Roger Telemachus: South African pacer who had a short-lived international career
Roger Telemachus © Getty Images
Roger Telemachus, born March 27, 1973, was a South African fast bowler during an era when Protean fast bowling was spearheaded by men like Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel. Telemachus was present in the World Cup 2007 squad but didn’t play in any of the matches. His career was punctuated by a marijuana scandal and a calamari incident, Sudatta Mukherjee looks at the life of the man who took the wickets of Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting in the famous Johannesburg One-Day International, which saw a total of 872 runs being scored.
In the Western Cape province town of Stellenbosch, situated 31 miles east of Cape Town, one of South Africa’s fast bowling talents was born.
In his early days, Roger Telemachus played for Boland and Western Province Colts. In 1992-93, Glamorgan toured South Africa. Telemachus played a 35-over match for Western Province against the visitors at Northerns-Goodwood Cricket Club Oval. Telemachus’s first stint at proper club cricket was unsuccessful and Glamorgan defeated Western Province by nine wickets. Telemachus scored only three and bowled only four overs.
The following season playing an ODI match in the UCB Bowl One-Day Competition, the then 20-year-old Telemachus bowled four overs, giving away 24 runs. His team Boland B won the match quite easily over Griqualand West, but Telemachus was yet to make a breakthrough.
Telemachus was promoted to Boland B’s Section One matches the next year. He started playing in the UCB Bowl First-Class matches. In the first match that he played for them in the UCB Bowl 1994, he scored 33 runs and took two wickets. In the next match he could take only one wicket. In his third match he took three wickets and scored 59, thus notching up his best with both bat and ball.
Over the years, he picked up wickets regularly for Boland. By 1997, he had 170 wickets from 78 matches across formats, with five five-wicket hauls, and he was selected in the South African squad for the Standard Bank ODI series against the visiting Pakistan side.
It was a tri-series between South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The first match was between Pakistan and South Africa. In front of a full house, 22,500 people, Telemachus marked his international debut.
South African skipper Hansie Cronje won the toss and elected to bat. A marvellous unbeaten century by Jacques Kallis and an unbeaten 94 off 95 balls by Jonty Rhodes saw South Africa post 280 in their 50 overs. Pakistan openers Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi didn’t last long as fellow debutant Steve Elworthy removed both the batsmen.
After Elworthy removed Anwar in the first over, Telemachus removed Aamer Sohail in sixth over of the match. At this point Waqar Younis came to bat, when Pakistan needed 125 runs to win. With Younis as his partner, Abdul Razzaq and the former put up a partnership of 72 runs for the 10th wicket. It was at this point that Cronje decided to introduce Telemachus. Telemachus had already proved himself in the domestic circle as a good trustworthy death overs bowler. Telemachus came in and with the fourth over of the 48th over, he bowled Younis for 33. South Africa won the match by 52 runs.
In the next match, Telemachus went on to pick up four wickets, which included the wicket of Marvan Atapattu. He finished the series with 12 wickets from five matches at an average of 14.50. He had an economy of 3.98 and was the only South African bowler in the top three in the list of top wicket takers.
Roger Telemachus picked up 56 wickets in 37 ODIs for South Afirca. He also snared three wickets in two T20Is © Getty Images
Short-lived international career
Telemachus went on to play 37 ODIs for South Africa. Even though he used to pick up regular wickets, he never had one of those brilliant performances which could make him a regular in the side. Besides, South Africa were well stocked in the fast bowling department
Telemachus’s career was more famous for controversies. In the ICC Knock-Out semi-final 2000, Telemachus was handed suspension for misconduct. Apparently, he had collided with Sourav Ganguly and got into a heated conversation.
However, the biggest shocker came in May 2001. South Africa was visiting West Indies. This was the “first full-blown South African tour to the islands”, according to Herschelle Gibbs in his autobiography To the Point Gibbs writes, “Shaun Pollock was the Proteas captain, and when we got to Antigua for the fourth Test, we were leading the series 1-0, with two to play. By the fourth day of the Test, it was already clear that we were going to win the match and, therefore, the series. We just needed a few wickets on the last day, and that would be it — we would have beaten the West Indies in their own backyard.
“So, sitting in the changing room at the end of that fourth day, enjoying a few beers with the guys, I suggested that perhaps it might be fun – not to mention highly appropriate – for us to celebrate the sheer momentousness of the occasion by partaking of the local herb.
Neil McKenzie was like, ‘Great idea! Great idea! Let’s do it.’ Obviously we had had a few toots by then, and pretty much all the guys were keen to smoke some of Antigua’s finest, A-grade marijuana.
As it happened, our liaison officer — the local man who looked after us — was nicknamed ‘Smokey’. Seriously. We never knew him by any other name. Great guy too. Anyway, so Roger Telemachus, the Proteas bowler and a good mate of mine, was really keen on the idea. I remember him saying, ‘I’m going to smoke the fattest spliff if we win tomorrow.’”
This continued and Telemachus was part of the gang which got caught. Speaking more about the incident, Gibbs wrote how Telemachus stopped them from smoking in the dressing room to avoid getting caught by selectors.
“I was so keen to get goofed that I wanted to light up right there and then, but Roger said, ‘Whoa! No man, are you nuts, bru? We can’t smoke it in the changing room in front of the selectors! We’ll take it back to the hotel.’
It was stated by Gibbs later that, Telemachus and Daryll Cullinan were involved in a huge altercation. Cullinan was thought to be the whistle-blower. Gibbs further added, “The whole story came out a few days later when, during a two-day game in Montego Bay, Daryll Cullinan and Roger Telemachus had this huge altercation. The two of them had never really seen eye to eye, and neither of them ever backed down for anybody … especially Roger. That guy did not take a step back, ever.”
“Daryll and Roger were having a proper go at each other – we’re talking a nose-to-nose altercation here. [Ironic, now that I think about it, given that Roger was the source of the smell to which Daryll was taking such great exception.] Roger ended up shoving Daryll, and the floor was covered in really slippery tiles, so Daryll went flying into some chairs. Not good. By now he was apoplectic with rage and stormed out of the changing room, shouting, ‘That’s it! Fuck this! I’m not going back on the field.’ And he went straight to Goolam.Goolam Rajah was, and still is, the Proteas’ much-respected team manager.”
Gibbs, who was already on sentence for match-fixing drama, was fined 10000 Rand. Telemachus, Paul Adams, Justin Kemp and Andre Nel were fined five grand each. Telemachus was also fined along with Cullinan for the altercation. According to Gibbs, “All in all, one of the more expensive farts Roger had ever let rip.”
On their return home, the players apologised to the fans. With the selectors short of options, Telemachus was recalled to the South African squad in March 2002. Playing against Australia, Telemachus picked up nine wickets from five matches. He had an average of 25.55. Australia won the seven match series 5-1.
In the midst of controversies surrounding the Players Terms contract in August 2002, Telemachus and experienced opener Gary Kirsten were excluded from the squad for the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka.
Despite being selected for training squad, Telemachus didn’t participate in ICC World Cup 2003. South Africa had a disastrous World Cup that year, which was followed by Pollock being removed as the captain.
Actually, Telemachus suffered a nasty shoulder dislocation in 1998, which bothered him throughout his career.
After South Africa’s dismal performance in World Cup, Telemachus was later withdrawn from the South African A squad because he was yet to recover from injury. He was replaced by Eastern Province all-rounder Justin Kemp. In an UCBSA Press Release, the Convenor of Selectors, Omar Henry said, “It’s unfortunate that Roger could not take his place in the squad. He had recovered but he had not reached the fitness level required for a tough tour of Australia. “Due to the strenuous nature of the tour schedule in Australia, the selection panel decided to replace Roger with an all-rounder.”
Telemachus returned to play for Boland and Western Province and Eagles. When the Western Province and Boland First-Class teams joined hands together to participate in the SuperSport Series, he started playing for Cape Cobras.
While playing for Eagles in 2005, Telemachus was fined 1,000 Rand and was suspended for one-match for going against board’s code of conduct.
Despite being known as a genuine No 11 batsman, Telemachus’s batting career never took off. However, in 2005 Provincial Challenge, playing for Free State, Telemachus notched up 116 runs in first innings and also picked up six wickets in the match, helping his team win by 12 runs.
Final Days in International cricket
In 2006, when Australia toured South Africa, Telemachus was recalled to the team. Australia were to play a one-off T20 match, five ODIs and three Tests. South Africa managed to win the T20 match by two runs, inspired by skipper Graeme Smith’s knock of an unbeaten 89 and Andrew Hall’s three-wicket haul.
Before heading on to the Test series, South Africa and Australia were to play five ODIs. South Africa won the first two ODIs and Telemachus was included in the third ODI. Telemachus went wicket-less and South Africa lost the match. The fourth ODI was a thriller that Australia won by one wicket. Telemachus was the highest wicket taker in the match, with three scalps.
The series was tied 2-2, and South Africa had gone astray after winning the first two matches. The final match was at Johannesburg. Australia won the toss and Ricky Ponting elected to bat. Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich opened for Australia.
The duo notched up 97 runs inside 15.2 overs, Gilchrist scoring 55. After Makhaya Ntini, Hall and Johan van der Wath failed initially, skipper Smith introduced Telemachus. In the second over of his spell, he removed Gilchrist. Telemachus sent down a good length ball and Gilchrist tried to pull it away towards mid on. Hall by that time reached for it and dived in time to take a brilliant catch. But the match was far from over.
Ponting came in to bat next. First with Katich, he put on a partnership of 119 runs for the second wicket and with Michael Hussey he added another 158 runs. In the 48th over of the match, Smith brought him back into the attack. Telemachus was known for keeping things tight in the death overs. However, this match was different. He bowled four no balls. Ponting smashed the first for four and took a single off Telemachus’s second no ball. Then Symonds hit the third no ball for another four, followed by a six. Finally, Telemachus bowled two good deliveries and got Ponting on strike. Ponting smashed Telemachus again for a four. Ponting attempted to hit the next ball towards deep cover, but was caught by Boeta Dippenaar. He walked back for 164.
South Africa had a huge target of 435 to achieve. Riding high on Gibbs’s amazing innings of 175 and finding support in Smith’s 90 and Mark Boucher finishing it off for Proteas with his half-century, the side won one of the most famous ODI matches of all time.
Despite not producing match-winning performances, Telemachus was included in the ICC World Cup 2007 squad. The then South African coach Mickey Arthur said that Telemachus would play important role. As quoted in ESPNCricinfo, Arthur said, “Roger can bring us variation. He bowls wicket-to-wicket in the middle overs, can reverse the ball and is very good at the death.”
Telemachus did feature in the two warm-up games in the lead-up to the main draw but he didn’t play in any of the matches. Telemachus was rather seen clicking pictures of the team, as one of his passion was photography.
The same year, Telemachus made his T20I debut. However, he played only three T20Is for South Africa. The year 2006 marked the end of Telemachus’s international career.
Telemachus played a couple of First-Class matches and a handful of List A games for the Eagles. His last match for Eagles, came against Warriors in the MTN Domestic Championship 2007-08 semi-final match. He took three wickets but the Eagles lost to Warriors by 42 runs and that was the end for Telemachus’s List A career.
Till 2008, Telemachus continued playing for Eagles in their T20 squad. He then went on to play for Cape Cobras. In 2009, Telemachus was asked to retire by Cobras management. Injuries and medical reasons ended his career. Cape Cobras coach Shukri Conrad was quoted as saying by Sporting Life, “He was right up for selection having trained as hard as anyone in the winter months. But sadly he has a medical condition that has deteriorated over the years. As recently as last Thursday we sent him for an angiogram and unfortunately the diagnosis was not particularly good. Roger was advised not to play any further competitive sport.”
Other unknown facts
In 2002, in an interview to The Guardian, Telemachus revealed how he had grabbed a large axe and chased a burglar. Telemachus was watching the second Ashes Test at his Cape Town home, when a burglar, who had ransacked the next house, climbed over his house wall and tried to get through . Telemachus was quoted by the newspaper, “He was quite a big guy but I cornered him. I almost killed him with that axe, I promise you. He was panicking but eventually he gave up and begged me to hand him over to the neighbourhood watch.”
Telemachus added, “When I bowl I’ve learned to sledge back. And so, facing some crazy burglar, I was quite aggressive with him.” Also commenting about the event, one of security men was quoted by The Guardian as saying, “We usually tell people not to get involved because they could get hurt. But Roger’s quite a big boy and he can take care of himself.”
In a domestic match at Paarl in February 1992, Telemachus and fellow South African teammate Cullinan were involved in a bizarre event. Wisden in its 1996 issue mentioned how Cullinan had hit Telemachus for six. Apparently, the ball ended up in a kitchen into the pan of a frying calamari. Wisden records, “Daryll Cullinan hit a six into a frying pan. It was about ten minutes before the ball was cool enough for the umpires to remove the grease. Even then, the bowler was unable to grip the ball and it had to be replaced”.
In 2012, Telemachus was appointed the coach of the Dolphins. Since then he has been working closely with head coach, Klusener.
Speaking about the occasion, Telemachus was quoted by The New Age, “My selection came as pleasant surprise. One of my goals has always been to coach at a senior level. I’m up for the challenge and looking forward to nurturing the great talent that I have seen thus far from the team.”
Telemachus still continues to coach the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial team — the Dolphins cricket club.
(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)