First SA black cricket captain Prince has crown as role model

When they met to share their knowledge, the first alien told of a religious ceremony it had seen.

“I went to a large green field shaped like a meteorite crater. Around the edges, several thousand worshippers gathered. Then two priests walk to the centre of the field to a rectangular area and hammer six spears into the ground, three at each end. Then eleven more priests walk out, clad in white robes. Then two high priests wielding clubs walk to the centre and one of the other priests starts throwing a red orb at the ones with the clubs.”

“Gee,” replied the other alien, “what happens next?”

“Then it begins to rain.”

The above captures the mystery and the mystique of the game of cricket. Those who enjoy it at the highest level do so with a togetherness and camaraderie that borders on Freemasonry.

They share statistics, facts and figures, codes and signals that to the outsider are so much gobbledegook.

Picture this: the side that wins the toss decides whether it wants to bat or field. If it wants to field, the other side is sent in. When that side that is in is all out, the side that is out then gets in. The game could be a one-dayer, a two-dayer, a three-dayer, a four-dayer or, as in a Test match, take all of five days.

As they play, the batsman wants to protect his wicket, which are the sticks behind him, meanwhile trying to hit the ball as far as he can because each time he hits it to what he feels is a safe distance he will run to the other end where there are similar sticks, exchanging positions with his fellow batsman. For each such switch, the hitter gets a point, which is called a run. The joy of hitting the ball as far as one can is that if it crosses the boundary on the ground then you get four runs without necessarily running for them. If it crosses the boundary without having touched the ground then that is six runs.

The shot that gives you four runs is a four, and the one that gives you six runs is a six. Thus, in his innings that is when he is batting, the batsman can score so many fours and so many sixes.

Fancy hearing then that the batsman posted four fours and six sixes! Gobbledegook. Or, in this case the other spelling will say it better: gobbledygook. It is just not cricket! Which, for the uninitiated, means it is not fair.

But even those who are outside the sport will be applauding the news from South Africa.

The country has its first non-white cricket captain. It now has a black cricket captain. Or it will have for the two Test matches in Sri Lanka and likely for the One Day International triangular series that includes India. Ashwell Prince is who it will be.

Cricket is a sport that is inextricably entangled with statistics. Stats, stats, stats. Keeping to that tradition, statisticians will have recorded that it took over a century, which is a hundred runs in cricket, for that to happen. One hundred and seventeen years to be precise. But now it has happened.

It can be pointed out that it would not have happened had regular captain Graeme Smith not been injured. It can be pointed out that it would not have happened if Smith’s deputy was also not injured. It can also be pointed out that it would not have happened had former skipper Shaun Pollock been available for selection. It can be pointed out. The point is that it must be noted that there is a black hand at the tiller. A black hand at the helm.

But there is need for caution and

The convener of the South African selectors Haroon Lorgat has captured the moment:

“The enormity and significance of his appointment, albeit through forced circumstances, will not be missed. It should be celebrated by South Africa and the rest of the world.”

Hailing Prince’s appointment, former South African cricket boss Ali Bacher said it will be an inspiration for black men and women in that country. Indeed.

But the appointment goes beyond inspiring black men and women in South Africa. It inspires all people of colour wherever they may be. It tells them, wherever they may be, that there is always a way. It says to them wherever they may be that there are always possibilities, that doors will open, that opportunities cannot be denied forever, that avenues cannot remain closed forever.

So Dr Bacher joins the call by Lorgat to celebrate. But having called upon all and sundry to rejoice and celebrate, the convener of selectors had a pointer: “As the first black man to captain South Africa he will command an important place in history, but with that comes extra responsibility.”

That is the point.

For Prince to remain an inspiration, he will have to live to the ideals of the captaincy. He will have to fulfill the demands of the post. He will have to fill the boots and cap left by Graeme Smith and fill them adequately. That is his burden. That is his calling.

Captain of the South African cricket team, the Proteas, yes. But also role model for millions of the previously advantaged, at home and abroad.

That is the extra burden that falls on the shoulders of every person of colour who is a role model. They no longer can just perform for themselves and their teams, indeed not just for their countries. They should now perform too for their people, immediate and adopted.

The appointment of Prince sends the message out to the boy hitting a home-made plastic ball with a home-made kaylite bat in front of a corrugated metal block acting as stumps that if he applies himself, that if he works at honing his craft, that if he remains focused and determined to be the best he can be, not only will he grow to play for his country, but he may even captain the team.

I remember the elation in Zimbabwe when cricket got its first black captain: Tatenda Taibu.

But that message needs consistency. And that consistency comes from the role model continuing to walk the path of the straight and narrow, continuing to be a role model.

My message to Ashwell then is: “Congratulations and well done, Prince! Now you are king of our dreams.”

July 2006
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