Bacher tells how he broke cricketing boundaries in South Africa

UJIA breakfast audience bowled over by former Test captain and key administrator


Dr Aron “Ali” Bacher, regarded by many as the greatest ever Jewish cricketer, relived the highs and lows of a career at the top of the South African game as he addressed a sold out UJIA breakfast in central London held to coincide with the ICC World Cup.

In conversation with Sir Mick Davis, the Conservative Party CEO and a qualified cricket umpire, Dr Bacher shared fond memories of cricketing legends such as Gary Sobers and Mike Proctor — the latter also addressed the event.

He also recounted his experiences of apartheid-era South Africa, plus his dealings with Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress leaders.

In a poignant exchange, the former Test captain and administrator — who was born to Lithuanian-Jewish parents who emigrated to South Africa — expressed regret at having failed to recognise the real impact of racial discrimination in late 1970s’ South Africa.

“We didn’t understand what was happening. We didn’t acknowledge it.”

There was laughter from the audience — which included ex-Tory leader Michael Howard and former Lloyds Bank chairman Sir Victor Blank — as Dr Bacher spoke of his own father’s lack of cricketing knowledge.

“I was told he once called the umpires caretakers as they walked onto the field,” he recalled.

At 21, Dr Bacher became the youngest ever captain of Transvaal and went on to skipper South Africa to a historic series win against Australia in 1969-70.

As a cricket administrator, he was involved in the controversial rebel tours of South Africa in the 1980s, before overseeing the resurgence of the country as an international cricketing force post-apartheid as head of the South African Cricket Board. Nelson Mandela described him as “a great South African who has brought pride to all of us”.

He recalled the moment Mr Mandela invited him to his home, where he suggested that Dr Bacher arrange for a large donation to be made by his cricket club to an impoverished township. The club’s executive committee initially refused, insisting it was not its duty to behave like a charity.

But Dr Bacher won the day by making it clear that if the answer remained “no”, officials would have to tell Mr Mandela in person.

He also recalled being telephoned by then South African captain Hansie Cronje at 3am on a spring morning in 2000, to be told that rumoured allegations of match-fixing were correct. “Doctor, I have not been entirely honest,” Cronje told him.

The breakfast was organised by Daniel Lightman, QC, and Zaki Cooper, co-authors of a 2009 book, Cricket Grounds From the Air. They share a keen interest in the stories of Jews in cricket, on which they have written a number of articles.

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