Sriram Veera is a former staff writer at ESPNcricinfo
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Port Elizabeth is the oldest Test ground in South Africa. They let you know it too. Sepia-toned photographs hang on every wall. History screams at you. Look at this picture: Leribe, Basotholand 1934 - African kids playing cricket. By the look of things, they seem to have been over-coached. The batsman’s front elbow is appropriately high and the slip fielders are crouching perfectly.
There's the first grandstand picture from 1884 and assorted vignettes. Then there are a series of old newspaper cuttings, which deal with apartheid, the subsequent abolition of cricket tours and sporting isolation of South Africa. It’s a well-known story that I won’t go into here. What caught the eye, though, was the absolutely trivial, and hence funny, news items that were right next to the serious life-changing news of apartheid in the sporting world.
Sample this from August 1971: The Eastern Province Herald capturing the socio-political drama in just two words. “Tour Off”. Another headline shouts “Cricketers stress need to speak out - Transvaal cricketer Mackay-Coghill urges his fraternity to fight. Below it is pure farce: “Sex symbol injured in film fight.” The copy reads: “Raquel Welch, the leading sex symbol who is playing the role of a roller-coasting star in the film Kansas City Bomber, suffered from a cut lip and a swollen wrist after being hit too realistically in an action sequence. The over-enthusiastic slugger was Helena Kallianiotes.”
Another one. The headline is “Racial split on Cheetham plan disappoints.” The then all-white South African Cricket Association (SACA) president, Cheetham, suggested two black players be included for the tour to Australia. But the government immediately rejected the plan and even anti-apartheid activists objected to it as tokenism.
Below that is another farce. Fisherman Giovanni, who believes in preparing for death, went to a carpenter and bought a coffin made to measure. He sleeps in coffin every night to “run it in” and spends much of the day on his knees polishing it. It cost him 135 rands, his entire life savings. Oh well.