When TOI caught up with the 77-year-old former South African captain, he started off with huge admiration for Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar. “SuperSport (South Africa’s official sports broadcaster) gave extensive coverage yesterday to Sachin’s final Test match against the West Indies in Mumbai in 2013, including his lengthy speech to the crowd after the match had been completed. I conveyed this to him this morning via an SMS. Within 30 minutes, I had a lengthy response from Sachin, expressing his appreciation for my message. He remains an extraordinary human being,” says Bacher, who led South Africa to a 4-0 clean sweep over Australia at home in the 1969-70 series at home, before SA were barred from international cricket for the next two decades.
In an exclusive interview to TOI from Johannesburg, spoke on a range of issues concerning cricket.
You recently said that you have information that India may tour South Africa to play a three-match T20I series, as South Africa’s tour of India for a three-ODI series in March was cancelled due to Covid-19. The number of cases have increased in both India and SA in recent times. Do you still believe that series will happen?
The main objective of this tour would be to help South African cricket, which has serious financial problems. I doubt if this tour will take place. Our government medical advisers have gone public and said that the corona virus will hit South Africa the hardest in July and August. Maybe Sourav (Ganguly, BCCI president) and Graeme (Smith, director of cricket, Cricket South Africa) should be looking now at possible new venues like the UAE hoping that the airline industry will be functioning in August.
Do you see world cricket bouncing back from this situation? How much do you see cricket changing from here? What can the ICC do to steer the cricket world out of this pandemic after-effect?
So many of us wake up every day and hope that the virus has gone. This will not happen. World medical experts predict that this pandemic will last anything up to 18 months. The consequences for world cricket would be very serious, unless world cricket agrees to and allows international cricket matches to be played to empty stadiums. The massive global TV audience would not diminish and the income the Test-playing countries would receive from the broadcasters would allow them to survive this crisis, which is unprecedented since World War-II.
You’ve seen a lot of batsmen, particularly Barry Richards closely in your career. Where would you place Virat Kohli?
The two best all-round batsmen of the past decade, in my opinion, are AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. Having said this, I have not considered the greats of the game – Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis, who both retired from Test cricket in 2013. De Villiers is the most innovative batsman I have ever seen. It is accepted in South Africa that Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards, both of whom I played with and against, are our best-ever batsmen. I have no hesitation in putting AB in the same class as Graeme and Barry. Kohli is a brilliant attacking all round batsman, who likes to dominate the bowlers, like Pollock did, from the first ball. He surely is one of India’s finest-ever batsmen. He’s also a very positive and aggressive captain who now leads what is probably India’s finest-ever cricket team.
Like every South African fan, you must have been left disappointed too with the Proteas’ poor performance in the World Cup in England, and against India in the Tests series last year. What do you think went wrong there?
I am now going to concentrate on South African cricket for the period between June 2019 until now. I was in England in June last year primarily to interview three legends of world sport – Barry Richards, Wasim Akram and English Rugby legend Martin Johnson, for my TV programme called ‘In Conversation.’ Purely by coincidence, the South African cricket team was staying in the same hotel as I was. Naturally, I had some interaction with the players. I found them to be lacking in confidence, and was not surprised when we did poorly in the World Cup.
It must be recorded that in 2019, we lost three of South Africa’s greatest ever cricketers – AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn. Then off to India and Enoch Nkwe is now appointed the new coach (of the South African team). Young and now in his late thirties, his only international cricket experience has been in Holland and Canada. Not surprisingly, we were given a drubbing in the Test series, losing all the three Tests by hefty margins.
Then, in November 2019, the CEO of Cricket South Africa (CSA) Thabang Moore was fired by the Board, allowing for the appointments of a highly credible lawyer in Jacques Faul as acting CEO of CSA, the highly credible Graeme Smith (former South African captain) as Director of Cricket and the appointment of two legends of our cricket – Mark Boucher (with Enoch Nkwe now as his deputy) and Jacques Kallis (as batting consultant) to the coaching team. The results were quick. Australia toured South Africa in early 2019, and we decisively beat them in all the three ODIs of a series (earlier this year).What is left now is to replace the current Board, whose knowledge of the game of cricket is very limited, with highly respected South Africans – black and white – who can provide visionary and positive leadership to South African cricket.
Sadly, on a different note, I think that because of the virus pandemic now prevailing, the highly-respected Faf du Plessis may have played his last game for South Africa. His successor in the Tests should be Aiden Markram, who was the captain of our Under-19 team that won the under-19 World Cup in 2014. He is a natural leader and can bat well, having scored 152 in a Test against Australia.