Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, ex-Protea JACQUES RUDOLPH talks about “CSA needing to take full responsibility” for the current state of play, the best bowler he faced and braaiing for Rory McIlroy.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of the state of South African cricket?
Jacques Rudolph: Obviously the state of our game is not great and fundamentally there are aspects that are worrisome considering the way the Proteas have played over the last one-and-a-half seasons. South Africa’s showing at the 2019 World Cup coupled with their performances against India is cause for concern. I genuinely feel gutted for the Proteas players at the moment, however, a fish rots from the head. Cricket South Africa (CSA) should take full responsibility for where we are now at as a cricketing nation. Structurally there are things which need looking at and, along with massive financial challenges, it makes it difficult as a collective to do well. I believe that when you have strong leadership at the top it filters right down through your national team and all the way to your franchise level. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t watch much franchise cricket but there is strong word on the street that the level has dropped as has crowd attendance. Strong leadership along with the right people in the right places with no hidden agendas is required. I think it’s going to take a long time to turn this ship around. To offer an analogy it’s like building a house on sand and if the foundations are not in place you are going to incur some problems down the line. It’s easy to blame players when the team isn’t doing well but collectively CSA need to arrive at a place where everyone is aligned with the same vision. From a leadership perspective with our rugby team, it seems everyone’s vision is aligned and Rassie Erasmus is able to get on with his job sans side issues.
Sport24 asked: Would Graeme Smith have been an ideal director of cricket?
Jacques Rudolph: Had Graeme been appointed as director of SA cricket it would have been a huge step in the right direction. I am fortunate to have known Graeme for a very long time since primary school. I have played with and under him and he is probably the strongest leader we have had within South African cricket if not the strongest. He is a respected leader, who understands the nuances of South African cricket and politics. With the correct motives and by employing the right people in the right positions, Graeme could potentially have been the guy to turn our cricket around. When Graeme withdrew his candidacy he said: “Despite my obvious desire to make a difference, I have not developed the necessary confidence that I would be given the level of freedom and support to initiate the required changes.” If he doesn’t have confidence in being allowed to implement the necessary changes then it must mean that there were certain assurances that he would not have been able to get from the men in suits at CSA. I think it’s a big blow for us because Graeme would have liked to have come in, changed things around and got the right structures and fundamentals in place. If you read between the lines from his social media statement you can see it’s a big concern.
Sport24 asked: Who would you like to see coaching the Proteas?
Jacques Rudolph: I know there is always politics involved in sport because I have been on that side of the fence before but you have people like Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher and Robin Peterson in your system. They have been around the block, have played international cricket and the big thing is that they are respected. I feel sorry for Enoch Nkwe because to be fair to him he is an inexperienced coach. I know him very well. He is a lovely guy and was a good cricketer at franchise level. He has had one good season with the Lions as head coach, gets thrown into the deep end and then taken to India and the Proteas get obliterated. The problem is that we have now taken a potential coach, who could have been great for South Africa for the next to three years, and made it far more difficult for him. Whereas if we had someone like Boucher, who has had plenty of success with the Titans, it just gives a different flavour. If we look at the Australian team, for instance, they brought in Justin Langer who was a very good coach for Western Australia. They also introduced Ricky Ponting, Brad Haddin and Steve Waugh. They haven’t necessarily ticked all the boxes when it comes to coaching badges but when they speak the players listen. If Smith was appointed director of cricket and one of Boucher, Peterson or Prince were appointed head coach, for me, everyone would become aligned.
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of meeting England in January?
Jacques Rudolph: From a positive perspective, we still have very good cricketers. I know we have lost the likes of AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla but there are still players like Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj who have done really well. I’m also a big fan of Temba Bavuma. I think the 29-year-old can turn into a very good Test player… Looking back at the 2019 World Cup, the Proteas had two people in leadership positions who are fairly laidback characters. Ottis Gibson is a lovely guy but it seems his leadership style is a little more relaxed. In turn, Faf is an equally relaxed type of guy and deals with pressure pretty well. However, I believe there needs to be a synergy between coach and captain. For example, when I was playing for the Proteas we had Graeme Smith, who is a fiery individual and Gary Kirsten, who is a more laidback character. The synergy between captain and coach needs to drive the team morale and culture. The Du Plessis-Nkwe partnership is a very new relationship and they will need to establish it from an early stage. It also needs to be driven by the more senior campaigners... In terms of team selection for the upcoming series, for me, it goes without saying that Dean Elgar should open for the Proteas in the Test arena. He has been a rock for South Africa in the five-day format over the last couple of years and I wouldn’t mess around there. I still believe there is a very big future ahead of Aiden Markram. I think he could become our next AB de Villiers. The former plays quite an attacking game. I think it’s fair to say that in white-ball cricket he’s still working out what his game plan looks like but he’s still quite young. If you look at a player like David Warner, he has the ability to take the game away from you and when Markram is on song, he will actually win you Tests.
Sport24 asked: What are your memories of playing for the Proteas?
Jacques Rudolph: My most memorable moment was when we toured England in 2012 and became the number one team in the world. It was the perfect culmination of good leadership and a well-honed squad over a long period of time. As a group, we did all the right things and the culture was spot-on. We had a very respectable coach and captain in Gary Kirsten and Graeme Smith and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of that set-up. I had great experiences playing for South Africa but would have liked to have done better. I think I had the potential to average higher but I travelled the world and have been very fortunate. In terms of lows from a Proteas perspective, I think it’s pretty well-documented what happened to me in Sydney in 2001. (Rudolph was listed on the team sheet but was removed at the request of CSA’s then-president Percy Sonn, who insisted that Justin Ontong – a coloured player – play instead). I know people are always outspoken about quotas and so forth but the bottom line is that in a country where there have been quota systems, we have won Rugby World Cups and have been the number one cricket team at stages. (On his Test debut in April 2003, Rudolph scored 222 not out against Bangladesh and went on to play 48 Tests, 45 ODIs and one T20I).
Sport24 asked: Who were the toughest batsmen and bowlers you faced?
Jacques Rudolph: In terms of the best batsmen I played against, Kumar Sangakkara was one of my favourites. His record speaks for itself, he got some of the most double hundreds and he kept wicket for a long time. I also idolised Brian Lara as a youngster and was fortunate enough to have played against him. In terms of the toughest bowler I faced, it would be Andrew Flintoff. Some might be surprised by it but from a left-hander’s perspective when he came around the wicket he bowled at a very good pace and had the ability to take the ball away from you, which was very difficult to handle.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests, who would you invite over?
Jacques Rudolph: I would definitely invite Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Roger Federer. I’m very passionate about golf - even though I’m not the world’s greatest golfer - and play off a 10 handicap and I love it. I admire Tiger for what he has achieved in the sport and he has been revolutionary in how he has moved the game forward. I have got a lot of respect for him considering the adversities he had and how he came back to win. As far as Rory is concerned, he has been around the block a bit and I like the dignified way he plays the game and the fact that he’s always humble and respectful. I really like that from high-quality sportspeople. When it comes to Federer, who is the same age as me - 38 - his record speaks for itself but he is very humble, dignified and always friendly off-court. I think it says plenty about a person’s character if they achieve that much in the game and maintain their humility. I would braai, which I probably do five times a week, while we listen to Kings of Leon.