Out of Africa

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that being a cricket person in Singapore is fine because these days so much cricket is available on television here. As in most places you pay for it but at least it’s available.

Update. This is simply not true. It is not possible to watch the current England v New Zealand Test series legally in Singapore.  There are ways of accessing streaming services but none of them is entirely satisfactory.

It’s irritating in that one of the principal cable services operating here terminated its cricket channels a few months ago and customers were encouraged to sign up to an Indian streaming platform – dread word – which would offer cricket coverage. This I duly did. The first series I looked at via this platform was South Africa v Sri Lanka. Well, I thought, if they’re showing this they’ll show everything. Wrong. All they’re showing now is endless repeats of the IPL.

So how does one follow what is going on? Obviously there are various well established OBO services but personally I would rather listen than read, if watching is not possible and of course i’m not actually working (the time difference for games in England works well from this perspective).

Test Match Special is not available outside the UK, which is fair enough. Talksport 2, which, heretical though it may seem, I think has overtaken TMS, is available when it has the rights, but it doesn’t have the rights to this series. That leaves Guerilla Cricket, (Test Match Sofa in its original incarnation, inspired by poacher turned gamekeeper Dan Norcross). This is basically a few mates sitting round the TV telling the listener what’s happening. It sort of works. It can be very funny and it can also be quite annoying, so there’s nothing new there. And at least you know what’s going on.

And there are some genuine cricket tragics there. As soon as the New Zealand opener Devon Conway reached his century on the first afternoon of the first Test at Lord’s one of the Guerilla team observed that he was the sixth batsman to make a century on debut at Lord’s and three of them had a curious thing in common. That is not how he put it, I am teasing this out now.

I remembered, without having to look it up, who two of the Lord’s debutant centurions were. In 1969 I was probably as obsessed with cricket as I have ever been and although I was not physically there I have clear memories of the Lord’s Test against West Indies, a drawn match which featured some memorable moments. When play closed on the second day England were 46 for four, thanks largely to some fine fast bowling by Gary Sobers. But England fought back to reach 344 due mainly to centuries by two of the four Yorkshiremen in the side, John Hampshire, in his first Test, and the captain Ray Illingworth (it was his maiden Test century). Like quite a few debutant centurions that was the high point of Hampshire’s Test career.

The other example I could recall without having to look it up occurred in 1996. I wasn’t at Lord’s but we must have been in England at the time. It was the second Teat against India, and there were two Indian debutants: Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Ganguly, batting at 3, made 131 and Dravid batting at 7, made 95. Both, of course, went on to have very distinguished careers. (The match was drawn.)

Hampshire was only the second player, and the first Englishman, to score a hundred on debut at Lord’s. The first had been Harry Graham who scored a century for Australia in the first Test of the 1893 Ashes. Graham played only six Tests in all – two fewer than Hampshire – though he scored another hundred against England in the great Ashes series of 1894-95.

So who are the other three and what do they gave in common? Well, Conway himself of course, together with Sir Andrew Strauss (debut Test against New Zealand in 2004: he contributed to England’s seven wicket victory by making 112 and 83 before being run out by Nasser Hussain, who himself scored a hundred in what turned out to be his last Test) and Matt Prior (debut Test against West Indies in 2007, a high-scoring draw, Prior, with 126 not out, being one of four centurions in England’s first innings). What do they have in common? They were all born in Johannesburg.

Embed from Getty Images

As it happens, two of Conway’s teammates, the wicketkeeper B-J Watling, and the pace bowler Neil Wagner, were also born in South Africa, while the all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, was born in Zimbabwe.

Every single member of the England eleven was born in England, mostly in London or what used to be called the Home Counties.  (The United Kingdom has a population of 67 million as opposed to New Zealand’s 4.8 million.)This seems perfectly normal to the uninitiated. Actually, to call it almost unheard of would be an exaggeration but it is relatively unusual for an England team to contain no one born overseas. A rare earlier example was provided in the two-match series against Sri Lanka earlier this year when Ben Stokes (born in New Zealand) and Jofra Archer (born in Barbados) were missing, as they are now. (Sam Curran was born in Northampton, in case you’re wondering). Joe Root’s Ashes squad of 2017-18 from which Stokes was omitted, contained two players born outside England, Tom Curran, born in Cape Town, who played in two Tests, and Gary Balance, born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, who played in none. Dawid Malan, who played in all five, grew up in South Africa but was born in Roehampton.

England Test teams have often contained players who were born overseas and there is nothing surprising about that. Three Indian princes, K S Ranjitsinjhi, K S Duleepsinjhi and the older Nawab of Pataudi, played for England. Colin Cowdrey, who played in over 100 Tests, was born in Bangalore. Ted Dexter, appropriately somehow, given his sense of style, was born in Milan. Freddie Brown, the “baby” of Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tour of 1932-33, who led MCC to Australia in 1950-51, was born in Lima, Peru. Jardine himself was born in Bombay.

This, however, hardly accounts for the fact that two of the Lord’s debutant centurions are England players born in South Africa.

In the 1950s and 1960s there were a few South Africans in county cricket, such as Stuart Leary of Kent and Dennis Foreman of Sussex. (A fascinating study in this context is Peter Walker, who died in 2020: aged 84. He was born in Bristol but the family moved to South Africa when he was two. He ran away to sea when he was 16 – I’m not making this up – and later turned his hand to various things, including cricket and journalism; in the latter capacity, while reporting on the Aberfan slag heap disaster in Wales in October 1966, he forsook his microphone and joined the rescue efforts. He was a highly influential all-rounder for Glamorgan for many years and one of the best close- in fielders of all time. He played two Tests, in 1960, against South Africa.)

At the root of what turned out to be a highly complex relationship between English and South African cricket was the political situation in South Africa.

The first and most obvious manifestation of this was the arrival in the county game, in 1965, of the so-called “Cape Coloured” cricketer, Basil D’Oliveira. Before long this cricketer was playing for England. The endgame was perhaps inevitable, though not necessarily the actual outcome. Picked, after initial rejection, for a tour of his homeland, D’ Oliveira was banned by the apartheid government, and the tour was called off. The consequence was sporting isolation for two decades for one of the most sports-crazed nations in the world.

Soon after D’Oliveira started playing for Worcestershire, another brilliant all-round cricketer from the Cape made his debut for Sussex. Tony Greig, the son of a Scottish father and South African mother soon made an impact and he too found a place in the Test team; for one season, the great Ashes series of 1972, D’Oliveira and Greig were in the England side together. Right handed batsmen and right arm bowlers, they could hardly have been more different. Greig was more of an all-rounder, D’Oliveira a batsman who bowled. Greig’s career figures are comparable with those of Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and Stokes. He was also a very fine captain. His name will always be linked with the Packer affair which divided world cricket for the best part of 3 years from 1977, and changed the game forever, almost certainly for the better. It seems odd that these two cricketers, South Africans who played for England, so different from one another in so many ways, should have had such a profound impact on the game.

Embed from Getty Images

D’Oliveira and Greig were in the vanguard of what became a procession of South African cricketers coming to England. But it would be wrong to regard them as trend-setters. Both established themselves in county cricket before the system opened up to overseas players in 1968. And their personal circumstances, especially D’Oliveira’s of course, were very different from those of the players who followed.

Of course everyone’s situation is different. Some individuals travelled to England when they were small children; others came when they were hardened professionals. For many though it was a simple career choice, starting with people like Allan Lamb and the Smith brothers back in the 1970s and 1980s right up to Keaton Jennings and Simon Harmer today. Again, it goes back to the D’Oliveira Affair and isolation. If you were a South African and you wanted to develop a career as a professional cricketer, where were you going to go? England, with (then) seventeen first- class counties playing professional cricket, was the obvious place to build a career, and if you were good enough who knew where it might end? (There was the odd exception to the English route: Kepler Wessels played for Australia before returning to lead his homeland after readmission.) Lamb and Chris and Robin Smith were the sons of English parents, so qualification to play for England as such was not especially challenging (it was more difficult for the Smith brothers to qualify for Hampshire). Isolation ended in 1992 but the flow didn’t stop. Now of course, like everything else, it is a matter of money. It makes more sense for an outstanding bowler like Kyle Abbott to play for Hampshire than to forge an international career for his country.

The talent has always been beyond question. Lamb was a tremendous fighter, with a fantastic record against the marauding West Indies’ pace bowlers of the 1980s. As a Hampshire man I always had a soft spot for Robin Smith, and his crunching square cut. There is a strong case for saying that Kevin Pietersen – not everybody’s favourite character – has been the best England batsman of the 21st century. And what wouldn’t we give to have Jonathan Trott batting at number 3 now?

How “English” are they, is the inevitable question. Greig resented John Woodcock’s comment, at the time of the Packer schism, about his not being “English through and through” – a genealogical fact but that was obviously not Woodcock’s point. Robin Smith has written eloquently of his love of England and of Hampshire, but he actually lives in Perth, Western Australia. Personally I took a while to warm to Lamb. I am not sure why. The more one hears about him the more entertaining and interesting he seems. He has retained his South African accent after 40 years of what appears to have been the life of an English country gentleman. Prior has an English father and a South African mother; the family upped sticks and came to England when he was eleven. Strauss‘s forebears, on both sides of the family, were in South Africa for generations. His parents whisked the family off in the 1980s, first to Australia and then England, where Andrew arrived when he was nine. Prep school and Radley, Durham University, Middlesex and England, one of the country’s most successful captains of all time, as director of England Cricket one of the architects of England’s 2019 World Cup win, and a knight of the realm. Strauss has lived much of his later adult life in public, showing heart-rending dignity as he and his two little boys mourned the loss of his wife Ruth to cancer. He was 21 when they met. He is only 44 now.

Embed from Getty Images

Back to Conway, and Lord’s. Conway finished on 200, a magnificent effort. He reached his double century with a six, and it looked as though he might become the first man to carry his bat through a complete Test innings on debut; rather bizarrely he became instead the first man to have been run out for 200 in a Test match.

Finally, a couple of statistical nuggets to finish up with. Michael Vaughan and Graham Gooch have scored most Test centuries at Lord’s, with six each. Next come Pietersen and Strauss with five each, and Lamb with four.

Gooch of course made the highest Test score at Lord’s, 333 against India in 1990. Next comes Graeme Smith with 259 against England in 2003: he of course was captain of South Africa.

These South African born cricketers certainly recognise a special place when they see it.

Share this Post