'Prime minister Hawke called us traitors'

The Australian rebel tour to South Africa had its share of controversy, but it also sparked the emergence of future stars from both countries

Interviews by Crispin Andrews |

After West Indies, Australia were the next high-profile country to visit South Africa for a rebel tour, in 1985

After West Indies, Australia were the next high-profile country to visit South Africa for a rebel tour, in 1985 © Getty Images

In 1985-86, a rebel Australian team led by Kim Hughes played the first of three unofficial "Test" matches against a South Africa XI. South Africa was, at the time, banned from international cricket because of apartheid. The Australian team toured South Africa again the following year, but the whole thing was actually a few years in the making.

Rodney Hogg, Australia fast bowler Australia had just got dumped out of the 1983 World Cup. We were in England and a group of us went in separate taxis to a hotel in Knightsbridge to meet Ali Bacher and a couple of others from the South African Cricket Union. There were about 10 of us, players who'd said they might be interested in playing in South Africa. Not all of those 10 players ended up going.

Mike Whitney, Australia fast bowler I was playing in the Central Lancashire League in England in 1983, for a club called Littleborough. I remember getting a call from Bruce Francis, the former Australia and New South Wales batsman, and he was one of the guys who was signing everybody up. He said it [the tour] was on, and asked if I was interested.

Hogg I was pretty much in from day one. I was in my mid-30s, and the idea was that the tour wouldn't happen for another year or two. Had it been on in 1983, I'd have been less interested as I was still in the Test side and doing well at the time.

"Australia didn't have the strongest team in the world, but they were tough competitors, always up for a beer afterwards" Garth le Roux

Whitney I broke down with an injury in 1983-84, couldn't play during the Australian season and decided to go to South Africa on a backpacking trip, to catch up with some people who I'd travelled with around Europe.

It was a very interesting experience, seeing that I had fairly dark-coloured skin and a mop of black curly hair. There were a couple of places where it was touch and go whether I'd be let in - until one of the South Africans I was with said that I was an Australian. I'd also seen a few nasty things going on with some black people at the hands of some white authorities. So when the rebel tour organisers spoke to me again, I told them that there was no way I could even consider going.

I remember talking to Steve Rixon about it. In his mind, his career was coming to an end. He wasn't going to play cricket for Australia again, he'd been around New South Wales for well over a decade, and was getting a bit long in the tooth. So he decided to cash up and go for it. I mean a hundred grand a tour, tax paid - that was a fortune in the mid-'80s. The ones I couldn't understand going were the likes of Carl Rackemann and Steve Smith - he was in the Australian one-day side, and on the borderline of getting in the Test side.

Carl Rackemann, Australia fast bowler I'd been in and out of the Australian side, had a few badly timed injuries, the selectors seemed to find as many reasons not to pick me as they did to pick me. There was clearly a lot of money on offer from South Africa, and at the time we weren't getting paid that much to play in Australia.

Hogg I was pretty happy with the money on offer. My career was pretty much over by then. Fast bowlers don't last forever. Prime minister [Bob] Hawke called us traitors. I thought that if it was okay for Hawke to trade with South Africa, it was okay for me to go and play cricket there.

Graeme Pollock: smashed hundreds even at 44

Graeme Pollock: smashed hundreds even at 44 © Getty Images

For the South African cricketers who had been out of international cricket since the early '70s, this tour was an another opportunity, after the rebel West Indies tour two years previously, to test themselves against top-quality opposition.

Garth le Roux, Western Province fast bowler I was 32, losing a bit of pace and aware that my career was coming to an end. I just wanted to do as well as I could and enjoy every moment.

Hugh Page, Transvaal fast bowler I was making my way in the game. We weren't allowed to play against anyone, as a team, outside of this country. When you got the opportunity, you took it. South Africa getting back into international cricket looked a long way off. To be picked in a team alongside some of the greats like Graeme Pollock, Peter Kirsten, Clive Rice - that was special.

We didn't really understand the political implications of what was going on. We were indoctrinated by the old government and didn't know what was going on with the masses.

Hogg I had no idea what was going on in South Africa. Hadn't read about it. I knew about the cricket, how Australia had been stitched up there a couple of times in the late '60s and early '70s. I'd seen Barry Richards, Clive Rice and Mike Procter play in World Series Cricket, and knew about Graeme Pollock. But that was it.

Rackemann When we got there, it was evident what was going on. The authorities tried to keep us away from things, but it was impossible to go there and not see some of what was happening.

"There was never much trouble [over the rebel tour]. Not at Queensland or when I played for Australia again. A drunk accosted me in the car park at the Gabba once" Carl Rackemann

South Africa XI won the three-match Test series 1-0 and the one-dayers 4-2.

Rackemann Where South Africa had the edge on us was their depth. They batted to 11 and had six or seven bowlers. When the second new ball came around, they always had a fresh fast bowler. It was the same if they made a breakthrough. We were five out and all out, and they were five out with plenty more to come. We didn't have the allrounders. We tried Peter Faulkner, but that didn't work.

We went after their spin bowler, Alan Kourie. Everybody had been building him up. He'd had some success against West Indies, but we belted him everywhere. He was their only weak link.

Le Roux Australia didn't have the strongest team in the world, but they were tough competitors, always up for a beer afterwards. It was war when we played, but after the game, we were fine.

Hogg When you're up against Clive Rice, you know it's the toughest game of cricket you're going to get. He was the toughest cricketer I ever played against.

Le Roux Clive was a guy who led from the front. And if you couldn't bowl the way he wanted, he'd grab the ball and show you what to do. There was nothing subtle about Ricey. He'd go at the opposition hard, get them by the throat and never let up.

Rodney Hogg:

Rodney Hogg: "I thought that if it was okay for Hawke to trade with South Africa, it was okay for me to go and play cricket there" © PA Photos

Page It wasn't the real thing. You would have wanted to play against the very best team that any country had, and I say that with respect to the guys who came out here. It wasn't really a proper South African team either. It was a white South African team.

Rackemann We competed well. Only one Test was decided, in each series.

The second series, in 1986-87, was Graeme Pollock's last on the international stage, and Allan Donald's first.

Rackemann I got Pollock out a couple of times, then I hit him on the hand, broke it, and he still came out and batted in the second innings, with one hand, and scored runs. The West Indies bowlers, who'd played in South Africa a couple of years earlier, advised me to bowl round the wicket at Graeme. He didn't move his feet much, and from over the wicket, the ball always seemed to end up in the slot for him. From round the wicket, he didn't have the footwork to adjust his position.

Page Graeme was an amazing guy and would have been able to adapt to modern cricket. Even at that age, he was competitive. He very seldom gave it away and could play shots that other guys couldn't.

"I'd seen a few nasty things going on with some black people at the hands of some white authorities. So when the organisers spoke to me again, I told them that there was no way I could even consider going" Mike Whitney

Hogg In Durban, he played and missed 40 times but didn't nick it, and went on to get a hundred. Like all great players, he never seemed to hit the fielders. He was every bit the professional. Knew exactly what he was doing. If there was a bowler who was off-colour, Pollock would be all over him. He was like a vulture.

Rackemann In the second year, Pollock had missed a few games with a broken finger, and the fourth "Test" in Port Elizabeth, his original home ground before he'd moved to Johannesburg, was billed as Pollock's last international. He hit 140-odd, aged 44. He was right up there on the top shelf of players I bowled to.

Le Roux Donald was just a young boy from Bloemfontein. His English wasn't very good at the time. He was an Afrikaans boy. He was lean and stripped and a fantastic athlete. Even back then, he could get it from A to B very quickly.

Page Rodney Hogg told Donald that he was going to bounce him straight back to school.

Carl Rackemann:

Carl Rackemann: "We were five out and all out, and they were five out with plenty more to come. We didn't have the allrounders" © Getty Images

Hogg I might have given him a word or two. Hard to remember as there was a lot of sledging. I remember Donald playing for a combined South African side. He bowled me a couple of beamers, so that would have shut me up. In later games, Donald bowled Kim Hughes twice, and Kim hardly ever got bowled. And here was this schoolboy who'd done it twice, and he didn't even own a decent pair of bowling boots.

The rebel Australians had been originally been banned for two years by the Australian Cricket Board. But with the tours over, when the 1987-88 season began, the ACB welcomed the rebels back into the fold.

Whitney Everybody in Australian cricket thought that they'd be banned for at least two years, and that the ban would start when they got back. Then the ACB announced that the ban was actually for those two seasons in South Africa. That showed real weakness on behalf of the ACB. That's when I think some of the players who didn't go got upset. They said, we didn't take the money and we stayed here and played for the baggy green cap. It didn't seem very fair.

Rackemann There was never much trouble. Not at Queensland or when I played for Australia again. A drunk accosted me in the car park at the Gabba once, but that was about it.

Hogg I was 36 when I got back from the second tour. I was done with first-class cricket by then.

Whitney There was no problem between the players. Everybody just said that the ACB had made its decision, there's no point arguing about it.

During those two years, Australia's Test team didn't win a Test series and lost back-to-back Ashes - though Allan Border's team did win the 1987 World Cup.

Whitney During those two years, guys like Steve Waugh, David Boon, Swampy [Geoff] Marsh, Dean Jones, Ian Healy came in. These guys learnt their trade and went on to become some of the greatest players of all time. If not for that tour to South Africa, some of those guys might not have got a game. They would have played later. It unearthed a plethora of quality players: Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, a wonderful group of cricketers got a game and became legends.

Did those tours help, or hinder, the cause of South African cricket?

Rackemann It kept the international game in front of the South African public. Without those tours, South Africa wouldn't have equipped themselves as well when they got back into international cricket, in the early '90s.

Hogg Anyone who says that's why they went on the tour is kidding themselves. You've never thought about helping South African cricket before, so why would you do it now?

Le Roux The politics was what it was. We could only do so much to change it.

Page I don't think the tours helped. It was part of a process. The Gatting tour in 1989-90, helped us get back into international cricket. After that we realised there was more to this than just cricket. That the majority of the people in this country didn't want the tour to happen. If I'd known then, what I know now [about what was going on in South Africa] I'd have chosen not to be part of it.

Hogg I have no regrets whatsoever about going on those tours.

 

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