Shades of a cricket century

01 September 2009 - 17:25 By ARCHIE HENDERSON

THE Indian Premier League, now reaching a rousing finale, has turned cricket on its head. Just how radically the game has changed is put into perspective by a new book, Empire & Cricket: The South African Experience 1884-1914.

THE Indian Premier League, now reaching a rousing finale, has turned cricket on its head. Just how radically the game has changed is put into perspective by a new book, Empire & Cricket: The South African Experience 1884-1914.

Don't be put off by the book's emphasis on academic research. The story of how cricket originated in South Africa helps us to better understand today's dynamics of the game in our country.

Historian Bruce Murray, a Wits University professor emeritus who is one of the editors, calls Empire & Cricket "the first research-based book on this period of cricket in South Africa covering all groups". Earlier books focused on white cricket and those more recent were subject-specific, such as André Odendaal's The Story of an African Game, which concentrated on African cricket.

This book explains how racism, encouraged by Cecil John Rhodes, entrenched segregation in the game long before the Nats of 1948.

The tragedy is personalised by the story of Krom Hendricks, "the only genuine fast bowler in town", according to Murray. Hendricks was drummed out of cricket by an imperialist clique in Cape Town who opposed his selection for South African Test teams.

"There were a number of coloured cricketers who played for white clubs, and the WP Cricket Union clamped down on this and drove them out of cricket," says Murray. He says white cricketers at the time believed they would be swamped by players of colour.

"There was a real debate at the time whether to have merit selection, or just white sides." It was a debate that would rage all over again 100 years later.

The sad story of Hendricks, so similar to the more recent D'Oliveira affair, was written by Jonty Winch. "Jonty has gone into the systematic segregation of Cape cricket," says Murray. "It meant that, in the future, when South Africa was united, you were going to have segregated cricket in all the provinces."

Murray believes it might have been different if they had opted to have merit selection, even though he's sure it wouldn't have lasted.

The information Murray and his fellow authors have uncovered was on public record. The professor says what still needs to be done is to probe private sources.

Some of the records of South African cricket were saved by Murray, who found them dumped in a corner of the Wanderers Stadium.

There is story of how confidential files were kept in a safe during Charles Fortune's tenure as secretary of the old white South African Cricket Association.

They were thrown away when Fortune asked for the safe upon his retirement.

"The story might be apocryphal, but it sums up the attitude to preserving the documentary record of South African cricket," says Murray. The reason for limiting the book to the turn of the previous century is that it was during this period that cricket "was made the empire game". The original governing body was deliberately named the Imperial Cricket Conference to keep the Americans out.

Now the roles are reversed. Lord's has been replaced by Delhi and the MCC by the IPL. And it's a very different game.