We always love to hear from anyone interested in contributing to this blog – whether to air a view, share a story, tell us something new, or just take a little trip down memory lane.
So we were delighted to hear from TFT reader John Pascoe, who’s put pen to paper for the latest (if rather irregular) instalment in this site’s very occasional series about our favourite cricketers. Here he pays tribute to a Middlesex legend of yesteryear.
My favourite cricketer: Vintcent van der Bijl
In these days of so many great, tall fast bowlers it is hard to believe that in 1980 I could hand my autograph book to most of my heroes with my shoulders at 90 degrees. There were exceptions, of course. I had to stand on a box to pat Joel Garner on the back. The same cannot be said for 6 feet 7 inch Vintcent van der Bijl. He knelt down to sign my book!
His arrival at Middlesex coincided with my last days at school. I had secured a job with the Civil Service in London which was to start in September. This meant I could at last attend cricket matches at Lord’s legitimately instead of sloping off to catch the odd day’s play on the sly. I was so looking forward to watching Wayne Daniel and Mike Selvey complete an innings and seeing the entire composition of a match-ful of Mike Brearley’s cerebral genius.
But when it was announced that Daniel would be touring with the West Indies my heart sank. His replacement was this gangly bowler who nobody had heard of – nobody in my peer group at least. There were no test statistics to look at, and he couldn’t be as good as Proctor, surely?
With heavy heart, I trudged up to HQ to watch my first match of the season against Sussex. I was soon converted. He removed the two openers, including his countryman Kepler Wessels, but only went on to take six wickets in the match, which Middlesex won at a canter. What converted me was how the batsmen struggled to score off him. In that match he only conceded 74 runs from 47 overs, and he ended the season with 86 Championship wickets at an average of 14.72. Fantastic.
It wasn’t just this which hooked me, though. We met him twice during that match, once at the Pavilion entrance and once on the Nursery Ground. He had a sense of humour. Getting a smile and a friendly word from Messrs Selvey, Barlow and Radley had been an occasion worth writing down. ‘What’s the weather like down there?’, said Vintcent. That’s when he knelt down to sign my book.
We met him a few further times that year. He always had a quip and a cheery smile. And there was something else – he smoked. This amazed a young me. I thought all sportsmen were whiter-than-white. Of course, I subsequently learnt that this was naive on my part, but he didn’t hide it. It made him puff and pant a bit but he took wickets and kept batsmen quiet. Surely this was what mattered.
The more politically aware of our group (not me) picked up on the fact that Mike Brearley was a vociferous critic of the apartheid system in South Africa, and that having a white South African in the dressing might not be the best idea. When Daniel re-joined the Middlesex team, having missed out on selection for the West Indies tour, we assumed we would see less and less of Vintcent. Not so.
He was a tolerant, family, man and I got the impression that he despised the system as much as anyone here. I say impression, because he was a proud South African and preferred to keep his opinion to himself to avoid any type of conflict. Brearley himself said of Vintcent: ‘He was effervescent, positive and also capable of taking responsibility for things he didn’t do right, whereas many of the rest of us tended to find fault everywhere. He held no grudges…about his bad luck in not being able to play Test cricket. He was, and is, a generous man’. Testimony indeed. Vintcent and Wayne played most of the season together.
Back to the cricket, though. Vintcent was incredibly accurate and could regularly land the ball on a sixpence in Geoffrey Boycott’s corridor of uncertainty. A kind of early-day McGrath. And at reasonable pace. He once referred to himself as a ‘stock and shock’ bowler.
That team was probably one of the best Middlesex sides I have ever watched. As well as those already mentioned, we had the spin twins, Emburey and Edmonds, Gatting’s batting, Gunner Gould, Roland Butcher and a young Simon Hughes. The team won the Championship and the (final) Gillette Cup that season – beating the old enemy, Surrey, in the final. Oh for those days again.
Then, just as soon as he had appeared, he was gone. Vintcent went back to South Africa at the end of the season to fulfil a commitment he’d made to – of all people – a tobacco company. We soon had Desmond Haynes and Angus Fraser, et al, to idolise but also work to concentrate on. It wasn’t quite the same.
I am exiled in Cornwall these days and seldom get to Lord’s, but when I do, I am at once flung back to the heady, carefree days of no ties, Middlesex winning trophies and Vintcent Van der Bijl.
favourite cricketer? Perhaps an unsung hero, or maybe a forgotten figure who’s never been given the credit they deserve. Tell us about your suggestions below, or even better, reminisce to your heart’s content and we’ll post up your thoughts here on the blog. You can e-mail any contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org