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Sat Nov 01 06:01:06 SAST 2014

Now we can go gaga at Gabba

Archie Henderson | 12 November, 2012 00:48

The Gabba, where South Africa have been playing Australia, meant something different to us the last time these teams played a cricket Test at the Brisbane venue.

In 1963, we were learning to play the game and waking up early to catch Charles Fortune crackling through the ether at 4am.

We were all "gabbas" together trying to figure out a sport that had been prohibited at school because it was an "Engelse" game.

We had formed our own team, where lbw appeals would come out: "Howzat, Mr Empire!" If some of our gabbas knew nothing else about cricket, they were aware of its colonial roots.

Those were the innocent days of white youth, when we would have been amazed to learn that black people played cricket in South Africa and not just in India, Pakistan and the West Indies (Sri Lanka, then still Ceylon, did not feature in our consciousness except for tea, which did).

We learned cricket from the wireless, from pictures in books and from watching the local town team play on Sundays. Those were times when cricket was the poor cousin of rugby, especially Trevor Goddard's team of ingenués on the 1963-1964 tour of Australia.

Their average age was 24 (23 if you discounted 34-year-old Johnny Waite, who was on his sixth and final tour). There was even a teenager in the team, a 19-year-old called Graeme Pollock, of whom much was expected, if not just yet.

Only two had played more than six Tests: Waite was a veteran of 41 and Goddard 21. Seven players, including the laaitie, had never played a Test match.

Nevertheless, they made a good start, beating Western Australia, but Pollock got a duck batting at No5.

The next match was drawn but things were looking up: Eddie Barlow made 209 and Pollock found form with 127 not out.

South Australia, next up, beat them, but another player was beginning to emerge. Denis Lindsay scored 109 at No9. The Aussies would get to know more about him a few years later when they toured South Africa.

South Africa won the following two matches, with Barlow and Pollock getting their second centuries before they lost by an innings to Queensland at the Woolloongabba, the venue's full name, on the eve of the first T est.

The Test was drawn but the portents were good: Barlow made 114, his first Test century, and Peter Pollock, elder brother of Graeme, took six wickets.

Even a defeat at the MCG in the New Year's Test had its moment as Barlow got another 100. South Africa got the better of a draw at the SCG, with Graeme making his maiden Test 100 and Peter taking seven wickets.

Late in January 1964 the fourth Test made getting up early really worthwhile: a victory by 10 wickets at Adelaide, with Barlow scoring 201 and Pollock 175. We narrowly missed a win in the final Test, but we were in heaven. The shared series was a moral victory.

What we didn't know was that the dream would soon be shattered and that, within six years, South Africa's iniquities would be laid bare, with the cricket team among the casualties.

Today things are better. We are respected guests at the Gabba and the old school has a cricket field, nets and even a bowling machine.

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