Of all the West Indian professionals who have played in South Africa in the last 20 years, none has been loved and respected more than Franklyn Stephenson who was an integral part of Free State’s golden years.
If there is, or was, a better cricketer never to have played Test cricket than Franky, then he has not yet been, or was not ever discovered.
Franky took over 800 wickets and scored over 8000 runs in the first class game for Barbados, Sussex, Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Free State and, would you believe it, Tasmania. But South Africans will possibly remember him most fondly for his off-field personality and charisma, with Nicky Boje, Boeta Dippenaar and even Allan Donald all having their careers and outlooks on the game significantly shaped by Franky.
Golfing enthusiasts may remember Stephenson entering the South Africa PGA Tour School a couple of years ago when his cricketing days were coming to an end, but he was just ‘dabbling’ in a new career and failed to win his card.
Now, however, he is a full professional and keen to make as much of a success of golf as he did with cricket. His bread and butter comes from teaching at the exclusive Sandy Lane Gold Club where, of course, he is still regarded as a cricketing hero by many of his pupils.
Franklyn appeared on an hour long television chat show on Sunday night discussing the current Test series and wearing, would you believe, one of his cherished Free State Eagles shirts.
“Ja, die Vrystaat’s my span!” he chuckled afterwards.
The big all rounder took the demise of Hansie Cronje as badly as anyone: “He was the best captain I ever played with and I ever saw. He was truly a great captain,” Stepehnson said before adding that he hoped to visit Cronje at Fancourt to play the famous resort. “Can you believe I never got the chance to play there when I was living in SA?”
Finally, to those who still think Jacques Kallis isn’t a great cricket thinker, read what Franklyn had to say about the over in which Kallis dismissed Ramnaresh Sarwan on the last day of the second Test in Trinidad which led, ultimately, to victory.
“He bowled four of the best balls of the match, all in a row. He set him up so beautifully, it was a pleasure to watch. The bouncer that got him was one of the fastest deliveries of the match and it was bowled with a ball 79 overs old. It was fantastic, a piece of cricketing genius.” That should put an end to that debate.
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