Eddie Barlow 1940-2005 December 31, 2005

He changed the face of South African cricket

Telford Vice
Telford Vice pays tribute to Eddie Barlow who died at the age of 65 on Friday

Eddie Barlow 'changed the whole face of South African cricket' according to Mike Procter © Getty Images
There is, in Andre Nel's razor-edged glare, the set of Graeme Smith's jaw, and Makhaya Ntini's refusal to walk when he can run, a wisp of the spirit of Eddie Barlow. South Africans have always played the game aggressively and in utter ignorance of how to take an unforced backward step. It's just the way we do things, everything.

But to Barlow, who died on Friday, goes the credit for making his compatriots realise that they could use those characteristics to win cricket matches. "He really changed the whole face of South African cricket," said Mike Procter. "I was very young then, but I played in the sides of '66 and '70 and the guys who had played just before me said Eddie was just so super-confident that it rubbed off on them.

"He did the same for me. Before that we had always been a secondary cricketing nation, but he changed our confidence and really lifted us. By '66, we had a hell of a side. It was just his character, he was such an enthusiast and he did everything 100 percent. Eddie was a superstar of the game."

To Peter Kirsten, Barlow, an illustrious Province captain and later a respected provincial coach, was a consummate leader. "He got people to play with him and for him, that was his hallmark," Kirsten said. "He admitted that he was never in the class of Graeme Pollock or Barry Richards, but he had incredible self-belief and he was able to communicate that to his opponents and to his teammates."

And, almost as importantly, to the public. "He drew thousands of people to Newlands on Monday afternoons," Kirsten said. Barlow was Kirsten's mentor when, aged 18, he was blooded in the star-spangled Western Province team of the 1970s. "It was a thoroughly enjoyable era for me, I was brought up by guys like him," Kirsten said. "Something was always going to happen when he was around, things were never dull."

Indeed. Barlow once had a telegram delivered on the field to his captain, Ali Bacher, begging for a bowl. Another time, having been roused by a late-night ruckus down the corridor in the Province team's hotel, Barlow banged on the door of the offending room. It was opened to reveal his players entertaining a slew of strangers. All had bottles or glasses in hand, drinking up a storm. Barlow thundered: "I'm going to call the police!" One of the strangers spoke up sheepishly: "Uh, we are the police."

He spoke out against Apartheid at a time when it was potentially damaging for prominent figures in the white establishment to do so. When he wasn't doing that, or playing, or coaching, he was farming. First pigs, later wine. Kirsten remembers Barlow as a tough taskmaster. "We trained very hard under him, when practice time came there was no buggering around. "But he also had a sense of humour, that was an important part of his game, and on top of that he had an astute cricket brain."

That brain kept ticking over long after Barlow retired as a player, and in the early 1990s he authored the "Three Plus Plan" and thrust it at influential figures in South African cricket. The plan implored teams to strive to score no fewer than three runs an over in first-class matches. "He was aggressive, but he wasn't over the top," Kirsten said. "He played the game similarly to the way the Australians do, without the rude sledging."

For Pat Symcox, Barlow was "ahead of his time regarding motivating people and believing in himself". "He had an extreme passion for the game, and he had the will to win all of the time," Symcox said. "People who are able to marry their character with their style of play are often successful, and he was one of them."

Was Barlow's contribution evident in the modern South African team? "There's a thread of continuity there, definitely," Symcox said. "Every past player will leave a piece on the table for all of us to share, if we choose to use it.

"For me, Graeme Smith epitomises the way Eddie played, definitely." How about Nel? "Eddie controlled his aggression pretty well," Symcox replied after a moment's careful thought. Would that, on the eve of the Sydney Test match, give Smith and all his men pause for thought and reflection on the life of Edgar John Barlow?