A Penny's Worth

Cricket Player, Richard Snell

Richard Snell is a former international cricketer who represented South Africa in both Test and One Day International matches from 1991-1996, notable for taking the country's first Test match wicket after readmission to international competition.

» Quotes by Richard Snell

You played against the West Indies in South Africa's first international Test match after an absence of 22 years. Can you describe the sense among the players on the occasion?
We got back into international cricket just before the cricket World Cup and so we played in a short one day series in India straight away and then almost immediately went off to the World Cup in Australia and then shortly after that we came back to an unbelievable reception. We were here for about a week and then it was off to the West Indies. So from not having any international cricket around to being straight back into it was unbelievable.

The only thing about the test match in Barbados was that they'd left out, I think it was Anderson Cummins who was from Barbados, and so the locals boycotted the game so we didn't have the normal atmosphere that you'd have at a West Indian cricket match. He'd done quite well in the World Cup and then had been left out in the test match against us. There wasn't really a crowd so it was fantastic to be in the West Indies and experiencing test match cricket which is probably toughest part of the game, which we hadn't been exposed to before, and certainly I hadn't. It was just a little bit unfortunate that we didn't have the atmosphere at the ground, which is what West Indian cricket is famous for.
What was the difference between representing your country versus representing your province?
It was something you aspired to and international cricket opened up quite suddenly. I played in one of the rebel series against Mike Gatting’s touring side in 1990, so I was picked for a South African side against the rebel side there, but this was straight back into international cricket.

During this match you took South Africa's first wicket (PV Simmons, c Kirsten b Snell 35). Can you talk a little about this?
I remember the Test match and I remember getting four wickets in both innings. The thing that sticks out though is that I had Lara dropped at first slip for nought. That’s the thing you kind of remember. I think he went on to get quite a few. And I think we were pretty inexperienced in test cricket, so the fact that we basically had one bad session and lost the test stands out. Other than Kepler, none of the guys had played international cricket, so we were pretty inexperienced with regards to the tough nature of test cricket.
How did international test cricket compare to the domestic game?
It's obviously five days, and most domestic stuff then was three days and now fours days, so the duration of that, the importance of that and the fact that you’re playing against people representing their country, who are obviously the best in that country, and so it's just that much more of a challenge. What you appreciate is the test match strength. You have one bad session and you lose the test match. I think that also once you get on top you've got to keep that going. If you don't capitalize, the game swings so quickly.
How does playing one day international cricket compare to test cricket?
I think that the intensity in test cricket is so much greater and you need to be that much better prepared, to concentrate for the full five days and you can't slip at one point. As far as one day cricket games go, they're much more frequent. You would play a lot more one day cricket matches than you would test matches and they generally are set up in a format so that often if you’d lose a one day game you could still qualify for a semi-final or a final. Tests are hard fought and test victories are few and far between, so it's a much a more intense, much tougher part of the game.
Which did you prefer playing?
I probably preferred the test cricket just because it's probably the best test that you can have as a cricketer. I thoroughly enjoyed the one day cricket and my game was probably suited slightly better to one day format where you could bat and bowl a bit. It was exciting and you had fifty overs to give 120% and then it was done. In one day cricket you're not sleeping on anything overnight, you're preparing for the next game.

A cricketer begins by playing in the backyard for fun. Can you describe how playing for money affected the way you played the game?
Our situation was slightly different to the current setup because it was so new we played for money but it wasn't a career that it is today where if guys play for an extended period they can really make a good living out of it. I don't think it affected the way you played at all because you'd play your best all the time, and you would definitely have played cricket whether you were paid or not. I think it's just unbelievable to have a career and earn revenue out of something that you enjoy. I think what has changed in the modern day is the intensity of the cricket. You play that much more because there's more money being generated so there’s the fatigue of having to play so many games.
Do you still play backyard cricket these days?
Not really in the back yard, we have a social side that we play for where it's more about getting to see the guys you played with than the actual cricket and because you've all played it's a good excuse to get together. What's happened recently is that the breweries and Castle Lager particularly, which sponsors the test team, gets the current team plus everyone who's played test cricket since readmission together in a function which is a fantastic event because you see all the guys who you played with and the current guys. It’s a real treat, but ordinarily we see the guys around Joburg and one or two other places.
There's an assumption that teammates are not simply workmates, but good friends. Did you stay in contact with anyone from the national or provincial teams?
The thing is that you spent so much time together and so much time traveling together. You would always travel with the players wherever you went and so those were your mates, you spent all that time with them and have gone to battle with them so there’s a camaraderie that you build up over time. That's a bond that you're not going to get through other walks of life so easily.
As a bowler, would you consider that you weren't simply competing for your country, but also competing against your teammates for one of a limited number of positions in the side?
It was unlikely that you'd be competing with a teammate. If you were in the international team playing in a test match or touring there might be a squad of maybe 14 people, so 3 extras but if you were selected and played well your placed would be there. You didn't really feel that you were competing with those guys. If you played well enough you would get selected and you played together. You bowled in pairs, batted in pairs. That's kind of how cricket is played and unless you approach it like that you're very rarely going to be successful. As a bowler, you weren’t competing with the guy bowling on the other end, you were working in a team with one fast bowler at one end and another at the other and that would be seen as a team. If one guy was going for runs he would be releasing the pressure on the batters so you both have to be bowling well.

Would you rather a good performance in a losing side or a poor performance in a winning side?
That's difficult because you always need to be playing well as a team. A team that's not winning is an unhappy team and it's not good playing in that environment. In saying that, it's one of the team sports that's quite an individual sport. If I bowled well and didn't get any wickets I was still pretty comfortable that I'd at least bowled well, but I think that the team environment is something that needs to be working and gelling otherwise it's not a happy situation and there will be changes.
When the selectors were looking at your performance did they look at how well you bowled regardless of outcome?
A huge consideration and what was in place when I was playing, was that you had a selection panel, but the captain had a vote and he was the guy on the field so he would know if you were bowling up to scratch or not.
How did you work your way through poor form?
I think the trick throughout your career, is to have someone who knows your game, who can pick up technical issues which can make all the difference. Most of the kinds of things that creep in, the bad habits, come about because you've been playing too much cricket or you've been playing with injuries that aren't serious enough to put you out of the game, but you tend to play with them all the time and that's where bad habits tend to creep in. But it's got to be a relationship that 's been build up over time so that both people have confidence in the fact that this person can monitor your game successfully and understand it, and you, well enough to be able to change tiny little things. You can still be taking wickets and not be bowling as well as you can.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The game’s so much more professional than when we got into the international arena. Guys' careers are now groomed and plotted and organized and the support structure is in place. As a player you've got to look at a career, but I think it's taken care of nowadays. We were playing provincial cricket and the next second we were in the test arena. It wasn’t like we'd been through an academy, and extensive provincial cricket. It was more of something that just happened. Politically at the time to play for your country, other than the rebel tours, was just not something we were exposed to.

I don't think I could have trained harder, but I think maybe we could have organized it a bit better. If you got an injury or a niggle or something, the right thing to do is not play until you're ready, but everybody wanted to play. It just wasn’t as professional. It wasn't that you had 18 months of cricket coming up to prepare for, it was just the next local season you tended to look forward to. It wasn't a planned career, whereas nowadays everyone knows the schedule and they know what’s coming up and they know when they get a gap between series so you have X amount of time for training and X amount of time to rest and recover from injuries. It's better planned now.
Much is made of home field advantage in sport, and international cricket, more than most can lay claim to favoring the home side by way of pitch conditions and climate. Is this the real advantage in playing at home or is there more to it?
There's a certain amount to that because different players are suited to different conditions. Take India for example. It's very difficult for a South African team to play India in India, whereas they would fancy their chances of beating them in South Africa, clearly because the wicket suits the players better. So there's a certain amount to that, but when you're touring, if you're winning, everything goes right and you seem to be able to keep the momentum going, but if you start losing, then it's very, very difficult to change that. You're away from home, you haven't got your normal support structures , you’re traveling, it's an unhappy team and it's very difficult to get out of that downward spiral when you don't have your normal support around you.
So the first match of a tour is very important?
It’s very, very important and the guys these days don't probably tour for as long as we used to and they tend to be more in and out because the schedules are busier today. But once you start winning, it's much easier to keep the momentum going. As soon as you're on the back foot, everything starts going wrong, particularly when you're on tour.
Looking back over the course of your career, what are your favorite and least favorite experiences?
I think the favorite thing is being part of a national side playing cricket, particularly the traveling. Like playing in Australia, playing in the West Indies, playing in India, playing in Sri Lanka, that was fantastic and being part of a good side. I think looking back on it that's probably the difficult part as well, that it's lots of traveling, lots of sacrifices, lots of time away and that was the difficult part.
Golfers reminisce about a great shot which redeems a dismal round and fisherman are famous for talking about their biggest catches. Are there any specific deliveries, wickets or shots which stand out in your mind as diamonds in the rough?
It doesn't sort of clearly stand out as a memory, but people remember certain things and that's what they remind you about all the time. They'll come and they'll say, "that ball that you got Allan Border out with", now it wasn't a great delivery, but people remember it and that's more what kind of sticks because that's what they remember. It’s something that you get constantly reminded of.
Are there are any bad memories which stand out?
You know, I don't think there are bad memories, but there's one that people will also talk about aside from the good delivery and they'll talk about a match here in Durban where they needed seven runs to win off of one ball and I bowled a no ball to Jonty Rhodes and he hit it for six and they won that game. So it was a game that should have never been won, but it wasn't traumatic at the time. I bowled pretty well in that game and even when the ball when for six that I could have got him out the next ball,. So it wasn't traumatic, but that's one of the things that people remember.
You’re famous for that match in Durban, it's one of those interesting pieces of trivia and of course, someone has to be villain and someone has to be the hero and in this case the hero was Jonty Rhodes.
I think that when you play, you should be supremely confident in your ability to perform. You have good days and you have bad days, and I think as long as you feel that you played well, then it doesn't really worry you, about what people thought or the kind of press or that side of it.
So you can't affect the outcomes, you can only affect the way you perform?
Exactly. As I said, there were times where you bowled well and didn't get wickets and I would almost be happier with those performances than when you haven't bowled as well and maybe get five. Sometimes things just go your way. You can bowl well and beat the bat all day and you just don't get the wickets, whereas on another day you might get one caught at point and one caught at fine leg, where you're not bowling your best and getting the guy out the regulation ways.
Is there a player who you wanted to be like?
I don't think so much. But we were quite fortune, myself and Steven Jack when we came up from Durban to study at Wits University and Clive Rice (the former South African cricketer) was the captain of Transvaal at the time and both of us were picked in the side as pretty raw, young, up and coming fast bowlers. And to have a guy like that, a guy with his experience, bowling, batting, captaining, standing next to you at mid off did unbelievable things for our careers. What would take you three or four years to learn, you learned in six months because you had that experience standing next to you at mid-off. And I think if you can get that right, maturing your young guys coming through and work on getting the experienced guys, who they respect, around them, it just fast tracks the whole process.
During the period between overs when the batters meet in the middle of the pitch, what kinds of things were discussed?
It's not always serious, and again, I think it used to be a lot more light hearted and unprofessional than it is today. Generally, I would say 85% of the time it's about cricket. If one guy's bowling well and one of the batters is handling him better, he’ll give recommendations as to where you're going to get runs. Often you'll find that the better experienced guy can maybe be a bit more light hearted if he thinks it will help the guy he’s batting with to relax. I would say that generally it's about cricket and it's about how you're going to construct the innings, but there are occasions when it's not.
Did you ever get nervous when going up to bat? Most people think that professional athletes have a handle on their nerves.
I wasn't really nervous bowling, but I would say that most of the guys, when they walk in to bat, are nervous and I think for most of them it's important to be nervous because its helps your concentration. So if you can't handle nerves, you're never going to succeed as an athlete.
In your last match, you opened the batting. As a specialist bowler, is that something you looked forward to?
The rules changed bit, because traditionally your bowlers generally came into the side pretty young, and they would start at the bottom of the batting order because the other bowlers were a bit more experienced. So you started at the bottom and sort of worked your way up over time. But then they changed the one day international rules to only allow two fielders outside the circle in the first fifteen overs which allowed an opportunity for the pinch hitters to come in early and often they were guys who could bat but never really got the opportunity and I used to love it. You were given the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands because otherwise you were batting seven or eight or somewhere around there.
Is there more pressure when opening the batting to get off to a good start or to try to bring it home at the end of the game?
I think a little bit of both. The rules have changed a bit now, but in that first fifteen overs you could win the game.
Do you think the game is starting to favor the batters more these days with the new fielding restrictions and flat pitches?
The spectacle is runs really. You don’t want to go to a game where both sides get bowled out for nothing. So the wickets are flatter, I think the bats are much, much better and so you're going to get more runs. But even saying that, there's still room in the game for the good bowlers, a good bowler will always do well, it doesn't matter how flat the wicket is.
As a cricketer do you consider yourself to essentially be in the entertainment business?
I think so and it's becoming more and more like that. I think it definitely didn’t used to be that way, you considered yourself a cricketer playing for your country. We just had the IPL (Indian Premier League) here (in South Africa) and cricket was definitely secondary, the cricket was still cricket, but the show around it was completely entertainment.
Do you think that the Twenty20 format is good for the game?
I think it's good. I think that it certainly brought a lot more money into the game which I think is good. It's given the older, more experienced guys a longer career and I think it's brought a lot of people who weren't interested in cricket. I think the only downside of it is I wouldn't want to be a batsman trying to chip out a career in Twenty20 because I think it's so hit and miss that you can't prepare your test batsmen in a Twenty20 format.
Test match run rates increased with the advent of one day international cricket. Do you see this as a direct result?
I think it's a huge result. I think that people that play more shots tend to be more creative and I think that they learned that they were able to score and get five, six or seven an over so it's got a huge impact. In saying that, I think that the better, more experienced team can always adjust. You look at the Australian side they had recently, how for years and years they dominated world cricket and their big thing was scoring at a decent run rate because that gave them the upper hand in the game, but if they played on a wicket that was moving around they played much more cautiously initially and the guys at the end did the job.
Looking back do you wish that you'd arrived on the cricket scene 10 years later?
It's difficult to say but probably not. I think that we played cricket in a much more social manner. There wasn't the professionalism that there is today. There wasn't the pressure that there is today. If we played, for example, a provincial match, you regarded those players as your mates. You would go out with them afterwards and those relationships are kind of what made it what it was. And I think that to a certain extent, with the professionalism in cricket has been lost a bit and that's what we got out of it, where you're playing with and against your mates and the relationships that you created then are what you treasure today.
Given the choice, would you rather hit a six or take a wicket?
It depends on the context, but I think I would rather take a wicket than hit a six.
Which is worse: getting out for a duck or being hit for a six?
Probably getting out for a duck, because you've always got another delivery after being hit for a six.
Would you rather win the World Cup final by 1 run or 100 runs?
100 runs. Though the thrill is enhanced by a close victory, the most important thing is that you win and that you're playing well enough to get the job done and the more easily you can do it, the better.
Would you rather lose the World Cup final by one run or 100 runs?
I think I'd rather lose by one run. Even though the agony of defeat is multiplied by a thousand, at least you had the opportunity to win.
Some athletes talk about simply knowing when the time is right to hang up the boots. Jerry Seinfeld likened the decision to end his show to comic timing. When and how did you decide to retire from the gamey?
It's basically that you weren't being selected any more. It wasn't really a decision that you'd made, and rightfully so, there were better players being selected, so it wasn't a case of playing for ten years and saying you've had enough then retiring. It's more that you weren't being selected any more. You weren't playing well enough to be selected. Professional sportsmen are competitive. If they weren't, they wouldn't get there, but basically what happened is that I picked up injuries which just kind of sidelined me and I wasn't able to come back from that.
When and how did you begin to plan for life after cricket, did you see it coming up on the horizon?
I studied physiotherapy while I was playing cricket. We were still in an era when you had a career (apart from cricket) so I did physiotherapy. It would be impossible to try to study anything now with the amount of cricket the guys play. I worked for a few years as a physio and then I joined the family business (Reno Industrial Africa). Physio will always be a part of me, but I enjoy what I'm doing now.
What is the best piece of advice you've received, and what was the source of that advice?
When cricket was becoming more and more professional we had these cricket academies where they pulled quite a few of the experienced cricketers in and spent time with them, and I think it was Vince van der Bijl who said to me, you need to listen to everyone and then decide what suits you and what's going to benefit your game. If you don't listen to anyone you're never going to learn anything so you need to listen to everyone but you need to be selective and it might be a little advice that you can pull out of what they've said that's going to help you.
What is the best piece of advice you've given, and who was the recipient?
Probably the same thing. To young cricketers they get plenty of advice and I what I try to tell them is to listen to whatever anyone tells you but you've got to pick what's going to suit you.