No. 24 June 19, 2010

South Africa are isolated

Andre Odendaal
Not only was a great team chopped down in its prime, the two decades of exile forced the establishment to address the evils of discrimination


For 22 years late last century, South Africa did not play Test cricket. From the time South Africa whitewashed Australia 4-0 in 1970 to November 1991, when the "new South Africa" played India, the country was isolated internationally.

In the 81 years before 1970, only white cricketers were allowed to represent South Africa, and the team's 172 Tests and 42 series were all against the white countries of the British empire. Then MCC and Australia were forced to call off scheduled tours, unable to ignore prevailing international opinion in a recently decolonised world.

The impacts of isolation were wide-ranging. At the most visible level, a great team, including the likes of Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Eddie Barlow and the peerless Graeme Pollock, was chopped down in its prime. Far more importantly, though, the white cricket establishment had to start addressing the historical discrimination against black cricketers who had been excluded for so long.

However, the focus of the privileged remained readmission for themselves rather than fundamental redress. Instead of the decisive movement forward, they timidly followed the government line.

Unable to co-opt the majority of black cricketers or to persuade the ICC to lift the Test ban, the cricket establishment took the route of rebel tours in the 1980s. With the support of PW Botha, millions of rand of taxpayers' money were spent on luring top players in England, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia away from official Test cricket.

But this was not the answer either. Apartheid itself had to go. Finally, in 1990, negotiations started, on and off the field, leading to political democracy and unity in cricket. At the personal request of Nelson Mandela, South Africa was admitted to the ICC and Test cricket in 1991.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    imagine spending 80 years only playing Australia, New Zealand ans England how boring that must be those were the only countrys they played prior to 1991-92 season when they came back to test cricket against the West Indies

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2010, 11:29 GMT

    Its a matter of great shame that the world could not see great talents like Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock..who otherwise would have been counted today as among greatest cricketers ever!!!

  • Mick on June 20, 2010, 11:09 GMT

    A few reasons' as to why the 1970 South Africans' are way overated: 1) They demolished a team that had spent the prior six months on a tour of India;2) They never came up against the 74-75 Australians' (Thommo before his operation,Lillee,Ian Chappell, etc);They never would have with stood the assault of the 78-84 Windies (and yes,not the 3rd rate team that featured in the Rebel series) and add Pakistan/India with Imran,Kapil,Gavasker,Abbas and to a lesser extent England/New Zealand with fighters such as Snow,Botham,Gower,Willis,Brearley,Boycott,Hadlee,Howarth,Snedden,Smith etc leads me to believe that there are a fair few rose coloured glasses types that perpetuate the long held myth that South Africa would've dominated world cricket! To be the best,you would need to have played ALL test playing nations,at home and away over either a 3 or 5 test series as was the norm.And,as we all know,Vorster,Botha etc would not have allowed that! Keep the myth alive amongst yourselves!!

  • diren on June 20, 2010, 8:23 GMT

    very informative article, but very sad also great players we robbed of the chance to create history and it was a major setback for cricket in that country, im sure if SA were not banned for those 22 years they would have dominated world cricket right up to today...imangine a more powerful protea team....scary

  • Avi on June 20, 2010, 6:16 GMT

    I coach a cricket team at a school in New Zealand, and my boss is a South African who has coached extensively and played in South Africa in the isolation period. We share the same regret- that fans were denied the chance to see the world championship of the 1970s between South Africa and West Indies.

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