TELFORD VICE, Durban
TIME was when the members at Kingsmead in Durban would eat lunch under a pair of Vince van der Bijl’s bowling boots hanging precariously by their laces from a nearby wall.
Van der Bijl towered over South African provincial cricket scene in the 1970s and early 80s, and not only because he took 767 first-class wickets at an average of 16.54.
At 2.02 metres tall, he looked more like a lock forward than a fast bowler. Feet big enough to lug his outsized frame around the ground needed big boots – and there they were at Kingsmead, threatening to drop spikes first into bain maries of butter chicken.
How big were the boots?
“They’re handmade so it’s difficult to say,” Van der Bijl, now based in Dubai as the International Cricket Council’s senior umpires’ and referees’ manager, said this week. “In UK terms, they’re size 17, or 16-and-a-half in SA sizing.”
Van der Bijl became a household name for his exploits with the ball and his comic ineptitude as a batsman. At least, he did in white households. Like everything else in the South Africa of that era, sport was racially segregated.
And when the history of the game in this country has been hammered into the walls of places like Kingsmead, memories of white cricket have been hung higher than that of blacks, if the latter have been showcased at all. That’s despite the fact that blacks have been playing cricket in South Africa for more than a century.
So welcome change was afoot at Kingsmead during the first test between South Africa and England this week when the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union (KZNCU) opened a new, more inclusive museum.
Van der Bijl’s boots are there. In fact, aside from the obligatory thicket of ancient bats, they are easily the biggest items on display.
Caps, sweaters, stumps, balls, batting gloves, letters and scrapbooks of notable provenance have also been catalogued, labelled and mounted around what used to be the press’ dining room at the northern or Umgeni River end of the ground.
Apartheid-era batsman Barry Richards is among the province’s most celebrated cricketing sons, and he does feature in the museum. But several years ago Richards took back memorabilia he had donated to Kingsmead when he discovered an autographed photograph of him and Donald Bradman in a pool of water behind a bar.
However, KZNCU president Faeez Jaffer said the “door is open” to all players: “As cricketers we need to stand united. It’s unfortunate that at times the wrong message has gone out.”
Richards said he was open to giving mementoes of his career in South Africa, England and Australia to the museum: “I’ve got no problem with that. I’ve got stuff spread around the world, but I’ll have a dig around at home and see what I can find.”
Currently, pride of place in the museum has been given to cabinets that will house some 3500 books collected over 43 years by Krish Reddy, a cricket historian and statistician, which have been purchased by Cricket South Africa.
“I have a couple of degrees but this is the greatest education I have had,” Reddy said of his collection.
Among the books are copies of the only three editions of the South African Non-European Cricket Annual, which were published sporadically in the 1950s and 60s.
But there is comparatively little on show to record the long history of cricket as played by blacks in South Africa, which has been ongoing since the 1850s. Like access to decent playing facilities, equipment and coaching, blacks were denied the resources to record their cricket history properly.
Still, slim brochures that were often produced as programmes and now sit atop rows of Kingsmead’s bookcases that are filled with works that chronicle cricket around the world, represent what Reddy called “the largest comprehensive collection of writing on black cricket”.
Reddy hoped the museum could become “a repository of a fusion of our different pasts”.
“I know that at times it has been a sad and angry past, but it has brought us together,” he said.
The project, which was realised on a budget of R65 000, was driven by Jaffer with help from veteran administrator Cassim Docrat and historians Goolam Vahed and Ashwin Desai.
Previously, the KZNCU would earn revenue from hiring out the same space for functions. Jaffer said a key point in repurposing the venue was reached when administrators asked themselves, “Can we put a price on our history?”
No. Or, as Reddy said, “You can bring your children here and say, ‘Grandpa played in this tournament in ’51. Look – there’s his photo’.”