Cricket a batsman’s game? Toss ‘Hendo’ a Kookaburra and he’ll have a ball
CLAUDE HENDERSON, to this day, says he hates batting.
“I never liked it, and I would get so tired after 10 minutes of batting in the middle. It was draining,” quipped the Proteas spin consultant at the Proteas’ hotel in Colombo this week.
And yet, he loved nothing more than, ball in hand, settling into a long spell at one end, toiling away tirelessly on a consistent length.
Henderson is in place until the end of next year’s T20 World Cup at least. He has been a constant in the nets, working on ideas with Robin Peterson and Aaron Phangiso, who are both, like “Hendo”, left-arm tweakers.
“It’s a calling, I suppose. To be a spinner in South Africa is tough, because we are brought up on a diet of fast bowlers. To be a spinner, you have to have a thick skin, because there will be bad days out there.”
He laughs when he remembers how he once got smashed for five sixes in one over in a first-class match.
“You can’t bowl a bouncer, can you? You’ve just got to suck it up, and trust your technique, and have the courage to land it on the right spot.
“Heck, Shane Warne, is the best spinner in the history of the game,” he explains. “But did you know that he has been hit for the most sixes in international cricket? But he kept on coming back. I had a lot of chats after games with Shane, and he is so passionate about bowling.”
It’s an interesting observation, and one lost on a very impatient cricket mentality, A spinner’s bad day at the office seems to stick longer in the mind, like Peterson’s suffering at the blade of Brian Lara at the Wanderers, and Imran Tahir’s meltdown in Adelaide.
“Generally, there is one spinner in a team. You have about six batsmen, and you will always have three or four seamers. If one doesn’t get the runs or wickets, there is another one to follow. As a spinner, you are often on your own. And when the wicket is taking some turn, you are expected to win the match!”
By the time Henderson was nearing 40, he was playing some of his best cricket, even opening the bowling in T20 cricket, which he says has led to a renaissance for spin bowling.
His mentors ranged from the late coaching greats like Bob Woolmer, Eddie Barlow and Hylton Ackerman, but he was also under the wing of Omar Henry in his formative years. “My dad used to drive me two hours after work, so that I could work with Omar. And then we would drive all the way back home again. I spent a long time trying to copy people. For a while I tried to bowl like Derek Underwood, then it was trying to bowl like Omar and Clive Eksteen... all sorts. It’s important to remember that spinners are unique,” he smiles.
He is trying to remind his “pupils” at the Proteas the same thing.
“I suppose, in the past, you would sometimes try to outbowl each other. But Robbie and Aaron are different bowlers, each with their own strengths. Robbie brings incredible balance to any side he plays in, which is priceless.
“Aaron’s ability to bowl under pressure amazed me the first time I saw him in action during the Champions League. He was up against some huge players, but he kept it up there, backing his ability.”
With more than 900 firstclass wickets, in a career that has taken him to Newlands, to the roaring furnace of a Test series in Australia, and then on to a stellar nine years in county cricket, he has seen it all.
“I have had a wonderful journey through cricket. I’m based in the UK now, because it makes more sense for my family. They are settled at school there, and I tend to travel quite a bit, but we will ultimately come back home.”
Henderson also works with Cricket South Africa’s develop- ment programmes, going around the country, encouraging promising tweakers to keep at it.
“It’s vital for our game. You have to keep encouraging them, because they have a role to play. When I was at Boland, Hylton (Ackerman)... would sit with me, and help me prepare for games, and specific players. If we were playing against Jonty Rhodes, we knew he would sweep, so we had to combat that. Or Desmond Haynes, who would go over the top regardless. So you had to have a different plan for him. He really taught me... the intricacies.”
Henderson says he never cared much for personal accolades, but he remembers his first trophy with great fondness. “It was Western Province against Border. If we drew, they would win. The rain was com- ing, and the umpire said that we probably had only two overs left before it hit us. Craig Matthews chucked me the ball, and said he backed me to take the final wicket,” he chuckles.
“I only took that one wicket in the game, and all I remember was whipping the stump out the ground. It was my first trophy, and it meant so much.
“Sitting in the change-room, with a trophy in the middle, those are the moments that you miss the most for sure. ”
The game has allowed him to travel the world, and he is eager to spread the gospel of spin across the country. “I don’t have a single regret. I’ve made so many friends, had the privilege of playing Tests and I now I am helping coach South Africa. What an honour. I couldn’t ask for more.”