saturday, 11 October 2008No Comment
The one Hansie left out

Vinnige Fanie de Villiers looks back on the Hansie years, lessons learnt from West Indian quickie Sylvester Clarke, throwing javelins, successfully adapting, with his father’s help, to a little town called Todmorden on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire —and that match-winning performance in the second Test in Sydney in 1994.

You recently appeared on Carte Blanche and made it clear that you were against the movie, ‘Hansie’ made by Hansie’s brother Frans Cronje. Why?

I was upset and uncomfortable about the film because it wasn’t wanted by his friends, ex-cricketers or family. Of that I’m pretty sure. I bet you the parents didn’t want to be part of this at all. There’s a lot of unnecessary unhappy emotion that is being recreated. Frans Cronje will probably make a lot of money to the detriment of a lot of people’s emotions.

Once the scandal all came out, did you ever get to sit down and discuss it with Hansie?

He obviously never phoned any of his senior players. If he had, I would have confronted him. He just kept a low profile – in fact he disappeared. That’s probably why we feel sorry for him. He started using those cargo flights and it wasn’t to save money that he used them. I am sure it was so he didn’t have to walk on a plane and have everyone looking at him. You won’t believe the stares I had to put up with around that time. I’m sure people used to look at me and wonder, ‘Was he part of it? Is Hansie taking the knock for him too?’ I have had hundreds of people say to me that because of us, they no longer watch cricket anymore. That’s huge.

How did you feel when after one of your great performances, it was revealed there had been match fixing?

Yes – it was a one day game at the Wanderers against Pakistan, where we had the Pakistanis at 11 for 3. I had three wickets in the first two overs. I thought I had a great game and that my bowling was coming together (smiles). I really enjoyed it, because I thought I was very good (laughs). But they had huge money on that game. Salim Malik admitted there was match fixing. It’s difficult because while I was playing I simply gave my utmost – to find they weren’t trying, confused it all.

If you could ask Hansie one question – what would it be?

‘Why didn’t you pull me in? What made you decide not to ask me?’ At that time I was a pivotal player. In that era I was one of the top three bowlers in the world – there could have been serious spread-bets on me to go for forty/ fifty runs in nine overs. Was it because of my background, or did he think I might have taken it further? Did he think I would confront him and it would then be known what was going on?

What sort of captain was he?

A captain’s strength is the senior players around him. Hansie had 8 senior players that had 70 odd years of cricket experience at a professional level. Seven of the eight were captains of their provinces. Imagine all the help Hansie had? His decisions were always based on everybody’s input. But he was a great public speaker and had the skills to mobilise the public out there to love cricket and himself; his communication skills, which were helped by his looks, made the link between the public and the game of cricket, massive. But a real test of his captaincy would have been, to see how effective he was without those senior players. If I had a choice of making him captain again – would I choose him? I would.

Like fast bowlers Geoff Thompson (Aus) and Mathew Hoggard (Eng) you were a top javelin thrower before you turned to cricket, how did that help your bowling?

Well I come from a family of Javelin throwers – my mom Hanna and her brother were Free State champions, my sister was a Free State champion and we all represented SA Schools.  As a javelin thrower you throw and create whiplash which helps when throwing a ball. Any fast bowler could be a good javelin thrower and I suppose the other way around.

You have always been the ‘darling’ of the press. But right at the end of your career there was some controversy – talk me through that.

In all my years in cricket I had one bad media report. Colin Bryden used my retirement day to write it. His headline read, ‘Fanie retires in turmoil of racist remarks’. What it should have said was, ‘Fanie retires in turmoil of racist remarks MADE TO THE PLAYERS’. It wasn’t me it was some Indian guys shouting at Jacques Kallis who had refused to sign an autograph for a child. But in that one day game, Jacques wasn’t allowed to sign autographs where he was fielding and supposed to be concentrating, so he wasn’t been rude or difficult. When I got involved to try and find the guy who abused Jacques, suddenly I was the racist.

Tell me about your first stay in the UK.

I went to play cricket on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire in a little town called Todmorden. It was grey, there were no leaves on the trees, it was miserable, and it was cold. All the walls of those little stacked townhouses were blackened and dirty, and they are small. If you go into the sitting rooms the dogs are inside on the couches and there is animal hair everywhere. You can see the lines through the houses where people have walked and worn down the stairs and so on. I became depressed and started missing my family and I began to hate my surroundings. So I phoned my dad and after a sombre few moments said ‘Ek sukkel.’ (I’m struggling.) He said, ‘Wag, ek kom.’ (Wait – I’m coming).

By all accounts he convinced you to stay; how did he do that?

When he got there he said, ‘Let’s go to the library’. We then proceeded to find out everything about the town. We found out who the Godfather or founder of the town was – we went to see his statue in a beautiful park. Then we investigated why the walls were dirty – which was because there was no electricity and they had to use coal. We went to the coal mines in the area and he pointed out all the little traditions that we didn’t have at home. Even the hair on the furniture (laughs) had an explanation; the dogs used to live inside because of the weather and to provide companionship. But we found everyone still walked their dogs and cared for them. Because of my dad’s little exercise, the respect I developed for those people was astonishing. I came to completely love the place. He often used to say, ‘Hel die Engelse is darem slim…’ (Hell the English are clever…). Interestingly that came from a man who was a, ‘died in the wool’ Afrikaner, who hated the English (laughs).

Very clever on your dad’s part…

… Actually to thank Dad, I took him on a trip to India. I was picked for a World XI that played seven or eight games against India and I took Dad with.  It was an absolute nightmare (laughs), for two weeks he signed autographs non-stop. But it was great he was in the planes, in the dressing rooms with us and he had firsthand experience of touring.

There was that incredible 2nd test in 1994 in Sydney Australia which you virtually won on your own. Australia needed 117 to win and you took 6 wickets for 43runs; tell me about that.

I was lucky there because the season and a half before, I had played in Kent. When I arrived there, I thought I’m going to show these Poms how to bowl (smiles). But the previous season had been very wet and they had reduced the seam and made the thread thinner; so I couldn’t swing a ball. The guys were declaring for 800 and 900 (laughs). Because I couldn’t get the ball to swing I taught myself to bowl an off-cutter and in Sydney I got my off-cutter going which helped me tremendously. On paper they needed 117 to win; but we reckoned that because of the deterioration of the wicket, and they therefore would have to score their runs in singles, it was more like about 200. So we knew our position was much better than a normal person would think. Even the 40 odd runs they needed the last day we knew were more like a good 100. But it was a hugely emotional win. And those are the ones you remember – the emotional ones.

Apparently the Indian’s used to sometimes throw things at fielders, but didn’t that also happen in Australia?

At Melbourne when we walked out of the dressing room they threw small stuff to intimidate us. Well someone through a piece of chicken at Pat Symcox, which he caught, took a bite out of it and then threw back at them (laughs) and chirped them, ‘Bloody convicts…’

Against England at The Oval in 1994, you hit English fast bowler Devon Malcolm on the head. I thought there was an unwritten rule that bowlers didn’t’ bounce each other?

I remember that. I hit his helmet and his England badge fell off. But no, he had peppered our guys. He wasn’t a great bowler although he took nine wickets that game (laughs). It was quite funny the boys said to me, ‘Pin him’ as he had chirped us. But the moment I hit him on the head they were all mad at me (laughs), because as he stood up he said to the guys nearby, ‘You guys are history!’ And by then the wicket had degenerated. That business of bowlers not going for each other was brought to us by Sylvester Clarke because he could hurt you. He used to say, ‘I’m going to bounce you on the 4th ball so duck before I even bowl’ (laughs). But in test cricket you try and hurt a bowler so he can’t bowl in the second innings (smiles).

Talk me through the tandem parachute jump you and John Robbie did into the Wanderers. Who was more scared you or John?

No John was scared – the poor oke actually steamed up! (Laughs) He was terrified. He had these goggles on and they steamed up as we got higher, and he was talking on his walkie-talkie thing, and he was saying, ‘We are flying so high I can’t see through my glasses…’ (laughs). But I have bungee jumped so I didn’t find it too bad.

Your daughter was born deaf and you have been heavily involved in related charities, has her hearing improved?

I upgraded her hearing-aid the other day. It cost me R60,000 which I had to fork out myself just to upgrade. But after I got the new hearing aid she came to me and said for the first time she can pinpoint where a bird is when she hears it in a tree. Before she had to turn her head 360 degrees to find it – now she can ‘hear’ where it is.

You have cycled from Cape Town to Pretoria and sat up on the floodlights at Centurion park for charity, do those ‘antics’ raise worthwhile amounts of money?

(Smiles) Sitting on the flood lights raised about R189,000 and the cycling about R800,000 but that is only the start. The real value in all those things I do for charity is the awareness that is created and that is worth millions. For example, through us Jeremy Mansfield realised what cochlea implants are and he, through his radio program, has now raised huge sums of money – also millions. So the HEAR Foundation is going strong.

If cricket didn’t exist and apart from ‘spiesgooi,’ (throwing the javelin), what sport would you have excelled at?

If I put on some muscle – rugby.

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