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Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Tour matches outside internationals have been steadily on the decline for decades as schedules have become tighter. Last week Australia confirmed they would not play a single match in England before the World Test Championship final against India or their five-match Ashes series against England. Even by today’s standards it seems a radical choice.

By contrast, Don Bradman’s “Invincibles” team of 1948 played 12 first-class matches before the first Test. Even in 1994 SA played a dozen first-class fixtures before and during their three-Test tour of England.

The great Mike Procter was head coach and his knowledge of English county cricket outweighed that of his entire squad by a factor of almost 100. Captain Kepler Wessels had played with distinction for Sussex for several years and Brian MacMillan had enjoyed a season with Warwickshire in 1986, but otherwise they were novices.

During the game against Durham a young Gary Kirsten reached what was, for him, an epic double century on the stroke of tea on the second day. Procter informed Kirsten that he would not be resuming his tremendous innings after the break and he was, momentarily, nonplussed at the news. But soon after he began to reflect in the glow of his achievement. Not bad for a guy who’d been bowling off-spin and batting at No 8 for UCT a couple of years earlier. Until he was informed that he was “out”.

Proctor told Kirsten his innings was over — the other batsmen needed time in the middle.

“If you don’t rock up again and you haven’t been dismissed, the scorers put you down as ‘retired out’,” said a helpful teammate. This news did not sit well with Gary and, shortly after the resumption, he appeared at the back of the scorers box: “Hi, umm, I’m injured, by the way.”

“Oh, what’s wrong with you?” one of them asked, glancing briefly between deliveries at the track-suited opener.

“Just, injured. Headache, not feeling well, hamstring…” Kirsten explained.

“Well now, I suppose we’ll have to amend the score book then, won’t we? Wouldn’t want to do anybody an injustice,” replied the senior scorer, the Durham man. The home scorer is always the “senior”. Nobody would have it any other way.

Four years later, SA were in dire straits in a Test match in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Having drawn the first two Tests of a three-match series with both teams scoring 400+ in their first innings, the home country had instructed the ground staff to prepare a “green top” for the decider. Understandably, they were backing their fast bowlers, notably the great duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

SA duly slumped to 98/7 on the first morning. But Kirsten was still there and was joined by a bristling Pat Symcox who spanked an exhilarating 81 with 10 fours and two sixes during an eight-wicket stand of 124 during which Kirsten mostly marvelled while handing over as much of the strike as possible.

Symcox, infamously, was “bowled” between middle and off-stump by leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed without a bail being removed causing New Zealand umpire Steve Dunne to remove his spectacles, wipe them, and call the ground staff onto the field to reset the stumps.

Anyway, Kirsten had moved into the 90s by the time he was joined by last man, Paul Adams. It’s a rare feat to carry your bat in Test cricket but, of equal importance, SA needed every run they could get. But honestly, this time it was only about Kirsten’s century.

Against his instincts, a 23-year-old Adams pushed and prodded nervously at his first 10 balls and managed to survive while Kirsten moved from 95 to 100. But did he?

When the handlers in the main, manually-controlled scoreboard laboriously replaced the “99” metal sheet numbers to “100”, they were unaware that they were a run ahead of the officials. The relief was too much for Adams who celebrated with a gallant slog and was lbw. Only then did the runner from the scorers reach the scoreboard operators. They began removing the “100" back to “99".

But the sense of achievement and occasion was not lost on the men (in this instance) and they began work immediately, forensically removing a leg-bye from their books (they still used pencils and erasers in those days) and attributing the extra run to the batsman who had to wait 20 anxious minutes before his century was confirmed.

There are many, many unheralded people in the “back room” of the game who keep it running smoothly without due credit. But, from time-to-time, coaches, managers, umpires and even ground-staff do receive acknowledgment and acclaim. Some even seek it.

In over 35 years of covering the game, however, I have never seen or heard of any scorer being adequately recognised for the job they do. Or expecting to be. They are literally the only people required to concentrate on every single delivery bowled, and to wait until an official break in play to take a “comfort break”. Somebody should write a book about them. It’s the least they deserve. 

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