Cricket: How Passmore passed his test of conscience: England A enter a field of dreams today when they play at Langa CC, a township club born of courage and commitment

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The Independent Online
EVERYBODY'S doing it. From English-speaking cricketers to Afrikaner rugby players, white South Africans are taking sport into the country's squalid and unloved townships. But one man was doing before it became trendy, when townships were to be avoided and, if possible, ignored. When the only sport in them was football, played on rubbish-strewn waste ground with tatty balls.

Today, in the last of three township matches, the England A team will pay their own tribute to the late John Passmore with a match against a Western Province Invitation XI at the ground he established and which is now named after him.

Passmore, a veteran of World War Two campaigns from Tobruk to Burma, first visited Langa 23 years ago after South Africa had been thrown out of international cricket and ordered to create opportunities for non-whites. The 59- year-old accountant thought he would see what sort of facilities

existed. The answer was none, the government, busy trying to herd blacks into economically unsustainable 'homelands', discouraged anything that might give the townships an air of permanence.

So Passmore began another campaign, one which would occupy him until his death two years ago, to create a cricket ground and cricketers in the township. It would earn him the name 'kaffirboetie' (black-lover) from whites and loving trust from those he helped. When Langa was in revolt during the 1985 state of emergency he still drove his old Austin into the blazing township. Once he was stopped by a mob of youths who angrily surrounded the car and

demanded he open his window. When he was recognised, smiles replaced the snarls and one asked: 'Mr Passmore, please find us some more cricket bats.'

Langa CC now has three pitches, a pavilion, three senior and nine

junior teams and sent two representatives on the South African youth side that toured the West Indies last year. It has been followed by developments in three other local townships, all inspired by Passmore and continued by a trust chaired by the former South African captain and England rugby union international, Clive van Ryneveld.

There is much to be done. Until this year, for example, no black school in the Western Cape (an area the size of Wales) had a cricket pitch. It is taking time in sport, as elsewhere, to reverse four decades of statutory neglect. In that respect England's visits have been a sideshow, a symbolic reward for those involved. They have not attracted large or passionate crowds, although they have generated publicity - in Zwide, the manager, Bob Bennett, was interviewed on the black language station Radio Xhosa - and has been something of a catalyst.

The tourists should have gained as much as anyone. No one who comes to this beautiful and wealthy country can fail to be horrified by the townships. It is not the conditions, but the contrast, that appals.

For their latest match, the England captain, Hugh Morris, is rested following treatment on his troublesome right knee, but Martin Bicknell, who suffered a rib muscle injury eight days ago, will have a fitness test this morning.

John Passmore Trust (UK branch): Elgin Lodge, Elgin Road, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 8SN.