December 07, 2014 by
Cricket may be the archetypal English sport, but there is a long history of it being played in Pretoria and one of the earliest mentions of the game in the city was in August 1874 when a Volksraad meeting was interrupted by Jim Nobel, President Burgers’ secretary, slogging a ball through the window of the chamber and narrowly missing the Speaker.
Those early Landvaders almost decided to ban cricket from the city square, but President Burgers and the attorney-general were both lovers of the game and the sport was given a reprieve.
Those pioneering Pretoria cricketers moved to a cattle compound on Widow Hoffman’s farm, in what is now Fountains Valley, in 1882 and their ground became known as Berea Park, where several Pretoria v Potchefstroom matches were held.
There was already a black cricket club playing in Elandsfontein, the Diggers, in 1898 and by 1937 there were more than 50 black clubs spread between Randfontein and Nigel.
Those were the days of the Transvaal Republic and the best cricketers from the Pretoria region would play for Transvaal, until 1937 when North-Eastern Transvaal was included in South African domestic cricket in its own right.
North-Eastern Transvaal’s first first-class match was played in December 1937, in the 25th edition of the Currie Cup, as they took on Western Province at Berea Park. Lennox Brown, who played in two Tests for South Africa in 1931/32, took five for 54 and William Lance, the father of Tiger, claimed three for 19 as the inexperienced home side limited the powerful Capetonians to just a 10-run first-innings lead.
Brown then top-scored with 42 in the North-Eastern Transvaal second innings, but the debutants ultimately went down by just three wickets.
North-Eastern Transvaal also often played in Benoni, at the same Willowmoore Park ground that has become a Titans stronghold in the present day, but they were considered a second division team and only played in the A Section of the Currie Cup again in 1960/61 and 1967/68.
In 1971, the North-Eastern Transvaal Cricket Union became the Northern Transvaal Cricket Union, and in 1979/80 they returned to the A Division.
But with all the socio-economic problems in South Africa and Berea Park now being nearly a hundred years old, Northerns cricket remained a hospital case and they needed a doctor to steer them into the bright future they now enjoy.
That doctor was chemical engineer Willie Basson and as chairman of the NTCU he began chasing what he would later describe as “a ridiculous dream” in 1981/82 when the search for a new home for the union began.
It was a momentous year on the field as well as the Northerns B side was entered into first-class competition for the first time, playing in the Bowl, and the senior team won for the first time in the A Section as they beat Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth under captain Norman Featherstone. English swing bowler Chris Old took eight wickets in the match and there were important 70s from Rodney Ontong and Vernon du Preez.
And in 1982, former Transvaal stars such as Lee Barnard and Noel Day arrived in Pretoria and would play vital roles in the rise of Northerns cricket. The other major acquisition was that of former New Zealand captain John Reid who was put in charge of the team and proved an inspirational figure working in tandem with captain Barnard.
The move to Centurion Park – the name was chosen after a Name The Ground Competition – happened from 1984/85 and it is the only cricket ground in the world to have given its name to the suburb that sprung up around it. The first match was played on November 15, 1986.
The 1980s was the decade when the rise of Northerns cricket really began and in 1984/85 they played in two of the three domestic finals. They beat Western Province for the first time in the Currie Cup semi-final, thanks to Mandy Yachad’s century and Eric Simons taking seven wickets and scoring a crucial 58.
The elusive first A Section trophy would only come in 1996/97 however, the same year the NTCU became the Northerns Cricket Union, when 59 years of waiting ended with Keith Medlycott and Mark Davis steering them to the Standard Bank League title, Mike Rindel breaking the record for the most number of runs in a season in the day/night competition and Rudi Bryson spearheading the attack.
Limited-overs cricket continued to be the main source of success for Northerns and the Titans franchise as they became known in 2004, with the team winning the 1998/99 Standard Bank League, the Pro20/T20 competition in 2004/05, 2007/08 and 2011/12, and the one-day competition in 2007/08, 2008/09 and 2013/14.
The Titans have won the four-day competition four times – in 2005/06, 2006/07, 2008/09 and 2011/12 .
The Northerns Cricket Union has become a place where the different language groups and races of South Africa pull together for the success of the team, and no franchise won more trophies than the Titans between 2004 and 2014.
This has obviously led to many players from the Pretoria region being selected for the national team and the likes of Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel and Paul Harris have been integral to the rise of the Proteas to the number one Test side.
Off the field, the calm, visionary leadership of people like Basson, Alan Jordaan, Richard Harrison, Brandon Foot, Vincent Sinovich, Elise Lombard, Jesse Chellan, and now Jacques Faul, Patricia Kambarami and John Wright has been crucial to the success of the Northerns and Titans teams.