Cricket: First Cornhill Test: MCC flags down a symbol of hope

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The Independent Online
THE South Africans discovered yesterday that their country's spirit of reconciliation and understanding had yet to penetrate the final frontier as their cherished new flag was banned by the MCC.

The multi-coloured flag, a vibrant symbol of hope in a country that places undue emphasis on symbols, was waved by the team coach Mike Procter when Kepler Wessels completed his century on Thursday evening.

Yesterday morning, however, there was a knock on the dressing room door and Roger Knight, MCC secretary, informed Procter that such behaviour was 'not the done thing old boy' and would he desist? It followed on from Archbishop Desmond Tutu being given a hard time trying to enter the pavilion without a jacket and tie.

Given that the match tickets bear the old South African flag - rejected by the new government as being inextricably linked to the apartheid era - it all seemed rather insensitive.

'We are very disappointed about it,' Fritz Bing, their manager, said. 'It is very unfortunate - we will of course regard by MCC rules but I can't see any harm in it myself.

'It was a wonderful sight to see Mike waving the flag when Kepler scored his hundred. The pictures of it were fantastic. Apparently we are not allowed even to display it on the balcony. It seems a shame.'

Knight said: 'The regulations are the same for players as for spectators. Yesterday was a special occasion so we turned a blind eye, but I had a quiet word this morning.'

Procter added: 'It is the first flag we have had which represents the whole of South Africa and we are proud to show it. We intend to fly it at the other Test grounds but here we have to respect the rules. It was kind of Roger Knight to allow us to fly it yesterday.'

Although a variety of flags are displayed from official flagpoles, none are customarily draped from the players' balcony. England, a surprised team manager Keith Fletcher said, have never even considered doing so, while Australia last summer attempted only to display a XXXX banner - which was swiftly removed.

Flags and banners are banned from the rest of the ground - as much, one suspects, to prevent them covering advertising hoardings as for reasons of tradition.