DateLine: 8th December 2005
Adrian Kuiper was a high quality cricketer for 20 years in South Africa, and was one of those rarely gifted souls who ended with a batting average higher than his bowling. Although the ban on South Africa undoubtedly took away his chance of appearing in more than just his solitary Test, the fact that he was pigeonholed as a one-day specialist (due to his explosive batting ability and handy medium pacers) was probably also a factor. His many years of high quality cricket for Western Province won him selection for the South African XI which played rebel sides from Sri Lanka, the West Indies and then England. It was against a side from the latter country in 1989-90 that he achieved one of his greatest accomplishments, with a 49 ball century. In this match he took a special liking to Kim Barnett’s leg spin (although you got the impression that Kuiper would have dispatched any bowler or bowling that day), and in an era before Afridi, Gilchrist or Pietersen it was a genuinely startling, almost unreal effort. It was also to guarantee him employment in the South African winter, as English county Derbyshire (who Kim Barnett happened to captain) offered him a contract for the 1990 English summer.
Derbyshire had effectively hired two players. In the Championship they got a player who struggled to sustain an innings (and who never scored a 50, despite playing in half the matches), and who’s bowling was only effective in a fifth bowler, few overs type way. However, in limited-overs cricket, and especially the Sunday League, they got the brutally effective batsman, and genuine all-rounder they wanted. In his first match in this competition he rescued a doubtful position with a 50 off just 24 balls. In a match against Somerset at Taunton, Derbyshire needed a single off the last ball to win with Kuiper on strike. As everyone on and around the ground prepared for a madcap dash and scramble, Kuiper casually smashed the hapless Adrian Jones for six. It is doubtful whether any other player on the ground would have dared such an option, but Kuiper’s exquisite ability allowed him to simplify the situation and take out the possibility of a run-out. It says a lot for Kuiper that afterwards it just seemed to have been the natural thing to do all along. In the final, must win match against Essex, Kuiper started poorly by dropping two slip chances in the space of three balls, although he did make some amends by dismissing Mark Waugh. Fittingly, Kuiper played a key part in the Derbyshire chase, and a 36 ball 56 was timely, necessary and essential as the success starved county won their first title in nine years. The fact that he was also Derbyshire’s joint highest wicket-taker with 19 victims (along with Simon Base, who ironically was a former Western Province team-mate) in that season’s competition also showed how useful his medium pace he could be in limited-overs matches. Kuiper declined an offer to return in 1991, feeling that a full season as overseas player (in 1990 Ian Bishop had played in half the Championship matches) was not what he wanted.
Kuiper’s place in South African cricket history was assured when he was part of the teams which played the Springbok’s first post apartheid ODI and Test. Although South Africa lost their first ever ODI, their innings was boosted by an initially restrained, and then firework laden 43 from Kuiper. He later showed a different side to his game with a painstaking 34 off 168 balls in his maiden Test innings. Kuiper had a poor World cup in 1991/2 (with only his bowling and memories of past innings keeping him in the squad) and as he was 32 when it ended the dropping which inevitably followed it may have been a permanent one. However, achievement in official international cricket was to come. He celebrated his return to South African colours in February 1994 with a 22 ball 47 against Australia at Verwoerdburg (which included 26 off Craig McDermott’s 50th and final over), and then with an in vain 33 off 16 balls two days later. Kuiper bowed out of international cricket with a victory assembling 61* against England (which a hamstring injury dictated he make with a runner for most of his knock) in January 1996. The South Africans were already 5-1 up in the series, and as it was Kuiper’s first appearance of the series it (correctly) had a valedictory feel to it.
Like all international class South African cricketers of his generation, Kuiper deserves sympathy for his career being so adversely affected by reasons outside his control. If there are more obvious examples of players being robbed of significant international careers (and Barry Richards and Jimmy Cook are obvious examples from both the start and end of South Africa’s isolation), then it is possible that Kuiper would possibly have provided more crashing, banging and walloping style entertainment than any other South African of the isolation years. However, Kuiper at least had the consolation of a large domestic silverware collection, through his membership (and victorious captaincy for two seasons) of the Western Province team which won five consecutive Currie Cup’s in the mid 1980’s.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)