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South African Rebel Tours & Its Dark Past Unveiled

South African Rebel Tours & Its Dark Past Unveiled

The South African rebel tours were a series of cricket tours organized by the South African Cricket Union during the 1980s. A number of international teams toured South Africa despite the criticism they recieved, it was seen as, touring South Africa meant a team’s compromise with the apartheid regime.The tours were controversial because South Africa was banned from international cricket at the time due to its apartheid regime.

The South African government heavily sponsored the tours, which were seen as a way to break the international isolation of South Africa and to satisfy the desire of white South Africans for international sport. The tours were also opposed by the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups who were demanding for freedom from the apartheid system while the government wanted to keep its people’s interest alive.

During this period, the existence of athletes with connections to South Africa created diplomatic issues. For instance, England’s 1988 and 89 tour of India was canceled because the Indian government declined to grant visas to any England players who were believed to be associated with South Africa.

Countries That Participated in South African Rebel Tours

South African Rebel Tours & Its Dark Past Unveiled
Image Credit: Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

England Tour of South Africa 1982

In March 1982, an English cricket team captained by Graham Gooch embarked on a significant tour. The squad comprised both current and former England Test players, many of whom were approaching the end of their Test careers.

Notable members included batsmen Geoff Boycott, Peter Willey, Dennis Amiss, and Bob Woolmer, fast bowlers Chris Old, Mike Hendrick, and John Lever, spinner Derek Underwood, and wicketkeeper Alan Knott. During the unofficial “Tests” held in South Africa, Gooch and Amiss emerged as the most successful English players, even though South Africa claimed victory.

The limited overs matches also went in favor of South Africa, featuring renowned players like Barry Richards, Peter Kirsten, Jimmy Cook, Graeme Pollock (uncle of Shaun Pollock), and the all-rounder Clive Rice. Subsequently, the English players were banned from official international cricket for three years.

Graham Gooch returned to the England team in May 1985 for the Texaco Trophy ODI against Australia, leading to a long and distinguished Test career. However, for many others in the touring party, their international cricketing days came to an end. The ban did provide an opportunity for Graeme Fowler, Eddie Hemmings, and Vic Marks to make their England debuts during the 1982 season.

Arosa Sri Lanka Tour

Under the leadership of Bandula Warnapura, the tour took place in October and November 1982, shortly after Sri Lanka had been granted Test status. The decision of touring South Africa was heavily criticised by ICC.

Unfortunately, all members of the touring party received lifetime bans from international cricket. The team’s performance was not up to par, and South Africa easily secured victories in both “Tests” and all three limited overs matches. Additionally, the Sri Lankan side suffered defeats against several provincial teams.

South African Rebel Tours & Its Dark Past Unveiled
Image Credit: Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images

West Indies Rebel Tours of 1982, 83 & 84

During the specified period, the West Indian players comprised mostly of talented but relatively unknown individuals striving to make their mark in the esteemed West Indian Test team. Some were also experienced players past their prime in Test cricket.

At that time, the compensation for first-class cricketers in the West Indies was meager. Many participants struggled with irregular or no employment during the off-season and were paid big amounts for rebel tours.

Rowe and several other players expressed their disappointment with the West Indies Cricket board for overlooking them despite their noteworthy performances.

The “Test” series of 1982-83, consisting of two matches, concluded with a 1-1 draw. In the second “Test,” Collis King scored a century (101), and Sylvester Clarke impressed with 12 wickets. The limited-over series was claimed by South Africa, who won 4 out of 6 matches, with Stephenson’s remarkable performance of 6/9 in the final match.

However, the tides turned in 1983 and 1984 as the West Indian side emerged victorious in the “Test” series, defeating their opponents 2-1, with Clarke’s exceptional five-wicket haul repeated four times. In the limited-over series, the West Indian team dominated, securing a 4-1 triumph.

In 1983, the participants faced a lifetime ban from Caribbean cricket due to their association with the South African apartheid system. This led to their social and professional isolation, as there was considerable animosity towards players who supported such a system. However, when they toured South Africa, the players experienced a different reception.

Both blacks and whites welcomed them warmly, and this tour possibly had a positive impact on race relations, being one of the rare instances where people of different races played sports together in South Africa. The bans imposed on the players were eventually lifted in 1989.

However, only Moseley, at the age of 32, had the opportunity to play for the West Indies again. On the other hand, Stephenson and Clarke went on to achieve great success in their first-class cricket careers in South Africa.

Australia Rebel Tours of South Africa 1985, 86 and 87

Former Test captain Kim Hughes led the Australian tours, but South Africa emerged victorious in both “Test” series with a 1-0 result. The touring squad consisted of several players who had previously represented Australia at the Test level.

Unfortunately, the Australian Test side suffered from a weakened lineup as some of its best players were unavailable due to their participation in the rebel tours. Hughes blamed the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) for creating discontent among the players, which made it easier for the rebel tours to recruit them.

Following the tour, Hughes never played international cricket again and decided to return to South Africa to play for Natal. However, Alderman, Hohns, and Rackemann continued to represent Australia in later series.

South African Rebel Tours & Its Dark Past Unveiled
Image Credit: Simon Bruty /Allsport

England Rebel Tour of South Africa 1990

In 1990, the team comprised both former and current England players, toured South Africa for the final time. Unfortunately, England suffered a defeat in the only “Test” of the tour. It was the match in which Allan Donald made his debut for South Africa and took eight wickets.

After this tour, most of the squad members did not play for England again. Gatting faced a three-year ban from Test cricket, but he was later recalled to the England side for the tour of India and Sri Lanka in 1992-93, along with John Emburey, who had also been part of both rebel tours and served two suspensions. Neil Foster went on to play a solitary Test, which was against Australia at Lord’s in 1993.

The tour proved to be a financial disaster because it coincided with the “unbanning” of the ANC (African National Congress) and led to mass demonstrations against the matches, as South Africa began dismantling the apartheid system. The scale of the protests surprised Bacher, as previous rebel tours had gone more smoothly.

Consequently, the players who took part in South African rebel tours were not considered for the rest of the Ashes series, which provided future long-term England players like Michael Atherton with an opportunity to make their debuts for England.

South Africa Returned to International Cricket After Apartheid Era

South African Rebel Tours & Its Dark Past Unveiled
South Africa plays its first international cricket match after readmission by ICC. Image Credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport/Getty Images

South Africa resumed official cricket in 1991 with a short tour of India, and participation in the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The international cricket council decided to grant all the South African rebel tours a first class status, however, it was later revoked in 1993.

In August 2007, the ICC is reviewing the status of all matches played in South Africa between 1961 and 1991, including those played during the rebel tours, with a view to restoring first-class status to some matches.

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