New book tells tales of SA cricket never heard be­fore

Sunday Times - - Sport Cricket / Results -

● Robert Sobukwe’s fol­low­ers have had enough of the ar­ro­gance of the African Na­tional Congress. So they cut ties and formed the Pan-African­ist Congress.

He­len Suz­man and com­rades de­cide the United Party are dead in the wa­ter, and es­tab­lish the Pro­gres­sive Party.

Sew­sunker “Papwa” Sew­golum wins the Dutch Open, un­ortho­dox grip — left hand be­low right — and all. It’s the first of his three tri­umphs at the tour­na­ment.

And Frank Wor­rell leads West In­dies on a tour of SA that hopes to change ev­ery­thing about cricket in the coun­try and has­ten wide-rang­ing political, so­cial and eco­nomic re­form, but only lends le­git­i­macy to cor­rup­tion that has been en­trenched in evil, racist law.

No ten­ders will be awarded for guess­ing which of those state­ments is false. Wor­rell, the great­est crick­eter who has and will live ever, never brought an­other of the “Three Ws”, Ever­ton Weekes, and the one, the only, the mag­nif­i­cent Garfield Sobers, and all the rest of his fine play­ers, to SA.

But he came closer than you might think, con­sid­er­ing we’re deal­ing with the events, real and imag­ined, of 1959.

Ac­cord­ing to a new book, “… Wor­rell not only or­gan­ised the side for SA but had ties made — in mauve, green and blue

(the colours of the Vic Lewis “show­biz” 11 that he liked to rep­re­sent in Eng­land) — and or­dered long- and short-sleeved sweaters.”

It’s not the kind of pub­li­ca­tion that tells you what AB de Vil­liers had for break­fast, of which there are far too many in this click-crazy age. Rather, it tells you why peo­ple like De Vil­liers are able to buy what­ever they want for break­fast while so many other South Africans have to put up with what they can af­ford.

“Cricket and So­ci­ety in South Africa, 1910-1971: From Union to Iso­la­tion ”is

Wor­rell not only or­gan­ised the side for SA but had ties made

edited by Bruce Mur­ray, Richard Parry and Jonty Winch and pub­lished by Pal­grave Macmil­lan as part of their “Stud­ies in Sport and Pol­i­tics” se­ries.

It makes a com­pelling case for the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the strength and sig­nif­i­cance of the bond be­tween cricket, pol­i­tics and ev­ery­thing else in the world.

In a prop­erly punchy fore­word, An­dré Oden­daal, a man as care­ful as he is clever, lets loose thus on last sea­son’s Aus­tralia tour: “The events dur­ing the course of the Test se­ries again un­der­lined the tru­ism that the game of cricket has al­ways car­ried mean­ings greater than the sim­ple im­pact of leather on wil­low.

While draw­ing on pro­fessed stan­dards of ‘fair play’ (which the coun­try, in­ci­den­tally, fails to im­ple­ment in ar­eas like its im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies), Mal­colm Turn­bull, [then] Prime Minister of Aus­tralia, lam­basted Aus­tralia’s ball tam­per­ing as ‘a shock­ing dis­ap­point­ment’ and a ‘dis­grace’.”

Peter Pol­lock is quoted as de­scrib­ing the walk-off of prom­i­nent white play­ers at New­lands in 1971, in which he was cen­tral, as “a huge event for the times, shak­ing both the gov­ern­ment and the cricket ad­min­is­tra­tion”. Some of the other play­ers in­volved still hark back to the episode as ev­i­dence of their com­mit­ment to tak­ing race pol­i­tics out of sport. As if it were that sim­ple.

Rightly, Pa­trick Fer­ri­day, au­thor of that chap­ter, makes the point that the walkoff fol­lowed the can­cel­la­tion of Eng­land’s tour over the Vorster gov­ern­ment’s re­jec­tion of Basil D’Oliveira in the visitors’ squad, and that “it was the prospect of tour­ing Aus­tralia in 1971-72 which caused white South African play­ers and of­fi­cials sud­denly to be­have wildly out of char­ac­ter”.

Women do not es­cape the crosshairs in a chap­ter by Raf Ni­chol­son. A quote from the 1978 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Rachael Hey­hoe-Flint — “Who are we … to tell the South Africans how to run their coun­try?” — shim­mers as a crash­ing in­dict­ment of her char­ac­ter.

My only is­sue with this book is that, at £95 — a touch more than R1,700 — it is un­likely to be widely read in the so­ci­ety that should take it to heart.

A soft-cover edi­tion is, re­port­edly, in the works.

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