July 2004 - English rebel tour to South Africa, 1989

Rebels take a step too far

Nick Hoult
The 1980s was the era of rebel tours

The 1980s was the era of rebel tours. In 1989 Dr Ali Bacher, South African cricket's leading administrator, planned one more trip. A tour by an English team was proposed. As Australia regained the Ashes in style the England team was being torn apart by the lure of the South African rand. An English team had already toured South Africa in 1981. They were followed by the biggest coup of them all, a West Indies team in 1982 and an Australian side under Kim Hughes in 1985.

Ali Bacher: 'I felt that apartheid would be around for the rest of my life' © Getty Images
Ali Bacher In the 1980s I felt that apartheid would be around for the rest of my life which meant we would be isolated for life. I was also a professional cricket administrator and it was my job was to keep the game alive in South Africa. The game was stagnating in my country.

The summer of 1989 began with England favourites to retain the Ashes. Australia were dominant from the start and the summer was played out against a backdrop of innuendo over the rebel tour, recruited by off-spinner John Emburey.

AB My first contact was with John Emburey in Johannesburg in 1988-89. He was the first point of contact for me but thereafter he quickly handed that responsibility over to David Graveney. It took about a year to plan and execute.
Angus Fraser (who made his Test debut in 1989): The Middlesex dressing room was full of it. John Emburey was testing the water and checking whether people would be interested. I was aware something was taking place well before it came out during the Old Trafford Test.
Roland Butcher I was in the middle of my benefit year and I was coming towards the end of my career. I thought I would not be playing for too much longer and my initial inclination was to take the offer.

After losing the first Test, England were thumped in the second. At Edgbaston the rain saved England, but plans for the rebel tour were well underway.

AF I made my debut at Edgbaston and I sensed there was something being discussed. There were clandestine chats going on and it was a distraction. They were chatting at the back of the dressing room and not at the front so Micky Stewart wouldn't hear them.
Micky Stewart (England coach): I suspected things here and there. I fronted up to a few players and they were not in a position to tell me the facts. I knew there was something not quite right.
David Gower (England captain): I had no idea what was going on. The similarity between 1981 and 1989 was that the England captain didn't know what was going on. The captain of England would never sanction anything that threatened his team so I was not told. People had to make a decision over whether or not they took the offer or stayed loyal to England.

Players were to be paid between £80,000 to £100,000 for tours in 1989-90 and 1990-91. The tours were to be financed through gate receipts in South Africa and television contracts.

Bruce French: They wanted a wicketkeeper. I had been out of the game for a year through injury and Jack Russell had come into the England side. It looked difficult to get back. I thought I would earn more from the tour than playing international cricket.

It was on the fourth day of the Old Trafford Test that the news of the tour was finally made public. Three players - Tim Robinson, Emburey and Neil Foster were playing in the match.

David Gower, England captain at the time: 'I had no idea what was going on' © Getty Images
AF It gathered momentum and we knew it would come out during the Test. It shattered the dream. I can understand those that wanted one last pay day. Neil Foster's knees had gone and he knew it made sense to take the money but he bowled with tears in his eyes at Old Trafford.
DG Ted Dexter (chairman of selectors) and Micky Stewart knew something about it but decided not to tell me. It was another thing on a long list of things they did not tell me that summer. The first thing I knew about it was that weekend in Manchester when it became public knowledge. Finally they (Dexter and Stewart) took me into a room and said there was something they wanted to tell me. I ended up having to go out on to the field knowing the Ashes were almost lost and with some of my players playing their last game.
RB I have always wanted to know how the news leaked out. The meetings were supposed to be confidential and we were told to keep it very quiet. We had our final meeting when we all agreed to the tour and that the news would come out at the end of the season. But the very next day I was approached at Lord's by the chairman of selectors who asked me what I knew about the rebel tour. A newspaper then named all 16 players and got all 16 right. I would love to know how they got those names.

The implosion of the England team was the final victory for Australia who easily wrapped up the Ashes at Old Trafford. The rebel party, captained by Mike Gatting, included two black players - Phil DeFreitas and Roland Butcher. Their presence in the squad sparked immediate outcry.

RB There was a furore straightaway. I was put under a lot of pressure by friends and family. My benefit committee resigned and it kind of snowballed. I was surprised. I thought there might be opposition but the depth of feeling was amazing.

Butcher and DeFreitas quickly pulled out of the tour.

AB Initially I thought it would be important to have the two black players in the squad. Now I'm glad they withdrew as they would have been under more pressure than anyone else.
RB I had to do a lot of negotiating to get out of the contract and it cost me a lot of money in legal fees. I know I did the right thing though.
AF To see Paul Jarvis and Matthew Maynard take the money was really why they never fulfilled themselves. If they were looking to take the easy option at that stage of their career it was an indication they were not going to survive at Test level. I felt sorry for Gatt though. He did not want to go but he felt let down by England over the captaincy and he just wanted to stick two fingers up at them.

Times were changing in South Africa. Apartheid was dying. Public demonstrations became legal for the first time and the tour became a political issue.

Roland Butcher: 'I thought there might be opposition but the depth of feeling was amazing' © Getty Images
AB We had lived in a cocoon. The other tours had been played in a serene atmosphere so we thought everyone in the country was happy with the tours. FW de Klerk [South African president] then made a big announcement which made demonstrations legal. The blacks came in their thousands to demonstrate against Mike Gatting's side and made clear their hostility to the tour. From the moment the tour was announced and until it was cancelled there were hostile protests.

Demonstrations greeted England's every move on the tour. Gatting was thrust into a political situation he neither understood nor knew how to handle. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison the tour was effectively over.

AB I think the England team were bewildered by it all. Had we known the tour would anger the majority of people we would have thought twice about it.
AF During the last World Cup we had Ali Bacher demanding England go to Zimbabwe for the good of South Africa and his World Cup. But he did not give a damn about English cricket when the rebel tour was going on which made it difficult for me to feel sympathy for him when his big day did not go according to plan.

This article was first published in the July issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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