One wonders what was going through the mind of Greg Thomas    Getty Images
One wonders what was going through the mind of Greg Thomas Getty Images

December 2, 1986. The motley group of Australian rebels stood face to face with the Border XI. However, Greg Thomas faced a strange dilemma. Arunabha Sengupta reflects on how even in cricket innocent lives are sometimes caught in international intrigue.

They were quite a handy group of tourists.

The golden curls of Kim Hughes had been singed while captaining Australia amidst the negative vibes of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh. Now, away from the travails of Test cricket, he was leading the rebel Aussies on their second South African tour within a year s time frame.

The experienced Graham Yallop, another ex-captain of the official Australian side, was there as well. John Dyson, Steven Smith, Tom Hogan, Rod McCurdy, Steve Rixon, Carl Rackemann were all internationals.

And there was an interesting addition. Kepler Wessels had joined forces, a South African returning to South Africa as a rebel cricketer. He had experience as a rebel before, having turned out in Kerry Packer s World Series early in his Australian sojourn.

The next match was against Border, and the team had arrived in East London. They made their way to the Jan Smuts Ground in scorching heat, with humidity reaching record levels and storm clouds hovering around.

Chris Harte recalls a conversation about the weather.

Did you know that the average life of a television set in East London is only four years?

Go on!

It s because of the humidity. It rots the casing.

Jeez, that s even worse than Sydney.

And in this broiling heat, Greg Thomas was trapped in the horns of dilemma.

The terms and conditions governing cricketing contracts along with the unwritten clauses dealing with international relations placed this Glamorgan pace bowler in a fix.

Thomas was just a cricketer making a living out of his ability to bowl fast and make the ball move a bit. He had played 5 not-so-impressive Tests for England that very year, 4 in West Indies and the other at Trent Bridge against New Zealand. And, while he had not really been that successful, he had made some critics sit up and take notice by giving Desmond Haynes a hard time at Kingston and then scalping Viv Richards in his 4 for 70 at Bridgetown. He had been called the fastest white bowler in the world.

And now he was spending the English winter by running in for Border.

That was allowed by TCCB even in the apartheid days. Solitary cricketers were permitted to ply their trade in the forbidden country, and also solitary South Africans could play for the counties.

But the arrival of the rebel Australians queered the pitch. Was it okay for Thomas to play for Border against a unit that certainly did not have the approval of the establishment?

The officials at East London had no clue. But from the city s northern namesake, the verdict was unequivocal. The message from Lord s was that he should not play in the match.

It was an unenviable situation. And to tide over it, Thomas suddenly developed an injury. On the morning of the match he was withdrawn from the team. Hence Tom Hardiman and Emerson Trotman shared the new ball, as Wessels celebrated his first match with a serene 137.

The complex political scenarios in the sporting arena often place the most innocent of sportsmen in a trying position. Getting injured was probably the only option left to Thomas.

Brief scores:

Border 358 (Gregory Hayes 74, Lorrie Wilmot 44, Bradley Osborne 127; Rod McCurdy 4 for 101, Carl Rackemann 3 for 84) drew with Australian XI 519 for 8 (Kepler Wessels 137, Mike Haysman 180, Peter Faulkner 48; Emmerson Trotman 4 for 88).