April 15, 2007

Rendezvous with a rebel

Dileep_Premachandran
Emmerson Trotman batting at Cape Town during the West Indies rebel tour of South Africa, January 15, 1983
 © AllSport UK Ltd
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A Friday night in Barbados, and most people you talk to ask you to head to Oistins. The seafood stalls there are something of an island institution and you realise that as soon as you get there, with a throng of people waiting for their plates. I settle for the grilled dolphin, and we’re joined at the dinner table by someone who might have been playing in this World Cup had things gone his way.

Gulam Bodi was born in India, but has played all his cricket in South Africa. Most hadn’t heard of him until Kevin Pietersen teed off against the selection policies that forced him out of KwaZulu-Natal, and few would be aware that Bodi too has left Durban, to play for the powerful Titans franchise at Centurion. A left-hand batsman who also bowls a decent chinaman, Bodi is in Barbados just to watch the final stages and cheer his compatriots on. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, he remains confident that South Africa can beat Australia and make the final.

Large fish steaks washed down with the local Banks, we head to De Oval Cricket Entertainment Village for Reggae Explosion. It’s 70 Barbadian dollars to get in and we’re more than a little disappointed at the some of the music, which is definitely closer to the hip-hop genre than anything that Bob Marley or Peter Tosh might have come up with.

As Baby Cham, Lust and Sanchez entertain a slowly building crowd, Craig Marais – who works for the South African Broadcasting Corporation – and I decide to have a look around. That’s when we bump into a fairly short and stocky man, dressed in loose white shirt and colourful orange trousers. Emmerson Trotman is nursing a beer and swaying to the tune being belted out from the stage. Craig, who played first-class cricket in South Africa, knows him well, having been coached by him in Cape Town.

Nearly a quarter-century on, the rebel tour to South Africaremains a hugely controversial subject in these islands. Trotman was one of those in a squad captained by Lawrence ‘Yagga’ Rowe, an opening batsman and wicketkeeper who could also bowl a bit. He has lived the last 31 years in the Netherlands, and spent most winters coaching in South Africa. Mark Boucher was “one of my East London boys,” he tells you with real pride.

Predictably though, much of the conversation centres around the rebels and how good they were. Franklyn Stephenson was an allrounder of genuine quality, as was Collis King, and though Rowe was past his best, the team still had Alvin Kallicharran. Many of the players were ostracised on their return to the islands, and several went on to make a living from coaching in South Africa.

Trotman went on to coach the Netherlands for eight years until 2004, leading them to a ICC Trophy, but he’s at his most voluble when talking about the coaching work done by the likes of Malcolm Marshall [at Natal],Eldine Baptiste and Stephenson. “I wonder how much West Indies cricket lost out with you guys helping increase the standard of the game in South Africa,” says Craig, and Trotman nods slowly.

He will apply for the job of coaching West Indies, but has little hope of getting it. It remains one of sport’s great paradoxes that a region that has given cricket so many of its all-time greats has seldom felt compelled to use their expertise to further the game in the Caribbean.

Later, as we move on to an open-air bar in the St Lawrence Gap, Trotman points to a corner stool right next to the bar. “He comes and sits there all the time,” he says, talking about David Murray. Craig says that there are many in South Africa who think Murray was the best wicketkeeper that they ever watched, even better than Ray Jennings who also played in the matches against the West Indian rebels. These days, he’s an empty shell of a man, a cautionary tale of drug and alcohol abuse, but those that knew him when the future was bright still wonder what might have been.

As for Trotman, he’s only in Barbados for a three-week holiday, a time to catch up with the family and friends that he left behind half a life ago. “Did the re bel tour affect the way people looked at him in Barbados?” He smiles, shakes his head, and says, “No man.” “But you never came back here, did you?” A shadow of sadness flashes across his face before he answers. “No, man. I never did.”

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dileep Premachandran
Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.

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