Got him! Unplayable delivery…!

During the 1996 World Cup South Africa opened their campaign against a  plucky team from the United Arab Emirates which was captained by the team’s effective owner and banker, Sultan Zarawani.

Gary Kirsten scored a World Cup record 188 not out in SA’s total of 321 and then Allan Donald and Brian McMillan tucked into the top order. The Sultan came into bat at number eight with the game comfortably lost.

The UAE, like all the other wealthy oil-rich Arab states in the middle east, has a huge immigrant population from the subcontinent so, while there may be very little history of cricket, there are plenty of willing players. Sultan Zarawani, apparently, had acquired a passion for the game during the latter years of his education in the UK and, upon his return to his native land, set about building a national team with the aid of a few hurriedly delivered passports and plenty of cash for kit, equipment and training facilities.

Anyway, his heart was most definitely in the right place but it was a different kind of heart that South Africa’s players saw when he strolled out to bat against a rampant Donald in his second spell on a surprisingly bouncy pitch. The bearded Sultan was sporting nothing more protective on his head than a broad-brimmed sunhat.

Donald barely noticed, let alone cared, but several of his team mates were outraged at this perceived insult to the great ‘White Lightning.’ They encouraged the big man to ‘let him have it.’ Donald did so and still shudders at the memory:

“It was probably the perfect bouncer. I didn’t really want to bounce him, but the boys encouraged me. They said I should teach him a lesson. But when he went down I thought I’d killed him. I felt sick. When I saw the replays I realised the brim of the hat had actually folded under the ball and taken a lot of the impact, otherwise he might not have got up. It was one of the scariest moments of my career.”

It was, of course, a complete ‘no contest’. Donald and the rest of the South Africans didn’t know that, but the UAE’s skipper was completely unequipped to defend himself. Yes, he had a bat and pads, a box and gloves, but Donald was playing by different rules. Professional rules, not amateur ones.

I am often reminded of that moment in times of extreme one-sidedness, particularly when it could end with extreme results – even tragic ones.

Mark Boucher has a thick skin, a big mouth and no lack of confidence. Please, let nobody believe he is a shrinking violet or cannot look after himself. Yet he was felled by a Cricket South Africa beamer last week, never mind a legitimate bouncer. He never stood a chance during his disciplinary hearing, and even less when it came to the sentencing.

When he said that Twenty/20 cricket came third behind Tests and one-dayers, he was doing no more than endorsing what the game’s international administrators – the ICC – have been hammering home to every one of their full, associate and affiliate members for the last three or four years. That’s why they only allow each full member to play three 20-over games per year.

But CSA’s in-house disciplinary committee judge, Michael Kuper, said he was denigrating the tournament. Don’t even bother looking for the logic.

Boucher’s comments about Jacques Kallis were similarly honest and forthright. Never mind how many runs and hundreds Kallis has scored, or how many wickets and catches he has taken, or his scoring rate. Whilst the majority of cricket followers would say that his record commands a place in any Proteas team and that he should have been selected, some might not, and that is their right.

The point is that it appears he WAS selected and then subsequently removed from the squad. That is certainly his understanding of the situation. Hence he was subsequently told that he was being ‘rested.’ If that is the truth, then it is unacceptable – whether it involves Kallis, Albie Morkel or the team masseur.

But CSA wanted a big piece of Boucher. Three years ago they thought he’d become too big for his boots and taught him a lesson by dropping him. It was a legitimate move. But imposing the second largest fine in CSA history (the biggest was Herschelle Gibbs’ R60,000 for match-fixing) for a ‘crime’ he clearly didn’t commit intentionally, the game’s ruling body has let itself down.

All that can be hoped for now is that, like Sultan Zarawani, Boucher and Kallis get back up to continue the fight. Because even if you think South Africa can do without the two of them, the lack of confidence and trust in their employers that they may feeling is contagious and will very soon spread to the other players. And cricket in SA certainly can’t survive if another half dozen players follow Nicky Boje, Lance Klusener, Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Ryan McLaren into alternative sources of employment in India and England.





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