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Tue Jul 26 02:45:09 CAT 2016

Newlands a beauty, but not unspoilt

Archie Henderson | 07 January, 2016 00:06
Archie Henderson. File photo
Image by: SUPPLIED

When England first came to Newlands in 1888 they were led by a man who went on to seek his fortune on the goldfields of the Reef before finding it in Hollywood.

Nearly 50 years later, C Aubrey Smith starred in the first talkie version of Prisoner of Zenda alongside Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks jnr and a youthful David Niven. He is the only English captain to have played a single Test, the historic first one in South Africa at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth. He arrived in Cape Town too late to play in the second Test.

England won both matches and Smith was impressed with Newlands and its "surrounding mass of pines, overtopped by the great Table Mountain".

The effect, he said, was "enhanced by the bright and varied colours of the many Malay women in their holiday attire".

Aside from the mistaken identities of the women (although most people then called Muslims Malays), Smith probably believed he had found a place where the races were united in a love of cricket. The team had remarked that many among the big crowd that greeted the tourists' mailship were African and coloured.

In a sense, Smith was right. Cricket, brought to the Cape by British soldiers, had quickly caught on among black and white at the same time and Newlands was occasionally shared by the two, albeit separately. But racism would soon emerge and prevail for more than a hundred years.

The bigotry revealed itself in the local press. One reporter declared himself shocked that two English players had "dusky" women acquaintances sitting with them in the Newlands pavilion "in sight of thousands of spectators". The nabobs of Newlands and their ideological heirs would put a stop to that. Sixty years before the Nats introduced it officially, apartheid existed at Newlands, with black spectators corralled into a tiny corner, The Willows.

In the last Test match at Newlands before South Africa was banned from world cricket, a coloured player of renown, Dik Abed, applied for press accreditation after being commissioned to cover the game against Australia in 1970. It was denied and he was provided with a table and chair in the Willows.

On Tweede Nuwejaar in 1993, it all changed when Newlands staged its first Test match in more than 20 years. Then, as with C Aubrey Smith, visitors were urged to express their admiration for the beauty of the venue with its backdrops of a magnificent mountain and a mundane brewery.

The pines might have gone, but the oaks remain and the seating has been modernised, although Newlands out of the shade can be as inhospitable as a Paarl chicken farm in a heatwave. It gets to 40C in the middle at times like these.

Evan Flynt has provided a pitch and outfield that are of superb quality, and the only mystery is how he never seems to win groundsman of the year award.

The home team, now the Cobras rather than Province, field eight black players and the coach, Paul Adams, like the groundsman, has also been snubbed by Cricket SA in its awards. But Newlands, after a promising beginning in 1888, is finally a place for all who love the game. And if you're a visitor to Cape Town for the current series against England and are urged to express your admiration for the virtues of the finest cricket venue in the world, you might be tempted to remind your hosts of its past evils too.

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