In South Africa, two sports dominate the culture: Rugby and Cricket. Cricket, much like rugby, is now a global game that is enjoyed by the South African masses from all walks of life.
Additionally like rugby, cricket came to South Africa under hostile times in the early 1800s. As the British occupied the country, they brought their sporting culture as well. In 1808, Cape Town was the sight of South Africa’s first recorded match between two teams comprised of British servicemen. It would take roughly four decades before the first club, Port Elizabeth Cricket Club, would be established.
As the game’s popularity grew, an annual match dubbed the “Mother Country vs. Colonial Born” was born in 1862. The sport’s popularity reached new levels in 1876 when the first domestic tournament was held on Port Elizabeth’s grounds. The first tournament consisted of four clubs with King Williams Town capturing the first two titles. Rather than the typical cup or trophy, this tournament presented a Champion Bat. The semi-annual tournament would run until 1891.
What may truly have cemented South Africa’s early presence in the sport came in 1888 when Sir Donald Currie brought the first foreign visiting team, England, to South Africa’s soil. With a strong English performance, South Africa lost their first two international clashes–but not without earning a reputation as a country that brought a challenge every match. Not only did Sir Donald Currie bring England to South Africa, he also brought the Currie Cup the same year. The first title in the interstate tournament went to Transvaal (now the Gauteng Lions). The domestic series, now called the Sunfoil Series, continues to serve as the nation’s premier cricket competition.
Before the century would end, South Africa were touring the world themselves–playing England once again.
Highs and Lows of the 1900s
The early part of the 1900s saw the game grow domestically and internationally, 1906 saw South Africa’s first test match win against England. However, the game virtually came to a standstill at the dawn of World War II. Seen as unnecessary at a time the nation was gripped in war, barely any first-class matches took place until the war’s conclusion in 1945.
Unfortunately, dark times were around the corner for South Africa once again as apartheid policies were enacted in 1948. For fifteen years, the international community voiced their disdain for the policies, but little other action was taken. The nation continued playing international rivals until 1968 when the hateful policies extended to a South African, Basil D’Oliveira, who left the country for England due to his banishment from the South African game as a “coloured” man. In 1968, D’Oliveira attempted to play with his English teammates on South African soil, but was barred once again. This was the initial spark that would begin South Africa’s international ban for over 20 years–officially beginning in 1970. Despite losing one of the international game’s fiercest clubs, the world sent the message that hatred would not be tolerated in cricket anymore.
The Modern Era
February 11, 1990 saw Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, and the end of South Africa’s dark apartheid era. With the policies finally removed, the sporting world soon welcomed South Africa back into its fold. Little time was wasted as the country embarked on international matches in 1991, with India as its first destination. The following year saw the Proteas (switching from the Springboks moniker) return to the Cricket World Cup. The following years saw South Africa reassert its presence as an international force–further cementing the claim with iconic matches including a classic nail biter against Australia in 1999.
2003 brought the World Cup to the Rainbow Nation’s shores. Despite a disappointing tournament, South Africa remained steadfast in contending as a global force in the sport. In 2007, the Proteas’ drive paid off as they earned the sport’s top rank. Unfortunately, the country’s drive still has not earned a World Cup victory. 2015’s World Cup brought the Proteas close to triumph once again until co-host nation New Zealand dashed those hopes on their way to a second place finish.
Although the nation still waits for a World Cup title, we take pride in the sport representing the progress of this now prospering nation. Much like the growth and inclusion the sport has seen since the 1990s, South African supporters only expect the nation to grow in the game as it moves along.