Not once in a short but successful spell as a cricketer, followed by a longer but much-admired career as a journalist did Michael Doman blow his own trumpet. He had every right to – but he was not that type of person. Doman, who died in the early hours of Monday morning, aged 57, left that to others.
I have written about the deaths of many sportsmen and women who played under the banner of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos). And every time I have driven home the point that “in another time and place” this one or that one would have represented their country of birth at the highest level of the game. Doman was one such person.
In fact, his contribution to South Africa could have come via the cricket field – or as an expert on the game. But sadly, his career was blighted by apartheid – and the short-sightedness of newspaper proprietors during that dark era.
Softly spoken, thoughtful and highly principled, Doman touched the lives of many with whom he played and competed against on the cricket fields of South Africa, and later on of those who read his incisive, insightful analyses of – especially – cricket matches.
He was hailed as a “special talent” when he burst onto the scene as a teenage batsman for the Wynberg-based Victoria Cricket Club, which in the late 1970s contained a “golden generation” of players, including Charlie van Schalkwyk, Rashaad Musson, Eddie Harris and Vincent Barnes.
In 1978, a series of stirring batting performances saw him become the Sacos-affiliated Western Province provincial side’s youngest ever player when he was drafted into the team at the age of 17 years and 17 days.
It was a setback when he was dropped after scoring just 12 and 0 in his debut match. But he rolled up his sleeves and knuckled down to iron out areas of weakness in his batting. And although he had to wait two years before being recalled to the team, he cemented his place in a side fast building a reputation for having a wonky middle-order, with scores of 64 and 62 not out against Transvaal at Elfindale.
During his time on the fringes of the senior provincial team, he continued to emphasise his talent at club level, at senior schools’ provincial level (he was vice-captain of Western Province Schools) and at SA Senior Schools Sports Association level (where, in the 1978 side, he was vice-captain to Gerald Majola).
Sadly, his career was cut short by chronic back problems, but he continued to follow the game closely and over time became one of local cricket’s expert analysts.
I first met Doman when he became a member of the Cape Herald newsroom in the early 1980s. He was a member of a team of “unrest” reporters, together with Tyrone Seale, Gary van Dyk and myself (and our driver, Jack Mhlanga). Although we readily admitted to being scared “shitless”, we conscientiously covered protests in the disaffected townships of the Cape Town Metropolitan area during two states of emergency – in 1985 and 1988.
Through unrest in places such as Bonteheuwel, Lotus River and Manenberg, through threats of being shot by the police, through being arrested in Mitchells Plain and through the Trojan Horse murders in Thornton Road, Athlone, Doman was always the “wise one”, the “unflustered one”, the “one who never panicked”, the one who “always came up with the best advice” in highly dangerous situations.
Of course, on some particularly fraught occasions, he was also our insurance policy….
In a country torn apart by racism, his fair skin helped us out of situations in which police were raring to give us a going over – or worse – with their quirts, but when looking at him were never “quite sure”. One of his best – bravest – moments occurred one Sunday in 1985 when an activist from the Bo-Kaap contacted me, offering me a “scoop”.
I sent Doman to investigate. He returned with the news that the “scoop” had turned out to be Trevor Manuel, who was on the run from the police. Wearing a beard and dressed as a Muslim holy person known as a tablighi, he gave a defiant interview to Doman. It was a front page main story for the Monday evening edition of the Cape Herald.
On Tuesday, a two-man security police delegation – Frans Mostert and a sidekick named Liebenberg – were at our offices, wanting to know everything about the interview. Doman wouldn’t speak. And the two cops had no luck with the rest of us either.
“Julle gaan julle gatte sien,” warned a furious Mostert as he left the premises. The next day we were presented with a subpoena to answer security police questions – or face two-week stretches at a time in prison.
We refused to budge and after about a week or so of intense negotiations with Argus Printing and Publishing Company lawyers, the security police backed down. After the advent of democracy, Doman settled down as a cricket writer and later sports editor of the Cape Argus, where he also played a key role in mentoring young reporters.
He was an important member too of the team assembled by author and journalist Mogamad Allie to produce the seminal book on Western Cape nonracial cricket history – More than a Game: History of the WP Cricket Board 1959-1991.
Hamba Kahle, Michael Doman.
Dougie Oakes is in his fourth decade as a journalist and writer, having written extensively in South Africa and the United Kingdom.