Allan Donald on 'Oom' Ewie: He was kindness personified

Allan Donald (Getty Images)
Allan Donald (Getty Images)

Proteas legend Allan Donald is emphatic in his belief that the broader South African cricket fraternity won't quite grasp what a giant Ewie Cronje truly was.

Tributes have poured in for the famed Free State administrator and father of ex-Proteas skipper Hansie, who died on Monday afternoon after a valiant battle with stomach cancer.

Donald has, rather unsurprisingly, been deeply affected by 'Oom' Ewie's passing as he spent a lot of time in the Cronje household as youngter and also saw his early career be shaped him.

"I don't think people quite realise what a big influence he had on my life and on countless others," the 53-year-old, affectionately dubbed White Lightning in his playing days, told Sport24.

"He was quintessentially the 'Mr Cricket' of the Free State, but that wouldn't do his legacy justice. He was the best sports administrator in the history of the province. He was simply tireless and did so much for varsity and school sports too." 

One of Donald's enduring memories of Cronje is how he and another Bloemfontein great, Tat Botha, engaged in a symbiotic relationship that turned Kovsies (University of Free State) into a sporting behemoth.

Botha, arguably the rugby equivalent of Cronje, is credited with gifting the sport names like Andre Joubert, Henry Honiball, Jannie de Beer, Helgard and Pieter Muller and Juan Smith.

"What always struck me is their kindness. 'Oom' Ewie and 'Oom' Tat were always helping each other, whether it was cutting grass or pulling off the covers. They gave and have given their lives to sport," said Donald.

"They would always ensure the tea and biscuits were on hand for the opposition, that their dressing rooms would be looking pristine. It sometimes felt as if opponents were more important than the home side!"

Yet even if graciousness and inherent decency was Cronje's essence, it didn't mean he didn't strive for excellence on the playing field.

"I have a lot to thank him for in terms of my playing career. He was the guy that imbued a talented group of local cricketers to believe that Free State could bark with the top dogs," said Donald.

"That famous Benson & Hedges Cup final we won as underdogs in 1988/89 against Western Province was a fitting reward for his efforts. He got men like Allan Lamb, Sylvester Clarke and Omar Henry to come and play in Bloemfontein. Mike Procter was our coach.

"Ewie believed that if we were going to become better, we needed to learn from the best. But he balanced that with his humanity. He took tremendous care of every person that crossed his path."        

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