Why is it so hard to do the decent thing, and remember?
History has robbed the stars of their right to shine on for decades hence. Damn you, history
Graeme Pollock and Lefty Adams walk into a bar. Nobody knows their names. This is not a joke.
It’s what happens in societies that move inexorably towards a future where nothing that went before matters, unless it helps explain why they’re in the mess they’re in.
In South Africa’s case, our past does exactly that with every slip further into the inequality that has been its defining characteristic for centuries and will be for centuries still. That’s as true in sport as it is in politics.
Cricket-minded South Africans do, of course, know Pollock’s name. But how many would recognise him if he walked into a bar? Those of his vintage and others, older and younger, who saw him play, probably. Anyone younger than 35 would likely need an explanation to connect the old bloke in the corner to the fella who played 262 first-class matches, among them 23 Tests, and shivered the timbers of all who saw him lash a ball through the covers with minimum footwork and maximum power.They might have a better chance of putting Pollock’s face to the name that was in the papers last July being quoted as saying: “The major thing is the problem with the politics and interference with the selection of players. It’s affecting the performance of the side; they don't put the 11 best players on the field. It’s never going to change. As South Africans we’ve got to accept that South Africa are going to be middle of the road in their future Test cricket.”
Wrong? Yes. Ill-informed? Yes. Racist? Hell yes. In the dog-whistle sense: whites in our country have learnt not to use the K-word in public, unless they’re Vicky Momberg, but they know many more nuanced ways to get their point across.
Which makes perfect sense. Anyone who thinks South Africa isn’t still wracked by racism no doubt also thinks no one voted for the National Party for all those years.
As for Adams, he might not want to be seen in a bar: his given name is Abduragmaan and Muslims don’t drink alcohol. Not officially, anyway. But there’s Pollock and there’s Adams, and while Adams knows full well who Pollock is it’s doubtful the recognition is mutual.
Unlike Pollock, Adams was disallowed from playing for South Africa. Not because he wasn’t good enough but because that would have been unlawful by dint of the fact that he isn’t white. Besides, all those National Party voters, of whom cricket harboured depressingly many, wouldn’t have tolerated his selection.So Adams, a slow left-armer blessed with uncanny control and a tongue as sharp and quick as a gangster and his knife, had to content himself with playing what was, finally in the 1990s, accepted as first-class cricket.
In 27 games at that level for Western Province between December 1971 and March 1980 he took 122 wickets at 15.47. He had eight five-wicket hauls, two 10-fors and an economy rate of 1.72. Clearly the man could bowl.
As well as Pollock could bat? Now there’s a stupid question. But we know all about Pollock. How much don’t we know about Adams?
The sadness is that a society that no longer wants to hear about Pollock’s exploits on the field also has no interest in Adams’s — because they did what they did then, apparently when it didn’t matter, when players of differing races would have had to break the law to test each other’s quality, in a time we are at once trying to pretend never existed and that has yet to end.
History has robbed the stars of their right to shine on for decades hence. Damn you, history. Damn us for making, and continuing to make, history that way.Happily Pollock, warts and all, and Adams are still with us and would thus still be able to know that they are celebrated. But who knows for how much longer: Pollock is 74, Adams is 79. Neither is in the best of health.
Unhappily, peerless allrounder Saait Magiet died on July 17, which has led to an uncorking of a flood of tributes the like of which has rarely been seen in South African sport, politics or anything else. It’s as if, having not given Majiet his due in life, the establishment is trying to catch up in death. It’s not too little — not by a long chalk — but it is too late.
On Sunday night, Michael Doman, a fine batsman whose career was ended, at 22, by a back injury, died from complications caused by diabetes.
I did not know Michael as a player. I did know him as a fellow cricket writer. He was generous with his time and knowledge, imbued with a gentle seriousness and entirely without ego: something that is seldom true of either players or reporters.
Like other cricketers of his era and his race, Michael wasn’t given his due beyond his immediate circle. I’m as guilty of not doing so as other South Africans and other cricket writers.
In an effort, albeit minimal, to remedy the situation I researched Michael’s record. He played 14 Howa Bowl matches, all for Western Province between February 1978 and March 1983, and scored four half-centuries amid his 483 runs. His 542 balls of leg spin earned 13 wickets at 17.38. He played with Magiet and Adams and a host of other notables.
And another thing I discovered: Michael was five years older than me, but we share a birthday.
While I live, at least, he will never go uncelebrated again.