Better known now for his match-fixing antics rather than his cricket but for someone for whom cricket ended at 30 and life at 32 , whatever he achieved was exceptional something that is evident from the plain fact that he was honoured as the eleventh greatest south African ever in 2004.
Wessel Johannes Cronje had a typical white-South African upbringing with sports as something to take pride in , was an exceptional athlete and had keen interest in adventure sports. Cricket was introduced to him by his father Ewie , who played for the Orange free state and had good company with his brother too playing the state level cricket.Captaincy was something that he had an attachment with from a very early age after handling tit for his state side at the age of 21. He came in reckoning by scoring a century against the touring English rebels under Mike Gatting. He then took his state to the championship title and did pretty well for Leicestershire in the county circuit.He was called for national duties in the 1992 world cup and did a decent job there and from there to captaincy reign, it took him another two years after fantastic performances against Australia in the limited version of the game and eventually taking the form to the longer version of the game.
He was a pretty handy medium pacer , but presence of a lot of effective pacers and all-rounders along with the burden of captaincy took care that he didn’t bowl as much.He then led a very strong(perhaps the best team in the world at that time) through a couple of world cup disappointments as surely they were the most deserving sides in both 1996 and 1999 cricket world cups-with the latter being nothing short of traumatic and tragic even to the neutrals and for the uninitiated they were just more than deserving in 1992 when the stats robbed them of a sure-shot title . The cricketing fraternity would always remember him to have formed a formidable unit alongside the long time aide cum coach Bob Woolmer (who became famous for bringing the laptop to the game when everyone was text-bookish while his time with the proteans) and for being the face of clean and highly competitive cricket in the nineties. Truly , what Hansie gave to the game , with the way he conducted himself and his team both on and off the field , providing scintillating cricket day-in and day-out and gave one-dayers a new dimension which was to completely transform the game( ….and it’s not match fixing) in the coming years. His career was so great that even match fixing blotch can’t take away what great contributions he made to cricket and to the rainbow nation.
What the name reminds you the best is perhaps the hat-trick included in the seven wicket haul that he managed to get very early in his career. He promised a lot, everyone tipped him to be the much needed partner to the two W’s Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. What set him apart from the others was his unique high arm action and the hustle and bustle that he brought with him while approaching the popping crease. He did justice to his selection and all the hopes by filling in Waqar’s absence from the 1992 world cup and doing more than just a decent job- picking wickets at crucial junctures and complementing the man-of-the-series Akram. Post world cup Pakistan toured England where he was the centre of a controversy regarding deliberate targeting of the body of a tail-ender Chris Lewis and was forced to be taken off the attack by on field umpires. The prominence of the two W’s along with not capitalising the patched opportunities that he got whenever one of the greats got injured with lacklustured performances and his nagging injuries forced him to retire at the age of 26 , which is pretty soom to call it day especially for a talent like him. Another factor that curbed him was his “strength”-the high arm action which increased the propensity to bowl short lengths and be ineffective at reversing the ball as its essential to keep the ball up to make it reverse.
A huge and wiry 6’8” frame and a high arm action made sure that he got more than just good bounce from any strip in the world. His action was described as being “all arms and legs … like a porn movie without the sex.” The epoch for him was the 1990-91 ashes where he scalped 40 poms in 6 test outings. His speciality was to bring the ball back in to the right handed batsmen and away from the lefties. His body could not cope up with highly demanding test cricket and underwent serious modifications in his bowling action and even that couldn’t help him sustain in the game. Reid retired soon after and with him his early promise vanished but an impressive record is all that remains
For someone from this era to realise his potential there is an example-When India toured Australia in 2003/04 ,they had called in Reid as a bowling coach on the insistence of coach John Wright, when he reported the first day at nets, he bowled to Rahul Dravid from six steps and hit him on the helmet. Mind you Dravid was in the form of his life then!!!