Facing the Sevontein Serpent with a pair of garden gloves

2010-08-04 00:00


I HAVE recently had opportunity to talk cricket with a few locals from the legal profession.

This was done over a few cold jars in their pub, as it should be.

I have to be honest that on being invited I had a moment thinking I may have been invited to drink in an aquarium. I however consoled myself that I had, after all, survived sharing a changeroom with alleged match fixers.

I was somewhat taken aback to find that I was actually participating in what was described as the “gentle libations of the upper Pietermaritz Street Mumbai Indian Supporters’ Club”. In amongst the old brass plates and photos of judges is a photo of the workplace cricket team. It occupies pride of place.

There are no formalities to the rituals. Pleasantries exchanged, the happenings of the day, bits of news, the markets, all very polite. When the topic turns to cricket, however, it is like someone is paying. With such enthusiasm I thought they might whip out those black gowns they wear. The off-spinning conveyancer, the dogged right-hand batting divorce lawyer and the personal injury lawyer (who obviously inflicts pain when opening the bowling) were into the fray.

Compelling arguments were advanced that it may well have been far trickier to face a left-arm trundler on the uncovered Tatham ground wicket than what I was peddling about Murali last week. So what if that Aussie occasionally let a beamer go, that was nothing compared to the notorious opening bowler from the Sevontein Prison side who made a habit of overrunning the mark and aiming at your head with intent. No match referee, no referral to the third umpire.

I stood accused of having both a thigh pad and a helmet when facing the Rawalpindi. Try facing the Sevontein serpent with nothing more than a Gunn and Moore and the equivalent of cotton garden gloves with a few green plastic-molded spikes stitched on the fingers.

I was subjected to cross-examination. Exactly what the man in the white jacket said when he opened the gate for me to proceed out on to Lord’s. Could I hear a whizz when Shane bowled and it went past the bat. (I was subsequently advised to deny that it ever did pass my bat.) It was put to me I was evasive when I was not unequivocal in my choice between Eden Gardens and the Gabba. I was offered immunity if I was prepared to come clean on any misdemeanours. (Certain vices were put to me.)

Believe it or not, we actually did reach agreement on something. We agreed that there is simply not enough cricket played by people of all ages and abilities who love the game. Not for money or a Cup, but just for a chance to play cricket. The discussion was not political or structural or a whine about administrators being to blame; it was rather that the gentlemen of upper Pietermaritz Street should get off their spectator chairs and make it happen. The workplace team should rise once more.

I expressed interest in possibly playing. I was informed that I should take nothing for granted and I may have to look after the cooler box at my first match. They were not even impressed that I said I have a friend, Shaun, who I could bring with who can bat and bowl a bit.

After a few more jars I did give an undertaking (another legal concept) that I would refer in one of my articles to one of the number as “in his day blisteringly quick”. Having observed his ability to quaff, this may be an understatement.

The real magic of Test cricket is only truly evident to those who have played in their own Tests in the back garden, Dales Park, Collegians or the Oval. Cricket is to be played.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.


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