1971 October 1, 2005

When people power sunk South Africa

We look back to the year that the actions of the Australian people led to the cancellation of a cricket tour

Anti-South Africa protests in Australia grew © The Cricketer
Aside from a few charity fundraisers, the forthcoming ICC Super Series between Australia and a World XI is the first genuine best-against-the-rest contest for almost a quarter of a century. In 1970 a Rest of the World XI played five 'Tests' against England following the cancellation of the proposed tour by South Africa, and in 1971-72 Australia hosted a similar series for the same reason.

The 1970 series was accorded Test status and marketed as such. England awarded caps, although these were subsequently removed from the record books. Spare a thought for Glamorgan's Alan Jones who made his Test debut at Lord's that summer. He made 0 and 5 and it was to be his only appearance for England - and three years later he was told it didn't count after all. He still has the cap, sweater and blazer, though.

Despite the growing global awareness of, and anger over, apartheid, the proposed tour of Australia by South Africa in 1971-72 was still officially on as late as September 1971. However, massive political unrest allied to civil disturbances inside Australia - which came to a head during South Africa's rugby tour in June that year and led to a state of emergency being declared in Queensland - made it apparent that a Test series that summer was unsustainable.

Trade union leader Bob Hawke advised his members to withold their services © Cricinfo

Grounds were swathed in two-metre high fences and barbed wire; the police struggled to retain control during matches by the Springboks, even baton charging demonstrators outside Melbourne's Olympic Park; the trade union, led by Bob Hawke - who went on to be Australia's prime minister - urged members to boycott any work associated with the tour, arguing they should "take whatever action is necessary as an act of conscience"; airlines and hotels cancelled bookings by the South Africans. The cost of protecting the tourists rocketed.

A weary Tommy Bedford, the Springboks' vice-captain, highlighted the pressure of having to tour against such a backdrop. "It's been like playing James Bond 24 hours a day. Our game lasts only 80 minutes ... but how could cricketers play Tests lasting five days?"

Back in South Africa, the cricket board did all it could to salvage the tour, even going as far as naming a squad which contained two coloured players, Dik Abed and Owen Williams. But the government refused to allow the pair to be picked - as it turned out Abed and Williams rejected the proposal anyway. On April 3 the government sponsored a match between Transvaal and The Rest to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the forming of the Republic of South Africa. After one ball all the players left the field in protest.

Police battle for control during the Springboks' rugby tour © The Cricketer
Faced with an inevitable no-violent-direct-action policy - disruption of matches, flashing mirrors to distract batsmen, blockading the team into its hotel - the Australian Cricket Board withdrew the offer to its South African counterparts seven weeks before the scheduled start. It was a bad time for world cricket as a month earlier England cancelled a planned tour of India and Pakistan because of growing security concerns. Faced with crippling financial losses, and needing opposition ahead of the 1972 Ashes tour, the Australian board had to find someone to replace South Africa. After weeks of exhausting negotiations, in early October it finally announced that it had assembled a World XI to undertake a full tour.

Reaction was, at best, lukewarm. The 1970 series in England (which was not a full tour as the side only turned out in the five Tests, returning to county duty in between matches) attracted much smaller crowds that expected, and many pundits thought that spectators would stay away in droves from what leading writer Ray Robinson described as "giggle matches".

World XI captain Garry Sobers drives on his way to 254 at Melbourne. Don Bradman said it was the best innings he had ever seen in Australia © Cricinfo
There was another problem in that the side assembled was not in any way the best of the rest. So late in the day was the series arranged that a number of players, including John Snow, Mike Procter, Barry Richards and Alan Knott, had made alternative commitments. Geoff Boycott was also absent, the irony being that he was coaching in South Africa. The 14-man squad did include Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Sunil Gavaskar, and Graeme and Peter Pollock, but it also boasted the less well-known Richard Hutton and Norman Gifford.

Despite early reservations, the tour turned out to be a financial success and attendances were good. But for a number of reasons - chiefly the expanding international cricket schedule and the hardening stance against any cricketer with any associations with South Africa - it was an experiment which was not repeated - until now.

Rest of the World squad Hylton Ackerman (RSA), Asif Masood (Pak), Bishan Bedi (Ind), Bob Cunis (NZ), Farokh Engineer (Ind), Sunil Gavaskar (Ind), Norman Gifford (Eng), Tony Grieg (Eng), Richard Hutton (Eng), Intikhab Alam (Pak), Rohan Kanhai (WI), Clive Lloyd (WI), Graeme Pollock (RSA), Peter Pollock (RSA), Garry Sobers (capt, WI), Bob Taylor (Eng), Zaheer Abbas (Pak).

South Africa squad to tour Australia in 1971-72 Ali Bacher (capt), Eddie Barlow*, Hylton Ackerman, Dassie Biggs, Grahame Chevalier, Peter de Vaal, Lee Irvine, Denis Lindsay, Graeme Pollock, Peter Pollock, Mike Proctor, Clive Rice, Barry Richards, Pat Trimborn, Vince van der Bijl.

* Eddie Barlow subsequently withdrew for business reasons and was replaced by Arthur Short.

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo