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  • Living in cloud cuckooland:politics and cricket in white South Africa
  • Vishnu Padayachee (bio)
Bruce Murray and Christopher Merrett (2004) Caught Behind: race and politics in Springbok cricket. Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg: Wits University Press and University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
Rodney Hartman (2004) Ali, the Life of Ali Bacher. Johannesburg: Viking.

One of the things which struck me forcibly when I read accounts of the exploits of white Springbok cricket and cricketers was how little there was about politics in these narratives. I did not of course expect much reflecting issues of black and white politics, but I did expect something about the tensions within the white establishment cricket, the internal politics, if you like, including the struggles of white working class players to make it into the top leagues; of the battles by Afrikaans-speakers and Jewish players for proper recognition in the face of the dominant upper-class English gentiles who ruled the cricket roost for so many decades. Mike Marqusee's book, Anyone But England (1994), for example, brilliantly captures the racism, elitism and classicism which pervades English cricket. A few passing references to these kinds of issues are made in South African cricket literature. In a co-authored book with his brother Graeme, Peter Pollock reflected enthusiastically on the increasing fondness of Afrikaners for the game of cricket, predicting that 'such is his temperament and personality that in years to come he will become an even more faithful patron than his less volatile English counterpart' (1968:154).

While little was ever written about intra-white politics in cricket, a few white cricketers did make comments on black cricket. Thus, for example, [End Page 109] Dudley Nourse, captain of the white Springbok team, wrote a message of support in the brochure celebrating the Sixth Inter-Provincial Tournament organised by the South African Indian Cricket Union (SAICU) in 1951. In extolling the merits of Indian test cricketers, he only mentioned those who played for England, such as Ranjitsinjhi and Duleepsinji, the ultimate brown Englishmen, with 'impeccable social credentials and total devotion to English institutions, all the way from college to Crown'. Unlike other Indians, when whites watched their exploits 'wile became guile, trickery became magic, weakness became suppleness, effeminacy was transformed into grace' (Appudurai 1995:31). Nourse failed to comment on the contradiction that Indian and other black South Africans could not play for the Springboks as the imagined South African nation was all-white (Desai et al 2003:12).

But there is one exception to this. In a book published in 1961, a year after Sharpeville, and in the year that South Africa became a republic and left the Commonweath, Springbok wicketkeeper-batsman John Waite, while slamming anti-apartheid activists like the Rev David Sheppard for refusing to play against white cricketers in the 1960 to tour to England, makes this observation:

I for one believe that it would be a wonderful thing, provided the Africans, Indians and Coloureds could satisfy the whites that they are ready. I believe this because I believe South Africa can never be happy or really prosperous until there is abiding friendship between all its many races and because I believe that sport can bring such friendship in a way and to a degree that no other social activity can achieve. And inter-racial friendship alone can provide a successful foundation for a multi-racial society.


The rather paternalistic tone apart, this is still a remarkable commentary about race, sport and society in a South Africa where the violent policing of racial boundaries was dramatically being stepped up.

In researching Blacks and Whites, Desai et al concluded that there was little reason to doubt that the real history of racism and cowardice among white cricket administrators and cricketers was still to be written. On the very few occasions when white cricketers expressed their views on race and politics in cricket 'it only reinforced how ignorant, deliberately or otherwise, they were of the conditions under which their "fellow" Black cricketers played' (Desai et al 2003:12).

Blacks appear in white cricket annals as waiters, groundstaff and political [End Page 110] trouble-makers. Louis Duffus, covering white schools cricket, refers to 'the...


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