Reminiscing about the old days as cricket legends meet in Barbados

2009-12-16 00:00

IT’S not easy turning down a two-week cricket tour to Barbados. It’s even harder when it presents an opportunity to play alongside so many of your childhood cricketing heroes. Being asked to play for the South African over-35 team in the Cricket Legends of Barbados Cup recently, gave me the chance to do just that.

The inaugural 20-over tournament (I don’t think many of us would have managed much more than that!) involved South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and hosts West Indies, and was played at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Dale Benkenstein led the South African team, which comprised the likes of Fanie de Villiers, Pat Symcox, Dave Callaghan, Lance Klusener, Alan Dawson and Adrian Kuiper. Meyrick Pringle was also selected, but unfortunately chose an alternative route to Barbados and landed up in Frankfurt!

Our opening encounter was against the West Indies. As I marked my crease, the announcer confirmed that Curtly Ambrose would open the bowling from the Malcolm Marshall end.

I looked around and there were West Indian greats everywhere. Carl Hooper at point, Viv Richards at mid-off, Gordon Greenwich at slip, Courtney Walsh at third man, Collis King at mid-wicket and Desmond Haynes watching from the stands — it was goose bump stuff.

Ambrose’s trademark warm-up, lifting his knees before he turned to start his run up, made sure the adre­nalin was pumping. Thankfully, the pace of the West Indian quicks has slowed with age somewhat, but they put the rest of the teams to shame with their athletic physiques — impressive considering the average age of their team was 43.

Collis King, who still plays competitive club cricket in the UK at the age of 58, looked 30 at the most and still hits the ball incredibly hard. His fourpound bat, so big it can stand on its toe without support, was equally intimidating.

The South African “legends”, whose average age was 41 and whose average weight would be the envy of many a rugby front row, were a little rusty. After our first match against the West Indies it was clear that we would monopolise the local physio for the rest of the tournament. Pulled hamstrings, crooked backs, and severe muscle fatigue were the order of the day.

Steven Jack, the former fast bowler, was limited to one-over spells. Adrian Kuiper, who hit the ball with the same ferocity as he did in his heyday, needed plenty of ice baths and R&R, and he was not alone. Muscles certainly have memories and, in our case, they were pretty painful.

For Kuiper it was the first time he had returned to the Kensington Oval since South Africa lost to the West Indies in their first Test series after readmission. The memories of South Africa capitulating on the last day of the Test match all came flooding back. Sitting in the change-room flanked by Sir Vivian Richards and Jimmy Adams, listening to these legends reminisce, was an amazing experience.

The Sri Lankan team boasted the rotund but still incredibly talented Arjuna Ranatunga, as well as classy batsman Marvan Atapattu and feisty wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana. The English team were deserved winners of the tournament, with several players such as Mark Ramprakash and Dominic Cork still playing county cricket, and Graham Hick, who has just retired. John Emburey was the old man of the team but proved he could still bowl inspiring spells of off-spin.

I’m still not sure how our South African team made it to the final to play England. With so many injuries and Meyrick Pringle back in South Africa, thanks to Lufthansa, fielding a team was an achievement in itself.

The superb organisation of the event combined with the warm “Bajan” hospitality made it an unforgettable tour. With two more tournaments planned for 2010 and 2011, I’m keeping fit — just in case.

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

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