He stands tall as one of the most successful captains in recent years. Wessel Johannes Cronje of South Africa, popularly known as Hansie Cronje, is the epitome of innovation and consistency.
Cronje has led the South African squad to the pinnacles of glory by sheer imagination and astute leadership.
With his low-profile charisma, a hallmark of the entire team, Hansie has been leading his team's elusive quest for numero uno position in world cricket over the last eight months.
Right on the heels of a good series with England at home, they beat India by 4 wickets in the first Test. A win or draw in Bangalore would help his team create a record, leaving India beaten in a home series for the first time in roughly 15 years.
Hansie spoke to that's cricket.com in an exclusive interview. Here are the excerpts:
Coming from the Mumbai Test on a winning note may not have been exactly on your mind when you landed in India?
Well, surely it was a dream start because the Mumbai Test actually gave us the confidence that 'yes, we can beat India in India' and perhaps a chance to win the series. It reinforced the fact that though we have been here earlier, there was an aura of unbeatability in India. It feels good to get off to a winning start. We have been here a couple of times and it is now we are getting a feel of the pitches and the crowds that throng the stadia.
What was your preparation to this series in India?
Frankly, soon after the Test series against England was over, we were getting ready to go to India. Sunday evening the match against England got over and we were off on Wednesday. So there was hardly any preparation time in between. But we were watching closely the Indian performance on Channel 9. Plus, of course, we have video footage of all the Indian players. The last time we were here, the tour lasted 66 days but this time around, we will be spending only 33 days. So I guess the energy level will keep us going.
Having started as joint favourites, you were knocked out of the World Cup in a tie? How did you cope both as a captain and as a person?
Immediately after the World Cup, I set myself new goals. For me and Bob Woolmer the coach, it was a strong desire to win the World Cup. The new goal I had to set myself as a skipper was to make the South Africa the best side in international cricket. These new goals tended to take my focus from the past and help me look at the future. Disappointments will take a long time to be forgotten. It was so close yet so far. Is it not any cricketer's dream to play in the World Cup final at Lords? And we had missed the opportunity by a single run. We played Test cricket at Lords, but playing the final at Lords is altogether a different thing.
It took quite a while for me to overcome what had happened in the World Cup, because I had spent a lot of energy, not just physical energy but mental and emotional energy. A week later, I was sitting at home and I asked myself "Why did this happen to me?" Then I recalled the wonderful things that happened to me as a skipper and cricketer.
Till date, I have visited 43 countries and I have a lot of friends and lovely memories to cherish. Then I concluded that it would be selfish to win every single game we play or tournament we take part. Leave alone leading the country, playing for the country itself is such a big honour.
The last World Cup was a spiritually enriching experience. It was a humbling experience for a lot of our guys. Those narrow wins and losses teach you a lot about life. They help you to keep your feet on the ground. Cricket is a great leveler and great humbler.
You mentioned that you want to become world-beaters? What is your game plan now?
Although we lost in a close semi-final in the World Cup, we have been a tough side to beat. But our team is currently a composition of newer players. Three or four members of the World Cup squad are currently not in the team. Jonty's wife has some health problems so he is not in the team.
Apart from the change in personnel, even the coaching staff is new. So each one should quickly get into the roles that are cut out for them, and we should start involving the coaching staff. And that's when consistent results will start showing up.
It is said that South Africans have reduced the game to a scientific and clinical process than an art form. What do you say?
It was coach Bob Woolmer's coaching approach that made it clinical and scientific. We are not following any more of that scientific stuff. We are just getting back to cricketing basics.
What makes your team click? How do you contribute to your team's dynamics?
Since 1991-92, ever since we returned to international cricket, there has been a hunger in every team member to earn a country cap and keep performing. We did not have the privilege for about 29 years. So there is a common goal for every one to keep proving something about the Springboks to the world. So except defining the individual's role and keeping the team together, I don't really contribute. Each one of them is highly motivated. The South African team had won the rugby World Cup and we came close to winning the cricket World Cup a couple of times. So currently we are aiming at the no 2 position after Australia.
What are some of the best memories of your earlier visits to India?
The best memory to me was the terrific reception we got in Calcutta When we first came to India. This was the first non-White community that we were exposed to and the opening match on November 10, 1991 was a memorable match.
The crowd in Calcutta was amazing. When we returned in 1996, we had mixed memories. We played well and lost in the final of the Hero Cup. The crowd involvement is simply mind-blowing. Whether it is Kumble's bowling or Sachin's batting, the entire spectators get behind them. It can be a very intimidating sight to a new player.
Even the openers in the 1991 Test in Calcutta were awed by the intensity of the match. Cookes and Hudson were the openers. It takes a couple of matches and only after that one absorbs the tension, one can begin to play a natural game.
Who are the most dangerous players that you are wary of?
Steve Waugh is the man who is very difficult to handle. It was Steve with two superb innings who stood between us and victory in the World Cup. And he is very consistent with his performance. Shane Warne is one of the dangerous bowlers and he is doing really well these days. Brian Lara is the most orthodox and attacking player, but Sachin Tendulkar is technically correct and scores runs at a brisk pace.
What are your values as a person?
I was brought up in a spiritual atmosphere at home. But in 1992, after a horrible accident that involved the death of a little boy, I was totally shaken and asked myself if I were to die that day, what would I be destined to (go to)-- heaven or hell.
It was then I made a choice to follow God and take spiritual principles seriously. It affected my whole approach, not just to cricket, but also to life altogether. It's not as if my faith has either helped or adversely affected my game. It affected my attitude to life. My faith in God enables me to view life from a different perspective. I depend upon God for guidance, strength, and responsibilities because as a skipper, 10 other players' careers depend upon me and my choices.
My faith also helps me to learn how to handle defeat a little easily and makes me realise that cricket is not the be-all and end-all of life. Some of the senior guys like Andrew Hudson and Kepler Wessels were some of my good friends with whom I have spent good time over the last few years.
What is your advice to all who look at you as a role model?
To make the most of every opportunity. My entire career is all about being at the right place at the right time. It's all about hard work and being positive. To be able to stay humble when things are going your way because there are going to be days when things are not going to go your way and that's when you realise you need others as well.