April 3, 1971. In a trend-setting protest against the Apartheid policies of the Government, players of the two South African teams walked out after just one ball during a high-profile First-Class match in Cape Town. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the day when the Pollock brothers, Mike Procter, Barry Richards and a host of other great Protean cricketers stood up against the politics of their time.
It was the injury to Tom Cartwright that set the chain of historical events in motion.
Basil D’Oliveira’s string of low scores in the Ashes series of 1968 had lulled the international relationships to a sense of tranquillity, but an unbeaten 87 at Manchester and 158 at The Oval queered the political pitch.The Worcestershire professional could not have chosen a more politically volatile moment to play his career-best knock.
England were to tour South Africa in 1968-69. In spite of D’Oliveira’s brilliance, he was not included in the squad for obvious political reasons — leading to enormous furore in the media — and cricketing circles. But when Warwickshire’s Tom Cartwright was ruled out with his shoulder problem, the claims of the South African born batsman of Indo-Portuguese descent could not be overlooked any longer.
D’Oliveira was included in the team — leading South African Prime Minister John Vorster to say that it was not a team of the Marylebone Cricket Club, but of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The tour was cancelled.
Australia did visit South Africa in 1969-70, and Bill Lawry’s men suffered a 4-0 whitewash. However, voices for South Africa’s isolation grew louder and louder. The series of protests against the South African tour of England in 1970 led to its cancellation. When England hastily-arranged for a Rest of the World side to play a series of matches as a replacement series, the South African cricketers were strongly advised by the government not to participate in the games.
The political clouds were gathering and increasingly getting more and more ominous. When Garry Sobers landed in Salisbury to play a double-wicket tournament, even his august name was severely criticised. The Jamaican government asked for his resignation as captain of West Indies. The Guyanese, Forbes Burnham, said that the legend was not welcome in his country until there was an apology. Even Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, hinted that the 1970-71 tour to the Caribbean could be hampered because of the South African links.
Fearing suspension from the international arena, South African Cricket Association attempted to organise a tour to Australia in late 1971, proposing to include two non-white cricketers — Dik Abed and Owen Williams — in the team. However, the South African government rejected the idea.
English cricketing great Colin Cowdrey tried to organise a mixed race team to tour the land and play both the black and white national sides, but there were too many political pitfalls along the way. New Zealand was invited to play in South Africa, but the Kiwi Cricket Board declined the offer.
The unique demonstration
With politics threatening to cut short their careers — and some of these careers were generously touched by greatness — the South African cricketers themselves staged a unique protest.
On April 3, 1971, Currie Cup champions Transvaal met The Rest of South Africa at Newlands, Cape Town. The teams contained a galaxy of stars.
Donald McKay-Coghill led the Transvaal side and included in their midst were the superbly talented opening batsman Barry Richards and a young all-rounder named Clive Rice. The Rest were captained by the great Graeme Pollock, and had in their ranks Mike Procter, Vincent van der Bijl, Peter Pollock, Hylton Ackerman and Denis Lindsay. It was a high profile selection trial for the next season — especially for the proposed Australian tour.
Only a day earlier, the South African Cricket Association (SACA) had disclosed that their proposal to include two non-white cricketers in a squad to tour Australia had been shot down by the Government.
Transvaal XI won the toss and elected to bat. Barry Richards and Brian Bath walked in to open the innings. Mike Procter ran in to bowl.
It had already been arranged by mutual agreement. After Richards had pushed the first delivery from Procter for a single, the two batsmen and the entire Rest side walked off the ground.
The manager of The Rest, Ron Delport, handed a statement to an official of SACA. Jointly penned by the members of the two teams, it read:
“We fully support the South African Cricket Association’s application to invite non-whites to tour Australia, if they are good enough; and further subscribe to merit being the only criterion on the cricket field.”
The players returned to the ground a few minutes later and the match continued. Eventually it ended in a draw with Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock scoring hundreds, and left-arm spinner Graham Chevalier picking up seven wickets in the first innings.
However, the demonstration witnessed that day was unique in the history of South African sports.
Ali Bacher, captain of the South African cricket team, was not participating in the match, but voiced that he fully supported the walk-out.
Yet, Frank Waring, the South African Minister for Sport, dismissed the event as: “merely a gesture for local and, particularly, overseas consumption.”
In international press, however, the headlines of the next morning read “Springboks walk off in colour row.”
In Australia, The Age commented: “In South Africa the Great White Umpire, otherwise known as the Vorster Government, has once again made its own rules, declaring two coloured players out of the cricket team due to start an Australian tour in October. A racist decision? Of course it is. Surely no one will be surprised that the Springboks, against the wishes of the South African Cricket Association, are to be kept lily-white. This is a logical extension of the ugly and immoral doctrine of apartheid. And surely no advocates of sporting ties with South Africa will tell the tour’s critics to ‘keep politics out of sport.’”
The tour did not take place, and South Africa did not play again on the international stage for two decades.
Transvaal XI 296 (Barry Richards 140; Graham Chevalier 7 for 108) and 170 for 4 (Barry Richards 67, Peter Carlstein 70) drew with Rest of South Africa XI 475 (Arthur Short 85, Andre Bruyns 54, Graeme Pollock 146)
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)