Nine Ball Over: Stiaan van Zyl

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In my first ‘Six Ball Over’ in over six months, Stiaan van Zyl has been kind enough to talk to us about his cricketing career to date. In fact, we even bowled a couple of wides, so we’ve got a nine ball over!

Van Zyl made his Test debut in the series against the West Indies in December last year, and took his chance with both hands. 101 not-out on debut made him just the fifth South African to make 100 in their maiden Test.

With Alviro Petersen now retired, and with the middle order stacked with illustrious and brilliant batsmen, the only spot that seems likely to open up for Van Zyl is at the top of the order. Although he usually bats at three, 6695 First Class runs at 45.54 is a record that should get him a look-in anywhere.

Thanks go to van Zyl for speaking to us.

***

1. You went to a very heavily rugby orientated school, so what originally made you take up cricket seriously, and persist with it beyond the schoolyard?
Stiaan van Zyl: Yeah, Landbou was very big in rugby when I went there in Grade 8. To be honest I didn’t just focus on cricket. I tried to play all the sports I could. I even did gymkhana. After school cricket took over a bit. I was selected for a Boland U-19 side and from there it just went on and on.

2. You scored your first First Class century in early 2008 – 152*. How good did it feel to get that first hundred behind you, and how did you cope with being not-out 90 at the end of the first day’s play?
SvZ: Scoring my first ton for the Cobras was a great feeling. That was also the last game of our 4-day competition. I did come close on a few occasions but didn’t manage to go on and get the big one. Being in the 90’s is always a different feeling. Luckily for me I am a relaxed guy so it doesn’t faze me too much haha.

3. You’ve played over 100 First Class matches, and had compiled a remarkable record for yourself before the Test selectors came calling. Was there a time when you figured you simply weren’t going to get the call up to international cricket?
SvZ: I always believed that I would make it if I just kept on scoring runs. I competed with the likes of Amla and Kallis when I started so for me to get into the side while they still there was going to be hard. When Kallis and Smith called it a day I had to score big runs to get my name next on the pecking order. That I did and I got my chance.

4. Now that you’ve played international cricket, and made that step up from the domestic scene, how would you say that the South African First Class system developed and supported you as a cricketer? Did it manage to prepare you for the arena of Test match cricket?
SvZ: To be honest when I started way back in ’07 the standard of cricket in SA was very good and it was played very hard on and off the field. There was no love lost between franchises. Through the years I must say the cricket in SA has become easier. Maybe I got a little bit better or the standard of cricket dropped a bit for many reasons. Playing with the likes of Philander, Kemp, Puttick and more seniors at the Cobras definitely helped me going to the next level.

5. You’ve played a number of games for South Africa ‘A’, but in 15 First Class matches for the side managed to average only 30, with one century. Did you feel those performances might hurt your chances of higher honours?
SvZ: I think it did. I didn’t score big runs at that level. Just got starts and one hundred but playing for SA A was great and I’ve got to thank CSA for showing faith in me through the bad times.

6. Obviously there’s a lot of talk about you being the opener to partner Dean Elgar at the top of the order, now that Alviro Petersen has retired, but is opening the place in the order that you prefer to bat? With Temba Bavuma in and around the Test squad, and with Reeza Hendricks and Theunis de Bruyn pushing for selection, do you believe that you can fight off those challenges and secure a place at the top of the order if given a shot?
SvZ: The only spot that will open now is the opening spot and for me being a number three all my life could be a good move for me. There is not a big difference between a number three and opening the batting. With Reeza and them there is good for me. It will make me work even harder to make that spot mine. I just hope to get a couple of opportunities when I do get the shout to open.

7. Who would you say are the most likely candidates to get that opening slot with Elgar?
SvZ: I don’t know, but I hope its me.

8. It goes without saying that you shot to the world’s attention after making your Test debut against the Windies, especially with that ton. Did you have any particular plans when you went out to bat, or did you just intend to try and bat as naturally as possible and let fate take control?
SvZ: I was nervous in the beginning but once I went past 20 everything felt normal. I just batted like I normally do and luckily for me I went on to get that ton.

9. A lot of batsmen say of their best performances that they don’t remember any of it, it’s just a bit of a blur. Do you have any stand out memories from that 100?
SvZ: Haha. Getting my first run and the run I got when I got my ton were moments that I won’t forget.

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