Johannesburg - Watching schoolboy cricket on a regular basis, former SA Test captain and administrator Ali Bacher told his alma mater this week he was disturbed by the increasing gamesmanship which had crept into the sport at junior level.
“Cricket has been my life and my passion and I’ve been privileged to have been associated with the game at all different levels,” Bacher told pupils of King Edward VII School (KES) in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“Over the past five years, for various reasons, I’ve watched a lot of school cricket in Gauteng - at primary and high school level - and two things stand out in my mind.
“The first is the extraordinary talent I see out there and the second is a very disquieting feature of the game.”
Bacher said he was mesmerised by the talent he witnessed every weekend and it left him satisfied that the future of cricket in the country was in good hands.
“Cricket is strong and there is a lot of passion, not only among the boys playing the game, but in their parents as well.
“But I see a very disturbing aspect which I’ve never seen before and that is the incessant chirping which borders on sledging. I see it continuously every single weekend when I go and watch cricket.”
Sledging is a term used in cricket to describe the practice of players seeking to gain advantage by insulting and thereby distracting a batsman, causing him to make a mistake and lose his wicket.
Bacher, who played Test cricket between 1965 and 1970 and played for Transvaal from the age of 17, said he had not seen or heard anything like it before.
“It wasn’t part of the game that I played - and I reckon I played it as hard as anybody.
“I’m not sure what the rationale behind it is. It seems to be a new phenomenon at school level throughout the country.”
He said he was aware youngsters witnessed their heroes chirping in international cricket on television. Cameras captured every detail while stump microphones and replays left nothing to the imagination.
“It is abusive and personal. Ultimately, what is happening is that young cricketers are using this strategy to undermine the confidence of a batsman - it’s about winning at all costs.
“I don’t buy it and I’ve never bought it. I’ve played with some world class, tough cricketers - Mike Procter, Peter and Graeme Pollock and Eddie Barlow to name but a few - and it was never part of our culture.”
In a recent interview with Clive Rice, Bacher said they had discussed the subject and shared a growing concern over this dubious method of gaining the upper hand.
“Because of South Africa’s isolation at the time, Clive was never really seen on the international stage. Had he been given the opportunities which are around today, he would have been regarded as one of the greatest all-rounders the world has ever seen,” Bacher said.
“He was as tough a competitor as you’ll ever meet and he agreed the level of chirping in school cricket was unacceptable.”
Rice made his first-class debut in 1969, a year before South Africa's last Test series prior to isolation. He played for Transvaal and Nottinghamshire through the 1970s and 80s, and his punishing batting style and genuine pace earned him a contract in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.
“Clive told me when he walked out onto the field of play, he wanted to be remembered for his skills as a cricketer and not for what may or may not have said.”
Bacher said he was conveying this message to pupils at KES - the alma mater of a number of Proteas players, including incumbent Test captain Graeme Smith - in the hope that they would set an example and be seen as leaders in good sportsmanship (playing by the rules).
“KES has stature and a good record. It is a great institution, not only in Gauteng but throughout South Africa and all I ask of you - the headmaster and the pupils - is to set the standard.
“As a cricketing institution of note, you can reflect upon what I’ve said and maybe, sooner rather than later, you can set an example and help stamp it out. I believe it would be in the best interests of cricket in this country.”