It's not just cricket: Batting hero's foray into literature

30 August 2017 - 07:19
Cricketer, teacher and writer Yusuf Chubb Garda at the Wanderers.
Cricketer, teacher and writer Yusuf Chubb Garda at the Wanderers.
Image: Swoosh

The boy had been umpiring a school cricket match when he was called away, told to change into his whites and pad up. He was needed to fill the batting order in a match on a nearby field, where two players had failed to turn up.

He doesn't say how he felt, but we can imagine it must have been a combination of excitement and anxiety. Any nervousness would not have been suppressed by the situation: the team he was going out to bat for had lost five wickets for just 35 runs.

The match was not an ordinary one; it was a trial to select a provincial side to meet a foreign touring team.

Among the spectators was the boy's father, "a Micawber-like character". Like Dickens's optimist, the father lived in hopeful expectation.

He watched his boy take guard and play out the over. The boy's nerves settled as he began to middle the ball.

It helped that he was not new to this. Two years earlier, as a 14-year-old, he had been a spectator at a club match in which one of the teams was a man short. They called on him to help out and he quickly realised where the shortest boundary was, hitting often in that direction, three of his strokes clearing the boundary.

He made 56. The following week he scored his first century in league cricket.

So the 16-year-old had some experience. He continued to bat in the trial match, and when he'd reached 50, his team's position was no longer precarious. By the time he passed 100, they were in control. He doesn't say who won, but does it matter? His 126 won him a place in the Transvaal team to meet Kenya.

His delighted father bought him a bat autographed by the great Australian allrounder Keith Miller, whom the boy might have seen play six years earlier, but from a segregated area of Ellis Park in Johannesburg. On the Monday at school, he was presented with another bat, a Donald Bradman one.

The boy is now 78; that innings he played was in 1956. After that, Yusuf Chubb Garda became a teacher of English; a lover of the language to the extent that he can quote Mark Antony's Shakespearean soliloquy at Caesar's funeral, or Gibbon, or Dickens; he has corresponded with Somerset Maugham and Bertrand Russell, among others, and written his own book.

Literature, Life & Cricket was launched on Sunday and is a collection of his writing. It is not only about cricket; it's also about growing up as an Indian boy in a cricketing family, in a cricket street, in a cricket suburb of Fietas in Johannesburg, and watching and photographing Fietas being demolished by apartheid bulldozers. He's been described as the Neville Cardus of South African cricket; he might also be its CLR James, who wrote in the preface to his masterpiece, Beyond a Boundary: "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?"