Cape Town has been the host for many memorable sporting clashes between England and South Africa. Recent years alone have gifted us unforgettable drama – Ben Stokes’ recordbreaking 258 in 2016 and Graham Onions and Graeme Swann surviving the final overs to save the Test in 2010 spring to mind.
But in March Cape Town played host to a different type of sporting fixture, but one that is by no means less significant.
Atop the world-famous Table Mountain legends from English and South African cricket battled it out at a game of table cricket, an adapted form of the sport devised by the Lord’s Taverners which is designed to give young people with a disability the chance to play and compete in competitive sport.
England were represented by former Test captains David Gower and Mike Gatting with SuperSport commentator Jeremy Fredericks flying the flag for the home side.
“What the Lord’s Taverners have done in the UK is roll out these types of projects across the country for a long time now. And it’s amazing to see these kids really just enjoying themselves,” said Gower, who has been supporting the Taverners for nearly 40 years.
“It’s simple, it’s effective, and it gives them a sense of the team spirit that we have grown so accustomed to.”
Gatting, a Lord’s Taverners trustee, is hugely supportive of the charity’s efforts to spread the game and improve the lives of disabled young people.
“We’ve seen first-hand in the UK what table cricket can offer. It enables young people to understand tactics, work as a team and to build a social life. It helps to develop self-confidence, leadership and as we are seeing more and more around the world, there is a real need for the game to provide vital life skills and help disabled young people fulfil their potential,” Gatting explained.
Bradlyn Stuurman is one of the table cricket coaches in South Africa. He plays a huge role in ensuring as many children as possible benefit from the game.
“Whenever I see the kids playing table cricket I have a smile on my face,” Stuurman beamed.
“They are no different to any other kids, all they want to do is play and have fun and this game is amazing because they can feel part of a team.
“A lot of them will see cricket on TV but never have played a cricket match, but now it’s an opportunity to say they’ve captained a team, or bowl someone out. I think the camaraderie with other schools has been another thing, they were nervous at first seeing new people, but they are being exposed to new opportunities and having the opportunity to play sport regularly.”
Delia Tew is a teacher at Vista Nova School, a public special school in Cape Town. “The problem is there aren’t a lot of sports that can apply to children with different abilities. We have one learner, he can’t access many things. In the classroom at school he was a little bit depressed, he wasn’t happy.
“But when we introduced him to table cricket, it was something he could do. I promise you it was like seeing a different child. It’s not something you often see, that kind of excitement… it’s amazing to see.”
The setting for this ground-breaking fixture is deeply appropriate, the shared name between the location and the sport being the obvious reason but also because of the Taverners’ close relationship with South Africa. The celebrity cricket XI of the UK-based disability sports charity was in Cape Town to play two cricket matches to help raise awareness for its sister organisation, Lord’s Taverners South Africa and to raise awareness of the work of the charity locally which includes table cricket.
Money raised at events throughout the tour has helped to raise funds to deliver table cricket in a further 20 schools across South Africa. They also support Sporting Chance, a Cape Town initiative that uses cricket to give structure, organisational and leadership opportunities to disadvantaged children.
The Cricketer donated a huge bundle of cricket equipment to the cause and the Taverners gifted it to the children of the Masiphumelele township. Jonnie Irwin, presenter of Channel 4’s A Place In The Sun was there to present the kit along with Gatting and said: “You can see the difference that sport is making. You can see that the kids here are living in abject poverty but as soon as you get close to the sports fields, you are greeted with a cacophony of noise of them all having fun and competing hard.
“Everything they are going through is forgotten when they are on a sports field – it’s something that has really resonated with me.
“This programme is so important. When you see the delight these kids get from picking a new shiny cricket ball out of a bag to replace the old thing that looks more like a Rubik’s cube, it’s just so rewarding and, more importantly, such a simple thing we can all do.”
What is table cricket?
Table cricket is an adapted version of cricket, played on a table tennis table and specially designed to give young people with a disability the chance to play and compete in the sport we all love. There are different scoring zones around the table and, just like in regular cricket, fielders have to be carefully positioned to prevent runs or to get the batter out. Teams of six take turns to bat or bowl, with the bowler using a ramp to deliver the ball (either a regular ball that runs true or a weighted one that swings).
The batter scores by hitting the ball into the scoring zones, avoiding the fielders if they can. Alongside the enjoyment of playing the game and competing, table cricket has been shown to develop teamwork and social skills, and help with coordination and cognitive skills.
Over the past four years the number of schools playing table cricket in the UK has nearly trebled with 470 regularly playing it in 2019.
Sixty-four county competitions were held last year with 11 regional champions taking part in the national finals at Lord’s. In total 8,863 young people living with a disability benefitted from the sport.
(The Cricketer Magazine)