HASSAN HOWA – MY CRICKET DAD

Many years later, when I thought about my brief career as a cricketer, I reluctantly agreed (with myself) that I didn’t try hard enough.
Certainly, in my years as a junior player, on the dusty fields of William Herbert, and in the slightly better conditions at Rosmead, there were people who had a greater belief in me than I had in myself.
And of these, none championed me more than the great Hassan Howa….
I started playing as a 15-year-old for the St John’s Cricket Club, following a decision by the Wynberg Union to start an Under-16 division.
It was easy-peasy.
Our cricket gear consisted of a white sweater, a white shorts, white socks and sand shoes. Even I could afford that.
But then came a snag.
I turned out to be a pretty good player. My batting was okay, although not as good as my partner, the exceptionally talented Faldie Gamieldien. But it was as a left-arm spinner that I came into my own.
I had no idea why, but I could spin a ball virtually sideways.
This was when Hassan Howa recognised my potential.
‘I want you to play for the Under-21 board side,’ he told me one day.
I was flattered.
But there was one snag: the Under-21s played in long pants, a cricket shirt, cricket boots and a jersey (for cold days).
I told Mr Howa my parents would not be able to afford these togs.
He was such a kindly guy with youngsters like me.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said, only the trousers is important. I’ll organise something.’
And this is what I’ll never forget….
To white officials and spectators, Mr Howa was the epitome of Satan because of his reputation for fighting apartheid in cricket and other sports – and, indeed, in society.
But to me, he was the gentleman who trawled all around the different fields at William Herbert, trying to persuade (tall) better-off cricketers to lend their long pants to someone they probably didn’t even know, so that this person could play for the Under-21s.
I’m not sure I fully appreciated then what Mr Howa did for me. I think appreciation only came later.
Mr Howa was also responsible for making me believe in myself. ‘You’re good,’ he told me. ‘Believe it.’ And when I did – and as my confidence grew, my expertise increased. I developed what I thought was a fearsome faster ball, as well as a left-hander’s googly (which, in those days, went by the racist term of ‘Chinaman’). I still remember who my first victim was of a ball that spun the other way: he was a Spenston batsman, Kariem Roomany, who was more than shocked when he saw a ball that I pitched outside his off stump turn in instead of away, and bowl him.
Mr Howa felt that I could be the next Owen Williams. And what better way to push me along that road than by bringing in Williams himself, who played for a club called Oakdale, at Rosmead, to be my mentor and coach.
It was a great experience. Williams came to William Herbert, once a week, fully togged out in whites, and spent about two hours a session with me, chatting about the great game of cricket and coaching me.
I thought he was a wonderful coach.
I learnt, among other things, that a ball that travelled straight could be just as dangerous as one that turned sideways, and that a faster ball was more dangerous when it appeared to be a normal delivery to an opposing batsman.
I still had difficulties though.
In my Matric year, aged 16, I appeared to be a shoo-in for selection to the WP Schools side to play in a schools’ tournament in Cape Town.
And then my parents dropped a clanger: ‘Sorry,’ they said, ‘we need you to work with a postman, delivering letters and festive cards, over the Christmas holidays to bring in extra money.
I was bitterly disappointed.
Although I was selected for a Saturday game for the Western Province Under-23 side against a SA Schools side, it was not quite the same thing.
I quit cricket before I turned 21 – and although I tried to make a comeback in my late 20s, the lengthy time I spent out of the game had a detrimental effect.
I quickly realised I was a spent force….