Gerwel saved Windies 1999 tour

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Professor Jakes Gerwel. File photo: Leon Lestrade

Johannesburg – Prof Jakes Gerwel was largely responsible for the 1998/99 West Indies tour of South Africa going ahead after some team members refused to board the plane at Heathrow, former United Cricket Board (UCB) boss Ali Bacher said on Wednesday.

“Not many people know this, but it was Jakes who came up with the solution which saved the West Indies tour,” said Bacher, who was managing director of the UCB at the time.

Gerwel, who died in the Kuils River Hospital in the Western Cape on Wednesday morning, was a huge cricket fan, but refused to attend a test match before 1994.

However, in the new democracy he was a regular at Tests in Port Elizabeth or Cape Town.

Bacher said Gerwel was extremely knowledgeable about cricket.

“He was very wise about matters both on and off the field.

“It was him that I called when the West Indians refused to travel to South Africa because of the pay dispute with their board.

“Jakes said he had a simple solution – one that no sportsman could refuse. He drafted a letter imploring the players to go ahead with the tour, stressing the importance of their visit to the new democracy. He took the letter to Madiba (former president Nelson Mandela), who read it and signed it.

“When Clive Lloyd, their team manager at the time, and I flew to London for the crisis talks with the players, I had the letter in my back pocket.”

Bacher said the West Indies' fast bowler Courtney Walsh, who represented the rebellious players, read the letter aloud in front of the international media and stated that the players had agreed to proceed with the tour.

Gerwel served as Mandela's right-hand man during the former president's term of office between 1994 and 1999.

Bacher said he had always offered good advice.

“He was my best counsel and whenever I had an important issue to discuss, he was the first person I would call.”

Gerwel and Bacher worked together as chairman and chief executive, respectively, of the 2003 Cricket World Cup board when the tournament was hosted by South Africa.

“I've served on many different committees and, without doubt, he was the best chairman I've ever had,” Bacher said.

“As a person, they don't come better. He was highly respected and I never once saw him lose his cool.”

He said Gerwel would fly in from Cape Town early in the morning before a board meeting and the two of them would sit together for a couple of hours. They would identify any problems and then agree on the best approach.

“His approach was always simple and, invariably, the board would approve his proposals,” Bacher said.

“His decisions were purely policy-based and he thought of the best ways to implement them, but he never got involved on the operational side.

“Jakes had no ego and was unassuming in his manner. He was passionate about the game of cricket and always wanted what was best for the sport.” – Sapa


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