Dr. Ali Bacher, 81, has seen everything in his multi-faceted life as a cricketer, before and during South Africa’s apartheid days, and as an administrator, who moved mountains for his country’s return to international cricket in the early 1990s.
He has not lost the zest for life, often travels between Johannesburg and Cape Town, raves about South Africa’s grassroots-level cricket in schools that sustain the development of the game, and does not miss a Test match at the Wanderers and the Centurion. And on occasions at Newlands, Cape Town too. He follows the tough domestic games that enable him to feel the pulse of South African Cricket, in particular the national team.
Dr. Bacher will be watching the white-ball series between India and South before the first Test that starts the day after Christmas at the Super Sport Park, Centurion.
“I will be at the Centurion on all days. South Africa has a high regard for India and the team will be well received here,” says Dr. Bacher.
Excerpts from an interview:
The ‘India Brand’ of cricket is set to make a big splash very soon in South Africa and it’s going to be an all-format tour. Around 40-odd Indian cricketers would be in action, including those part of the India ‘A’ team. Do you think the interest will be big with the Test matches scheduled around Christmas and New Year?
I mean it’s unique to send over 40 players for the tour...it’s unbelievable. There are a lot of limited-over games (three Twenty20Is and as many ODIs) and two Test matches. Indian cricket in South Africa is highly regarded, not only because there are over a million people of Indian origin in South Africa, but because of our association with international cricket since 1991.
There is a strong vibe between the two countries. India will be received very well in South Africa and the reason is that the first Test is going to be played at the Centurion from Boxing Day (December 26).
Normally, people go to the coast on holiday. Two years ago, it was decided to start a Boxing Day Test. And the crowds were great. As there is a strong cricketing culture at the Centurion, there will be a big crowd for the first Test.
Then there is the second Test at Cape Town in early January. Historically, Newlands has seen a full house with big crowds. So the Indian tour will be great for the South African public and the country.
But, the two boards have agreed only for a two-Test series. It should have been at least three, is it not? Almost two years ago, India played Tests at the Centurion, Johannesburg and Cape Town and all three delivered a result.
It’s absurd. Just two Test matches are absurd.
India has not won a Test series in South Africa. It has played 23, won four, lost 12 and drawn seven. Though India has sent some great players, it has not been able to get the better of the host in a Test rubber.
There is a good reason for that. Historically, the pitches here are very much like the Australian pitches. Generally speaking, the pitches here favour fast bowlers, they bounce a lot. The Centurion will help fast bowlers.
But the present Indian bowling attack is the best I have seen for 30 years. In the past, though there have been good fast bowlers like Kapil Dev, not all have been top-drawer stuff.
I am very impressed with the Indian fast bowlers now. It’s just one or two, they have more (Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur, Mukesh Kumar and Prasidh Krishna). Genuine fast bowlers have always done well in South Africa. I think this time India has the best chance of winning the Test series.
There are no warm-up games before the Test series though India will play six white-ball internationals leading to the first Test.
These are changing times. I went to England for the first time in 1965 and we played nine County games before the first Test. That gave me time to adapt to the changing conditions and the pitches there. I grabbed the opportunity to play eight games, and at the end of the tour, I was the second-highest run-getter after Graeme Pollock.
You will not get nine warm-ups these days these days, but there have to be at least a few. If I were the Indian Board, I would have insisted on two or three warm-up games because the pitches are different here.
I don’t know how the new players are going to adjust, the old senior players can. The new players need a few games to get used to a different environment.
Two years ago, India won the first Test at the Centurion, after defeats on two previous occasions but has never won a Test at Cape Town. South Africa has won four and two were drawn affairs. Would you say South Africa has the advantage, home conditions and all that?
South Africa went to India for the World Cup as the underdog and did better than anticipated. That’s a plus in white-ball cricket. The South African fast bowlers are still strong. South Africa has a history of producing good fast bowlers.
Kagiso Rabada, according to Dale Steyn, is South Africa’s best-ever fast bowler. Then there is Anrich Nortje; he is probably the quickest in World cricket (he is not in the team because of injury).
Our bowling doesn’t worry me. Every decade we get good fast bowlers. The pitches help them. But our batting is problematic. The top six in the Test team must have the capacity to get hundreds.
Perhaps this could be the last official tour of South Africa for Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and R. Ashwin. Your thoughts?
Virat Kohli, right from the first day I saw, was more like an Australian. Look at his body language. I thought he has brought a new tough attitude to the Indian team. As a batter, in my opinion, he is the best in the world. His obsession to consistently score well is remarkable. There were Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar before and now I am a big admirer of Kohli.
Then Rohit Sharma, the captain and opening batter. I love watching him play. He is not scared to play his shots from the first ball. He is flamboyant and plays the big shots, the sixes. He is great for the game of cricket. He is going to attract a lot of spectators.
Off-spinner Ashwin has been the best in world cricket for a long time. He is tall, bounces the ball, gets the turn, and as a batter, he can score runs. I have a high regard for him.
South Africa’s fast bowling has changed a lot from the days of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. There is also the great Jacques Kallis. It’s never easy to get a player like Kallis.
I interviewed Steve Waugh for my programme and he said that Kallis would rank as one of the greatest cricketers of all time. The sad part is that South Africa doesn’t see him like that, like what Steve Waugh said. Kallis was mentally very strong.
The four best batsmen that this country has produced are Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Jacques Kallis and A.B. de Villiers. They are all on par. De Villiers is the most innovative batter I have seen. With 13, 289 Test runs, 292 wickets, and 200 catches, Kallis the greatest cricketer this country has produced.
South Africa has had openers like Andrew Hudson, Gary Kirsten, and Hashim Amla. Does the country have players of their quality now?
Gary Kirsten scored a century against every Test-playing country. Amla is one of the great batsmen this country has produced. He will be just below the four that I have mentioned. Hudson was a good opening batter, but not great.
Your impressions of World cricket? There is a World Cup for the two white-ball formats and now there is the World Test Championship...
We have some great rivalries in the traditional Test series. That’s what makes cricket a great game. Let the rivalry carry on; a five-Test series between Australia v England for the Ashes, and India v Pakistan.
A World Test Championship played over two years will not crack the imagination of the people in the World. That I can tell you.