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Wed Apr 23 12:25:17 SAST 2014

Military medium not a problem for batsman JM

Archie Henderson | 17 September, 2012 08:100 Comments

I once bowled to JM Coetzee.

There's nothing about it in JC Kannemeyer's biography of the Nobel laureate that appeared this week, so here it is first hand.

We were playing UCT Staff one Sunday at Pinelands, a bleak set of playing fields at the mercy of Cape Town weather.

JM opened the batting and I came off my long run-up into the wind. That was always my lot with the new ball: military medium (Salvation Army pace).

It was before he became famous, but we knew JM was a significant figure although not quite why. Perhaps it was the deference with which he was treated by the UCT captain, who was from the engineering department.

"Ummm, John," the skipper would say. "Where would you like to field? Would slip be OK? Great. Thanks."

Then he would turn to one of the others in the team: "You there, go wider. Wider! And be quick about it."

Also, JM could play a bit.

He had the assured manner of a batsman who knew where his off stump was, and his style was classical: high left elbow, close to the pads and almost always in the V. I never had a chance of getting him out. Someone must have because I recall him returning to the middle to umpire. His dismissal could only have been due to a lack of concentration. There was no other way through that defence.

JM is an avid cyclist these days, but he's not lost touch with cricket. How could you, living as he does in Don Bradman's former home town? He has contributed an essay to Australia: Story of a Cricket Country. For those who think he's turned his back on us, it deals with one of the finest South African teams to visit Australia.

In an era when cricket was still considered organised loafing by some, Jack Cheetham's Springboks of 1952/53 were written off before they even left. The South Africans were considered so poor, Australians were worried that they would play before empty stands. They scored only one century in five tests (compared with six by the Aussies, four from Neil Harvey) but shared the series.

It was a side built on fitness and fielding. Off-spinner Hugh Tayfield's 30 wickets came mostly with the help of fielders: 16 catches and two stumpings.

The tour must have shaped Coetzee's love for the game, as a later one under Trevor Goddard did for a bunch of laaities in the Lowveld, whose school forbade cricket because it was an Engelse sport. That series was also shared. We thought of draws then as victories.

Teams from those eras were picked only from the white middle class and it wasn't as if no one else was playing the game.

Since then, the team is open to all and that school of ours now has a turf wicket, nets and even a bowling machine. I can only imagine what the Proteas' achievements on recent tours (Australia 2-1, England 2-1 and 2-0 - all under Graeme Smith) have done for cricket here. More than so-called "development", I'm certain. I am also sure that JM, even sitting (and writing) in Adelaide, would share in the euphoria.

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Military medium not a problem for batsman JM

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