India vs South Africa: When cricket in the Rainbow Nation was crippled by racist policies

Cricket Apartheid is one of the dark chapters in the history of South Africa and its cricket. But the beautiful rainbow nation that came after the apartheid was a different South Africa with players from all backgrounds

Martand Jha, January 02, 2018

With the preparations in full swing for Indian cricket team’s upcoming tour to South Africa, two things immediately come to mind. One being, India’s dismal record there in its last six outings in both ODIs and Test Cricket, secondly the sad history of Cricket Apartheid in this rainbow nation.

South Africa lost more than a generation of its players due to the racist policies of its White government. The international sanctions put against the country cut short the careers of people like Barry Richards, Ali Bacher, Peter Pollock, Graeme Pollock etc, all of whom were cricketers with immense potential.

The word ‘Apartheid’ signifies a political system which discriminates people on the basis of Race. South Africa had a long history of racial segregation and institutionalized discrimination against its ‘black population’. Apartheid was adopted as a formal policy by the South African government after the ascension of the National Party (NP) during the country's 1948 general elections.

File image of Basil D'Oliveira. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@ICC

File image of Basil D'Oliveira. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@ICC

With this, race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of "white-only'' jobs. Most of us remember the episode of Mahatma Gandhi being thrown out of a first-class compartment of a train in South Africa due to racist policies prevalent even more than a century ago there.

Gandhi tried his best to protest against these notorious racist policies till the time he lived in South Africa before returning to India. Gandhi and Cricket maybe the two major things common to both the countries. Coming back to Cricket, the South African cricket used to be an ‘all-white’ game and it remained so till 1970 when South Africa was suspended from international cricket after ICC (International Cricket Conference) voted to suspend the country from the international cricket indefinitely.

When the ban was put in place, the South African cricket team had just destroyed and humiliated the then top-most side Australia by beating them 4-0 in a test series in South Africa. Cricket pundits saw this team as a serious challenger to the bipolarity of England and Australia in world cricket.

The cricketing boycott was prompted by the reaction of the South African authorities to the selection of Basil D'Oliveira, a "Cape Coloured" South African, for the England national cricket team in 1968. The South Africans didn’t allowed teams with ‘non-white’ players to play with their ‘white teams’. This is also the reason why till 1970, South Africa used to play only against teams like Australia, England and New Zealand who had all white members in their team while ignoring India, Pakistan and West Indies due to their coloured origins.

When D'Oliveira got selected for the English cricket team, South African authorities objected to this but the English cricket board couldn’t deny D'Oliveira a place in the team due to his meritorious performance in Ashes against Australia where he scored a century. Though, earlier he was not being considered for the tour of South Africa as English Cricket authorities wanted to go and play in South Africa even if it meant to keep D'Oliveira out of the squad.

When people in England got to know about this decision, it left them baffled. The huge public pressure in his support and an injury to a cricketer picked for South Africa prompted D'Oliveira’s selection for the tour. Listening to his inclusion, the then South African Prime Minister BJ Vorster publicly stated that the English team would not be allowed into South Africa if it included D'Oliveira. He told a gathering that while "we are and always have been prepared to play host to the MCC, we are not prepared to receive a team thrust upon us by people whose interests are not the game, but to gain certain political objectives which they do not even attempt to hide"

The Englishmen threated to call off their tour if South Africa didn’t change its stance, which the South African government didn’t. This ultimately led to the suspension of South Africa from international cricket for the next two decades.

South Africa faced a complete isolation from world cricket in these two decades where the game changed tremendously. Though, the South African cricketers played in English County and even featured in Karry Packer’s rebel world cricket series, but it didn’t give them a satisfaction which could only be get with playing at international level.

Cricketers like Kepler Wessels from South had to play from Australia in order to play international cricket, he later captained South Africa after its return to international cricket, thereby becoming the first cricketer to play for two countries. Other than that, many aspiring cricketers from South Africa shifted to England to play cricket.

In the meanwhile, the South African cricket union tried to host many ‘Rebel Cricket Tours’ between 1980 and 1990 in order to sustain cricket in South Africa. They used to offer huge sums of money to international teams and players to come and play cricket in South Africa. But those teams who went there were humiliated by public and press who wanted the Apartheid to be uplifted from South Africa. The prime example of this was the West Indies fast bowler Colin Croft who was the part of fast bowling quartet of West Indies. When he went to a rebel tour in South Africa, his reputation back home in West Indies was completely destroyed, people hated him. His house was attacked and his career for West Indies was finished.

To sum up, Cricket Apartheid is one of the dark chapters in the history of South Africa and its cricket. But the beautiful rainbow nation that came after the apartheid was a different South Africa with players from all backgrounds. The Proteas are a highly quality side and India faces an uphill task to face the South African challenge next month.

Updated Date: Jan 02, 2018

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