Johannesburg – When 21 legendary Test cricket captains gathered in London recently, the future of the longest format of the game was highlighted as a common area of concern.
“During many of our informal conversations, it became clear we all shared the same worries when it came to matters of cricket,” former South African Test captain Ali Bacher said on Monday.
“Concerns were raised about the long-term future of Test cricket and I was delighted to hear that even current international stars – Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara from Sri Lanka – expressed their feelings on the subject.
“With only four Tests scheduled for Sri Lanka this year, including one which begins on December 31, they both felt strongly that the lure of the dollar in Twenty20 cricket should not override the future of Test cricket.”
The group of former Test captains, which included the esteemed Sir Garfield Sobers and Sunil Gavaskar among them, were brought together by the Lord's Taverners, a UK-based charity which raises money to support disadvantaged and disabled youth, using cricket and other forms of sport and recreation to engage with them.
The organisation, which appoints high-profile former sportsmen and entertainers to further its cause, held a glittering gala banquet at the London Hilton last week, with 900 guests, and raised over R2.2million at the event.
“Each cricketer was formally announced and entered the room, one at a time, with a video clip from a 'highlight' of his playing career,” Bacher said.
“I'm not sure why they chose footage of my batting from 1965, but it was an awful clip and I'm pleased my grandsons weren't there to see it.”
During the evening, broadcaster Jonathan Agnew hosted the celebrated cricketers, in groups of four, for a question and answer session.
“My questions were centred around the 1970 Test series against Australia (which Bacher captained to a 4-0 victory) and, of course, about Madiba.
“It was a fantastic function where Shaun Pollock and myself were the representatives for South Africa.”
Outshining the event itself, Bacher said the group spent 90 minutes at 10 Downing Street the previous evening, accompanied by former British prime minister Sir John Major.
“Because of the Kenya crisis, David Cameron (British prime minister) was in meetings, but he was able to slip out and spend 10 minutes with us,” Bacher said.
“We had a tour of Number 10, and saw the Cabinet Room where the furniture dates back to the Gladstone era (1890s), and the State Dining Room, a majestic room used to host foreign presidents and prime ministers.”
Bacher said the four-day trip was an unforgettable experience.
“It was exhilarating rubbing shoulders with some of the truly great cricketers of all time.
“It was an honour to spend time with the likes of Sir Garfield, who is the greatest cricketer of all time, Sir Vivian Richards – the master blaster batsman, Richie Benaud – the voice of cricket and Sunil Gavaskar – one of the greatest opening batsmen of all time.
“We were all staying in the same private hotel and had many opportunities to chat over a coffee or breakfast,” Bacher said.
“The two topics which stood out for me, were the future of Test cricket and also the economic muscle and the sheer dominance of India in 2013, in a world cricketing sense.”
Bacher said he was also extremely proud of the way the international cricket stars all held Pollock in such high esteem.
“If I ever had to appoint a cricket ambassador for South Africa, Shaun would be my first choice.
“I saw for myself how highly-regarded he is by some of the greatest cricketers in world cricket.
"He has such a good reputation and he is well-respected all over the world. Some of these cricketers played against him and others against his father Peter, or his uncle Graeme. But all of them just love 'Polly', as they refer to him."
The list of former Test captains present were: Ali Bacher and Shaun Pollock (South Africa), Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Arjuna Ranatunga (Sri Lanka), Garfield Sobers, Vivian Richards and Clive Lloyd (West Indies), Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly (India), Ted Dexter, Mike Brearley, Mike Gatting, David Gower and Andrew Strauss (England), Andy Flower (Zimbabwe), Richard Benaud and Ian Chappell (Australia), Jeremy Coney (New Zealand) and Mushtaq Mohammad (Pakistan). Sapa