Our bridge over troubled waters

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Former South African captain Shaun Pollock looks back at his country’s chequered cricketing past and credits the International Cricket Council with seeing the South African game through its ups and downs

Illustration : Uzma Mohsin

CRICKET STARTED IN South Africa in 1888-89 when a team from England came for a series and helped South Africa play its first Test at Port Elizabeth. We were the third country to play Test cricket. But trouble started brewing when the government pushed its racist policy of apartheid in sport, and cricket took a virtual backseat.

Those were days of high tension in South African cricket. It was like playing before empty galleries. Very few loved the game then. The ICC, expectedly, voted in 1970 to indefinitely suspend South Africa from world cricket because of its overtly racist policy under which the Proteas played only against the white nations: Australia, England and New Zealand.

The policies of the apartheid era meant that a legend like Basil D’Oliveira played just five Tests in his lifetime, though many now call him the best cricketer South Africa ever had. We read in the newspapers about how he had scored over 80 centuries in club cricket in Cape Town (including a double century in just one hour). But being a child of mixed race, he could not get into the national side and had to move to England. But D’Oliveira worked overtime with the ICC and highlighted — time and again — why sport and politics should not be mixed.

During those days, we lost out greatly on world cricket. It was a disturbing time. A wrong was being forced on us and the government wanted us to call it right. Top players like Mike Procter, Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock could not play international Test cricket and wasted their best years. We were thoroughly frustrated. Robin Smith and Allan Lamb emigrated to England to play for its national team, while Kepler Wessels played for Australia.

The ICC eventually reinstated South Africa as a Test nation in 1991 after the dismantling of apartheid. I remember every moment of the November 10, 1991 match at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens and how KC Wessels, skipper Clive Rice, AC Hudson, RP Snell and DJ Richardson loved a match they lost by three wickets. Thanks to the ICC, the match was quickly organised and the team could fly out to India. It was freedom for them and freedom for us. And it happened because of the ICC and the way people like Basil D’Oliveira and later, Dr Ali Bacher, worked with the game’s controlling body to give our muchloved national game the fillip it deserved. Thrice we have made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup, including once under my captaincy, in 2003. We’ve also had a fair amount of success in various tournaments across the cricket-playing nations.

The ICC helped organise our post-apartheid match in India. It was freedom for us and for them

Today, we play various versions of the game and enjoy every moment of it. But it was the ICC that first warned us about apartheid, and then happily embraced South Africa when the policy changed. I think South African cricket has had some great moments with the ICC, the body that has helped us tide over some of our rough weather and helped cricket grow in our country.

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