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Remember the titans

The shrine beneath the Freilinghaus Stand

An autographed picture of Peter Pollock in the area under the Freilinghaus Stand at St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, 3 May 2009
A corner of PE that is forever Pollock © Dileep Premachandran

If you grew up in the 1980s, as some of us did, it can be quite cheering to walk into a stadium where the PA system's playing "Uptown Girl", rather than one of the IPL team anthems that make you want to gouge eyes out. And there was certainly more of a buzz at St George's Park than there had been at Boardwalk on Saturday night. The excellent seafood and wine at 34 Degrees South made up for an ambience that was more pensioners' Bingo night than anything that would please the party-happy cricket fraternity.

There was much more energy in the stands on a sunny morning, especially with the band playing energetically just outside. As the teams practised a little in the build-up to the toss, many of the fans busied themselves with the food stalls under the Freilinghaus Stand. Unlike most Indian grounds, where the food is often unhygienic and inedible, not to mention hideously overpriced, these joints offer the punter plenty of variety. Those that fancy a bit of fusion can even get samosa and chips (french Fries) for just 11 rand.

The most remarkable thing about the space under the stand, though, is the collection of pictures on the walls. You can see the team that won the Champion Bat tournament in 1884, and also the XI that took on Major Warton's XI in 1889. There are also images of coloured and Indian sides, full of players denied the opportunity of representative honours by a racist regime. And Kevin Pietersen thought he had it tough.

The most eye-catching snapshots are of the Pollock brothers - Peter caught in delivery stride and Graeme smashing one to the square-leg boundary. Both pictures are autographed, and it says much about the fans in this part of the world that not one image has been defaced with graffiti. No "Harry loves Sally" or "I wuz here".

Graeme played in some of the rebel tours of the 1980s. A friend of mine shared memories of watching the West Indians of 1982-83. Lawrence Rowe, Collis King and friends had been tempted by fistfuls of rand, but they had to sit outside rather than use all the facilities available at the ground. When I spoke to Rowe in Jamaica during the World Cup, he talked of how the tour, maligned as it was, had opened black eyes to the possibilities of cricket, and my friend didn't disagree, even though it was Franklyn Stephenson, prince among uncapped allrounders, that she remembered best.

Perhaps in the years to come, history will see the rebels in a kinder light, and accept how it was almost impossible for men eking out a living on carpenters' wages and the like to turn down untold riches. They had no IPL either. Compared to some of the Puff Daddys picking up money for nothing in the veld, Stephenson, King and Yagga Rowe were titans. Rebels or not.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

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