Kepler Wessels speaks about his cricket journey and career in lawn bowls
Kepler Wessels has had one of the most fantastic cricketing journeys of modern times. Born in 1957, growing through South African isolation, Wessels had a fascinating journey through countries and teams. One of the toughest cricketers of the modern era, he was a rebel of sorts as well as a player for Australia and was a leader for South African cricket after their readmission.
After handing over the reins to Cronje he returned to the county circuit but later retired to take up bowls and has just competed in the Australian Open this week. In 2008, Wessels was invited to coach the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.
Speaking about the start of his bowls career he said: “I retired from first-class cricket pretty late. I was about 40 and I still wanted to do something competitively so I switched to that. The only problem is with my commentary commitments I can’t do it all the time.”
Wessels is of the opinion that a perfectly delivered bowl can regenerate the feeling of a perfectly timed slash for four off Malcolm Marshall. Wessels is also a keen follower of cage fighting, though he mostly gets into training rather than competitive fights as he recalls a feisty 21-year-old really cleaning him up.
Kerry Packer had signed the 21-year-old Wessels who suddenly found himself in the same dressing room with Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell.
“It was awesome. Playing with the Chappell brothers and Dennis Lillee, I learnt more in six months than I could have in many years outside that system. Ian was captain and so respected. I really liked his style. Greg was the batting perfectionist. I liked the way he went about scoring his runs. Dennis Lillee’s work ethic really left a mark on me.”
In the late 1970s, the left-handed opening batsman was drafted by Kerry Packer to play for the Australian World Series Cricket Team. He fretted about qualifying to play for Australia. He wrote to Rod Marsh and the Chappell brothers, seeking state contract and recounts how Rod Marsh wrote back and said, “before you do anything go back and finish grade three handwriting”. Wessells also has fond memories of Kerry Packer with whom he later had arguments with when he insisted on playing for New South Wales.
“In my first Super Test I got out for 46 and thought I batted well. When he saw me later he said, ‘I don’t employ people to get 40s’. Ian Chappell heard it and when I got 100 in a later game and Packer came back into the room Ian said, ‘anything to say now Kerry’”.
The former Australian batsman was heartbroken at the conclusion of the World Series. He remembers Joel Garner as the bowler who gave him the most trouble but also mentions his admiration for Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan. He remembers playing for the Valleys where he averaged around 90. He would sprinkle granite on the practice pitches to get the ball to move.
In professional sport, you have to go with it and do best you can: Wessels
Wessels, the commentator is a different man than he was as a cricketer. He appreciates that the viewers accept his sense of humour. Once, while talking about commentary, he chimed about Ravi Shastri “Ravi, did you swallow a microphone as a child?” apparently joking about the way Shastri was ‘bellowing’ through the microphone.
He realises that joking comes more naturally to him now than it did during his cricketing years. When asked why he wasn’t such an easy-going person as a cricketer, he muses : “The cricket was very tough with all the quick bowlers running around.” Wessels cherishes his career in Brisbane where he spent eight years. It was also where he made his debut against England at The Gabba in Brisbane on 26 November 1982. His daughter has moved to Brisbane and it has allowed him to walk down memory lane and engage in nostalgia about playing for Queensland in the 1980s.
Throughout his career, the talented cricketer has been criticised for his ‘ugly’ stance, his serious approach to the game and doubts over his ability to play ODIs for South Africa. Having played for both Australia and South Africa, the former South African captain explains how sometimes he felt like an outsider in both national teams.
“When I first came to Australia it was clearly difficult to find my feet. By the time I got to Queensland I was pretty well settled. Naturally I did have a few issues from the media side of things. Then when I went back to South Africa it was difficult because had come to Australia and played for them.
“Then there was so much happening because, after six years of me being home, South Africa were getting back into the fold (post-apartheid) and we had our first game in the 1992 World Cup and I had to slip back into a new side. It was organised very quickly and it was really awkward. But it is a professional sport and you have to go with it and do what you can.”
Kepler Wessels has had a marvellous career through spunk, energy and consistency. The story of his rise and his success continues to enthral even today.