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The games we played. COVID series 2. Drie Blikkies [Three Tins].

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Many popular street games were cheap. They had to be; money was tight in the townships. For our games, the tins, sticks and balls depicted above were the essential items that provided us with hours of fun during the supremacy battles of our barefoot street games. Many a bloodied toe tip resulted from our games. I can still picture the hinged flap of damaged skin after an injury to a toe, especially the big toe. So, did you rush home for attention? No! You stuck the injured toe into loose dry sand at the side of the road to more quickly get back in the game. The cleansing and cutting off the skin flap could wait till later. Street game time was more precious, especially when your teammates needed you in a tight match!

As I think about the drie blikkies [three tins], it is not a flashback of images I recall as much as I do the sound of the clatter of tins followed by the cacophony of cheers, screams and shouts from teammates. It had to rank as the noisiest of our street games, and that’s not just the tins rattling around on the tarred street.

Drie blikkies ranked as one of the cheapest games and required only three empty food cans and a tennis ball. Balls were usually old throw-aways from older siblings or parents. A new tennis ball like the one in the photo was a rare sight on our streets when the ball was more likely to be scuffed and shiny bald from use.

We only used the smaller can sizes [400+g] as they were more of a challenge to stack up or to hit than the bigger tins. The best place for the tower of cans was closer to the side of the road, so that one did not have to remove the cans when a car passed. One stacked the three cans on top of each other as depicted in the photograph. They packed easier if the bottom can was upside down as in the photo. Placing the top tin was a challenge without the rest falling in a noisy heap followed by the groans of one’s hopeful teammates.

From several paces away, the bowler had a choice of an over- or an underhand throw to knock down the tins. [Does anyone out there remember how many paces? Five? Let me know please!] If successful, the bowler had to rush to rebuild the stack of cans. In turn, the fielders scattered to retrieve the ball to tag the bowler with the ball before the person on strike could re-erect the stack of tins.

The underhand bowling style was more accurate, but it was a slower ball and fielders stood closer to retrieve the ball which increased the chance of outing the bowler if the cans were not up in time. The overhand throw had reduced accuracy, but the harder throw meant that the ball would bounce farther and improve one’s chances of restacking the cans. In turn, though, the tins would scatter farther with a firmer throw. So yes, throwing down your tin stack required a certain strategy and, of course, accuracy. The best throw was to knock down just the top can to make tin retrieval and repacking quicker.

If fielders stood too far back for an impending overhead throw, one could switch to a quick underhand lob instead, followed by a mad scramble to restack the tins before the fielders returned the ball. The girls of the street usually joined in. Their softball style underarm throws were quite accurate, but the fielders crowded in on them for quick tagging with the ball. It was probably a good situation for sledging, but there was no such Aussie cricket test villainy with drie blikkies.

A bowler was allowed three successive throws to knock down the stack. With enough players, there were two teams. It resulted in excessive cheering and screaming from both sides during the scramble to rebuild the tower of tins or to tag the bowler with the ball. Four-letter worded profanities followed any mistakes. Talk about pressure! It was out there in the foundry furnace of character-building – seriously, I mean it, guys!

To the inexperienced, it may look like a simple enough task, but rebuilding those three cans was a life-defining moment. It required a cool head when teammates and opponents shouted themselves hoarse for those few seconds in which you had to restack the wobbly tins, and the fielders were out to get the ball and to get you outed from the game. As you can see, the tins are close, but where’d the ball go?

Besides the clatter of the cans on the tarred road, the noisiest part of the game was from teammates urging on their striker to re-erect the stack while others screamed at the closest fielder who had to retrieve the ball and then throw it back accurately to another fielder close to the striker for a tag-out.

It was indeed a do-or-die moment for even the most battle-hardened street-gamers. Replacing the stack or retrieving and returning the ball was not for the faint-hearted. It was the ultimate adrenalin surge to stack those cans in time or to achieve a tag-out. There was nothing worse than to see one’s stack wobble, then tumble down in a noisy clatter when the little cans did not stack properly in the heat of the moment. Similarly, a poorly directed return throw from the fielder to a line-up of expectant catchers resulted in groans and curses from all in one’s team.

One needed nerves of steel and a strong temperament to survive these moments; they were indeed character-forming seconds that steeled one for life’s future challenges. Keeping cool under fire was critical to success during those vital moments as a stacker of cans or as a fielder who needed a perfect return throw of the ball. A mistake would cost your team; scarring for life could result from failure, and one’s whole future depended on whether you could throw back the perfect ball for a tagging or restack those little, wobbly tins that had to balance correctly on their thin-ridged edges.

I feel sorry for those of who you missed out on playing, drie blikkies; but it’s never too late. Get your tennis ball and three tins and give it a go in a quiet street or hard surface somewhere. Feel the heart beating faster as it sits in your throat as you line up for your throw. Taste the dry bitter mouth as you let fly with the ball at the cans which will never seem smaller than at that moment. Let your heart clatter the way the tins do. Let the sound of your excited teammates spur you on to restack the cans after a successful strike. You’ve avoided the scarring-for-life experience of missing three attempted strikes of the tins. The cans are up! You stand up victoriously, only to see the cans wobble, and as they clatter to the ground, your whole world tumbles down too. Your team groans; the opposition applauds. It’s ignominious tag-out time for you. How different it was yesterday when it was your final throw that won the day for your team with a perfect blow of just the top can which you replaced so easily. Now, all that’s left is tomorrow.

Yes, its a microcosm of life’s highs and lows, all condensed in those seconds of one of the best street games that I ever played!


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