South African Test Captain, Hansie Cronje (left), played for Ireland in the 1997 Benson and Hedges Cup matches and made a great impression on everybody involved in Irish cricket. Philip Boylan of the Sunday Independent wrote this article just after Hansie arrived in Ireland.
If Ireland get through to the second round of the Benson & Hedges Cup, wild horses wouldn't stop WJ `Hansie' Cronje returning to play for us. The inquiry was fielded spontaneously. The eyes genuinely danced at the idea. "I'd love to come. It would be fantastic."
Ireland simply have to win three out of four (two may be sufficient) group matches and our overseas star will be on the first plane back. No matter that there are not many entries under Cronje in the phone directory, he is one of our own already. He at once expressed delight at the vibrancy of Dublin and has deduced that traffic does not move on a wet Friday. It is easy to see why Dr. Ali Bacher, Chief Executive of the South African Cricket Board, places so much faith in the ability of his country's captain to build a new era at home and spread the cricket gospel to the world.
We are sitting in the big reception room of Belvedere College a while before he runs a tutored eye over Irish underage players. I am amazed that he is so relaxed. He is certainly not here on a holiday, but the troubled countenance we are all so familiar with as he wrestles with opposition on the world stage is nowhere to be seen. He is still a schoolboy at heart. There must be great pressure on you every time you walk onto a field back home, I suggest. "I prefer to see it as a challenge," comes the quiet answer. No gung-ho content at all.
You just know Cronje's association will make Irish cricket richer. By the end of practice at Clontarf's Castle Avenue ground this afternoon, I have no doubt that, chameleon-like, he will have assumed a green hue. By the end of the match against Middlesex tomorrow he is quite likely to be part of Irish cricket lore. Certainly, by the time Ireland have completed the first round programme with away matches against Somerset and Glamorgan next weekend, and against Essex at Downpatrick tomorrow fortnight at least one of those counties will know who the 6 feet 4 inch newcomer to the Irish team is.
Of course, only the newest in the English county scene won't have played against Cronje. Leicestershire won the championship last year. Cronje spent the 1995 season with them and maybe his contribution needed a winter to ferment. When Wessel Johannes Cronje had bat in hand at Grace Road he totted up 2301 runs in 15 championship matches (26 innings) with only one not-out to help him to a 52.04 average. Following the recent series against Australia, he now has 39 Tests and 114 One-Day Internationals on his CV as well. Application is the name of his game. "I train once a day, every day. I see Match Days as a break from training." He makes them sound like rest days which just don't have an entry space in his diary. He is lean, but not hungry-looking, except for involvement, although the revelation that "I spent only 60 days at my home last year" brings a realisation that involvement means full time. His family is steeped in the game, but he has made it at Test level through single-mindedness, rather than inherited brilliance.
Much better to have someone like WJC in your corner at this time of year, when runs will have to be hewn from weather-beaten fairly lifeless pitches, rather than have a wristy Flash Harry, who would bemoan the fact that the ball is not coming onto the bat. It is easy to forget that he turns over his right arm at good medium pace. He is accurate, too, which will come in handy, given that Ireland conceded 164 wides in 418.1 overs in ten matches during the ICC Trophy in Malaysia. There is, of course, no way that Ireland will have such a proportion of wides against Middlesex. People like Mark Ramprakash would intercept them before they were called and despatch them to the clubhouse.
The last thing in the world Hansie Cronje wants is to be seen as a one-man band. "I like to bat at No 3, 4 or 5, but I am looking forward to meeting Mike Hendrick (coach) and Justin Benson (captain) and I will be happy to do whatever is best for the team." Already in possession of a business degree, where does Hansie Cronje expect to be in ten years' time? "To have acquired an MBA and be in business, and taking a break from cricket." A man needs new horizons. Luckily for Ireland, he can see no further than the games in Dublin, Taunton, Cardiff and Downpatrick for the next couple of weeks.