The passing away of a cricketer from yesteryear often raises the eye-brows mainly for those who played against him or perhaps played in the same era. If he was in the bracket of “Great” the story is bigger but if his contribution wasn’t all the significant it is just a small story at the bottom of some page to often fill up space.
Not every cricketer makes it into the “Great” bracket. Not many cricketers are recognized for the contribution to the game unless it was deemed a massive one by those who somehow count in the cricket world.
On the 8th of February 2015 history will record that a certain cricketer named Richard Austin passed away at the age of 60 in the Caribbean. Does it mean much to that many? No it won’t. Richard played two Tests for the West Indies in his time and never graced the hallowed grounds of England or India on a tour. He never tore an attack apart on television nor did he knock over the batting line-up of a heap of stars in a far-off land for his country. Hence just a small obituary of a few words of his passing.
However, it is right to record of some greater contribution he made that sadly isn’t recorded in the annals of the cricket bible and maybe it is also right to somehow acknowledge that the cricketing brotherhood haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory.
Around 32 years ago a band of cricketers from the Caribbean were convinced by the man at the time charged with bringing cricket tours to South Africa despite them not being sanctioned by the world governing body. Dr Ali Bacher and his team put together a group of cricketers under the name of the West Indies rebel team to play against South Africa and clandestinely arranged for their arrival. No doubt it took loads of negotiating and convincing of those players that it was both worth it financially and that it would go a long way to foster the game among the disadvantaged. With Lawrence Rowe at the helm and a good few very capable players they left their beloved Caribbean islands and threw their lot in with South African cricket.
The backlash was massive. For obvious reasons, the cricketing world was shaken. The Caribbean was even worse. They saw each player as one who had sold their soul for the cash to a people in a far off land in Africa that supported apartheid. There were no grey areas and every player became an instant disgrace to his island. Families were torn apart. Cricketers alienated themselves from them and their Island governments were totally unsupportive. They were banned from ever setting foot on a cricket ground for a long, long time.
The road ahead for each one from that time on become a struggle. Being ostracized from every aspect of the life they knew before they set foot in South Africa was something they had not expected or maybe anticipated.
Some of the players were able recover in minor ways. A few left for opportunities in other countries. A good few were able to secure contracts in the UK leagues and even some like Sylvester Clarke, Alvin Kallicharran, Franklyn Stevenson and Emerson Trotman came back to play in South Africa for a good few seasons after the tour. They made good money and were able to get back some respect. An advantage that some had was that they were young enough to ride out the storm, earn some cash and then return elsewhere.
But sadly, for those who were in the “past their prime” years it was a bitter blow.
While the tour was on here in South Africa they visited places like Soweto and paved the way for many young black children to interact with cricketers of the same colour for the first time. Suddenly black youngsters became interested in the game and when they beat the South African side, they became heroes to many. It was the start of a process that saw massive changes come about in sport in South Africa and played a vital part in the political process a few years later.
Richard Austen was one of those men. He was one of the “Rebels” that signed away his life in his own country.
He returned to the Caribbean and found it tough going. He really couldn’t cope. At the time he placed his signature on the contract with Dr Bacher he was 29. Those that had seen him play up until then called him the right-handed Sobers. He could open the batting, bowl medium pace, bowl spin, field well and was blessed with some amazing ability. Sadly, it counted for nothing when he landed back at home. No matter where he turned the doors were shut tightly. It was a lonely place for a bloke who once had it all. He lost his dignity, his integrity and most of all his friends.
Ultimately it took its toll on him and he ended up living his life on hand-outs as a drug addict on the streets of Kingston and acquired the nick-name of Danny Germs from the local children.
For someone who offered up so much to suffer such indignity and to not be remembered for the part he played in breaking down a system that was so unjust is simply not good enough. Cricket is poorer for his passing no matter what…RIP Richard Austin.