Monday, October 7, 2019

The big question: Kruger van Wyk




Standing at 4 feet 9 inches tall, Kruger van Wyk is officially the shortest cricketer in the history of the international game. But what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in determination, intelligence and a never-say-die spirit. Van Wyk left South Africa to pursue dreams of a career in international cricket, moving to New Zealand as a young adult. A successful career which included nine Tests for New Zealand was to follow. Following his retirement from the international game, van Wyk took up coaching, as the head coach for the Assupol TuksCricket academy (University of Pretoria). He recently tasted success with the team, winning the latest edition of the Varsity Cup (South Africa’s premier inter university tournament).

ZA cricket: Mr. van Wyk, let’s start with the latest news, congratulations on the Varsity Cup victory.
Kruger van Wyk: Thanks a lot. It was an exciting week for the lads, and they performed beautifully.

ZAC: Could you take us through the differences in preparing for something like the varsity cup, compared to domestic cricket?
KvW: Look, the level of exposure obviously goes up, you know for the players, and there’s a lot more at stake (in Varsity Cup). It’s probably the one week in the year where the players have a chance to play in front of crowds, and to play on TV, where their skills get put under a lot more pressure than your local leagues. It’s a wonderful breeding ground to see how they mentally react, and the preparations and intensity of it all does go up, so it was great to see how they responded and this is something which will help them grow.


ZAC: Looking ahead, varsity rugby has produced quite a few Springboks, while Varsity cricket has not quite had the same effect. Why do you think that is? Or do you think that the two games are too different to expect similar levels of international quality players?
KvW: Look I think that it has a produced a couple of international players, your guys like Heinrich Klaasen and Aiden Markram, but I do think that Varsity Cricket at times can be over regulated when it comes to a few things. Rugby has been very successful when it comes to producing players to play at the next level, but I’m pretty sure that more players will be going into international cricket having come through the varsity cricket set up. It is also important that Cricket South Africa values this tournament as well, I think that is a very important thing. As well as to understand that everyone wants to produce (international) cricketers for South Africa.

ZAC: Moving back to you, what has been the biggest difference for you between coaching and playing?
KvW: I think the biggest difference is that as a player you can be quite single minded and driven towards your own career, and coaching is all about giving. You put yourself second, and you’re almost fighting for other people’s careers. It’s not about your career when you are coaching, it is about the players, and I would say that is the big thing. Cricket, as a player you’re more selfish.

ZAC: Delving into your career a little bit; you made the move to New Zealand at a relatively young age. Looking back, would you say that was a scary time for you?
KvW: Yes, going to New Zealand was a tough decision to make at the time, but it was as much a lifestyle change as it was a career one. I always wanted to experience what it was like to live abroad, to broaden my own horizons. I loved New Zealand, I loved representing New Zealand, and it meant a lot to me. Hopefully I can take all the things I learnt over there, which was incredible from a coaching and management point of view, and impart that knowledge onto my players.

ZAC: I’m not sure if you’re a huge tennis fan, but I was watching the US Open a few weeks ago and I began to get really annoyed while watching Diego Schwartzman, because every second comment about him was in relation to his height (at 5’7, Little Diego is on the shorter end for professional tennis players)?
KvW: No, I loved being the underdog, I always have. I think it made for a steely character, and it’s something that I needed in my career as well. I think my teams as well, we back ourselves, and we back ourselves in a one on one battle any day. If you can be mentally strong and up for battles, then you will win most fights.

ZAC: Looking ahead, sort of forecasting, South Africa are in India, with a big series ahead, what do you think are the major keys which  will go some way towards South Africa gaining some success?
KvW: Look, it is going to be incredibly tough in India, I’m not going to beat about the bush. It’s going to be very hard for a side which, and I hate admitting to it, because in sport there shouldn’t be transitions. When you do your planning well, these things they naturally happen. But it’s going to be a tough, tough tour, especially the Test series. I think in one day cricket – T20 and 50-overs – you can still get away with it (transitioning), but when conditions come more into play in the Test series, it is going to be incredibly tough. But, they have to find a way. They’ve got a new coach who needs to take the reins and lead management and leadership as well, so it will be a challenge. A lot of things will come out in the wash, but hopefully they’ll learn from it and come out with some very positive results as well.

ZAC: Looking at the Test team, we’ve sort of struggled for a while to score hundreds, just as a coach do you think a lot of that is mental, is it technical? Where do you think the two bridge?
KvW: I would say a lot of it is temperamental, I also think it’s an epidemic that goes right through our country. You don’t see a lot of junior players scoring hundreds (in the age division. It has a lot to do with batsman ship, the power game is valued over more skilful, and good batsman ship. So, (scoring) hundreds is really a dying breed over here, and it is something that really needs to be addressed as they take games away from opposition. It is something that the national side definitely will look at. If you look at the successful teams, they have guys who get hundreds, who score daddy hundreds regularly as well. Hundreds pay the bills as a batter, so I think it’s something that needs to be looked at, and it is a key art of batsman ship, which needs to be valued a lot more.

ZAC: As a former international wicket keeper, how do you feel about the idea of removing the gloves from Quinton de Kock and giving him more responsibility with the bat? Especially with Hashiim Amla gone, you could argue that he is our best batsman. On form he definitely is. Would you be in favour of him dropping the gloves, or keeping what’s working for him? But on the other hand, what seems to be working for him leaves us at 150/5 every second game.
KvW:  No. Quinton needs the gloves, in my opinion. I don’t see the point in not utilising the best all-rounders in your team to ease pressure on him. If he’s going to take captaincy (in future), then he needs to perform and live with the pressures of keeping wicket and batting. Otherwise he’s just not the man for the job. So I would keep him with the gloves, he’s one of the main all-rounders in that side. A team can only win when your best players are performing, so neutralise some of his best skills would be foolish in my mind. I think the whole team needs to step up, performance and temperament-wise, and in this next cycle, whether it’s a one year, two-year of four-year cycle, we need to get back to where we belong.

ZAC: As a wicket-keeper who has kept internationally, what would you say is the hardest part of it that people don’t acknowledge? Especially as a wicket-keeper batsman.
KvW: The workload is definitely massive, especially in Test cricket. Tours to places like India or the subcontinent, it’s heavy on a keeper mentally, you know. The ball is bouncing low, it is spinning, and you are in the action for five days. The way the game has moved, keepers need to be contributing massively with the bat. So if you don’t have a passion for it (keeping wicket), then you will be exposed, but it is a great honour playing international cricket, and it’s all part of the job, but I would certainly say it’s the mental part of it.

ZAC: Having watched the disastrous World Cup, where do you think it all went wrong? Do you think it was just a matter of having a poor start and never getting back on track, or where there specific things which we could have and should have done better?
KvW: ( I think selection could have been better, I felt that selection could have been better, but you know what; it is all very easy to say in hindsight. Hindsight is an exact science, and we’ll never get everything right. I think the most important thing about the world cup is that you actually take the key lessons and there are changes. If we don’t take the things we did wrong and improve on them, and learn from them, then it is going to be a vicious cycle of making the same mistakes over and over again and never moving forward. So I think it is important within the set-up to know where things went wrong. Whether it was preparation or mind set/tactic. Take those lessons, acknowledge them, and make sure that they don’t happen again.

ZAC: Penultimate question, what is the major thing you would change about international cricket to improve it?
KvW: I think the schedule is something that needs to be looked at, I think there’s way too much cricket going on. I think international cricket needs to be the dessert, and currently there’s a diet of too much cricket. Whether it be IPL or international cricket, there is too much cricket. And that is what causes a lot of good players to start managing their own workloads, ahead of international cricket.

ZAC: Final question, what is the one thing you would change about the domestic set up?
KvW: (Laughs) I don’t think there’s only one thing, I think the competitiveness, we’ve got a bottleneck, where there are actually a lot of very good young cricketers, but not enough opportunities for all of them. I would love to see young players get exposed at a higher level, which broadens our base to have more players selected for the national side. More players who are ready and available to play for the national side. So, I think opportunities is something I would like to see improved, because only a small amount of our very talented cricketers get exposure and opportunities and that is the one thing I’d like to change.

ZAC: So with that – apologies because now I’m sort of cheating by asking another question – but with that, would you be in favour of CSA’s attempt to increase the amount of teams there are?
KvW: I must admit I am in favour of it, I do think it will create a lot more players, because more players will get exposure. I do think it needs to be managed very well though, and I’d like to see a system and structure which is conducive to good exposure, where players get more exposure. The competitiveness of the game is what is most important to me, so I’m in favour of getting rid of the bottleneck

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