Cricket a bats­man’s game? Toss ‘Hendo’ a Kook­aburra and he’ll have a ball

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - LUNGANI ZAMA

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.”

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