It was my honour to chat to one of my favourite commentators, and one of the key voices of SABC Cricket, Neil Manthorp. We chatted about his experiences while commentating, and about South Africa’s recent tour of Sri Lanka.
5 Questions with Neil Manthorp...
TPC: What made you want to write about cricket, where did your passion for cricket come from?
NM: I was one of those players who was euphemistically called 'a good team man'. Basically I didn't score enough runs or 'live up to my potential'! But I tried to support everyone else and I was pretty good at 'reading' a game and assisting the captain. I was an avid watcher of the game as a boy so it made sense to play it from the commentary box rather than on the field. When the chance came I grabbed it with both hands, something I didn't always do as a wicket keeper.
TPC: In your career as a cricket commentator, you have reported on over 100 Test matches since South Africa were reintroduced to International cricket. What has been the most memorable match or moment during a cricket game for you?
NM: Over 250, actually - I've been around even longer than you thought. The 1994 win at Lord's was amazing. It was very different on tour back then. All the journalists and commentators on that tour had beers with Kepler and Hansie after the game. That doesn't happen anymore. But nothing beats the 2008 win in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Having chased down a record 414 for victory at the WACA in Perth, hopes were almost unbearably high that South Africa could end almost a century of waiting for their first series win. Then everything went horribly wrong. Australia made 394 and we were 184-7 in reply, hadn't saved the follow-on with only three wickets left. They ended up winning before lunch on the final day. It was like winning a soccer game 6-5 after being 5-0 down at half-time. Poor old J-P Duminy, he was never going to live up to expectations after making 166 in just his second Test, one of the great innings in our history! And Dale Steyn's 76 - and ten wickets. It still gives me goosebumps.
TPC: You've had the privilege of witnessing some of the all-time greats of the game throughout your career. Who has been the best batsman you've ever seen? And likewise, the best bowler?
NM: Absolutely no question - AB de Villiers. Nothing took my breath away more than watching him in full flight - except when he retired. The only two fast bowlers I couldn't take my eyes off (even when I wasn't on air!) were Allan Donald and Dale Steyn. But there have probably been half a dozen wrist spinners I could watch all day.
TPC: South Africa don't play another Test series until mid-December, what do you think they need to do to get back to their proud and winnings ways?
NM: Apart from persuade AB to come back! I fear that is not going to happen. The virtues of hard work and sticking to the basics can never be under-estimated. In the absence of truly outstanding individuals the team needs to play as a team more than ever, fight for each other and support each other. But any team's fortunes rise and fall, it's the nature of sport. We can't win and be the best all the time.
TPC: The two shining lights from the Sri Lankan Test series were Keshav Maharaj and Theunis de Bruyn, what has impressed you most about these two young and very talented players?
NM: Maharaj is amazing. When commentators say "his variations are subtle" and "he varies his flight and pace very well" they usually mean "he doesn't turn it very much"! But Keshav really is very clever - and his variations really are very subtle! His figures are quite remarkable. He took 16 wickets in two Tests in Sri Lanka and might have made a material difference to the result, certainly in the second Test, if the batting hadn't been so poor. Apart from being a fine player, Theunis is a well-grounded person with a balanced perspective on life - and people like that generally make the best cricketers, in my experience.
Thank you Mr Manthorp, it was an absolute delight to hear your thoughts on this great game. Your cricketing mind is unrivalled.