A classic batsman in action, Fothers — the Protea who never was

2014-03-19 00:00

THROUGHOUT the years of South Africa’s sporting isolation, cricketers had to ply their trade at provincial level or get a bitter-sweet taste of the game at international level through a series of rebel tours.

During those years, any cricket follower keeping an eye on the Currie Cup knew that when the name “Fothers” was displayed on the then manually operated scoreboards around the country, the opposition were in trouble and it was worth making time to sit back and watch a classic batsman in action.

The name Fothers has stuck throughout his life, although Charles Fortune, the doyen of South African cricket commentators during this time, loved to roll the full “Fotheringham” off his tongue when his beloved Transvaal Mean Machine side was at the height of their power.

Henry Fotheringham (60) was one of the unlucky cricketers who never played official Test cricket for South Africa, although he was a vital part of Clive Rice’s South African team that took on Kim Hughess’ rebel Australians in the mid 1980s, opening the batting with Transvaal team-mate Jimmy Cook.

Born in Empangeni, Fothers moved to Swaziland and then Rhodesia as a youngster, where he attended Ruzawi Prep School. It was here the seed for his cricket career was planted. “My dad was keen on his cricket and he got me interested. However, it was Brian Curtis, my prep school headmaster, who encouraged me and got me on the launching pad,” said Fothers.

High school at Michaelhouse saw Fothers’s cricket reach a new level as he blossomed like a new flower heralding the onset of spring.

“I batted at four or five at school and played in the Michaelhouse first side for three years,” he said. “My coach was the legendary Roy Gathorne and my cricket flourished.”

By his own admission, it was more sport than work for the young Fotheringham and, besides cricket, he played rugby as a flyhalf up to U15 level, plus hockey, tennis and squash.

“I made the SA Schools hockey side and was runner-up in the Natal U19 squash tournament,” he said.

But thankfully, cricket prevailed. Fothers was 12th man for the SA Schools side before securing a spot in the side alongside names such as Ray Jennings, Kenny McEwan and Daryll Bestall. “After school, I stepped up to club cricket, playing for Rovers, but it’s worth remembering that all your provincial players were actively involved then,” said Fothers. “If there was no provincial game, they played for their club and for a youngster straight out of school, I was exposed to a hard, uncompromising world.”

Fothers’s debut first class game was for Natal B against Transvaal B in Ladysmith. “I was used to the fluffy stuff from school and this was a rude awakening. It was tough stuff on the field, with sledging and all sorts going down,” he said. “I got a first baller from quick bowler Pat Flanagan, and I was the middle wicket in his hat-trick. Transvaal B had the likes of Ray White, Alan Kourie and Norman Featherstone and I wondered if I had made the right choice in pursuing cricket.”

A 70 plus in the second innings settled Fothers’s nerves and doubts, and he was in the Natal A side for the next match against Rhodesia, welcomed with a baptism of fire, thanks to Mike Procter at the height of his powers.

“Proccie was quick and, remember, there were no helmets in those days. He definitely rates as one of the quickest bowlers I faced in my career,” said Fothers.

In and out the Natal A and B sides, Fothers departed for Johannesburg in 1978 for business reasons. Natal’s loss was Transvaal’s gain as he became an integral cog in the Transvaal Mean Machine of the eighties.

“I was still a middle order batsman but one Graeme Pollock moved to Transvaal the same time as me and West Indian Alvin Kallicharan had the number three slot,” said Fothers. “There was no choice but to move up the order if I wanted to get into the team and stay there.”

It was an inspired decision. Fothers went on to form a formidable opening partnership with Jimmy Cook, often setting the platform for the Mean Machine to dominate a match and finish off the opposition.

“With no international cricket, that was about as far as I could go,” said Fothers. “I did play some second team games for Gloucestershire and the Derrick Robins teams but then the rebel tours came along and gave me another opportunity.”

Selected for the 1984 rebel West Indies tour, Fothers opened with Cook and, while the matches were unofficial Tests, “the best South African side was selected and I was honoured to be part of it, in the same category as the rest of the team”.

After the West Indies came Hughes’s Australians and Mike Gatting’s English sides. Fothers played against them all and his highlight was the first ‘Test’ against the Australians at Kingsmead in 1985/86, where he saved the game for South Africa with an undefeated century in the second innings. “I hurt my thumb in the first knock and came out at number seven in the second innings. We were up against it and my innings helped us salvage a draw,” he said.

With a secure job, Fothers was unable to play county cricket, despite numerous offers. Instead, he honed his skills against the likes of Garth le Roux, Vince van der Bijl, Ezra Moseley, Paddy Clift, Procter and others on the domestic scene.

He returned to Natal for his final season in 1989/90 and has played some Golden Oldies cricket, including three times in India.

“I have no regrets and managed to play against the best in South Africa during my time. I still enjoy Test cricket, although T20 has saved the game financially,” he said.

Those fortunate enough to see Fothers in action will always remember him as a correct batsman, with shots all around the wicket. His cover drive was a shot to be savoured and etched for all time in the memory bank.

Fothers’ lifestyle

• Plays golf off a 12 handicap

• Enjoys reading crime stories

• Watches sport channels and supports Liverpool (was a Kenny Dalglish fan)

• Can cook up a mean breakfast

• Likes the physical side of gardening

• Favourite meal is peri-peri chicken

• Is a beer man

• Listens to 70s and 80s music

• Trout-fishes in Rosetta and at Drak Gardens

• Is married to Jo Madsen, sister of Trevor Madsen

Advice:

Sport is a great leveller and success does not come easily. Nothing beats the cameraderie from a team sport, which teaches you to play for each other, a valuable life lesson.

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