TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
EDDIE Leie wore a chain as thick as a cigar around his neck to the Gauteng Cricket Board awards last May. It glinted grand and gold in the evening’s elegance and, teamed with a crisp white shirt and a sharp dark suit, made him look like a classy hip-hop mogul.
Which is where the stereotypes end with Leie, who has been named in SA’s T20 squad to tour Bangladesh in July.
For one thing he is a leg spinner in a cricket culture where bowling means seam up and fast. Moreover leg spin is harder to master than any other flavour of bowling, or batting anywhere in the order, or keeping wicket. What made Leie choose it?
“It’s more like leg spin chose me,” he said. “As a kid I played mini-cricket where you basically run up and bowl. But one day, when I was nine or 10, I was sent to the shops.
“While I was there I started playing around with some stones. I bowled one with a leg break action and it turned! I bowled another one and it also turned! I was bowling stones onto an uneven surface, so they could have gone anywhere. But they turned!
“The next day when I went to cricket practice I started bowling leg spin.”
He has stuck with his slippery discipline well enough to take 59 wickets at an average of 39.61 in 21 first-class matches for the Lions.
But of the 84 players capped in tests by SA since unity only two have been wrist spinners. One, Imran Tahir, learnt his craft in Pakistan. That means SA’s only homegrown specialist test wrist spinner since 1992 is Paul Adams.
“In first-class cricket I still have to grow in terms of consistency and making the transition from the white ball to the red ball when it comes to things like length,” Leie said.
“But test cricket is in my plans. This is just the beginning. I want to stay at this level and learn as much as I can.”
For now Leie has been picked to play for SA in a format that, for bowlers, is about the defensive skill of survival.
However he has taken 16 wickets at an average of 18 and a run-a-ball economy rate in 13 T20 games for the Lions. In four games from November 7 to 28 last year – his 28th birthday was on the 16th – Leie claimed 9/66 and was named bowler of the match each time. These achievements do not square with how attacking bowlers often fare in T20.
“I’m a spin bowler who wants to take wickets; I want to get batsmen out,” Leie said. “Sometimes your role changes and you have to contain, but when you take wickets the runrate will go down.”
Also unlike many modern players Leie is happy to forego some of the earnings he would have earned from playing a full season for the St Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League this year, which partly coincides with the Bangladesh tour.
“For me it’s not about money,” he said. “Playing for the national team is much more important – I’d pay money to play for them.”
Whether or not he wants to be, Leie will indeed be paid. Perhaps even enough to put genuine gold chains around the necks of nice young fellas from Potch.