#4  Karoo Farm Cricket

Never mind the meerkat burrows – the game is afoot!

Story and Photographs by Chris Marais

Prior Grange Farm near Springfontein in the southern Free State becomes Cricket Central on the occasional happy weekend when almost everyone arrives thirsty, in whites and ready to whack the willow and send the ragged red ball to all corners of the Karoo.

“It’s my field, so I open the batting,” says farmer Blackie de Swardt with a smile under a silver moustache. “I also get to be the wicket-keeper.”
On a weekend in the late summer, we come to enjoy the fleshpots of Prior Grange, the company of the De Swardts and a good tussle between the Springfonteiners and the blokes from Colesberg, down the pike in the Northern Cape.

Only two days before, the cricket oval was officially a pasture to 500 merino sheep. Stephen, the groundsman, tells us the pitch would favour the spinners on the day.
We ask about the cricketing attire – would everyone be in white flannels? Most of them would, they assure us.

“It’s really only the boys from Bethulie who like to wear PT broeks and rugby socks on a cricket field,” says Blackie.
And what about elbow guards and helmets?
“Helmets are only worn by those who cannot bat,” he replies.
Blackie’s field has been in operation since 1990, and has seen some cracking matches in its time. The Springfonteiners are also a travelling team, having played against places like Tweespruit, Aliwal North and Philoppolis with a reasonable degree of honour.

The players look a bit more resplendent than the umpires, one has to say. The umpires wear long blue dust jackets, takkies and slip-slops, later dispensing with the formalities of slip-slops and digging their bare toes ecstatically into the ‘hallowed turf’.

They start them young, out here in the Karoo. A boy of seven takes the field as a replacement for an adult no-show and acquits himself well. Blackie comes in to bat, scores a couple of runs and is then (in his own words) mightily distracted by a farmyard fly buzzing about his helmet. As a result, he is clean-bowled.

Then the six-balls start flying around the place, mainly into the rough. Play is often suspended as the search parties are sent out to retrieve the R400 Hat Trick ball (a Kookaburra costs about R1 500 these days, I am horrified to discover) from one of the many meerkat burrows.

It’s a glorious day for cricket of any shape, form or standard. Puffy white clouds in the blue sky, a cheerful breeze taking the edge off the 34-degree heat, cold beers in the bag and trucks passing back and forth out there on the distant N1 like moveable advertising hoardings.

Eventually, it is clear that Springfontein is running away with the game, prompting one of the Colesbergers to say:
“Why don’t you guys declare, so we can get this braai on the go?”
Indeed, Springfontein score a mammoth 203 for five in 30 overs, breaking a rather tiresome losing streak. Things go pear-shaped for Colesberg, who can only raise 117 before the tantalising aroma of grilled lamb chops draws everyone back to the clubhouse.
The wildebeest skull is duly handed over to Blackie & Co and the socials began in earnest.

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This story is an excerpt from Karoo Roads II by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit. For purchase and courier details, contact Julienne at julie@karoospace.co.za – there’s a very special Karoo Roads Book Trio on offer as well.