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Blast from the Captain’s Bunker 15 of 2015

DALTON’S BUNKER ARTICLE SURPRISE – AN E-MAIL FROM A CHILDHOOD HERO – Vincent Van Der Bijl – One of cricket’s forgotten era! –Oh And Errol Stewart did sing!!!!

Graham Gooch beaten
as Botham watches
Vince in full cry in 1980!!

A loyal Member forwarded last week’s article on Eric Dalton to Vince Van Der Bijl who in turn sent the Club a mail which was passed onto me. There are comments in that mail that resonate with me and encapsulate far more eruditely than I can write, my understanding of legacy and heritage.

I was surprised when I spoke of the mail to an under forty-something who is very interested in sports and they had never heard of the man. I was flabbergasted as he was along with Barry Richards, one of my idols. This was a cricket love-affair that started as an 8 year old boy growing up in Durban in 1972. My dad and uncle took the one and a half hour drive to the Oval in Pietermaritzburg to watch Natal play Western Province or more accurately through the eyes of an 8 year old boy, to see his hero Barry Richards flay that pesky Robin Jackman to all 4 corners of the Oval. There were tears when we arrived 30 minutes after the start with Richards already out and Natal in dire trouble. Jackman took a hatrick and Natal were bowled out for 76 – a wasted trip to Pietermaritzburg.

Not so fast-time for a young cricket fanatic to find another hero. As cricket writer, Abhishek Mukherjee later wrote, “Then, from the shadows of the canopy of trees, emerged a tall frame of 6 feet 7½ inches, in size 14 boots. He did not snarl as he ran in. If anything, there was a hint of a smile in those twinkling eyes. He did not pound the turf as he approached the non-striker’s end – he simply flowed like a river in a silken motion that evoked more poetry than power. There was nothing intimidating about the imposing figure. Other than his accuracy, pace, bounce, and movement off the pitch, that is.”

Before they realised what had hit them, Western Province were bowled out for 121. Vincent van der Bijl had taken eight for 35 from 22.2 eight-ball overs. After Barry Richards (much to the delight of the three foot two, eight year old) had helped Natal to 263 in their second outing, Van der Bijl came back at Western Province again, taking five for 18 from 14 eight-ball overs, bowling them out for 60. Seldom has a side won by such a huge margin -158 runs in this case – after being bundled out for 76 in the first innings.

Van der Bijl had an amazing career as a fast-medium bowler. His record is staggering but sadly thanks to the policies of the Apartheid regime he never played test cricket and like so many of the great players of that era was denied the right to fully strut their stuff at the highest level. One can only imagine what the test records of Pollock, Richards, Barlow, Rice, Van der Bijl, Proctor and Hobson might have been but for isolation.

How Good was Vince?

In 156 First-Class matches, van der Bijl took 767 wickets at a staggering 16.54. He had 46 five-fors in these matches, which was once every 3.4 matches. He played First-Class cricket in 16 seasons – which included a single match each in two seasons. In the other 14, his worst bowling was 21.33 in 1972-73, and he went past the 20-mark only once more – in 1976-77.

Van der Bijl is still the leading wicket-taker in Currie Cup with 572 wickets; the next man on the list is Garth le Roux with 365 wickets – a whopping 207 behind van der Bijl. He took 65 wickets in a South African domestic season in 1975-76 – a record at that time. If one considered non-Test playing cricketers after World War I, van der Bijl has the most wickets, and the best bowling average (with a 200-wicket cut-off) in First-Class cricket.

The statistics in cricket do not lie but it is probably only when you consider the single season he spent at Middlesex in 1980 when he was in the twilight of his career that you realise how good he was.

Per the same writer:

“In 1979 van der Bijl had quit teaching, and began working for Wiggins Teape. However, with West Indies scheduled to tour England in 1980, the Middlesex team management assumed that their spearhead Wayne Daniel would be on national duty, and they sought a replacement. They signed up van der Bijl.

The Middlesex players were not happy. Mike Brearley showed his dissent at his selection, and was ready to raise it to the Committee. John Emburey asked, “who the hell is this Van der Bijl guy?” Indeed, other than his superlative bowling average (that too in a country with an unknown quality of cricket), he had nothing to show on his CV. He was 32, had almost never played in England, and was probably out of practice in what was an off-season for his country.

At the first glimpse of van der Bijl, Ian Gould told himself “how’s this old man going to cope?” He was sure that it had been an ‘outrageous signing’. After the season Gould went on to remind “he became a Middlesex legend and he was there for only a season.”

As things turned out, Daniel did not get selected for West Indies, and van der Bijl opened bowling with him against Nottinghamshire. It was a rendezvous for fast bowlers, since Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice were playing for Nottinghamshire. Van der Bijl’s first ball pitched on the leg-stump, moved off the pitch, beat the bat, and thumped into Gould’s gloves. Van der Bijl had arrived!

Van der Bijl picked up four for 62 and Daniel four for 59, and Nottinghamshire were skittled for 164. At stumps, he entered the Nottinghamshire dressing-room with a beer, and immediately realised that he was in for a cultural shock. They did not fraternise with opponents in England.

He won over a lot of supporters, both among his teammates and the crowd, both with his quality of cricket and his attitude towards the sport. His captain Mike Brearley wrote in The Art of Captaincy: “… we were lucky enough to have van der Bijl in our side; his contribution was immense, not only on the field but off it: for he tended to blame himself rather than others, and saw the best in the rest of us rather than homing in so sharply on faults. After a poor performance in the field against Kent in a Sunday League match, for instance, it was refreshing to hear van der Bijl say, ‘Sorry, men, it was all my fault, bowling those two half-volleys early on.'”

Daniel, the other Middlesex spearhead, hit off with van der Bijl almost immediately. When the lanky South African got a wicket, the Barbadian ran in to greet and hug him with a wide grin, thereby ignoring the political issues that had made the countries avoid looking at each other in their eyes. “It was like a bear hugging a giraffe, and it was symbolic of the warmth most West Indians showed South African players”, writes Simon Hughes.

Hughes adds: “No one could fail to be impressed by van der Bijl. Not only was he a fearsome bowler with incredible accuracy, genuine penetration, and an LBW appeal like an enraged triffid, but off the field he was also gentle and disarming, intelligent and funny.”

His self-control and sense of humour showed in the most adverse of times as well. When Sunil Gavaskar was belting him mercilessly in a Benson and Hedges match, van der Bijl found the Little Master’s bottom edge — only to watch it run away for four. It was the first time Gavaskar had erred in that innings. Van der Bijl, about a foot and a quarter taller than Gavaskar, walked up to the little man and feigned fury, exclaiming “Oh, you ‘orrible little man, why don’t you concentrate?” Everyone, including the usually sombre Gavaskar, was in splits.

To put things short, van der Bijl had fun, smoked Dunhills, and took 85 wickets in the season from 20 matches at 14.72. He took five five-fors, and in combination with Daniel (67 wickets at 21.70), led Middlesex to the County Championship and the Gillette Cup. He was nominated a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1981.”

In the ultimate irony of the politics of oppressive discrimination some of the greatest partnerships were forged in the UK between South Africans and West Indians, Van der Bijl and Daniels, Richards and Gordon Greenidge for Hampshire.

We never met and I was little bit like a kid in a candy store when I read his mail and whereas I am grateful to him for his comments especially as his father played with Dalton it is his comments about legacy that really impacted upon me-

“… knew his name from childhood as he played with Dad in the Timeless Test. Dad loved him and admired him so much. I am fortunate then to know his love of those he played with including Norman “Mobil” Gordon who died last year – the oldest living international cricket globally – only cricketer to reach 100. That has always amazed me.

In those days we had men of Renaissance proportions – they too were lawyers/MPs/founders of the Progressive party/chairman of the Llanga cricket Club (Clive van R), Tuppy a doctor etc. Those were our heroes – they fought in the Wars, were men of impeccable character, men of the arts, writing, political influence for the good and genuine community dedicated.

The late Baby Jake developed a gym in Soweto free for all kids who wanted to box – few people know that. Nothing for show – all for others. Sorry this is a pet topic! So few work behind the scenes for good without an article or publically lauded backing.

There remains as genuine misunderstanding about legacy. Legacy is not an inheritance, a library, founding a trust – legacy is the inspiration, that warm glow one leaves behind following your passing that for generations fuels positive moral actions and movements inspired by you and what you as an individual and a man/woman of the community exhibited and was followed – Mother Theresa, Mandela, Gandhi, Biko, Martin Luther King, Helen Suzman are the public ones – the so many lesser-known people have just as much influence in their communities. Oh, how we need those all today.

In today’s world of that explosive and destructive cocktail of man and money equaling greed and desire for power; moral ineptitude; lack of values or backbone; lack of a sense of dignity and community has consumed the world we live in. In today’s world we need to have the heroes of the past eras – the priests, teachers, writers, artists, doctors, political and business leaders as well as fathers/mothers (latter still there thank goodness in most cases) as our heroes, not some fantasy celebrity developed by an agent, a newspaper or PR company.

We do however, after all is said and done, have unsung heroes in the community, unknown giants, as family members who are deeply loved. In the past for example Sailor Malan, who led and inspired the protest marches of ex-WWII veterans in 1956 to march against the cancelling of the vote for the “Coloured” people still influences the actions and opinions of those who know of him and revere his value and values. The same can be said of Eric Dalton.

Such awesome values, kudos to Mr Van Der Bijl.

Last Putt: Answer to last week’s final question, “But Errol can you sing?” Errol Stewart won a singing prize in his final year Westville Primary… Why is this not a surprise?

Yours in golf
Garth Davis – DCC Golf Captain

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