Viewing the Pet Shop Boys breakthrough hit “West End Girls” recently (professional obligation – don’t ask), I spotted amidst the sea of shoulder pads and glare of Neil Tennant’s lip gloss a strange gathering filmed from the back seat of a taxi as it sped through Trafalgar Square. To a bunch of twenty-something students, it meant nothing, but I was catapulted back to the 80s and those long waits for night buses. The noise and the colour was always there of course - the 24 hour Anti-Apartheid protest went on outside the South African Embassy 365 days per year. A faint glow of pride surfaced in my heart as I recalled my steadfast refusal to bank with Barclays or buy the evil “Cape” oranges, and I thought about telling the class about those far-off days… but didn’t.
Few would deny that the sporting boycott played its part in bringing an end to apartheid and that a heavy price was paid by cricketers who were very good (Clive Rice, Vincent van der Bijl, Garth le Roux, Ken McEwan amongst many, many others) and cricketers who were great (Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor). Even the staunchest opponent of that hideous SA regime winces at the denial of seeing the 1970 team reach its potential. How good were they? They beat the Australians by margins of 170 runs, an innings and 129 runs, 307 runs and 323 runs – handy, I suggest.
Fast forward 37 years and another team from Africa are playing cricket “representing” a hideous regime, but this time the country is Zimbabwe and nobody is seriously advocating a worldwide sporting boycott. But no cricket fan is at ease knowing the state of that nation and the impact politics has made on the very fine cricketers denied their right to play for their country. The issues were covered in Andy Bull’s article and blog at http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/03/15/dont_look_now_theres_cricket_t.html - as fine a piece of journalism, never mind “citizen journalism”, as I have read in a long time.
So should we play with Mugabe’s representatives on the sporting field? I, not without hesitation, say yes. I don’t know what the future holds for Zimbabwe, but I know that sooner or later, it’ll look a bit like this cricket team – black and white working together for the common good of Zimbabwe, under a young leader doing his or her best in adversity. I’m seeking advice on a destination for a small charitable donation to support (directly) grassroots cricket in Zimbabwe – I’ll post the advice in the comments here. After all, what’s worth knowing that cricket doesn’t teach?
One day I look forward to the feeling I had on June 24 1995. I sat amongst my fellow Putney Cricket Club 3rd XI players half-watching the preliminaries for the Rugby World Cup Final on TV, wondering whether it was worth starting our match and missing the big game. Suddenly there was a whisper, “Is Mandela wearing Pienaar’s shirt? “. People stood up, someone may have clapped, I had the beginnings of a tear in my eye. I thought of those cricketers and wondered whether they considered their sacrifice worth it – I hoped they did. It’s a different route this time, but the destination is the same. I want to help Zimbo to get there. Who’s with me?