Cricketing great ‘Dik’ Abed denied biggest stage

VICTIM: Cricketer Sulaiman Dik Abed was disqualified for selection for the SA national team simply because he was not white.

IT COULD be argued that Dik Abed, who died in the Netherlands on Friday, was one of the biggest casualties of what became known, in 1968, as the “D’Oliveira Affair”.

 At least, D’Oliveira, banned by John Vorster’s apartheid regime from representing his adopted country of England in a test series against an all-white South African side, could resume his best career after the bitter disappointment of not being able to return to play at the highest level in the country of his birth.

There was no such opportunity, no way to the top for Sulaiman Abed, even though he was widely regarded as one of South Africa’s greatest cricketers….

For, like D’Oliveira before him – like Krom Hendricks long before that. Like Eric Petersen, Owen Williams, Lobo Abed, Des February, Ben Malamba and many others throughout the country, he was disqualified from challenging for a place South Africa’s national cricket team – for one, simple reason: he was not white.

Sadly, it was not only South Africa that was to blame for the disgraceful treatment of the country’s black cricketers. England, Australia and New Zealand were as complicit for the shutting of doors in the faces of black cricketers.

This callousness was not only confined to South Africa. The cricket administrators of South Africa’s traditional opponents were as prepared to omit black players from their own teams, simply because they believed their selection might offend the South African authorities.

In short, they were prepared to overlook human rights abuses for the sake of playing South Africa at cricket.

What this meant in effect was that wherever the “Springboks” played – be it Lords, The Oval, Melbourne or Auckland – for five days, the playing arena became a part of segregated or apartheid South Africa.

And so, after the furore over D’Oliveira, the highest level Abed could aspire to was in England’s Lancashire League, as British cricketing authorities, loyal friends of their apartheid-supporting counterparts in South Africa, closed ranks to ensure that another “D’Oliveira Affair” did not occur.

Born in 1943, Sulaiman “Dik” Abed, was the youngest brother of a sports mad District Six family. His older brother, Gasant “Tiny” (so named because of his massive frame) was a member of the SA Cricket Board of Control (Sacboc) national team that toured Kenya in 1958.

Another brother, Salie “Lobo” was reckoned by D’Oliveira when he was well into his test career, as the greatest wicketkeeper in the world.

A third brother, Goolam, played rugby league for Leeds and cricket for Rochdale in the Lancashire League in England.

Sulaiman, whose portly build as a youngster earned him the nickname “Dik” learnt his cricket in the streets in the vicinity of his home.

“Every Sunday morning between 20 and 30 players made their way to a street near my home for these matches,” he told author Mogamad Allie in an interview for a book entitled More than a Game, on the history of the Western Province Cricket Board from 1959 to 1991.

“Once you had been dismissed, you had to wait until everyone else had had a chance to bat before you could bat again.”

“Batsmen struggled to cope with bowlers intent on hitting them in places where it hurt most. But these confrontations were invaluable: it toughened us up and helped us develop skills that we may not otherwise have developed,” he said. Under the tutelage of his older brothers, Abed’s skills quickly began to develop. But he admitted: “I had no intention of becoming a bowler. I hated running.”

This also explained his philosophy as a batsman. It was built on the premise of why run singles, twos and threes, when boundaries – either fours of sixes – required far less effort. When he did take up bowling, his ability to bowl fast leg-cutters, with an unorthodox grip, turned him into a prolific wicket-taker and one of the most talked-about cricketers in local cricket.

Inevitably, as he became more successful, and as his reputation burgeoned, his growing band of admirers became more and more convinced that his future lay outside the narrow confines of Sacboc’s premier competition, the Dadabhay inter-provincial tournament.

As was the case with D’Oliveira, it was the local barman and cricket fanatic Damoo Bandsda who pulled the strings, via some interesting letters….

Lancashire League club Enfield found the fact that he had “scored more than 1000 runs and taken more than 150 wickets in his previous three seasons” compelling. The club offered Abed a contract – £600 for the season. He had to pay for his own airfare to the UK though.

He signed without hesitation.  “I would have played for them for free,” he said. Abed made his debut for Enfield on a cold, wet day – and took his first wicket for the club after about half-an-hour.

Abed told Allie: “In my first season I learnt a lot about bowling and responsibility. Although Enfield’s batting was fairly strong, their bowling tended to be on the thin side.

“And so aware of the team’s bowling shortcomings, there was one sentence I never uttered to my captain, Ian Metcalf: ‘Sorry, I’m tired!’

“When I was given that ball, I bowled and bowled and bowled. I hated making way for anyone else.”

The more he acclimatised to conditions, the better he became. In his second season, with Enfield, Abed took 120 wickets at an average of 8.76 runs a wicket. He also scored 458 runs at an average of 21.76. These stand-out performances guided the club to its first league title in 25 years.

In this respect, he outperformed seasoned internationals such as Australians Graeme Watson and Graham Corling. The top batsman that year was West Indian great Clive Lloyd, whose batting average was just over 61, and with whom Abed became great friends.

His performances did not go unnoticed. Several county clubs offered him trials, and although he performed creditably in all of these, he was never offered a contract. But after a trial with Warwickshire, county coach Alan Oakman, shed some light on this mystery. Oakman told him the order not to sign him had “come from the very top.”

“What this meant was a mystery to me,” Abed said. But the real reason was clear to many others: after the D’Oliveira fiasco, the staid and racist cricket administrators in the UK were not in the mood for another run-in with the South African authorities – and for that matter, the growing number of Britons prepared to show their opposition to apartheid in a much more voluble manner.

In later seasons, Abed came up against South Africans such as Clive Rice, Pat Trimborn, Peter Swart and David Orchard in the league and generally outshone them. In 1970, he responded appropriately to the ultimate insult aimed at him and fellow Sacboc great Owen Williams – a nomination to tour Australia with the Springbok team the following year.

The reason for the “invitation” was obvious: the tour was under threat of being cancelled because of South Africa’s apartheid policies.

“Owen and I were approached by someone who said he had been sent by SA Cricket Association president Jack Cheetham to find out if we would be prepared to join the SA team for the tour of Australia.”

“We made it clear that we would not be prepared to be used for window-dressing purposes to save the tour.” Abed retired from league cricket in 1976, with a haul of 855 wickets at an average of 10.27 and 5271 runs at an average of 27.77.

His exploits for Enfield saw him voted as the team’s “All Time Great”, ahead of West Indian legends such as Sir Clyde Walcott and Conrad Hunte, and India all-rounder Madan Lal. Having married a Dutch woman, he moved to the Netherlands where he continued to be involved with cricket until he was struck down with Alzheimer’s disease.

On Friday, he succumbed to kidney failure. He was 74.

Dougie Oakes is the Op-ed and features editor of Independent Media