Swallows and Hawke 

Published: 2022
Pages: 448
Author: Parry, Richard and Odendaal, Andre
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 4.5 stars

MCC’s cruelty and inhumanity towards D’Oliveira and its craven approach to the South African regime were the culmination of the racist logic and dynamics of the cricketing relationship over 80 years…”.

The above may provide an example that the authors –  Richard Parry & Andrè Odendaal, do not hold back. Their criticism of all involved from the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) to the mine magnates of South Africa, and including a number of the cricketers is direct.

Swallows and Hawke covers the tours of English cricket teams to South Africa from 1888 to 1965. The authors cleverly weave the political with the doings of the cricketers. The split is probably 75% cricket, which ensures the book does not become too heavy with the political agenda. This is a credit to the authors as it can be easy to become lost in the brutal racial regime that the touring cricketers all but openly propagated.

Still, the message is clear, that if anything these cricketing tours helped to legitimise the government and autocratic heads of industry that ran not only the country of South Africa, but cricket too. The fact that the cricketers often landed in South Africa during a significant political event, is not easily assigned to simple happenstance. Either way it provides the authors with an opportunity to discuss the great events of their country. The Jameson Raid that happened during the tour of 1895/96 and the war clouds that were gathering as the ‘timeless Test’ of 1939 came to its conclusion are just two of many examples.

Some of the stories included, about the subjugation of the majority of the residents of the country, are always sad and occasionally sickening. Such as when a group of black workers had risen after a white overseer at a mine had kicked a black worker to death. The result was a further 48 black workers shot, with 11 killed, while 250 more were gaoled. None of the white workers responsible were prosecuted. 

While there are any number of shocking moments in Swallows and Hawke, there are still some moments of levity. One such amusing anecdote was the South African opening bowler – Bob Newson, showing up for work and not the Test match in which he had been selected to make his Test debut. Fortunately for Newson his colleagues showed him the newspaper and rushed him to the ground. It was the 1930s so perhaps that might explain it, although it is probably more telling of just how amateurish the running of South African cricket appears to have been during the period discussed in Swallows and Hawke.

The whole purpose of South African cricket and the request for the English to tour, especially before the Second World War, seems to be as an assertion of culture and acceptance of South Africa in English polite society. To this end the English team was requested to send a number of the ‘right sort’ of well educated amateurs. They would stay in first class hotels, attend cocktail parties with dignitaries and politely ignore any signs of racism. The professionals, usually bowlers, appear to have been much more prepared to engage with the ostracised black cricketers. It is fair to say that none of the amateurs discussed in of Swallows and Hawke come out with their reputations enhanced. 

I have been putting off reading Too Black to Wear White, which is also co-authored by Richard Parry, as I thought it might be too heavy going, however now it appears to be a great follow up to Swallows and Hawke. If Too Black to Wear White is half as good, as Parry’s book currently under review, I have no doubt it will be a quality read.     

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