Cricket: Cricket on front foot in township of Alex: England A's first stop on their tour of South Africa highlights the progress of black players. John Perlman reports from Johannesburg
Saturday 04 December 1993
Today, nearly three years later, the people of Alex, as this township on Johannesburg's east side is universally known, will have their day with the English all right, and there probably will not be a cop in sight. That does not mean that all of South Africa's harsher realities will be hidden when Hugh Morris's England A side open their tour in Alexandra against a Transvaal Invitation XI.
The Alexandra Oval is perched high on the township's East Bank, a new section of much-better housing that looks down on the rest of the place. A smack over the bowler's head would land the ball in a neat suburban street called Springbok Crescent. But a fierce pull over midwicket would send it bouncing into a rough-and-tumble shantytown of tin shacks and open refuse heaps.
The oval has been built on an old rubbish dump. The British government was prompted to put up some of the money after Douglas Hurd attended an Alex cricket clinic and a South African company did the bulldozing for free. The grass has grown lush and green and the Astroturf wicket looks smooth and safe, as it should - it was paid for by the Bank of England.
The fact that the tour opener takes place in one of the country's poorer townships, against a team which includes five teenage products of a cricket development programme that Gatting and Co almost derailed, is significant in itself. But what is even more striking is just how relaxed cricket people are about it all.
The township programme these days has shed that desperate-to-please edge that was always there in the days of sporting isolation. The people who run it and play in it are eager rather than anxious to push ahead. That is good news for the five young men who will be up against England's (second) best.
Nobody denies that it's a big moment for them. 'It's a very important day because the people from Alex have never seen us play against a team like this,' said Walter Masemola, an Alexandra youngster who will open the attack. 'I feel very nervous but it's a big challenge,' said Geoffrey Toyana, a stylish 18- year-old left-handed opening bat who will captain a team that includes two players, the batsman Mandy Yachad and the spinner Clive Eksteen, with South African caps.
But for everyone concerned, the England A match is just a splash of colour in a much bigger picture. 'This game is great but the Michaelmas week gave me far greater pleasure,' said Imtiaz Patel, development manager for the Transvaal Cricket Board. Patel is talking about a recent tournament in Natal where a Development XI took on some of the top schools in the country. 'We won two games out of four and we had Hilton College (Mike Procter's alma mater) 110 for 6 chasing 280 when rain came down,' Patel said.
After one practice with Saturday's team, Toyana, Masemola, the opener Ahmed Omar and the Alex batsman Justice Nkutha (his twin brother Peace is 12th man) returned to their bread and butter, playing in the Beckwith week, which is used to pick the Transvaal team for the national schools tournament on 13 December. The fifth player, spinner Jacob Malao, trains with the senior provincial players.
At one time Masemola in particular was constantly being held out as a township prodigy who would one day play for South Africa. 'Initially there was pressure to deliver someone,' Patel said. 'Now we're not so worried about who it's going to be and when it happens. We know it's going to come.'
The United Cricket Board's coaching director, Khaya Majola, said: 'From juniors all the way up to under-19, there is no representative (side) selected on merit that will not include some of our development programme boys.'
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger 'optimistic' of making signing, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Edinson Cavani linked
Manchester United have two days to seal the transfer of the summer, Arsenal need to panic, Jose Mourinho right to blast Chelsea reluctance
Celtic supporters mock Fenerbahce fans' threatening 'knife' pictures with their own versions - featuring spoons and bananas
Swansea 2 Manchester United 1 player ratings: Was Andre Ayew the Swans' star man or did Bafetimbi Gomis steal the show?
Swansea City 2 Manchester United 1: Louis van Gaal walks out of press conference after being asked about transfers
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 2 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 I like Corbyn, but let's face it: we don't need another white man at the head of a political party
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...
£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...