Bygones: How Mandela’s release led to end of road for cricket mercenaries

REBEL: Yorkshire pace bowler Paul Jarvis cited financial reasons for joining the rebel tour to South Africa 25 years ago. Picture: AP
REBEL: Yorkshire pace bowler Paul Jarvis cited financial reasons for joining the rebel tour to South Africa 25 years ago. Picture: AP
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THE choice presented to Paul Jarvis went something like this...

“Sign up for two rebel tours of apartheid South Africa and pocket circa £80,000 after tax, thus incurring a three-year ban from international cricket.

“Or take your chances of being picked by England and earning, in comparison, a paltry sum.”

Jarvis, 24, considered his precarious international prospects and his financial position and opted to take the cash.

He was joined by 15 others who went on the Mike Gatting-led tour to South Africa 25 years ago, a tour that was ultimately cut short and which did not, after all, lead to a second trip scheduled for the following winter.

Jarvis, the Yorkshire and England pace bowler, made no bones about his motives for committing to a project that even its organiser, Dr Ali Bacher, managing director of the South African Cricket Union and the brains behind all seven rebel tours to South Africa by various nations between 1982 and 1990, now says was dubious.

Although possibly ignorant of the true evils he was effectively condoning, Jarvis, by any standards, was a self-proclaimed mercenary at a time when the tottering apartheid regime was crying out for tacit approval.

Explaining his thinking prior to the tour, he said: “I would have to play a lot of Test cricket over the next six years at home and away and take part in nearly every match to make that sort of money. Being a fast bowler that is just not possible.

“I could get injured in the next match and I’ve already had a series of back and circulation problems that could return and put me out tomorrow.

“I know some people do not agree with what I’ve done, and if I were Angus Fraser with no wife, no child and no mortgage, I might have thought differently.

“But I have borne in mind the way some people like Gladstone Small have been treated. He did well in the World Cup and in the Texaco Trophy at the start of our home season but then he got injured and he has not had a sniff since.

“I’ve a mortgage and an overdraft and it’s the money I’ve been offered which makes it clear what I should do.”

Jarvis – Yorkshire’s sole representative on a trip that included former White Rose batsman Bill Athey, then with Gloucestershire – was criticised by press and public alike.

No sooner was the tour announced in the Ashes summer of 1989 than pockets of anti-apartheid demonstrators were even visible at Yorkshire’s games.

Jarvis side-stepped a seaside demo at Scarborough, where a small group of protesters turned out to a match against Kent, and he had to drive through a low-key protest outside Sheffield’s Abbeydale Park for a fixture against Northants, where protesters carried posters urging the rebels to reconsider.

But rather like a certain Iron Lady, Gatting and his men were not for turning.

Instead, on January 19, 1990, they touched down to a predictably hostile reception in Johannesburg, having earlier had to evacuate their plane at Heathrow due to a bomb scare.

They were greeted by the sight of police using tear gas and dogs to disperse demonstrations by the African National Congress and the National Sports Congress, who urged an end to “racist tours”.

Gatting crassly dismissed these protests as “a few people singing and dancing, and that was it”, which only deepened discontent.

John Emburey, his fellow rebel and county colleague, who had also gone on the previous rebel England tour to South Africa in 1982, explained: “Gatt has never been any good at making public statements”.

In contrast, in the light-hearted words of his friends, “Gatt” has always been good at food, and he ended up cooking it at one Greek restaurant in Pretoria after the black staff refused to serve the England players and walked out.

“The owner started hitting a few pots with a full restaurant out the front, but Gatt apologised to everyone and said the boys would cook them a meal if they wanted,” recalled Matthew Maynard, another rebel. “Luckily, the veg was all cooked up, Gatt whacked on the old chef’s hat and I found myself waiting tables with Alan Wells and Paul Jarvis.

“We had an incredible night and got a cheer from customers when we left, and Gatt rang the owner the next morning to make sure his business was all right.”

Such anecdotes have a flavour of frivolity and yet the overwhelming taste left in the mouth by the tour was sour.

The opening match in Kimberley was played out to the din of riots outside; police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse an angry crowd in the next game at Bloemfontein, while 2,000 demonstrators were scattered with tear gas at Johannesburg, where, according to one local paper, “hundreds of black spectators were bussed in to ensure a multi-racial audience for the cameras”.

At Pietermaritzburg, Gatting walked into the midst of an angry throng to listen to what they had to say and, on his way back, was pelted with stones and coke cans.

“I thought Gatting might get killed,” reflected Dr Ali Bacher, who claimed it was only then that he realised that the previous rebel tours had passed relatively peacefully only because agitators would have been jailed prior to President FW de Klerk’s relaxation on protests and demonstrations in early 1990.

Bacher, who felt the rebel tours helped keep South African cricket alive while international sporting sanctions were in place, was now in the midst of a swiftly changing political climate.

On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, sparking mass jubilation after decades of oppression.

Bill Athey, when asked about this development at a press conference, responded with the extraordinary remark: “Nelson Mandela? He can’t bowl, can he?”

On February 12, as violent demonstrations followed liberation, a bomb exploded outside Newlands, and the announcement came that the tour was to be shortened by a fortnight, Jarvis and his team-mates arriving back in England on February 24 to condemnation that would have been greater had it been widely known the players had been bankrolled by South Africa’s ruling party rather than corporate sponsors.

“No more inglorious, downright disgraced and discredited team or sportsmen wearing the badge of ‘England’ can ever have returned through customs with such nothingness to declare,” wrote Frank Keating in the Guardian, while the Daily Mirror said the players had “disgraced their country and their sport”.

Three years later, Jarvis was back playing for England – albeit only briefly – and so was Gatting, who has rarely spoken publicly about the events of 1990.

“I don’t want to talk about it, really,” he once said, “except to say that it all turned out well for South Africa.”

Injury troubles for Yorkshire rebel Jarvis

PAUL JARVIS became the youngest cricketer to represent Yorkshire in the County Championship, aged 16 years and two months, when he burst on the scene in 1981.

He became the youngest to take hat-tricks in the Championship and Sunday League, too, displaying immense potential. He never quite fulfilled that potential and suffered from relentless injuries – most notably to his back – and an often fickle international selection strategy.

Jarvis played nine Tests (21 wickets at 45.95) and 16 one-day internationals (24 wickets at 28.00), numbers that did not really do justice to his talent.

Relatively short in height for a fast bowler at 5ft 10in, Jarvis generated brisk pace from a short run and possessed a rapid arm action.

He took 4-43 in Yorkshire’s 1987 Benson & Hedges Cup final win against Northants, made his Test debut against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1988 but was unable to hold down a regular spot and, after being released by Yorkshire in 1993, he went on to play for Sussex and Somerset.

REBEL SQUAD: Mike Gatting (capt), Bill Athey, Kim Barnett, Chris Broad, Chris Cowdrey, Graham Dilley, Richard Ellison, John Emburey, Neil Foster, Bruce French, David Graveney, Paul Jarvis, Matthew Maynard, Tim Robinson, Greg Thomas, Alan Wells.