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THE GAMES WE PLAYED    2. Kennetjie [6min read]

There’s no translation that I know of for this game.   It was the ultimate street game so it takes pride of place as the first game described.

As usual, there were several versions of the game around the country.  It’s origins are obscure, but it was one of the most popular street games in the Cape Town townships.  I suspect an Asian origin to be the most likely.

Part of its popularity was its cheapness.  A “bat” was a stick about half a metre in length.  It was a bit thinner than a broomstick.  The “ken” or kennetjie was a short stick 10-15cm long.  The ubiquitous wattle bush branches were often used to fashion the equipment using mom’s sharp kitchen knife.  The bark had to be stripped off and the bat handle was smoothed down with the knife to protect the hand grip.  The ken, often taken from the same branch as the stick,  was then tapered at each end with a point of about 2.5cms long.

As was the case with cricket, the wicket was a street drain cover.  The first batsman took guard over the wicket while a ring of fielders was positioned around the area.  A bowler took aim from several paces away.  With an underarm throw, the kennetjie was aimed at the wicket.  If the ken landed and stayed on the drain cover, then the batsman was out.

The batsman had the option of hitting at the ken while it was still in the air.  By doing this, that was the only shot that was allowed so most batsmen chose not to hit the ken. If the ken did not end on the wicket,  the batsman was  allowed three strikes at the short stick.

Standing alongside the target, the objective was to strike the short stick on the pointed, tapered  end.  This allowed the pointy stick to hop up in the air and the batsman had to hit at the spinning target which often spun sideways rather that straight up.  The ideal was a hit down the length of the road; landing on the sandy, weedy sides of the road made it impossible to get a good second or third shot, the maximum that was allowed.

The batsman had to retire if a fielder caught the short stick before it hit the ground.  A fielder was allowed to kick or flick a moving ken back towards the wicket.  If it ended up on the drain cover, again, the batsman was out.  If not, he was allowed to finish his three shots.

Wherever the ken ended up, it was up to the batsman to decide how many jumps were needed to reach the drain cover from the kennetjie.  If they played as a team then the captain often took the decision.  The batsman would call out the number.  The captain of the opposing team had to decide if they could cover the distance in the number of jumps from individual fielders.  This was not an easy task for barefooted competitors on a hard road.

The preferred, two-footed landing style for long jumps was impossible on the road so one could detour down a sandy or flat-grassed part on the sides of the road. The batsman had to retire, if the jumpers managed to clear the distance within the prescribed call,  and the fielding team added the points to their total.  If the fielders did not make the distance, the batsman added the number to his score or the team’s total and he was allowed to continue batting.

This was the ultimate game of hand-eye co-ordination and the finest player in our street group was Rashid, despite the fact that he had one damaged eye.  Whether he hit out at the bowled kennetjie or hit it off the ground, the little stick flew tens of metres with his clean strikes.  He was always the first to be chosen for a team and fielders always stood well away in the line of his amazing shots.

There were several sources of merriment in this game which could last hours as individuals or teams sought to master the variables of a wobbly kennetjie which may have an imperfect taper.  The worst kens were made from a rectangular piece of wood with a poor bounce when the stick lay on its wider side which compromised the height of the bounce.  Round ones had a more uniform tip, but they rolled too far so that the fielding team had more time to flick it back to the wicket.

Many players brought along their favoured ken which had to pass muster and scrutiny by all before the best one was chosen for the game.  Some players also brought along their favoured hitting stick.  Despite my poor hand-eye skills, this was by far my favourite street game.


Anyone know if there’s a translation for kennetjie?

What about its origin?

What version did you play?

How many paces were there to the bowling line?


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