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Ali Bacher

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Medicine, cricket, life — if you have talent don’t waste it, and always leave on a high note.

Ali BacherWhen you talk about South African cricket, one name will always come up, whether as a player, captain or administrator  extraord inaire . That’s Ali Bacher, now retired from the game of gentlemen. But his life is still full of challenges.

You can learn so much by listening to your seniors. My first game for Transvaal was in 1960 in Bulawayo. In those days we had to travel by train for two nights and a day through Botswana to get there, but we loved it. I was 18 years old, travelling with cricket legends like Johnny Wade and Hughie Tayfield. They’d talk to us about their experiences, the different players they knew. We became like a family.

To d a y ’s cricket is professional with big money involved. Some former cricketers have hang-ups about the money today’s cricketers get. I don’t. It’s a different game today. I pushed for these guys to be properly paid. But the sad part is that, with this kind of intense play and travel, the camaraderie we had is gone.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the rivalry between us and Australia. It was always there, but perhaps minus the bad language used today. I never swore — well, not out loud.

Follow your instinct when it comes to making life-changing decisions. People often ask why I gave up playing when I was still on top. I made my decision a year before I retired in 1974. I was playing for Transvaal against Western Province at Newlands. Whenever I played Eddie Barlow it was a big clash — people said it was worse than the Vietnam War.

On the last day we batted out to save the match and I knew when they came to Joburg we’d knock them out. I was opening batsman at that game and suddenly my nerves got to me. I found myself locked in the toilet for half an hour and when I came out I’d made my decision. My playing days were over.

The same instinct saw me giving up practising medicine to go into business and to part ways with cricket completely after the 2004 Cricket World Cup. Always leave on a high note.

It seems my life just fell into place. But when I started my first medical practice in Rosebank in 1970, things were frighteningly quiet. Then suddenly I got my first patient.

There was a bridal boutique on the first floor and one of their customers passed out. Luckily, the women who ran the shop loved me and sent her up — one of many from that source.

Luck can be a matter of life or death. When I was a medical student I discovered I had high cholesterol. This was apparently a genetic problem, but I was the first person in my family to have it. I was put on medication. At 39, while driving to work, I had this pressing feeling on my chest. I’m a doctor so knew what was happening to me and I drove straight to the Rand Clinic.

They said it was a viral inflammation around the heart lining — nothing serious. A colleague insisted I saw Professor John Barlow, then head of cardiology at Wits Medical School. It turned out I had an 80% blockage in my arteries which led to a bypass operation — almost unheard of in those days. The leftover from that scare was that I became an obsessive jogger.

I’ve only ever missed one day. I jogged out of my New York hotel on a freezing February morning and turned back frozen two blocks later.

You need to look for talent constantly — everywhere. Today, thank goodness, there are no barriers as to who can play cricket. We need to find more young talented black players like Makhaya Ntini. He has shown that even if you come from a rural village — if you’re committed and determined — you can get there.

My parents were from Lithuania and knew nothing about cricket. When my father first saw me play at The Wanderers for Transvaal and saw the umpires, he wanted to know if they were the caretakers. Herschel Gibbs is perhaps the most talented cricketer I’ve ever seen. Steve Waugh said to me: “This kid is special” —but the difference between them is that Steve Waugh was a focused and disciplined player. I wasn’t surprised when I read H e r s ch e l’s book. He’s wasted such talent.

Bad things can happen to good people. Hansie (Cronjé) got sucked in (to matchfixing) because they say he liked money. But so do many other people. The problem with these bookmakers is they then have you for life. They blackmail you and threaten that if you don’t go with them they’ll expose you. Each country should have its own code of ethics, signed by the players in front of the international media. If you default, you’re banned for life.

If we all do something towards fighting HIV/Aids, we can make a difference. I’m working for a USAid project called Right to Care and I’m seeing change happen. I go out to clinics and talk to people and they’re recognising the need to be tested. We have 70 sites and with our new minister of health we’re experiencing real progress.

Your pleasures come from different places as you get older. Today I watch cricket with my eight grandchildren climbing on me in front of the TV. The joy of the game is still there but I’m enjoying it with a whole new generation. — Marion Scher

 

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Marion Scher is a member of the Southern African Freelancers Assocation

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