What if the Rebel Tours Happened Today part 1

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above: Graeme Gooch led the first rebel tour in 1982

In this new 3 part series, Matthew Wood of Balanced Sports, asks what if the  rebel tours to South Africa were to happen today…

This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of an Australian squad’s Rebel Tour of South Africa, an event which fostered a re-growth in Australian cricket and was also one of the last Rebel Tours to the apartheid-strewn land.

As a result of their racist apartheid policies, South Africa was essentially cut off from sporting ties with the rest of the globe.  Each cricketing nation retracted any outstandig invitations for state-sanctioned teams to tour, while leaving any mail marked “South African Cricket Board” unopened and forgotten.  The same applied for rugby, hockey and football: anyone who followed sport in South Africa was forced to rely on the domestic competitions for entertainment.

Although apartheid had been a featured South African government policy since 1948 and teams had visited the Cape Country, the major turning point proved to be the Basil D’Oliveira affair in 1968.  A Cape-Coloured cricketer born in 1931, D’Oliveira emigrated to England as a twenty-nine year old due to the South African mandate of whites only representing their country in sport.  By the age of 34 he had made his Test debut for England and was one of Wisden’s Five cricketers of the year in 1967.   As an MCC tour of South Africa loomed, sporting and political tensions rose between D’Olly’s home and his adopted country and it became a common assumption that he would not be selected for the series after the South African Prime Minister made it known that he, and by extension any touring party containing him, would not be welcome.

D’Oliveira was not selected, but when paceman Tom Cartwright pulled up lame, he was selected as the injury-replacement for the hamstrung fast man.  As with any bully, the South African government saw this decision as slight rather than a cricketing decision and Prime Minister Vorster retracted the tour invitation to tour and officially made sport “fair game” in the politics of apartheid.  It was a decision which would haunt them as fortunately, the rest of the world played this “fair game” better than South Africa did.

When the Springboks toured England in 1970-71, a campaign of passive resistance led by Peter Hain proved such a hindrance to both the authorities and the South Africans and such a tour de force for raising awareness of those victimised by apartheid that further sporting tours were thought extremely insensitive, thoughtless and political suicide.

In 1981, the former South Africa cricket captain Dr. Ali Bacher became the head of the South African Cricket Union.  Given there was no chance of the proto-Proteas participating in international matches until the demise of apartheid, the Union decided that cricket could only survive if a South African national side were to compete in unsanctioned internationals against international teams playing against the wishes of the United Nations, the International Cricket Council and their respective control boards.  In order to induce players to tour, the individuals would have to be paid handsomely: reportedly the amount paid to each would would have fed 50,000 black South Africans for a year.  The figures had to be that high as there were invariably recriminations against returning players.  Bacher has since admitted that these were callous and insensitive steps.

The first Rebel Tour in 1982 was an English team led by Graham Gooch who faced several familiar, if ageing, South African cricket greats.  Graeme Pollock, Mike Proctor, Clive Rice, Garth Le Roux, Peter Kirsten, Daryll Cullinan, Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald all played for the South Africans against Rebel teams.  The English tour was followed by tours from Sri Lanka and two West Indian sides led by Lawrence Rowe.

It was inevitable that an Australian XI would be approached.

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