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After naming The Rebel Tours as their book of the month in March, All Out Cricket magazine is back for more. They now feature an extract from the book as ‘the dirty dozen’ planned the first, groundbreaking trip.

The April edition of AOC is out now.

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For Cricinfo today Martin Williamson writes on the seventh and final rebel tour to South Africa. As with his previous piece on the 1982 tour, it will not be unfamiliar to Rebel Tours readers.

PS No such thing as bad publicity? Not Another Cricket Blog does not need to read The Rebel Tours to be filled with self-righteous indignation.

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We are in the new issue of Sports Illustrated, India. No, sadly not the swimsuit issue, but with an article on the final, disastrous Gatting tour and South Africa’s subsequent international return at Eden Gardens:

In a cacophony of noise and smoke, firecrackers joining forces with Calcutta’s early morning smog and humidity, Mohammad Azharuddin shook hands with Clive Rice. The India captain tossed a coin and invited his South African counterpart to call. “I now know,” Rice said afterwards, “how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon.”

The magazine is out now.

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Batting For Apartheid

We have an article in today’s Sunday Times in South Africa:

Early in 1990, England cricket captain Mike Gatting and his team began one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the game: the seventh rebel tour of South Africa….

Read the full piece here.

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Beware rebels without a cause

How are we remembering the Noughties? As the decade nears its end the retrospectives are being written. Who was the best player, what is your Select XI, which was the greatest game?

But enjoyable as the old exercises always are, it is impossible to define a decade in these terms. Special moments belong to a certain time and place, as in Headingley ’81. Special players are quite the opposite – Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara or Shane Warne might just as easily be crowned ‘Player of the Nineties’ as ‘Player of the Noughties’.

In the long term a decade is as likely to be defined by off-field events, issues that cannot compete with a moment of on-field brilliance but which influence the future to a far greater degree. So it is that the Packer affair foreshadows any reflection on the Seventies, and so it will surely be with the Noughties.

It has been a decade for the professionals. Just as the game changed forever on 9 May 1977 so it did again on 24 September 2007. India’s T20 World Championship win produced the Indian Premier League and various other oddities, not all of which required action from the US Securities & Exchange Commission. More will follow, whatever the BCCI have to say about it.

For the first time in history the professional cricketer enjoys full emancipation, earning income comparable with that in other leading sports and without the patronage of his national board. While they do not compare to Tendulkar, Lara and Warne as cricketers, it may be Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Chris Gayle or Andrew Flintoff who come to characterise this decade.

In concluding this Cricket365 series there is a point worth making on this theme of ‘remembering history’.

The rebel tours themselves are scarcely remembered. The players who wanted to take part have generally ignored our calls, demanded money or insisted they would write their own account. In one sublime instance, a prominent former rebel and media personality said, ‘I don’t want to talk about them. And you can’t mention that I don’t want to talk about them.’ Andrew Marr eat your heart out.

Rebel tourists and their supporters have argued it is impossible to be judged impartially, that the ‘rebel’ tours cast them unfairly as villains. But this is a semantic distraction – as with those who protest Tony Greig’s Packer ‘defection’. East German refugees were defectors; those who support Aung San Suu Kyi are labelled rebels. Context is king.

The reality of the tours explodes the notion that this was a simple business proposition. Although the players had been free to accept the offers as bankers and jewel-traders were, the source of their income might have given pause for thought. Professional sportsman, it turned out, was not a job like any other.

As alluded to earlier, this is not an episode that cricket recalls so gladly as Packer – or as gladly as it undoubtedly will freelance professionalism. But the rebel tours remain one of the most important episodes in the game’s modern history.

They are a reminder that sport occupies a privileged position and that the game’s new freedoms bear serious responsibility. Giles Clarke declared cricket to be like any other business and was soon throwing his arm around Sir Allen Stanford. Others who also ignore history’s lessons will suffer the same chronic embarrassment – and worse.

This is the end of a decade and the start of an exciting new era, one in which leading professionals will enjoy unprecedented freedom and earning power. Still though, money isn’t everything. Graeme Pollock, the greatest cricketer to compete in the rebel series, played his entire career as an amateur.

  • A version of this article was first published by Cricket365.com on 24 November, 2009. The ECB first refused and then ignored requests for interviews with David Graveney and Mike Gatting, who now occupy senior strategic roles at Lord’s.

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From the very start of reading and writing The Rebel Tours, the cricket itself has been a source of great fascination to me. As we have seen in previous weeks, the strength of the home side was easily equal to most Test nations and some great names visited the republic.

True, the matches were not the most important thing amidst the global outrage. But to my mind they are made more intriguing by the wider context. The volume of criticism outside South Africa was matched by the hype inside the country. What was the nature of the sport played in the eye of the storm?

The early tours were famously certainly modest. The first, in 1982 by an English squad, produced an on-field spectacle that made a mockery of the immense publicity. Despite the presence of four players who reside in the highest echelons of English cricket history – Graham Gooch, Geoffrey Boycott, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood – the tour was a lesson in preparation and cohesion. Pulled together at the last minute, they didn’t win a game although the South African Cricket Union, the government and the newspapers were relentlessly enthusiastic in championing authentic ‘international’ cricket.

The next series, South Africa versus Arosa Sri Lanka, was even worse. Under Test captain Bandula Warnapura and with internationals sprinkled through the side, the visitors were humiliated. For the home side Barry Richards took to getting himself out deliberately, so embarrassing were the claims to ‘international’ cricket. Still SACU fined those Springboks who publicly questioned their ‘international’ status.

Only in 1983 did things get interesting. It was then a popular view that the second and third best teams in world cricket were the West Indies 2nd XI and South Africa. So when Lawrence Rowe captained a team of Caribbean rebels the standard was ratcheted. The Springboks got a shock – after the facile successes against English and Sri Lankan opposition, the West Indians edged them out over two series. South African batsmen who had never before worn helmets changed their minds facing Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke and Ezra Moseley.

By the time Kim Hughes’ Australians arrived in 1985/6, laying waste to Allan Border and the official side’s Ashes hopes in the process, the SACU hype machine was more or less out of control. Ali Bacher spluttered, ‘The public think Donald Bradman and his Invincibles are arriving.’

These two series were notable for a changing landscape in Cape cricket. Omar Henry made his Springbok debut. Amateur umpires went on strike in protest at Clive Rice’s hard-nosed “professionalism”. And South Africa experimented with fireworks and floodlights, not so much embracing the modern era as prodding it uncertainly. At one day-night ‘international’ an Australian batsman’s request to turn the floodlights on was met with official confusion. By the time the groundsman had been located at a car park braai, Rice had used his pacemen to skittle the Aussies in the half-darkness. The lights came on for the ‘Boks to claim an easy win.

A beacon of dignity throughout these latter series was Graeme Pollock. Where his contemporaries Richards, Mike Procter and Vince van der Bijl had retired, he endured. Ten years’ isolation had not harmed his position in the all-time averages. Nor had they weakened his immense power or hunger for runs. Aussie rebel Mike Haysman reported fielding a Pollock drive on the boundary and being knocked over the rope by the force of the shot. The left-hander was 42 years old.

Jimmy Cook, who with Peter Kirsten was alone in playing all 19 rebel ‘Tests’ says, ‘It’s sad that the kids of today don’t know how good Graeme Pollock was. I do a lot of coaching and I talk to kids about the good batsmen and they talk about Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs. And I say to them, “Guys, with all due respect, they’re not Graeme Pollock.”

‘Graeme Pollock was very, very special. He was just incredible, prone to getting out early but if you didn’t get him early on then you knew you were in huge trouble. He was just an amazing player, he hardly moved his feet – he had such an unbelievable eye and a sense of touch.’

Pollock accumulated 1376 unofficial ‘Test’ runs at over 65 – an average some 20 runs better than any team-mate including Cook, Kirsten and Rice. For better or worse the new challenge of rebel cricket provides an extra dimension to a career diminished by fate.

In truth there is no argument that the matches were at least first-class standard. A ‘Rebel Tours Select XI’ illustrates the strength of talent on display: Gooch, Richards, Alvin Kallicharran, Pollock, Rowe, Procter, Knott, Clarke, Underwood, Croft, Allan Donald.

That battle is wholly political and if the nay-sayers have a point they must acknowledge a discrepancy here: SACU-approved Currie Cup cricket is remembered in the first-class books (not to mention South Africa in Tests before 1970….) so why not SACU-approved ‘international exhibitions’?

However the claim to international status is utterly false. For one thing most of that Select XI is well past its best: only Gooch, Clarke and Donald would be better after the tours than before them. For another it is not enough to say that forgotten rebel stars such as Ajit de Silva, David Murray or Steve Smith might have had 50 Test caps. That is not how it works. They didn’t, and that is the end of it.

Most tellingly, nearly every leading player in the series recognised rebel cricket as a poor imitation of the real thing. The exceptions, such as Colin Croft’s demands for full international status for the rebel games, are praying for a forgiveness that will never come. Van der Bijl, one of the few leading South Africans not to get at least one cap before or after isolation, compares the rebel ‘Tests’ unfavourably with Currie Cup matches.

Nevertheless, beyond their status as statistical curios the 1980s rebel ‘internationals’ are worth remembering for at least three reasons:

1) Matches featuring so many illustrious names are a legitimate source of interest in the game’s history. They have not been detailed anywhere else and any self-respecting cricket tragic needs no bigger reason to take an interest;

2) At its best, the rebel cricket makes for a great story. In particular the series between South Africa and the West Indian XI, punctuated with brilliant on-field battles and off-field disputes, are games worth remembering;

3) “The cricket was not the point of the rebel tours” rather misses the point. Yes, much of the rebel cricket made a mockery of the off-field attention. But where it was farcical or futile, this is itself insightful and often wryly laughable. Compared to the immense hype South Africa afforded the rebel tours, the reality of the matches helps to explain the real reason for their taking place.

  • A version of this article was first published by Cricket365.com on 17 November, 2009.

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The rebel tours of South Africa that took place between 1982 and 1989 are events which, almost three decades on, still reflect badly on the game in general and those involved in particular.

Martin Williamson’s article for Cricinfo looks back to the ‘Dirty Dozen’ with the help of The Rebel Tours.

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