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Posts Tagged ‘Sri Lankan rebels’

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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Bandula Warnapura began 1982 as a national hero, captaining Sri Lanka in their first ever Test against England at Colombo in February. He finished it a pariah after leading a weak 14-man squad to South Africa.

The players were vehemently denounced across India, Pakistan and the Caribbean as well as in their homeland. Accusations of race betrayal were undisguised. While the Sri Lankans would be humiliated on tour and ostracised at home, South African self-denial was comical. The South African Cricket Union continued to insist that this was international cricket – and fined players who said otherwise in public.

Squad: Bandula Warnapura (captain), Flavian Aponso, Hemantha Devapriya, Lantra Fernando, Mahes Goonatilleke, Nirmal Hettiaratchi, Lalith Kaluperuma, Susantha Karunaratne, Bernard Perera, Anura Ranasinghe, Ajit de Silva, Bandula de Silva, Jeryl Woutersz, Tony Opatha (player/manager).

Schedule and results

26-28 Oct Tour match at Berea Park, Pretoria. Arosa Sri Lanka (315/9d & 123) lost to Combined Transvaal XI(313/4d & 127/4) by six wickets.

30 Oct-1 Nov Tour match at Newlands, Cape Town. Arosa Sri Lanka (275 & 307) drew with Western Province (400/7d & 106/6).

3-4 Nov Tour match at Oude Libertas, Stellenbosch. Arosa Sri Lanka (208 & 79) lost to Boland (141 & 149/5) by five wickets.

6 Nov First ‘ODI’ at Wanderers, Johannesburg. South Africa (291/4) beat Arosa Sri Lanka (102) by 189 runs.

8 Nov Second ‘ODI’ at Berea Park, Pretoria. South Africa (281/5) beat Arosa Sri Lanka (174/5) by 107 runs.

10-11 Nov Tour match at Jan Smuts Ground, East London. Arosa Sri Lanka (275 & 188/6) drew with Eastern Cape Invitational XI (181/6d).

13-15 Nov Tour match at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth. Arosa Sri Lanka (223 & 321/8d) drew with Eastern Province (287/5d & 162/8).

17 Nov Third ‘ODI’ at Kingsmead, Durban. Arosa Sri Lanka (140) lost to South Africa (143/2) by eight wickets.

19, 20, 22, 23 Nov First ‘Test’ at Wanderers, Johannesburg. Arosa Sri Lanka (213 & 141) lost to South Africa (378) by an innings and 24 runs.

25 Nov 45-over day-night match at Jan Smuts Stadium, Pietermaritzburg. Arosa Sri Lanka (181) lost to Natal Invitational XI (183/2) by eight wickets.

27-29 Nov Tour match at Kingsmead, Durban. Arosa Sri Lanka (129 & 104) lost to Natal (328) by an innings and 95 runs.

1 Dec Fourth ‘ODI’ at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth. Arosa Sri Lanka (276/9) lost to South Africa (278/4) by six wickets.

4-6 Dec Tour match at Wanderers, Johannesburg. Arosa Sri Lanka (122 & 200) lost to Transvaal (362/1d) by an innings and 40 runs

9, 10, 11, 13 Dec Second ‘Test’ at Newlands, Cape Town. Arosa Sri Lanka (282 & 281) lost to South Africa (663/6d) by an innings and 100 runs.

Notes:
South Africa won the four-match ‘ODI’ series 4-0.
South Africa won the two-match ‘Test’ series 2-0.

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