PICTURE: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA LTD
PICTURE: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA LTD

As a young boy, the word Caribbean conjured up images of sun, beaches, fun and calypso cricket. That lure superseded all other countries. I devoured my father’s books by Sir Neville Cardus, CLR James and many more. They brought to life the stories of Learie Constantine, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, the tied Test and Garfield Sobers. I was entranced.

Cricket in the West Indies had a magnetic appeal. The English royalty felt the same way. Fourteen West Indian cricketers have been knighted, exactly the same number as their English counterparts. Only one Australian and one New Zealander have been so honoured.

Wes Hall was my fast-bowling hero. However, my galumphing physique meant at best I could be medium-fast. I therefore had to merge Hall with my other “Lords and Masters”, Alec Bedser and Brian Statham.

Statham stated: “If I land the ball on the right line and length and on the seam, I never know which way it will seam and neither does the batsman! Good luck to him!” He was unerring in his accuracy.

I treasured the identical Bedser twins’ story, particularly the moment they flipped a coin to see who would bowl quick and who would bowl spin, as they always wanted to play in the same team. Alec became the quick bowler and was knighted for his achievements. He bowled leg-cutters, off-cutters and every medium-fast-paced variation there was. Alec and Eric played for Surrey and in one over each bowled alternate deliveries for fun.

And then there was the raw pace and physical courage and presence of Hall. His action I gleaned from a photo in the MCC Marylebone Cricket Club coaching manual. The story of him bowling the final over in the tied Test with bloodied feet, never flinching, was out of a Boy’s Own annual. My imagination ran wild.

Each helped fashion my cricket future.

The Proteas are currently in the West Indies and I am green with envy.

Our Proteas will be watched by many West Indian legends and have the chance to learn so much. The passing down of lessons and ideas from generation to generation keeps building this great game. Each player has his “secret go-to” play to use when something special is required.

The wonderful 5ft 9in legendary Australian fast bowler Ray Lindwall bowled an incredible out-swinging yorker-hitting leg stump. He used to turn the batsman inside out while the leg stump went flying.

I was privileged to meet Lindwall. He shared his secret — which was that he brought his left elbow into his rib cage in his delivery stride, creating a fulcrum around which to pivot. A single gem.

Hopefully, our players will sit with the West Indies legends and absorb their “secrets”. The swagger and approach of Viv Richards, the three different bouncers of Andy Roberts as he set up batsmen and how Michael “Whispering Death” Holding, as a 400m athlete, trained. The list is endless.

Many youngsters write off stars from another era as old men with old ideas. They do so at their peril. History teaches us that sitting round a campfire for warmth and protection led to stories of the clan’s history. Those stories were the foundation of learning, understanding and pride that motivated change; new ideas built on the old, not separate from them. Today we similarly build our lives on the concepts, ideas and dreams of many others and mould them into our journey. We are not singular in our abilities — that would limit us to our own insecurities or arrogance.

I played with West Indian Alvin Kallicharran when Transvaal won all five trophies in the 1982/1983 season. He was a magician. As a boy, he and his friends would pool their pocket money to buy two cokes, sit in the café and listen to John Arlott’s radio commentary. Then they would go to the beach to emulate their heroes with a bat fashioned from the bough of a tree and a ball made of rubber bands.

Playing 22-man calypso beach cricket meant Kalli had to either block or hit the ball out of the park. That is how he developed his defensive technique of angling his bat down to prevent the myriad close fielders getting a catch opportunity.

Now, those are the real stories of these gladiators, not their figures and statistics.

Cricket is an all-consuming game. We live it every day of our lives. The learning never lessens with age. The Proteas will come back rejuvenated from their Caribbean adventure. What a time they will have.

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