KEN PIESSE and his wife Susan are leading an Australian Cricket Society Supporter’s Tour in autumn to South Africa. Limited places remain on the three-week holiday from March 20 which takes in two Tests, world-famous Kruger Game Park and the majestic Victoria Falls
In 1989, in a bid to end its isolation from the world game, the South African Cricket Union celebrated its 1889 Test centenary by inviting dozens of past players and media to Johannesburg.
The Melbourne contingent was flying on the Saturday, the final day of the home-and-away season, but I’d wanted to play the last match with my club Port Melbourne.
My wife Susan was amazed that I’d allow one Saturday of club cricket to jeopardise a holiday to a faraway, wondrous land, but Ali Bacher, the central organiser, said no problems. He changed our flight to the Sunday, met us on arrival at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg, rushed us past customs and back to our city hotel, beginning a fabulous 10 days of cricket and travel.
Nelson Mandela may still have been in jail but cricket, like no other sport, was being proactive in triggering radical reform. Bacher’s dream was to make South African sport truly multi-racial and while the whites-only beaches and segregated trains still existed at the time of our visit, cricket’s positive affect was undeniable. Sweeping change was imminent.
At Soweto, one of South Africa’s grizzliest ghettos, a political hotspot and home for black activists like Winnie Mandela, all the guests were amazed to see hundreds of black boys, all beautifully-attired, on a huge field playing mini games of cricket.
We all became involved, Ray Lindwall passing on some bowling tips and Tony Greig laughing and smiling and enjoying meeting so many young kids. They couldn’t believe how tall he was.
The success of Soweto’s Bacher-inspired SACU coaching grant — completely at odds with the laws of the land — was an embarrassment to every conservative pro-Apartheid white politician in the country.
Thanks to Bacher’s brave vision, cricket in South Africa was no longer a game just for whites. It was a game for everyone. Old Test players from Bodyline’s Bob Wyatt, 87, and Lindsay Hassett, 75, through to all of the invited journalists marveled at the progress cricket was triggering.
John Warr, the former Marylebone CC president and Test fast bowler spoke for all of us when he said: ‘The SACU has done in just over one week more than 1000 politicians will accomplish in one lifetime. And if it was left to the administrators and players, South Africa would be back in international cricket tomorrow.’
We attended dinners alongside legends including Neil Adcock, Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards, witnessed the Currie Cup final at ‘PE’ (Port Elizabeth), played golf at the millionaires playground Sun City, went on dawn safaris to see the ‘Big Four’ African animals and marveled at Dr Bacher’s energy and passion in his crusade to unify all South Africa through the game of cricket.
He believed nurturing the black population’s love of sport and encouraging them to play alongside South Africa’s whites was the key to the country’s future.
He wasn’t forcing the game upon the blacks. ‘They genuinely love it and have taken to it in leaps and bounds. There is a tremendous hunger for the game throughout all South Africa,’ he said.
Sweeping change was evident everywhere we went. Some of Australia’s leading administrators had been unable to accept invitations for political reasons, but it was undeniable the difference cricket was making in encouraging a new and enlightened South Africa.
As hosts for our 2018 visit, we look forward to enjoying the same feeling of fraternity which was so evident years ago. There will be some intimidate dinners and a surprise or two in store for everyone.
Fifteen have committed to our tour so far. Just a few places remain… so if you would like to come, please act now. It will be an unforgettable holiday taking in the deciding Tests and the best of South Africa’s mightiest sights and natural attractions including fabulous Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Don’t miss this opportunity for a holiday of a lifetime.
You will be travelling with a friendly group of cricket lovers and enjoy the benefit of years of hosting expertise and experience.
* More details: cricketbooks.com.au