Beloved by a generation of schoolboys and older boys alike, Sid O'Linn was the lesser-known half of the famous LF Palmer Sports of Johannesburg, his chirpy partner in the business being the wicketkeeper Johnny Waite. The shop was first located in the CBD but then moved to an ivy-covered nook at the Wanderers Stadium on Corlett Drive, becoming a much-loved city institution in the process.
If Waite wasn't on hand to offer advice about bat grip and pick-up, O'Linn was. He was a reserved, dapper man and, like Waite, affected a short-back-and-sides, cardigans and Hush Puppies. His service was as immaculate as his frequently used forward defensive and he was always eager to chat about the swirls of the contemporary game. Visiting LF Palmer was both a shopping expedition and a walk through the looking glass - an adventure looked forward to for weeks.
O'Linn was famous as a footballer long before he attained similar status as a cricketer. In 1947 he went with the Springboks to Australia and, later that year, he and Stuart Leary found their way to Charlton Athletic in London, arriving from Southampton just in time to be whisked off to see a home game against Grimsby Town. The match was played in heavy rain, with 35,000 diehard supporters tucked in to their trench coats lining the terraces. The Cape Town colonials couldn't believe their eyes.
Having made an instant impression with a goal against Huddersfield on debut (O'Linn was on the subs bench but was called into action at the last minute) he settled down to ten happy seasons at the Valley. A bustling inside-right, his contract ran to 60 pages. It stipulated that there was to be no drinking or dancing after Wednesdays; riding a bicycle or motorbike was forbidden and skating was expressly prohibited. Post-war rationing was in full swing. O'Linn, Leary - and a host of other South Africans, like Dudley Forbes, the Firmani brothers, Eddie and Peter, and John Hewie - became used to eating eel, whale steaks and rabbit.
For all his dash as a footballer and obduracy as a left-hand batsman, there was more to O'Linn than met the eye. Born in the desert of the Karoo in 1927 as Sidney O'Linsky, he probably thought it prudent to reinvent himself as a gentile
When O'Linn wasn't watching Eddie Firmani banging in goals for Charlton Athletic, he was deputising for Godfrey Evans at Kent. In the middle of July 1952, he took a fighting, five-hour hundred off a more than handy Surrey attack featuring Alec Bedser, Stuart Surridge, Jim Laker and Tony Lock. Surrey went on to win that season's County Championship with three matches to play, so the innings might have signalled an arrival; it didn't. He drifted in and out of the Kent side, never being awarded his county cap. Some, like Forbes, believed it was because he had a rebellious streak and refused to address Kent captains as "Mister".
In 1957, O'Linn moved up from the Cape to Johannesburg, taking up a clerical post with British Petroleum after his long stint at Charlton. With his summers free, he played with Waite at Transvaal, and in the final trial to pick the 1960 side to England, he put the selectors in a quandary by scoring a hundred and a 90 for the weaker of the two sides. "Sid never looked very good," Waite once told me. "He was awkward and had this funny backlift. Still, he made those runs [in the Kingsmead trial] and couldn't be left out, so the buggers were forced to pick him.
"They came up with this absurd idea that no wives or girlfriends were going to be allowed to tour. That complicated things because although Sid and his wife had separated, she was living in England at the time and they were bound to have met while he was on tour. I remember him coming round and begging me to come to his in-laws' with him because he was going to formally divorce her, he was so desperate to play. After he broke the news they chucked us out. They were pretty bloody bitter and twisted, I can tell you."
Although O'Linn played in all five Tests in England, the tour was an unhappy one. The trip was shadowed by the Geoff Griffin no-ball affair, and the manager, Dudley Nourse, lacked the soft touch required to step delicately around the anti-apartheid demonstrators. Having lost the first Test by 100 runs and the second at Lord's by an innings, it was always going to be an emotionally sapping tour. Too much fell to Jackie McGlew, the captain.
After batting at No. 7 in the first Test and No. 3 in the second, O'Linn, came good in the third. With South Africa behind by 199 runs on the first innings, he scored 98 patient runs, taming Freddie Trueman and combining in a seventh-wicket partnership of 109 with Waite. The heroics weren't quite enough: while England were forced to bat again, they glided easily to an eight-wicket win. With it, they pocketed the series.
For all his dash as a footballer and obduracy as a left-hand batsman, there was more to O'Linn than met the eye. He was born in the great desert of the Karoo in 1927 as Sidney O'Linsky, and probably thought it prudent to reinvent himself as a gentile. This he did with a certain shrewd facility, whether giving selectors an offer they couldn't refuse or by dispensing carefully listened-to advice to star-struck little boys on the shop floor.
Luke Alfred is a journalist based in Johannesburg