Andrew Hall: From Cronje to Kolpak (part one)

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a two part interview with Andrew Hall, the former South African all-rounder. Due to the length of the interview, it’s been split into two pieces. This piece focuses on his international career, while the following piece will focus on his County Cricket years. Thanks go to Andrew for his time in speaking to us.]

When Andrew Hall, Northamptonshire’s premier all-rounder, delivered up a dot ball to Sussex’s number eight and former Pakistan prospect Ashar Zaidi, few would have guessed it was to be Hall’s last delivery in top-flight cricket.

It was Hall’s 2707th delivery of the County Championship season, and although he’d taken just 35 wickets at 42.31, he, James Middlebrook and Azaharullah had been the bedrocks of the bowling line up in a very difficult Northants summer. Each had bowled well over 400 County Championship overs, and each had put in dogged effort while the team crumbled around them.

But come the end of the season, and a demotion to the Championship’s second division, the axe came swinging. Andrew Hall, Matthew Spriegel and James Middlebrook were all shown the door, whilst James Kettleborough was forced to move to Glamorgan after being offered just a one-year contract.

It brought to an end an illustrious career from Hall, one which had lasted almost twenty years of top-flight cricket. It had started back in March 1995 with a List A match for Transvaal (now Gauteng) against Border. He was listed to come in at nine, but didn’t bat, and then bowled five overs for 17 as his side won by 30 runs.

Hall had been involved with the sport from a young age. “My older brother and my sister were both very sporting, and we ended up playing a lot of cricket in the back garden, and just generally playing cricket outdoors a lot. From that, I just started playing at school level, and I was told from a young age that I was really talented, and I just kept working at it and kept playing, because I really enjoyed the game.”

He ended up playing Indoor Cricket to a high standard, representing South Africa before he broke into the First Class scene. Given Hall’s whippy action, ability in one day cricket, and surprisingly short run-up, it seems likely that Hall was impacted on hugely by the indoor game. Was this the case?

“Yeah, I think it [indoor] helped me tremendously. From the time I was playing, I obviously got a lot of people telling me that ‘it’s not good for your game’, and ‘you shouldn’t be playing indoor’, but I’ve always found that it’s only helped my cricket.”

Hall believes that the indoor game particularly moulded him for one day cricket.

“Obviously I’ve always had a reasonably short run up. It taught me how to bowl quite straight which was quite important, obviously you can’t give a lot of width and you can’t bowl too full in indoor cricket because it makes it easier. I found it concentrated my length and my line to bowl a very good one day length ball for outdoor cricket as well. And the fielding side sharpened me up quite a lot as well.”

It all culminated, the school cricket, the indoor, when he broke into domestic cricket in South Africa.

Hall described his journey through the age group teams – the under 18s, the under 21s, and it was Jimmy Cook, the bastion of 1980s and 90s South African cricket, who helped him move onto the right path.

“At that stage I was playing as a wicket-keeper/batsman, and he [Cook] said to me that looking at the future, Gauteng had five or six wicket-keepers who were ahead of me in the queue. And that he had seen me bowling in the nets, and a couple of times in games. From a young age I was always bowling and wicket-keeping and doing whatever was available, because I really just wanted to play and do as many things as possible. So he knew that I could bowl quite well, and because of that I swapped from wicket-keeping to bowling. And within that season I managed to break through and make my debut for the first team for Transvaal.”

From there, it didn’t take Hall long to make it to national colours. Having made his List A debut in March 1995, he made his ODI debut in January 1999. It was, perhaps, a surprising situation. He hadn’t been outstanding in one day games with either bat or ball, but had bowled a number of tidy and economical spells, and it was enough promise to earn him selection.

Hansie Cronje was still South African captain then, and Hall thought of him as an outstanding leader.

“Hansie had his own issues, but as a captain he was phenomenal. He was someone that didn’t give you any quarter, and didn’t expect any to be given to him. On my debut game, I got a slight niggle which I wanted to leave the field for, and he quite bluntly refused me, and he said that ‘I want you to remember your debut for the rest of your career, so you’re not going off this field for any time whatsoever’. And he said I could go down to fine leg, but carry on. And that’s always stuck with me, and I’ve always been playing that same way.”

He said that team culture created under Cronje, of “you don’t expect to get special treatment, you don’t expect to be looked after in any particular way” filtered through into Shaun Pollock’s time as captain. Hall played just the single match under Cronje, before Pollock took the job on.

He played 32 international matches under Pollock, from 2000 to 2005.

“Polly, being a bowler, had a bit more leeway for the bowlers. He was always trying to look after us a little bit more, and keep us fresh. But the outlook was very similar [to under Cronje]. It was very competitive, people always wanted to win. And as a team we wanted to strive to be better.”

Having played under three of South Africa’s greatest captains – Cronje, Pollock and Graeme Smith – as well as a number of fill-in national captains, county captains, domestic captains, and having skippered himself, Hall has a brilliant perspective as to what makes a ‘great’ captain.

“The difference between a good and a bad captain, to me, is how you treat and handle your players. To me it’s very important that a player feels that, as a captain, you wouldn’t ask anything of him that you yourself would not be happy to do. Especially in my time, when I was captain, I tried to do exactly that. I wouldn’t expect somebody to field at short leg, if I’m not prepared myself to do it, or bowl into the wind if I’m not prepared to. And from that, I’ve always felt that you get the best results. And the best skipper for that, for me, was Hansie Cronje. Because he was, when I first started playing, that kind of bloke. He would put himself in the firing line to do whatever needed to happen, and he had full respect.”

Shaun Pollock, Cronje’s successor, was a captain who “if the chips were down, he would take the ball himself and start bowling. And Graeme Smith was similar, we’ve seen many times when he’s been leading from the front, and almost trying to singlehandedly take on teams with the way he approaches games.”

Hall believes that the best captains are those who understand their players, who can get the best out of players, who can encourage and motivate them without being over the top, and can succeed without ever having to be anything but calm.

“For me, that was Hansie Cronje.”

One of the biggest problems that plagued Hall throughout his international career was that no one seemed to really know what he was. Was he a batsman? A bowler? He was even used as opening batsman, wicket-keeper and death bowler in one match against Australia in 2000.

For a youngster coming into the team, it can’t have been easy to be thrown into so many roles. In his first three years in the team – from 1999 to 2002 – he was used in 26 ODIs and four Tests. In that time he batted as an opener, as a first drop, as a number six, number eight and number nine. He was used as an opening bowler, first change, second change, third change, fourth change and even used as the seventh bowler on four occasions.

Was this something Hall was comfortable with?

“Yeah, I was comfortable in any of those roles. In hindsight, I would’ve liked to have spent more time in one particular area. Because all that happened was that, because I filled so many roles and for most of them for such a brief period of time, if something happened I’d get thrown into that position. And, inevitably, I did it well or I didn’t, but in most cases I succeeded and played well, I thought. But as soon as they came back and were available, they’d come straight back and I’d fill another position. So it made it quite difficult for me to define a position and try and make it mine.”

Another difficulty, he notes, was being an all-rounder in a team containing “possibly the three best all-rounders in the world” in Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener.

Does he feel that being cast as the ‘Jack of All Trades’ meant he was always the permanent reserve, the team’s Super Sub, rather than being seen as capable of filling one role and staying there?

“That’s definitely something that came up, and something that I spoke about when I was playing, that I wanted to have more of a specific role. And it changed from coach to coach. When I first started out, I was playing as an opening bowler and batted lower down the order. And the next time I played for South Africa I actually opened the batting with Gary Kirsten. So, in the space of a couple of years, I’d gone full circle from playing as a bowler to playing as a batter.”

And he said that the issue existed that he was seen as someone who “…if we have an injury at the top of the order, we know we’ve got Andrew, we can push him up, if we’re a bowler short we can push him in there.”

“And it did make it difficult for me to cement one specific role, which probably in the end was a factor in why I didn’t play as many games as, I suppose, I had the promise to.”

How did he deal with the pressure of trying to get into such an illustrious South African team, especially with – as he’d noted – three of the great all-rounders already there?

“For me it was really about just trying to get an opportunity. And I knew that if I got an opportunity, I had to be ready for it, and be prepared to work hard to get that place. For me it was all about preparation, and being as prepared as I could be. If I was 100% prepared and I failed on the day, that’s just one of those things and you have to deal with that. But I knew that if I prepared properly and got myself into a good space, my chances of me succeeding were so much better. So for me it was all about preparation and not worrying about what happened on the day.”

Leading into the 2003 World Cup, which started in February that year, Hall had played 26 ODI matches. Although his stats weren’t leaping off the page – 435 runs at 21.75, eight wickets at 43.37 – he’d shown enough promise, combined with the added bonus of his adaptability, to be selected for the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

He didn’t play the first three games, but was selected for South Africa’s fourth match against Bangladesh, and he took his chance. With the Bangladeshis rolled for just 108, he took two for 15 off six overs, conceding just two and a half an over.

Against Canada, where the side crawled to 136/5 off their 50 overs, Hall was again equally economical, going at 3.71.

And then, in that match against Sri Lanka, he picked up the wickets of Marvin Attapattu and Mahela Jayawardene, helping keep the opposition to 268.

Hall was then listed as the next man to come in when those final balls occurred.

Despite the South African disappointment over 2003, playing in two World Cups (Hall also played in 2007) including one at home must have been an amazing experience?

“Yeah, it was amazing. 2003 was the most disappointing, which was my first ever World Cup, and I was really excited about going. As it worked out, we didn’t quite get there, and we didn’t work it out right. We didn’t play, I believe, our best cricket in various stages of that tournament. From the first game, when we lost to the West Indies, we had to play catch up from there which made it very difficult. So that was quite disappointing, but still it was an unbelievable experience to be involved in a World Cup.”

For Hall, and for South Africa, the Caribbean World Cup in 2007 was a far more successful outing. He missed just one match during the tournament, when he was rested against Bangladesh, and helped thrash England with his best ODI (and List A) figures – 5/18. That performance, for which he was named Man of the Match, included the wickets of Collingwood, Flintoff, Nixon, Mahmood and Anderson. It helped South Africa to a Net Run Rate boosting nine wicket victory.

“I was more secured in a position, I was more looked at as a senior-ish player – someone who had played quite a lot of cricket. And because of that I felt that my performances were a lot better and a lot more consistent at the 2007 World Cup than 2003.”

The 438 game. As hackneyed as the topic may be, it’s impossible to speak at length with a player from that game without bringing the match up. It will remain one of the greatest ODIs for as long as the format lasts.

It was Ponting, Gilchrist, Katich and Michael Hussey who did the damage for Australia. Ponting’s 105-ball 164 was one of the great innings, and the team run rate of 8.68 was simply crazy. Hall, who bowled ten overs, took one wicket, and conceded 80, was the second best South African bowler – Ntini conceded 8.88 an over, Telemachus 8.70, Kallis 11.66.

“Bowling wise, it was just demoralising at the best of times. I can remember talking to bowlers briefly between balls, and we almost felt that if we could just go for four we would actually be happy with the next delivery. That’s how bad it felt at times. It was just one of those days.”

“No matter what you tried as a bowler, you just never felt that you got your area right, or got your slower ball in exactly the spot you want. You were always just off by an inch.”

As a bowler, Hall said, you were “constantly shellshocked”.

At the end of the innings, Hall retreated the back of the changing room “as normal”. Aside from the odd replay or moment on the television, Hall didn’t watch any of the first 25 overs of the South African chase. Until he had the pads and helmet on, Hall told me, he felt incredibly nervous if he watched any of the game.

At the first drinks break, the mood was just to keep going and keep fighting, and just see where they were at the next break.

“When we got to the 35th over drinks break, we were like ‘wow, we could get close here’, and when it got to the 40th over we were like ‘oh my goodness, we could actually get there’, and by the time it got to the 45th over, we were like ‘we could actually win this’, and then it became more nerve-wracking. Because the closer we got, the more pressure there was, and the more nervous people got, because we’d actually played so well. To have scored over 400 and still fallen short would’ve just been agonising for us.”

With ten balls remaining, Hall came to the wicket. With Mark Boucher 43 not-out at the other end, the man of the moment was there to try and guide the South Africans to the total.

Six balls remaining.

“I remember batting in the last over, Brett Lee was bowling, and his first ball Boucher smacked it back at him. And it would’ve been a definite four, but he got his foot to it and we scampered a quick single. I was then on strike, and Boucher said to me, ‘right, all the fielders are up, if it’s in your area, have a go. If you get a boundary, great, if you get a single it’s fine, but just make sure you get something on it’. The first one I hit for a four, which brought us down to being one run behind them, needing one to tie and two to win. Boucher came down to me, and all he could say to me was ‘that was a great shot, if the ball’s anywhere in the same area, do exactly the same. We’re not leaving this to the back end of the over’.”

“And all I could think about was the ’99 World Cup, when we played against Australia and needed one run to win, and ended up getting a run out. And that was one of the things that in the outfield they were talking about. But Boucher said to me, ‘mate, if it’s there, have a go, we’re not leaving this to the end’.”

“The next ball was reasonably in the same area, and I tried the same thing again, but didn’t quite follow through, ended up being caught at mid-on. With three balls left, Makhaya Ntini came in, he was our last wicket. And all I can remember is walking past him and saying ‘I’m really sorry mate, get us a single’. To which he got a leg-stump yorker and he played it to third man somehow, tying the scores and bringing Boucher on strike. And obviously Boucher hit a four with one ball left, winning the game for us. Out of the entire innings, I think I watched about 15 balls.”

“Even afterwards, he [Boucher] said to me, ‘I didn’t want you to go for a single’, because it was just the way they went about it, we had to win before the last ball.”

That match was the first time a team had made 400 in an ODI, and it was the precursor to today, when we had three 400+ totals in a single World Cup, and more than 25 totals above 300. Does Hall believe such huge totals are positive or detrimental to the game?

“I think it’s a good thing! I think the game is moving forward at an unbelievable pace, which is always good for it. I think it makes it a lot more entertaining, and obviously bowlers are not that happy about it because they’re getting left behind and getting punished. But if you look at the last World Cup, the players who were on top of their game and who won games for their countries were bowlers. From my point of view, the more spectacular the game can be, the more crowd support you get and the more support you’ll get throughout.”

“If cricket stagnates, it will die slowly.”

But there is a balance to be struck, there does need to be some more balance in favour of bowlers.

“It would be ideal if the ICC can have a look at the regulations again. Having that extra fielder inside the circle has made a big difference for the batting side, yes, but they must look at the bowling as well and say ‘well, somewhere along the line we’re going to have to help them out as well, and give them an opportunity to take wickets, or just have a breather where they’re not running in and thinking that even if they hit the blockhole perfectly it’s going to go for a boundary.”

But moving on from one day cricket, although he was pigeonholed as an ODI specialist by the South African selectors, Hall did play 21 Tests. It was enough time to take 45 wickets at the tidy average of 35.93, and score 760 runs at an equally useful 26.20.

He immediately set about starting strongly, scoring 70 in his first Test innings, against Warne, McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. The team failed to capitalise, however, and South Africa fell to a four-wicket defeat.

Over the course of his Test career, he was played in six different batting positions, and was used as a bowler everywhere from taking the new ball to being fourth change. As we’d discussed with relation to ODIs, he’d struggled to be given a chance to settle into one position. In Tests, the problem was the same, but embellished.

“Yeah. Coming through in the middle part, and even the first part of my career, I came into very difficult situations and managed to hold my own. I remember in my debut Test, we were playing against Australia at Cape Town. We were, I think we were 90/6 or something when I came in to bat, I managed to get 70 odd, and managed to pull us a little bit out of it. Myself and Paul Adams batted for a period of time to give us an opportunity.”

“We dragged the game back from the first Test, which was won by the Australians by an innings. Second Test, we took it to the fifth day where they managed just to beat us when we needed a couple of wickets, and it was right down to the wire. That went to the third Test, where we played well and beat them. I always felt that I was never given enough opportunity in one particular role to show exactly what I could do. If you have a look at other players who have played a lot of Tests, if you get given enough opportunities in one specific place, you can feel relaxed a bit and come through it and show what you can do.”

But despite the disappointment at his lack of Test opportunities, and conversely his success in the ODI arena, Hall still feels that Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport.

“Test cricket is still the true test of how good a cricketer you are. I’ve always felt in one day cricket things can go your way and you can get a couple of wickets [without deserving them], where in Test cricket even if things go your way sometimes you get no wickets. … And as a bowler, you have to work a batter out. You really have to be conscious of what you want to get and where you want them to play to try and get a batter out. Rather than, if you bowl enough dot balls in a one day game somewhere along the line he’s going to try and have a hit at you, and there’s a good chance you might get him out. If he plays across the line, or tries to hit it where he doesn’t want to, whereas in Test cricket he doesn’t have to take those risks and you have to really be on the top of your game and work him out.”

In 2007, aged 32, Hall retired from international cricket. The following season, Hall was signed as Kolpak player for Northamptonshire. The thoughts swirling around the cricket world were that Hall had retired because of his omission from the South Africa side for the World Twenty20. Was this the case?

“I retired from international cricket because I was brought out of my contract with Kent early by Cricket South Africa under the understanding that I was picked for the T20 World Cup side. And they pulled me out of my contract to prepare for that competition. Once I was home I was contacted by the coach to say that the team was vetoed by the President of the cricket board at that stage, and that they’d made two changes, with myself and Jacques Kallis omitted for two other players. At that stage I was approached by the ICL to go and play in India, and I felt that it was a good option.”

“I could see that because of the way the board was making those selections that I wouldn’t have a long future with Cricket South Africa as they were looking to move forward with transformation, and I had to look after myself.”

And so drew to an end the international career of Andrew Hall. Twenty one Tests, 88 ODIs, two Twenty20 internationals. And although he played in the ICL, and went on to have a successful stint with Northamptonshire, he wasn’t in the world limelight again.

I don’t think it would be unfair to say that it was a disappointing way for his international career to end. Embroiled in the politics of the board.

 

Part two of Devon’s interview with Andrew Hall will be published in the coming days, and will focus on his County life, the ICL, and his opinions on up-and-coming players, as well as issues surrounding the cricket world today.


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