Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, doyen of South African cricket DR ALI BACHER talks about transformation, how to eliminate match-fixing within the gentleman’s game and his admiration for AB de Villiers.
Sport24 asked: Since ending your association with Cricket South Africa, what projects have kept you busy?
Ali Bacher: After the 2003 Cricket World Cup, it was my decision to call it a day. I had been involved in cricket administration since 1981 and I knew that it was time to move on. However, I needed to keep my mind active and have enjoyed some wonderful associations which have kept me mentally stimulated and very busy. I have co-written two cricket books with David Williams, I’ve conducted televised interviews with prominent sport personalities for SuperSport since 2010, and I continue to serve as chairman of Right to Care, the largest HIV/Aids NGO in South Africa. I will be turning 74 in May, but I’m not slowing down. I start my day at 05:00 every morning and make time for a long walk.
Sport24 asked: You played a significant role in SA cricket’s readmission. What are your memories?
Ali Bacher: I don’t like to look back but rather forward. However, the reintroduction of South African cricket to the world scene was extraordinary because the body that facilitated our re-entry was the ANC. In 1991, they told World Cricket to support us, but there was no guarantee that there would be democracy in SA. We only went to the 1992 Cricket World Cup because of the late Nelson Mandela. He was the most remarkable man I ever met. Mandela’s philosophy was not to forget the past but to forgive. I was privileged to have interacted with Madiba on a number of occasions, and not once did I notice any bitterness. It was unbelievable from a man who spent 27 years of his life behind bars.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma’s rise to prominence?
Ali Bacher: Rabada is a young man and his workload has to be managed carefully, but his feet are on the ground, he wants to develop and he’s level-headed, which is very good for SA cricket. The 20-year-old, schooled at St Stithians College, is a terrific talent. Meanwhile, Bavuma has to be the shortest batsman I’ve ever seen play Test cricket. I thought the bowlers would bounce him out, but when I watched him bat at Newlands, he was pulling them through midwicket for four. Lions head coach Geoffrey Toyana told me that he has never known a cricketer that works as hard on his game as Bavuma does. He’s at the nets every day and if you work that hard you’ll make it. All credit to him.
Sport24 asked: CSA’s race quota is at least four players of colour in every international. Your take?
Ali Bacher: I’m quite happy for there to be race quotas at school, university and Under-19 level, as well as for SA Colts XI. However, I have a problem in the year 2016 for quotas to be enforced at senior provincial and national team level. In Gauteng, the black quota is by and large filled up by children who attend good private schools and are thereby not disadvantaged. The majority of them are schooled at St John’s, St Stithians and St David’s. As such, they should be competing equally for a place in the aforementioned junior teams alongside their white counterparts. However, if the children hail from Soweto or Alexandra, for example, I have no issue with quotas. Unfortunately, for a young black cricketer from the township, who has a feel, gift and passion for cricket, to progress there is only one way – to move quickly to one of the 30 identified, historically strong cricket schools in the country. As a case in point, Bavuma first attended SACS in Cape Town and then St David’s in Johannesburg, Hashim Amla went to Durban High School and Makhaya Ntini was at Dale College.
Sport24 asked: As a former batsman yourself, which batsman most excites you in today’s game?
Ali Bacher: AB de Villiers. He is the most innovative batsman I’ve ever seen. He plays shots that the world had never seen before. He says he doesn’t practice his fancy shots in the nets before a match. He goes out to bat, gets a feel for the conditions, the bowler steps up to his mark and from there De Villiers’s ruthless innovation kicks in. I am imbued with enthusiasm watching how De Villiers will lead the Proteas over the next few years. While the man himself has spoken of his desire to play less international cricket, I wouldn’t take it too seriously because he’s passionate about South Africa. However, there is so much cricket played nowadays that players burn out, lose their appetite and go where the money is. De Villiers will never go just for the money, but needs to be managed carefully.
Sport24 asked: Match-fixing has again reared its ugly head. How do we combat the serious issue?
Ali Bacher: Match-fixing has been happening for a long time now – some say it started in the ‘80s. There have been various attempts to rid cricket of this cancer, but it’s still happening. If it’s occurring in South Africa at provincial level, rest assured its taking place in other countries. The Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal was a dark moment for SA cricket but, when I testified at the King Commission, I made it clear that match-fixing wasn’t only a South African problem. Hansie was caught and to his credit he acknowledged that he had erred badly. However, he wasn’t alone. I maintain that the structures available in world cricket will not eradicate this malpractice. The cricket authorities’ secondment of security people simply hasn’t worked. In football, for years allegations were rife that money was finding its way into the wrong hands. It’s now come to the surface and will be eradicated because of the FBI’s involvement. I’d suggest a similar course of action in order to clean up cricket.
Sport24 asked: Some have called Russell Domingo’s value to the side into question. Your view?
Ali Bacher: As an outsider, I don’t have any major problems with Domingo. He was one of our young development coaches back in the ‘90s. He was young but enthusiastic. He’s risen through the ranks and come across well in the media. But is a coach critical at international level? I don’t think so. You can’t, for example, teach De Villiers the A to Z of cricket at that level. Gary Kirsten showed that his success with India was more down to his ability to tap into the motivational side of the game. He worked with players’ minds instead of coaching them on how to play a cover drive or bowl a googly. I don’t think you have to be a tactical genius to be a coach. The most critical ingredients for a coach to possess are effective communication skills, the ability to lift morale and keep a team together.
Sport24 asked: What are SA’s chances of winning the ICC World Twenty20 trophy next month?
Ali Bacher: I have got a good feeling this time around. While South Africa took a pounding to India and England during the Test series, they have come back strongly. In T20 cricket, if De Villiers is in rampant form and still at the crease after 10 overs, SA will win. He is the best batsman in the world and a true inspiration. Although Faf du Plessis captains the T20 side, De Villiers is our key player.