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THE GAMES WE PLAYED. 12. Cricket [8 min read] [Part 1]

THE GAMES WE PLAYED. 12. Cricket. [8 min read] [Part 1]

Well, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere so there must be cricket somewhere out there, whether it’s the big-bashing T20 or test matches, it’s all happening.

Where do I begin this one? A bit of history always helps. I suppose cricket became a significant sport in those parts of the globe that were pink – the colonies of the British Empire. The world’s dominant force brought with it long-lasting artefacts like the English language; their parliamentary system and laws, yes, democracy; and their sports like cricket, rugby and soccer; let’s not forget tiddly winks!. [We’ll forget about their food – okay, maybe fish ’n chips or meat and three veg!].

These are South Africa’s main sports. I cannot rank all three sports’ popularity, but I would say that the most popular is round-ball soccer/football. “Footy” has other connotations in different parts of the world.The media focussed on rugby and cricket, but that was a white-dominated media and the main game of soccer hardly featured for most years, especially on TV or the national radio where soccer should have dominated. Oh, the “joys” of Cloud Cuckoo Land were something else!

Like most kids, my cricket started in the township streets. Mercifully in those days, there were far fewer cars around. Scuffed up tennis balls were often all we had with different standards of homemade bats which varied according to the skill levels, or lack thereof, of the maker. A REAL bat was an unseen item on most of our streets.

Of course, our wickets were drain covers. Lack of wickets meant that LBW decisions were fiercely contested as to whether the ball struck one above or below the knee line. This was not an easy decision in the absence of an umpire. You had to be caught plumb in front of the mid lower leg to accept the appeal. Despite the official’s absence, the loud calls from all were still “Howzat umpire?”

The rectangular drain cover in the gutter on the left was often lifted to retrieve a wayward ball or a kennetjie. It’s where we often sat and discussed life’s issues!

<— Our round wicket – used for kennetjie and cricket – was the scene of many LBW disputes over several years.

At number 44, my formative home for seventeen years, we only ever lost one window from an onside drive/hookshot of a real cricket ball. No, not me, but one of the Marais’ boys. He ran away,of course; we all did. Yes, I dobbed him in once I was home! I had to!

Hardball cricket in the streets was a no-no, but of course, we persisted until too many broken windows taxed our limited pocket money too often. A hiding[read thrashing!] or two reinforced the lesson which varied in severity from one door to the next. Hand, belt or short length of hosepipe – the last was the worst! Trust me. I know. You felt the love with every blow!

What an amazing sound a broken window made on a quiet day! Nothing else could clear the road quicker! Of course, it did not take an offended householder long to come knocking at the door of the batsman. No. The whole team did not chip in to pay. That was just the way it was. If you played such a stupid shot, you had to suffer the consequences!

I was never the first one to be picked for any team – I sat somewhere in the middle pecking order for most of our street games whether it was cricket, soccer, rugby or kennetjie. How those picked first by the opposing captains loved the glory that came with their respective skills. The best batsmen and bowlers and all-rounders were chosen first. As a middle-order slogger, I followed after the elite players. One could only wonder what this did for the psyche of those who clamoured “Me, me, me!” when they were the last of to be selected. The same may have applied to netball. Ladies? I am convinced that many scarred and traumatised minds were formed in those moments of near rejection before a game kicked off. Those knock-backs and later revenge would have made comfortable bedfellows. Jack the Ripper springs to mind; I bet that he was the sports reject of his youth!

We had a cricket pitch close to home. No, not a fancy one, but it was a “home-made” concrete strip on Die Boer se Veld – the Farmer’s field. Unknown keen cricketing, local community members of another generation laid down the pitch which ran part of the way onto what was also the community rugby field on a bare strip of weed-covered land alongside a dense wattle bush jungle near my home. Formal club matches were played there on a coir grass mat that seemed to have more holes in it than not. There was no way it looked as flash as this Googled mat sample above!

When we played on the strip in midweek, there was no mat for us. It was faster and bouncier than the WACA in Perth! Three stones served as wickets, and the game was on. I only ever knew that a cricket ball was made of solid cork which quickly lost the red paint, but it seemed to last forever. There were no seams on these balls – try spinning with them! Even the speedsters bowled straight up and down balls. I only encountered the stitched, leather-covered balls when I entered senior school. Even then, we thrashed the life out of them till the flat seams fell apart with the frayed stitches. If only we knew about reverse spin in those days! Then it was back to basic cork balls until someone managed to come up with a club-rejected real ball.

I attended two primary schools and one senior school. None of them had a playground big enough for a cricket pitch or even a decent sized playing field. I tripped one day and fell onto the base of a broken bottle – the glass went into my knee joint. Probably explains the clinking noise when I walk! That was on the playing field available to us at Clareinch Primary school in Claremont.

We had to go to Rosmead or Prince William Herbert sports fields, several suburbs away, to be able to play on proper cricket pitches, and that only happened with the annual school cricket competitions.

When we looked through the fence at the White Lansdowne High School, it their playing fields and the number of sports that they could fit in there. At the “liberal” University of Cape Town, I could not play cricket for my alma mater. It galled me no end when, every day of the week in my first year there, I cycled past these magnificent fields on which I could not play.

Yes, those were the days! I hate the expression; also “the good old days,” often spoken with a slightly twisted smile and a stupid look of nostalgia on the speaker’s dial. It’s issues like this and worse that come to mind when a person uses that expression with me. We had to live through too many “bad old days! “



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