Leading Edge: When people played cricket

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

TWO reporters looked at each other balefully in the pressbox at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados after stumps on April 19, 1992. What to do?

A century had been scored, the centurion had given a press conference, and they weren’t able to attend because they were on deadline and busy filing other stories.

In that different world of clunky tape recorders and landline telephones, there was no internet from which to crib the quotes. So, what to do?

The reporters shrugged, said what the hell, and did something that could get them arrested these days.

They walked up to the dressingroom door. One of them knocked. Presently, the team manager peered at them.

“Ja?”

“Howzit ‘Jorrie’. Sorry man, but we were busy when ‘Hudders’ had his presser. Could we have a chat with him?”

Alan Jordaan glared at the more familiar of the two faces, turned his head sideways without stepping out of the doorway, and boomed sharply across the dressingroom in the thickest of Afrikaans accents: “Hurrez! Two-okesyawannatalktoyou. Wannatalktothem?”

The other reporter, an Englishman then of the Daily Telegraph, looked at his Seffrican colleague-in-arms with confusion and disappointment. Whatever that slew of words slung so aggressively meant, things did not sound promising.

What the man from the Telegraph could not have known is that Jordaan always glared and boomed. He was the friendliest, most helpful man a cricket reporter could hope to meet. But he looked and sounded like a hungover pitbull.

Silence … Then laboured shuffling …

After what sounded like a complicated journey of a few metres, Andrew Hudson appeared at the door and smiled broadly.

He was hobbling because he had been hit behind his left knee by Patrick Patterson, but he was happy to stand there and talk for 15 minutes.

Hudson was 135 not out on debut in the first test SA had played in 22 years against opponents who still had the aura of the most fearsome fast bowling force known to cricket, replete with giants like Ambrose and Walsh.

If you were Hudson would anyone have been able to stop you from talking about that innings even if, after being smacked by Patterson, your leg had fallen off and been stuffed foot first down your throat?

Cricket – big cricket, in SA and everywhere else – no longer lives in that real world. Its culture has been degraded into something that is seen and heard on its own terms exclusively, a weirdness of rights floggers and buyers, of cynically guarded agents and telegenic, pampered WAGs, a place of cold facts and even colder stats.    

Were those reporters to try to pull the same stunt today, security guards would stop them long before they reached the dressingroom door.

That hurdle cleared, they would have to negotiate their way past the squad of functionaries cricket seems to hire first and find jobs for later.

Only then might the relevant player be asked, gingerly, whether he would go way above and far beyond the call of professional duty.

More likely he wouldn’t be asked. Instead, the reporters would be tut-tutted and told to pick up the audio file from a website, where it would land hours after deadline.

That’s if there was an audio file to be had. Batsmen, over protected species that they are, have invented a bizarre rule about not talking to the media if they are not out in an ongoing innings. Not talking to the press, that is: they happily talk to television, who have of course paid for the rights.

So, thanks Jorrie. Thanks Hudders. Wish you were here.

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