With Australia and South Africa about to engage in a much awaited Test series, we decided to look back at all the past encounters between the two nations. In the fifth instalment of this seven part series, Arunabha Sengupta covers the period of South Africa’s isolation which saw the Australians visit on two ‘rebel tours’.
The years of isolation
Through the 1970s, there had been the forlorn expectation, that fervent hope against hope that the isolation would soon come to an end. The South African cricketers, who had conquered all the parts of the world they were allowed to tread, waited gazing into a future that looked bleaker and bleaker with time.
The International Cricket Conference (ICC) had stipulated two conditions for re-admittance: teams selected on a multi-racial basis and investment in under-privileged areas. By South African standards of the early 1970s, these constituted a revolution of major proportions. But, some commendable work had been carried out during the decade.
Yet, the Gleneagles Agreement was unanimously approved by the Commonwealth Nations in 1977. When delegates of ICC visited South Africa, they were reportedly impressed by the amount of work that had been done by the country in terms of promoting cricket among the non-whites. Their recommendation to ICC was to send a strong team to South Africa representative of as many countries as possible and play a series of matches across the country. However, ICC sat on the recommendation without acting on it. There were too many sensitive political threads attached.
Past allies England, Australia and New Zealand could not afford to send teams across any more. More and more countries opposed the regime and boycotted any sporting link with the country. Inside the nation, integration was not an easy issue. The South African Cricket Board of Control, the body that represented the interests of the non-white cricketers, banned their members for participating in the white governed circuit. As Hassan Howa, the prominent activist and spokesman of SACBOC, proclaimed: “no normal sport in an abnormal society.”
Finally, Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) chairman Doug Insole was frank enough to tell South African Cricket Union chief Ali Bacher, “Until apartheid goes, you can forget about getting back into world cricket.”
The ‘Rebel Tours’ commenced in the 1980s, as a desperate measure the game of cricket and its following alive in the country.
Graham Gooch led a band of Englishmen in 1982 — a team that included Geoffrey Boycott and Derek Underwood. An enthusiastic but rather ordinary Sri Lankan side visited the very next season. This was followed by a major coup for the cricket administrators of the country. A star studded West Indian team visited twice, with Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft, Collis King and others.
In most cases the approach of Bacher and his associates remained the same. Individuals were contacted, a point of contact was identified, players with issues with the management were singled out, offers were made, and recruitments were carried out.
Firstly, the encounters with Australia had always fascinated the South African public. The Aussies were their preferred cricketing rivals, equivalent of the Kiwis in rugby. The Springboks still remembered the 4-0 annihilation they had meted out to Bill Lawry’s team in 1970.
Secondly, no other team was in a more divisive state. Between captain Kim Hughes and the trio of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh, the relationship had always been bitter. And even after the retirement of the three great Australian cricketers, Hughes was not really having a smooth time at the helm. During the West Indies tour of 1984, Rodney Hogg had thrown a punch at him over a disagreement about the field.
Bacher approached through Tony Greig — the past master recruiter for World Series Cricket. However, Greig’s employer Kerry Packer was certain to oppose the idea. His channels beamed the official Australian matches now, and departure of star players would be a potential threat to business.
Greig suggested the name of Bruce Francis, a former Australian Test opener who had toured South Africa with the privately sponsored Derrick Robins XI in the 1970s. Francis, an economics graduate, relished the intellectual twists of the apartheid question and was adept at highlighting the hypocrisies of the stance of the other countries when it came to South Africa. He delighted in being the contact person, and later manager of the side.
By this time, the Australian Board was totally toothless. In fact, of the 14 delegates, three were actively involved in business with South Africa, one even selling cricket equipment to the Western Province Cricket Union. Over the next two seasons, four of them would watch part of the ‘Test’ series contested by the Australian rebels.
By October 1984, only captain Hughes, Allan Border and Geoff Lawson had not signed to visit South Africa. In fact, when first approached a couple of years earlier, Hughes had refused and warned the Board about possible poaching of players.
In April 1985, Adelaide Advertiser broke the story that Terry Alderman, Murray Bennett, John Dyson, Hogg, John McGuire, Rod McCurdy, Wayne Phillips, Carl Rackemann, Steve Rixon, Dirk Welham, Kepler Wessels, Graeme Wood and Graham Yallop had been signed up by South African agents. However, Kerry Packer himself countered the problem with the best possible antidote. Fatter offers were made and several players were tempted back in the fold.
At this stage, Hughes bid a tearful farewell to the Australian captaincy, with the understanding that he would continue as a batsman. When he found out that he had been axed as a player, the disappointment was a bit too much to bear. Loyal to the establishment and a staunch patriot born on the Australia Day, he was now offered the captaincy of the rebel team and readily accepted. “I am going to South Africa with an open, and I hope, an intelligent mind. I believe I have the ability to judge right and wrong. I also believe I will be able to comment and suggest ways in which the situation can be improved,” Hughes said in a live television conference.
Steve Smith and Graham Yallop also joined the team. The A$100,000 per tour after tax was too lucrative to turn down. David Hookes and Jeff Thomson did not make it only because their demands were more exorbitant. Border was not offered, mainly because it seemed that he had no reason to turn back on an Australian Board that had just made him the captain. He later wrote, “I’d have thought very hard about it. In fact the higher the offer, the harder would I have thought.”
Prime Minister Bob Hope expressed disappointment with Hughes and Yallop. However, Packer was not very worried. According to him, the rebel team was supposedly ridding the Australian side of serious dead-wood.
1985-86 in South Africa
Number of ‘Tests’: 3
Result: South Africa 1 Australia 0
By contrast, in South Africa, the arrival of the team was promoted with all the necessary fanfare. Racial tensions were high and the new Botha government was brutal towards the blacks and also unpopular among the whites. As the tourists were escorted by an army of security personnel, Bacher announced that the Australians would ensure the first real Test cricket in the country since 1970. Well, he said so quite regularly by now – at the start of every rebel tour.
The South African press heaped praise on even the not-so-impressive records of some of the cricketers. And Hughes presented the Springbok captain Clive Rice with his green Australian blazer. At the other end, Howa’s South African Cricket Board announced that any member attending the Australian tour matches would be banned for life.
The opening First-Class match was played against Orange Free State in Bloemfontein on the same day as the actual Australian side played New Zealand in Sydney. Throughout the tour, comparisons were made between the official side back at home and the unofficial team in South Africa. The players also had to work overtime to attend meet and greets consisting of long speeches and socialisation events.
However, while there was no shortcoming in hospitality and arrangements for the comfort of the tourists, there were other problems. The scorers and umpires were totally incompetent.
During the match against Orange Free State, journalists spent almost two hours at the close of play with official scorebooks, trying to reach an agreement about the final score of the Australian innings.
At Berea Park against a South African XI, Steve Smith, Mike Haysman and Mick Taylor were given out by umpires who matched the enthusiasm of the appeals. Umpiring had been an issue in all the rebel tours. It reached laughable proportions at St George’s Park. When the batsman made room and slogged, and the ball passing between the pad and the leg stump, the delivery was called wide. When the Australian players explained the rules of the game to the umpire Sandy Matthews, he withdrew his call.
Yallop and Alderman suffered injuries and withdrew from the first ‘Test’ at Durban. The crowd had been dishearteningly poor, partly due to the unimpressive cricket played by the tourists till now and partly due to the SACB boycott. The first day of the four-day ‘Test’ finished 15 minutes after tea due to bad light. The administrators could hardly afford such interruptions on top of the diminishing interest.
However, there was plenty to cheer about on the second day. The 41-year-old Graeme Pollock, that supreme left hander, stroked his way to a sublime century. It was his 62nd in First-Class cricket. There had been solid contributions from the experienced openers Jimmy Cook and Henry Fotherigham, but it was the age-less veteran’s innings that helped the home side to 393. Hogg and Rackemann captured five wickets apiece.
In reply, the Australians lost regular wickets and were struggling at 185 for five before the uncapped Mick Taylor hit 109. Left-arm spinner Tom Hogan chipped in with a quick 53. After further interruptions due to bad light, the innings came to a close on 359 in the morning on the fourth and final day.
With little time left in the game, the batsmen of South Africa were asked to produce some entertainment for the dwindling crowds. The directive backfired. Cook and Peter Kirsten fell to Hogg, Pollock, Ken McEwan and Rice to Rackemann. South Africa tottered at 37 for five at lunch on the last morning.
It looked as if the Australians would clinch a surprise win. But at this juncture, in one of the most bizarre of moves, Hughes took off his two strike bowlers and brought on Hogan and McGuire. With the pressure easing up, Fotheringham and wicketkeeper Ray Jennings guided the hosts to safety. Hogg remained available to bowl all day but was not brought back before the score read 174 for five. Rice declared when Fotheringham reached his century and the Australians batted out time.
Even as the South African press and public wondered at the curious tactics of Hughes, the beleaguered Australian captain obtained some consolation. At home, his countrymen had voted him into the shortlist for the ‘Australian of the Year’. Even being a rebel had not shorn him of his popularity.
Two days later, the sides met again for the second ‘Test’ at Newlands. On a slow pitch which required immense patience, Cook, Kirsten and the scintillating Pollock helped South Africa amass 430. When the Australians batted, after two early wickets, Dyson and Hughes brought their experience into play, adding 105.
At the end of the day, 135 for three seemed a decent enough score, but the Australians were not going to have an easy night. Their hotel was vandalised with the legend, “The Au$$ies play for blood money.”
Shocks of a non-cricketing kind followed when they arrived at the ground on the following morning. The South African stadium announcer bellowed the news from the Sydney Test against the Indians: “The other Australian team – the B team – have taken four wickets in Sydney against India, who have scored 600 runs.” It pleased the public as they thought the main side was struggling because their cream was here in South Africa. However, the Australian cricketers were not amused. They did consider themselves as patriots and Border was their mate. One of them had to be prevented from entering the announcer’s box to bring a forceful end to the hamming. Still, the message was passed, and there was no repeat of the incident.
Dyson scored 95, Yallop 51 and Garth le Roux captured four wickets as the Australians ended at 304. South Africa looked to score quickly and ran up a score of 138 for three by close of play. And the next morning, after a couple of meaty blows by the promoted le Roux, they declared at 202 for five. However, a determined Hughes held out for draw. The captain ended with an unbeaten 97.
However, this very display of Hughes underlined that the tour was not being seen as anything close to an official Test series. According to Ivo Tennant in The Times: “Not only was it a sad end to an otherwise interesting match, but we were also given an indication of how the Australians view the series. Hughes, having ensured the match would be drawn, turned tail and headed to the pavilion with five of the 20 (mandatory) overs left… The anomaly was that Hughes had 97 runs to his name. There has been talk here of whether these are Test matches proper. Hughes, by his action, gave his verdict. He would never have rejected a Test century.”
Thus far the four day duration of the matches had not really helped matters. Bacher announced that the third ‘Test’ at Johannesburg would go the full international distance.
The Australians faced a few problems before the final ‘Test’. The useful Hogan was suffering from flu and was forced to miss the match. The star wicket taking pacer Rackemann had bronchial infection and it was a miracle that he was able to play.
Under cloudy skies, Hughes put the opposition in and opened the attack with Hogg and Terry Alderman. The two snapped up the openers – and almost immediately after that Hogg pulled his hamstring and did not bowl any further in the match. Soon it was Rackemann all the way. Only Ken McKenzie scored 72 with bold hits to the leg. The next highest was 19. South Africa ended the day at 184 for eight and finished the innings on the following morning at 211. Rackemann ended with eight for 84.
In response, Steve Smith hammered an exciting century, adding 114 with an ultra-cautious Greg Shipperd. With the score on 159 for one at tea, the Australians looked very much in the driver’s seat. But rookie pacer Corrie van Zyl charged in after the break. The second ball caught the edge of Smith’s bat and the 41-year-old Pollock dived full length at second slip to catch it. With his next ball, van Zyl got Hughes leg before. The Australians slipped to 214 for five by the end of the day.
The next morning, Shippard was bowled by le Roux for 44 scored off 311 balls. With Rice and van Zyl picking up quick wickets, the visitors managed a lead of just 56. Rice, who had been given a torrid time by Rackemann in the first innings, now bowled a succession of quick short balls at Rackemann before claiming him leg before.
With Hogg limping out at the conclusion of the innings, supported by his runner, the Australian bowling was now heavily dependant on Rackemann. Along with Alderman, he did his best. With three wickets down by the time the score reached 80, the hosts seemed to be in a spot of bother. But the mighty Pollock struck form again, blasting his way to 51 at a run a ball. Michael Haysman later said, “I have just never fielded to a batsman who hits the ball so well and so accurately. It was, in many ways, an honour to be out there.”
Rackemann brought an end to the fireworks by making a ball rear up and break Pollock’s finger. However, the exertions affected the bowler. At tea, Rackemann was on the dressing room floor, hyperventilating due to fatigue. With a half-fit Alderman bowling most of the overs, Rice and McKenzie took the score to 192 for three by close.
The game was evenly balanced and at last the series had turned exciting. However, at this point Business Day ran an expose in which the entire tour was cast in a murky shade.
It was reported that the South African Government was granting 90 per cent tax rebates to the sponsors of the tour. So, in effect, it was a Government ploy to promote the apartheid regime through the publicity of cricket matches, and the tax payers were the ones paying for it. Panasonic and Yellow Pages were not funding it for commercial exposure, but due to the backhanded deals struck at the Cabinet.
An official of the SACU made it worse when he mentioned in a damage control interview that the furore was meaningless because the sponsor money catered to only a small percentage of the total expenses of the tour. He did claim that the rest of it came from the television and gate money. But those returns were so palpably paltry that it left no doubt that the Government was sponsoring the tours.
The Sydney Morning Herald carried a front page story, “Pretoria paying rebel wages.” It was accompanied by a cartoon of two Australian cricketers walking out to bat with the announcer bellowing, “Brought to you by the same people who gave you the Sharpeville massacre.”
Historian Andre Odendaal put it in perspective when he said, “The rebel tours were really a foreign policy coup for an embattled regime in the 1980s. And the fact they were paid for with taxpayers’ money shows really how closely tied up they were to the project of trying to buy time for apartheid for it to go in a new direction.”
In all this commotion, the match resumed after the disturbing rest day. Rackemann returned to the field and removed Rice for 50. Wickets fell one by one and the hosts reached 273 for eight when heavy rains ended the match for the day. McKenzie was unbeaten on 95.
On the final morning, Aldermann dismissed van Zyl in the second over of the day. And with McKenzie still short of his hundred, the ground stood up to applaud Pollock who emerged with a heavily bound right hand. McKenzie now hit hard and often, mostly through the leg side, to get his score up to 110. Pollock, batting with one hand, hit Alderman for two boundaries, and moved to 65 off 66 balls when his partner was dismissed. Rackemann fihished with 28 wickets in the series, and the Australians needed 250 to win.
The chase started amidst growing excitement. The openers put on 24, but then there was a sensational collapse. The four pronged pace attack of le Roux, van Zyl, Hugh Page and Rice ran through the rest of the batting.
Le Roux bowled Shippard, gave Hughes a King pair when he inside edged the first ball to Jennings and then trapped Taylor leg-before to get a crippling hat-trick. Rice, who had claimed Rackemann and Hogg off the last two balls of the previous innings, bow sent down the second over after lunch and bowled Yallop off the first ball. Thus it was a hat-trick for the skipper as well.
The Australians were all out for 61. A shell shocked Hughes lamented, “All our hard work since mid-November was lost in two hours.” The South African media celebrated the ‘first success against Australia in 17 years.’
The tour ended with six ‘One Day Internationals’, ending 4-2 in favour of the hosts. It was marred by umpiring controversies. The officials made mistakes in even counting deliveries. “Am I playing primary school cricket or international cricket? Surely they can count to six,” Hughes cried in anguish during a post-match conference.
By the time the tour ended, the injury-hit Australians were in a pitiable state. At a match in Griqualand West, they had to call up 44-year-old Garth McKenzie.
However, Hughes remembered this tour as one of his happiest. “There were no disturbances, unlike my other tours. Usually in West Indies, India and Pakistan we can at least expect one riot. In South Africa it has been quite peaceful.”
Yes, but they were playing far away from the race riots, spending their time in a carefully cocooned white bubble. It was naïve not to realise that.
1986-87 in South Africa
Number of Tests: 4
Result: South Africa 1 Australia 0
The Australian rebels had been banned for two years from domestic cricket and three years from international cricket. Hence, the second tour meant just one year of wilderness after they returned.
Western Australia Cricket Association had sought an indefinite ban on its rebels, including Hughes. However, it was fought in court. The judge upheld the international and domestic suspensions while overturning the indefinite ban. In the South African press, the verdict was curiously celebrated as a victory for the regime.
This time the rebel side had been reinforced by the addition of the South African born Wessels.
Still sore from Wessel’s volte face before the previous tour, the Australians were reluctant to include him in the team. At the same time, if Wessels was to play for South Africa , the SACU would require to pay off the value of his existing contract to the Australian Cricket Board. Besides, there was little chance of his being popular in a settled Springbok side. In the end, Bacher decided that the rather ordinary batting side of the Australians could do well to include him in the ranks.
Actually Bacher had put the question of Wessels to the 16 Australians, and 14 had been against his inclusion. The other two had abstained from voting. When he was thrust on the Australian side, an unnamed fast bowler told Chris Harte of The Australian, “So that’s how they vote in South Africa.”
There were to be four day-night limited over matches, four ‘Tests’ and four more one-day games. The popularity of the shorter version of the games in the republic augured well for the gates. However, the first four matches were rendered almost farcical by poor managemant.
In the first game, the floodlights could not be turned on because the operator was gorging himself at a car park braai. South Africa won riding on a quick-fire 62 by that same Pollock. There were issues with floodlights and some unscheduled stoppages due to fireworks, and all the matches were subject to severe mismanagement.
At Newlands, the floodlight problem was averted by Garth le Roux, who reduced the Australians to 15 for seven, and finished with six for 21. The match ended early enough to render the lights redundant. The teams were persuaded to play another unofficial 25 over match to entertain the visitors. The Australians lost once again. The tourists thus had the misfortune of losing twice within the course of a day. With the second match washed out by rain the series was won 2-1 by the hosts.
In the first ‘Test’ at Johannesburg, Hughes won the toss, put the South Africans in on a lively wicket and reduced them to 66 for four by lunch. With Rice the only batsman to score some runs, it was 154 for seven at tea. However, some sensible hitting by le Roux from down the order took the hosts to 221 for nine at the end of the day. After celebrating Christmas on the following day, the Australians returned to end the innings at 254. Rod McCurdy had taken six for 67.
However, Rice with 16-6-19-4, Page 17-3-39-3 and le Roux 11-4-25-2 blasted the Australians out for 142.
On the third afternoon, the Australians benefitted from some poor decisions. Opener Brian Whitfield and a rookie all-rounder, the giant Brian McMillan, were both leg before to McGuire. By the end of the day, South Africa had fallen for 182, leaving Australia to score 294 in two days. The visitors looked on course when Wessels and Hughes were engaged in a 50 run partnership for the third wicket and the score stood at 107 for two. However, McMillan got Wessels to snick to wicketkeeper Dave Richardson. Following this Rice, McMillan and Page kept plugging away at the wickets. Mick Taylor was another victim of atrocious decisions, given leg before after the fielders had appealed almost as an afterthought.
When South Africa took the second new ball at 200 for seven, Hughes was still there fighting a lone battle. Now Page bowled short and it flicked the captain’s pad sand was gathered by Richardson after it had bounced in front of the first slip. There was a half-hearted appeal and once again the finger was raised. As the Australian captain made his way to the pavilion, Rice, after a discussion with Richardson, called him back.
Reinstated, Hughes snicked again and this time refused to walk. The umpire, already shaken, hesitantly ruled in his favour. The Springboks were not really amused.
Hughes fought hard, dancing down the wicket to hit the fast-medium Page through the covers for four.He remained unbeaten on 54 as South Africa squeezed a 49 run win.
The early success led South Arica to pursue the tactic of packing the side with batsmen and posting big scores. At Newlands, Whitfield hit 77, Kirsten 173. However, it was once again Pollock who delighted with 12 fours and a six in his 66.
Much time was lost due to bad light, but South Africa refused to declare. It was eventually the third morning when they were all out for 493.
The Australians put their heads down went past the total by three runs. Dyson hit a pleasing 198 before calling for a non-existent single. Haysman made merry with 153. In the little time that remained, Kirsten compiled his second century of the match.
By this time, Rice was severely critical of the umpires. “We are now playing cricket that is very much more professional than it used to be with far greater stakes available in terms of finance. But, while the players have become far better paid, the South African umpires are still basically amateurs who stand for the love of the game. They are not trained to stand the pressures that come out in a game.”
The following day, Ossie Schoof and Denzil Bezuidenhout, the two umpires who had done duty at Cape Town, announced their retirements.
The next ‘Test’ at Durban created history. The veteran left arm spinner Alan Kourie had struggled in the previous ‘Tests’. He was dropped and replaced by Omar Henry of Boland. This was the first time a coloured cricketer was playing for the Springbok side – if one ignored the somewhat contentious example of Charlie Llewellyn almost a century earlier.
Henry was impressive enough, but the match ended in yet another stalemate. Steve Smith hit 137, but that was the only major score in the innings. The Australians ended their hit with 264. In reply, the South Africans batted sedately in the extremely humid conditions and spent eight and a half hours over their 350.
But, when Smith, Wessels and Hughes had fallen with the score on 35, by the end of day three it looked that the hosts could still run away with the match.
The next day, however, Dyson and Haysman batted together for five hours, adding 203. Hughes was delighted with the ‘stirring fightback’. Yet, both the captains were criticised for their lack of initiative. Rice was chastised for being defensive in an almost winning situation. Hughes was pulled up for not trying to square the series. The match ended in a dull draw. As Trevor Hohns picked up nine wickets in the match, Hughes taunted the Springboks, “You guys have got to accept that your batsmen don’t play spin very well.” Rice was not about to accept this. “Nonsense, Kim can chirrup all he likes.”
There was much to play for in final ‘Test’ at Port Elizabeth. There was R12,000 for winning the series and R18,000 for winning the match.
There was an exciting prospect turning out for the first time in Springbok colours. Young Alan Donald charged in and claimed two wickets in a four over spell. But Wessels batted for over six hours to score 135. Hughes declared at 455 for nine.
This was to be Pollock’s final appearance in First-Class cricket, at least in international matches. When he came in to bat at 64 for two, the 11000 spectators rose to applaud him all the way. The very first ball from Hogg got his edge and fell short of wicketkeeper Rixon. But, the next four hours saw some of the most controlled and virtuoso stroke making. When Hogg bowled him after 263 minutes at the crease, he had scored 144 in 211 balls with 22 fours and a six. As he returned, his final departure from the wicket was seen on television across the land. “It might have been Pollock at the age of 22 rather than 42,” wrote Michael Owen-Smith.
The match ended in a tame draw after another hundred by Wessels. However, the final moment of poignancy was provided once again by Pollock. When he reflected on his career after the match, he remarked, “I can see the justice of our cricket isolation now, though it was hard at the time.” No one could reprimand a national hero, especially in the act of leaving the stage on which he had strutted for years as the best in the world.
The rather meaningless series of four One Day matches ended in a 3-1 win for South Africa.
The hosts won the ‘Test’ series 1-0, but according to Chris Harte, “Without Graeme Pollock and Garth le Roux for the South Africans and Steve Smith for the visitors, the (matches) would have lacked virtually any entertainment value.”
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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