The Rise and Fall of Family Time

It is amazing to think it is almost 20 years since Gary Kirsten changed the way this country’s administrators viewed wives, partners and families joining their men on overseas tours.

Back in 1998 it was, at best, frowned upon with the majority of board members and management condemning the practice in the same terms as they would a socially unacceptable taboo. Interestingly, managers’ wives of long standing occasionally made an appearance overseas.

It was grudgingly agreed before the turn of the millennium that senior players in “well established” marriages could be joined by their wives for a designated section of a tour of six or more weeks. And even then they would have to earn the privilege by racking up enough points with, as I recall, five being awarded for a Test match and two for an ODI. Once you’d reached 50 the United Cricket Board would pay for an airfare.

In fairness, apart from the antiquated sense of morality which lay behind this attitude, there were some genuine concerns which were borne out a decade later when attitudes had been relaxed enough to included girlfriends – and one player arrived at the airport with a troublesome filly he’d met in a nightclub three days earlier.

But back in 1998 the board had a problem. The first wives were being allowed on tours but the national vice-captain, who was engaged, was not permitted to take his fiancée to India. Kirsten was more than disappointed – he was angry.

“This is the woman I’m going to spend the rest of my life with, we’re in love and would like to be together. I’m bound to play better if we are together…I don’t want to go away and not see her for seven weeks,” he said. The wheels of cricket administration did not turn quickly back then – unless Dr Ali Bacher made one of his famous unilateral decisions – which is what he did. And for the record, Gary and Deborah are still happily together with their three children.

It is now common practice for wives, girlfriends and families to join players on tour. It is no longer a moral or ethical question, it is purely logistical. The Proteas have never reached the epic proportions of an English Ashes squad ten years ago which numbered 48 with families, but there are far more wives and children than there used to be.

The wheel has now turned full circle with partners and families being banned from joining their husbands and Dads during the Champions Trophy in order to ensure full focus on the tournament. And captain AB de Villiers even said he thought it was “…a  good idea.”

But this is no return to monkdom for the players. Families and wives can be on tour for 10 days before the tournament and also during the Test series. It is simply yet another sign of how desperate the Proteas are to give themselves the best chance of finally winning an ICC trophy.


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