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'Prime minister Hawke called us traitors'

The Australian rebel tour to South Africa had its share of controversy, but it also sparked the emergence of future stars from both countries

Interviews by Crispin Andrews |

After West Indies, Australia were the next high-profile country to visit South Africa for a rebel tour, in 1985

After West Indies, Australia were the next high-profile country to visit South Africa for a rebel tour, in 1985 © Getty Images

In 1985-86, a rebel Australian team led by Kim Hughes played the first of three unofficial "Test" matches against a South Africa XI. South Africa was, at the time, banned from international cricket because of apartheid. The Australian team toured South Africa again the following year, but the whole thing was actually a few years in the making.

Rodney Hogg, Australia fast bowler Australia had just got dumped out of the 1983 World Cup. We were in England and a group of us went in separate taxis to a hotel in Knightsbridge to meet Ali Bacher and a couple of others from the South African Cricket Union. There were about 10 of us, players who'd said they might be interested in playing in South Africa. Not all of those 10 players ended up going.

Mike Whitney, Australia fast bowler I was playing in the Central Lancashire League in England in 1983, for a club called Littleborough. I remember getting a call from Bruce Francis, the former Australia and New South Wales batsman, and he was one of the guys who was signing everybody up. He said it [the tour] was on, and asked if I was interested.

Hogg I was pretty much in from day one. I was in my mid-30s, and the idea was that the tour wouldn't happen for another year or two. Had it been on in 1983, I'd have been less interested as I was still in the Test side and doing well at the time.

"Australia didn't have the strongest team in the world, but they were tough competitors, always up for a beer afterwards" Garth le Roux

Whitney I broke down with an injury in 1983-84, couldn't play during the Australian season and decided to go to South Africa on a backpacking trip, to catch up with some people who I'd travelled with around Europe.

It was a very interesting experience, seeing that I had fairly dark-coloured skin and a mop of black curly hair. There were a couple of places where it was touch and go whether I'd be let in - until one of the South Africans I was with said that I was an Australian. I'd also seen a few nasty things going on with some black people at the hands of some white authorities. So when the rebel tour organisers spoke to me again, I told them that there was no way I could even consider going.

I remember talking to Steve Rixon about it. In his mind, his career was coming to an end. He wasn't going to play cricket for Australia again, he'd been around New South Wales for well over a decade, and was getting a bit long in the tooth. So he decided to cash up and go for it. I mean a hundred grand a tour, tax paid - that was a fortune in the mid-'80s. The ones I couldn't understand going were the likes of Carl Rackemann and Steve Smith - he was in the Australian one-day side, and on the borderline of getting in the Test side.

Carl Rackemann, Australia fast bowler I'd been in and out of the Australian side, had a few badly timed injuries, the selectors seemed to find as many reasons not to pick me as they did to pick me. There was clearly a lot of money on offer from South Africa, and at the time we weren't getting paid that much to play in Australia.

Hogg I was pretty happy with the money on offer. My career was pretty much over by then. Fast bowlers don't last forever. Prime minister [Bob] Hawke called us traitors. I thought that if it was okay for Hawke to trade with South Africa, it was okay for me to go and play cricket there.

Graeme Pollock: smashed hundreds even at 44

Graeme Pollock: smashed hundreds even at 44 © Getty Images

For the South African cricketers who had been out of international cricket since the early '70s, this tour was an another opportunity, after the rebel West Indies tour two years previously, to test themselves against top-quality opposition.

Garth le Roux, Western Province fast bowler I was 32, losing a bit of pace and aware that my career was coming to an end. I just wanted to do as well as I could and enjoy every moment.

Hugh Page, Transvaal fast bowler I was making my way in the game. We weren't allowed to play against anyone, as a team, outside of this country. When you got the opportunity, you took it. South Africa getting back into international cricket looked a long way off. To be picked in a team alongside some of the greats like Graeme Pollock, Peter Kirsten, Clive Rice - that was special.

We didn't really understand the political implications of what was going on. We were indoctrinated by the old government and didn't know what was going on with the masses.

Hogg I had no idea what was going on in South Africa. Hadn't read about it. I knew about the cricket, how Australia had been stitched up there a couple of times in the late '60s and early '70s. I'd seen Barry Richards, Clive Rice and Mike Procter play in World Series Cricket, and knew about Graeme Pollock. But that was it.

Rackemann When we got there, it was evident what was going on. The authorities tried to keep us away from things, but it was impossible to go there and not see some of what was happening.

"There was never much trouble [over the rebel tour]. Not at Queensland or when I played for Australia again. A drunk accosted me in the car park at the Gabba once" Carl Rackemann

South Africa XI won the three-match Test series 1-0 and the one-dayers 4-2.

Rackemann Where South Africa had the edge on us was their depth. They batted to 11 and had six or seven bowlers. When the second new ball came around, they always had a fresh fast bowler. It was the same if they made a breakthrough. We were five out and all out, and they were five out with plenty more to come. We didn't have the allrounders. We tried Peter Faulkner, but that didn't work.

We went after their spin bowler, Alan Kourie. Everybody had been building him up. He'd had some success against West Indies, but we belted him everywhere. He was their only weak link.

Le Roux Australia didn't have the strongest team in the world, but they were tough competitors, always up for a beer afterwards. It was war when we played, but after the game, we were fine.

Hogg When you're up against Clive Rice, you know it's the toughest game of cricket you're going to get. He was the toughest cricketer I ever played against.

Le Roux Clive was a guy who led from the front. And if you couldn't bowl the way he wanted, he'd grab the ball and show you what to do. There was nothing subtle about Ricey. He'd go at the opposition hard, get them by the throat and never let up.

Rodney Hogg:

Rodney Hogg: "I thought that if it was okay for Hawke to trade with South Africa, it was okay for me to go and play cricket there" © PA Photos

Page It wasn't the real thing. You would have wanted to play against the very best team that any country had, and I say that with respect to the guys who came out here. It wasn't really a proper South African team either. It was a white South African team.

Rackemann We competed well. Only one Test was decided, in each series.

The second series, in 1986-87, was Graeme Pollock's last on the international stage, and Allan Donald's first.

Rackemann I got Pollock out a couple of times, then I hit him on the hand, broke it, and he still came out and batted in the second innings, with one hand, and scored runs. The West Indies bowlers, who'd played in South Africa a couple of years earlier, advised me to bowl round the wicket at Graeme. He didn't move his feet much, and from over the wicket, the ball always seemed to end up in the slot for him. From round the wicket, he didn't have the footwork to adjust his position.

Page Graeme was an amazing guy and would have been able to adapt to modern cricket. Even at that age, he was competitive. He very seldom gave it away and could play shots that other guys couldn't.

"I'd seen a few nasty things going on with some black people at the hands of some white authorities. So when the organisers spoke to me again, I told them that there was no way I could even consider going" Mike Whitney

Hogg In Durban, he played and missed 40 times but didn't nick it, and went on to get a hundred. Like all great players, he never seemed to hit the fielders. He was every bit the professional. Knew exactly what he was doing. If there was a bowler who was off-colour, Pollock would be all over him. He was like a vulture.

Rackemann In the second year, Pollock had missed a few games with a broken finger, and the fourth "Test" in Port Elizabeth, his original home ground before he'd moved to Johannesburg, was billed as Pollock's last international. He hit 140-odd, aged 44. He was right up there on the top shelf of players I bowled to.

Le Roux Donald was just a young boy from Bloemfontein. His English wasn't very good at the time. He was an Afrikaans boy. He was lean and stripped and a fantastic athlete. Even back then, he could get it from A to B very quickly.

Page Rodney Hogg told Donald that he was going to bounce him straight back to school.

Carl Rackemann:

Carl Rackemann: "We were five out and all out, and they were five out with plenty more to come. We didn't have the allrounders" © Getty Images

Hogg I might have given him a word or two. Hard to remember as there was a lot of sledging. I remember Donald playing for a combined South African side. He bowled me a couple of beamers, so that would have shut me up. In later games, Donald bowled Kim Hughes twice, and Kim hardly ever got bowled. And here was this schoolboy who'd done it twice, and he didn't even own a decent pair of bowling boots.

The rebel Australians had been originally been banned for two years by the Australian Cricket Board. But with the tours over, when the 1987-88 season began, the ACB welcomed the rebels back into the fold.

Whitney Everybody in Australian cricket thought that they'd be banned for at least two years, and that the ban would start when they got back. Then the ACB announced that the ban was actually for those two seasons in South Africa. That showed real weakness on behalf of the ACB. That's when I think some of the players who didn't go got upset. They said, we didn't take the money and we stayed here and played for the baggy green cap. It didn't seem very fair.

Rackemann There was never much trouble. Not at Queensland or when I played for Australia again. A drunk accosted me in the car park at the Gabba once, but that was about it.

Hogg I was 36 when I got back from the second tour. I was done with first-class cricket by then.

Whitney There was no problem between the players. Everybody just said that the ACB had made its decision, there's no point arguing about it.

During those two years, Australia's Test team didn't win a Test series and lost back-to-back Ashes - though Allan Border's team did win the 1987 World Cup.

Whitney During those two years, guys like Steve Waugh, David Boon, Swampy [Geoff] Marsh, Dean Jones, Ian Healy came in. These guys learnt their trade and went on to become some of the greatest players of all time. If not for that tour to South Africa, some of those guys might not have got a game. They would have played later. It unearthed a plethora of quality players: Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, a wonderful group of cricketers got a game and became legends.

Did those tours help, or hinder, the cause of South African cricket?

Rackemann It kept the international game in front of the South African public. Without those tours, South Africa wouldn't have equipped themselves as well when they got back into international cricket, in the early '90s.

Hogg Anyone who says that's why they went on the tour is kidding themselves. You've never thought about helping South African cricket before, so why would you do it now?

Le Roux The politics was what it was. We could only do so much to change it.

Page I don't think the tours helped. It was part of a process. The Gatting tour in 1989-90, helped us get back into international cricket. After that we realised there was more to this than just cricket. That the majority of the people in this country didn't want the tour to happen. If I'd known then, what I know now [about what was going on in South Africa] I'd have chosen not to be part of it.

Hogg I have no regrets whatsoever about going on those tours.

 

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LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Raghav on | January 14, 2016, 10:51 GMT

    Ali Bacher could establish contact and lure players from the other side of the world but be ignorant about the state of affairs in his own country. Incredible. Please publish

  • POSTED BY Raghav on | January 14, 2016, 5:50 GMT

    How could these people not know what was going on or how the majority of the country felt? Ali Bacher said the same lines, but how is that even possible? Please publish

  • POSTED BY patrick on | January 13, 2016, 12:11 GMT

    University of South Africa is due to publish volume 2 of their history of South African cricket this year. It finishes with an in-depth account of the Newlands walk-off and the subsequent cancellation of the tour to Australia and poses the thorny question of what lay behind the actions of the South African players.

  • POSTED BY Ray on | January 13, 2016, 10:15 GMT

    @Lardster sums up my feelings very eloquently. To the apologists for these tours. Yes, it was hypercritical of politicians to continue trading with SA, whilst expecting sports teams and entertainers to boycott the country, but that is no excuse. I wonder if the likes of Hogg ever look in a mirror and think: "Did my actions help promote or prolong apartheid in any way?", and if so, whether he feels any shame at all? Not by the sound of things.

  • POSTED BY Sen on | January 13, 2016, 9:21 GMT

    "In 1985-86, a rebel Australian team led by Kim Hughes played the first of three unofficial "Test" matches against a South Africa XI."

    They were led by a women? Cool!!

  • POSTED BY Blythesville on | January 13, 2016, 0:04 GMT

    Funny how time tends to soften memories. These Australians, and the subsequent English, justified their actions and really did not pay any price. The West Indians, on the other hand, did. At home and internationally. And oddly enough, had a greater positive impact than these mercenaries. Even in being a Rebel there was a double standard by race. As much as Australia and SA "benefited" longer term, it also helped diminish West Indies cricket about a decade after their tour.

    Let's not forget what apartheid was. And that these folks put a price - even though they appear oblivious to segregation and its harmful effects - on ignoring sanctions. While we can empathize with the SA cricketers, some of them chose to stay in the country while their families benefited from the policy of Apartheid.

    While we may feel that sports should be immune to the policies of the state, they are however intricately connected. And to ignore that speaks volumes about one's moral compass.

  • POSTED BY Rob on | January 12, 2016, 23:46 GMT

    Interesting article, Had it not been for D'Oliviera, SA would have probably played international sport up until the Gleneagles agreement in 1977. New Zealand's women actually toured in 1972. That said, the great sporting shame is that the great South African and West Indian teams of that era could not play each other.

  • POSTED BY Mashuq on | January 12, 2016, 18:39 GMT

    @Captainhansie, Given the schizoid character of those minds, it seems to me it would only have been a very "few eyes in South Africa that might have opened" Factually wrong, @Cricketchat SA did not "thrash the WI rebel team which had many active players" The 2 match series ended 1-1, while WI won the 4 match series 2-1 Sadly, @Cricketchat, there was no link between the feelings of those who bemoaned "missing out on potential legends like Pollock brothers, Barry Richards, Clive Rice etc" and any "SA govt rethink on their policies" Even missing the first Rugby WC in '87 is unlikely to have impacted the thinking of the SA govt However, economic downturns and disinvestment certainly played roles in changing thinking Your last sentence, @Billbenn, is spot on wrt the nuanced issues around Hawke's stance expecting a few cricketers to do the morally right thing when they refused to court unpopularity in their own countries by imposing sanctions This from someone who spent 43yrs under apartheid

  • POSTED BY Patrick Clarke on | January 12, 2016, 17:06 GMT

    It was very sad for great players such as Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock, Vince Van Der Bijl etc to be denied their chance to perform on the world stage as much as their wonderful talents deserved BUT it was the South African Government of Dr Vorster which fanned the flames of sporting isolation with their very public rebuttal of the England touring party in 1968-9 because it contained Basil D'Oliveira. They banned the England party from touring first but then had that same weapon turned and used against them from that moment on. I wonder how much longer official tours to and from South Africa would have gone on for but for that fateful decision of Dr Vorster, especially if D'Oliveira had enjoyed a successful tour. Perhaps the 1970 tour to England and 1971-2 tour to South Africa would have then gone ahead, rather as the rugby tours of the 70s and 80s did, but of course we will never know.

  • POSTED BY PRIYANK on | January 12, 2016, 15:43 GMT

    @SMUDGEON: many thanks Sir :) I will surely check the link you mentioned.. & yes you are absolutely spot on.. Surely Rodney Hogg was old enough to see SA cricketers in Kerry Packer's world series who were otherwise not playing international cricket hence this naivety seems fake.. ;) but as they say everything happens for some good.. Probably if these guys had not left may be greats like Steve waugh, Mark Taylor, McDermott etc would not have played or may be developed the way they did and AUSTRALIA may not have been as strong (which they became from mid 1990s).. Similarly the ban and missing out on potential legends like Pollock brothers, Barry Richards, Clive Rice et al made SA govt rethink on their policies..!! :)

  • POSTED BY Steve on | January 12, 2016, 13:25 GMT

    Politics aside, these rebel tours showed how good SA players were. Back then, SA was like a black box to most people around the world. They thrashed SL, WI, Eng and Australian rebel teams which had many active test players. I am convinced they would have been a top 3 test or ODI teams during the ban period.

  • POSTED BY Bill on | January 12, 2016, 12:57 GMT

    South African cricket always had a mystique for me growing up in Australia from the 1960s through 1980s, so I watched the rebel tours with great interest even though I was vehemently opposed to apartheid and thought the tours were morally indefensible. It was quite a dilemma. More so because I had a dog called Wessels, named after a guy who I wasn't quite sure belonged to which side. It was difficult to get coverage of the tours in Australia at that time, though to this day a news clip of Hoggy getting Henry Fotheringham LBW to a cracking off-cutter remains embedded in my mind. Ultimately, though, the tours were wrong. Fortunately, the Australian rebel tourists were spared the fate of West Indian rebels like Richard Austin, David Murray and Herbert Chang. I'm sympathetic to Hoggy's argument about the tours being OK if trade was permissible, but the fact remains by going there the tourists were playing into the hands of an evil regime at a level beyond being "merely just a game."

  • POSTED BY wayne on | January 12, 2016, 12:27 GMT

    CRICFANSINCE91, both of the tours have cricinfo tour pages (complete with the scorecards, stats, etc.) here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/series/415687.html and http://www.espncricinfo.com/southafrica/content/series/389141.html...happy reading! And I agree, it is a great read which (for me) was an insight into something that happened when I was too young to understand the full implications. It does seem somewhat disingenuous of Hogg to say he had no idea what was going on...if you were offered a huge sum of money to play cricket in a country that was banned from international cricket, wouldn't you start by asking some questions?

  • POSTED BY patrick on | January 12, 2016, 12:24 GMT

    Of course it's a shame to lose the likes of Pollock and Procter but that's not the point. World cricket had to act and isolation was the correct course and it did help. The collateral damage was some cricket careers which, when measured against the iniquity of apartheid, was unfortunate indeed but not life and death. As for Hogg's 'I didn't know what was going on'. Smacks of all the Emburey/Gatting excuses of 'we're cricketers not politicians'. No, you are humans and you should still be ashamed of grabbing the Rand which is what you did.

  • POSTED BY DAVID on | January 12, 2016, 12:21 GMT

    It probably wouldn't be easy to obtain a copy, but Bruce Francis's 1989 book on the Australian rebel tour ('GUILTY' - BOB HAWKE OR KIM HUGHES? - is an eye-opener. Many politicians and businessmen don't come out of it at all well. Hypocrisy undermined the arguments against the tour. Big international business with South Africa flourished while sporting contact was forbidden.

  • POSTED BY Mark on | January 12, 2016, 12:18 GMT

    It was quite surreal all those 'rebel' tours. Though SA was a divided country and shouldn't have had these tours I suppose, cricket lovers like me watched it with much enthusiasm and expectation.

    At that stage we could only follow international cricket through what we saw in the local media. Many of my fellow-citizens of colour followed the fortunes of the West Indies in the papers and they were our heroes.

    However it was great to have the Aussies here - and never forget the match at St George's Park when Clive Rice took SA to victory in a one-dayer as Kim Hughes made a valiant effort to no avail.

    My best-remembererd characters: Terry Alderman, Kim Hughes, Steve Rixon (brilliant keeper), Carl Rackemann, Trevor Hohns, Greg Shippard, Rodney Hogg!

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | January 12, 2016, 12:03 GMT

    Its a pity the world never saw the likes of Pollok, Rice & the likes play on the international stage.

  • POSTED BY PRIYANK on | January 12, 2016, 10:36 GMT

    Very nice, Brings back memories of the 80's when the attention of World Cricket had shifted from Packer to Pretoria..! Except Rodney Hogg, who does not seem genuine in claiming he had "no idea what was going on in South Africa", every account and story of players like Carl Rackemann, Mike Whitney etc seems honest and gives an insight of the reasons to go to SA then.. Would have been even better had few scorecards of these games been mentioned as well :)

  • POSTED BY Marius on | January 12, 2016, 10:32 GMT

    Imagine being a kid standing on the edge of the field and not ever being allowed onto the pitch, not ever being invited to have a game. Even in street games in India the smallest kid eventually gets a bat. The politics of the day were what they were (and they were wrong), but the world of cricket was robbed of seeing some amazing players. The tours weren't all negative in that it highlighted the sanctions situation, if not overseas, then definitely in South Africa. It's sad to read about the foreign participants of the various tours being treated badly when they got home - particularly the West Indians. Having a full house of cricket fans pitch up to watch an all black team in a country with racial superiority and segregation as its policy might have opened a few eyes in South Africa.