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Match of the Week sees Jamie Overton play for England under-19s in South Africa

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: February 21, 2013

  • ON TOUR: Jamie Overton during the ODI at Stellenbosch University on Tuesday.

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AS THE future of cricket went on display here on Tuesday, there was no escaping reminders of a troubled past.

The future was the South Africa and England under-19 teams, including North Devon's Jamie Overton.

The past was Zola Budd, the politically controversial athlete of the 1980s, and Omar Henry, the first non-white of the modern era to play cricket for South Africa.

For Jamie, having made a good start to his tour here, it was not the best of days in his impressive young career.

In the fourth one-day international (ODI), he was hit on the thigh while batting, prompting an early end to his participation.

There was not even the consolation of an England victory as his team lost by six wickets under the Duckworth-Lewis Method to go 4-0 down in the series.

However, England manager John Abrahams said he was hopeful the Somerset pace bowler would be fit for the last match in Cape Town today.

After a late call-up, Jamie scored an unbeaten 38 off 31 balls in the first ODI in Paarl and was England's top scorer with 48 in the second in Cape Town.

He was rested for the third match, in Paarl. Recalled for the fourth, in Stellenbosch, it was a day which brought rare relief from the burning daily sun over South Africa's flagship winelands district.

The clouds covered the mountaintops and there were three breaks for rain. The weather, if not the backdrop, made it more like a typical wet and windy summer's day back home.

"I would rather play in the sun – it's too windy," said Jamie, a strapping 6ft 5in 18-year-old from Northam, as the game got under way with England batting.

At 175 for five, Jamie went in, seeking again to make a useful score from the lower order.

But he was caught for six while clearly struggling from an earlier painful delivery and England, unable to accelerate and set their hosts a difficult target, ended their innings on 205 for eight.

Opening the bowling, Jamie tried gallantly to play on but the grimace on his face between each ball told of a player who could not carry on. His small consolation was that his one over was a maiden.

Rain reduced the hosts' reply to 39 overs and, after another delay, they needed only 33 from five overs with seven wickets in hand.

They reached the 157 they required for the loss of only one more wicket and with an over to spare.

It was an easy hunt for them, like a lion preying on an antelope.

The tourists had been to see the big cats the day before at a local wine farm, part of the programme to keep them entertained during their downtime.

"We saw lions, tigers, cheetahs," said Jamie. "I enjoyed it, you want to see these things while you're away, don't you?"

There had also been visits to the Waterfront, the upmarket tourist destination with luxurious shops, restaurants and cinemas.

The Queen Mary docks there on luxury cruises and it is also the departure point for boat trips to Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years.

Jamie was born in the year Mandela was elected this country's President – 1994 – and the story of South Africa's apartheid past was brought home to him on a visit there during a previous cricket trip.

It was under a Stellenbosch man, President Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, that apartheid was strictly enforced in 1958.

As the troubles flared with the Sharpeville Massacre, Verwoerd's assassination, and riots which followed the police shooting of student protesters in Soweto, the world responded by banning South Africa from international sport.

Consequently, Omar Henry was denied the chance to play legitimate international cricket during his peak years and he was 40 before he finally got his chance.

As he watched the youth internationals of today, who have every opportunity before them, there was no trace of envy.

Forced to leave South Africa to pursue his love of cricket during the isolation years, Omar captained Scotland from 1979 to 1992. How did he qualify for Scotland?

"Let's just say I was in the right place at the right time," he told Match of the Week.

After South Africa was readmitted to international sport, he returned to play in the first official post-apartheid Test match his country hosted, against India in Durban in 1992.

He played three Tests and three ODIs before retiring.

He went into coaching and became South Africa's chairman of selectors.

Now he was watching Jamie and the rest of the England and South Africa teams in his role as chief executive of Boland province. Envious, surely?

"I have no regrets," said Omar. "The generation before me never got a chance so I was one of the lucky ones. Today there are endless opportunities but to live in the past would be narrow minded."

And he did play in the 1992 World Cup."It was almost the impossible dream because there had been no guarantee the country was going to change politically," he said.

We noted how the present South Africa under-19 team was the perfect mix of four white, four coloured and three black players and how the senior team is similarly integrated.

"It's getting better and better," said Omar. "It is a process that is ongoing with many challenges but we are making inroads."

As the match entered its last five overs, suddenly, and without warning, a waif-like young female appeared from nowhere and began to circle the boundary running barefoot.

It was like a flashback to the days of Zola Budd, the barefoot wonder of 1984 who, because of South Africa's isolation, was given a passport of convenience to compete for Britain in the Los Angeles Olympics on the strength of having a British grandfather.

In January that year, Budd had set an unofficial world record for 5,000m – unofficial because South African performances were excluded during apartheid – at the Stellenbosch University Coetzenburg Stadium.

It was this performance that intensified the Daily Mail's hands-on effort to sign her up for Britain.

She arrived two months later, only 17 at that time. Just as the girl circling the boundary on her training run was 17.

Her name is Anni Bothna and there was good reason for her not to let cricket deny her the use of her regular training ground where the lush grass makes running barefoot seem less absurd.

Next month, she will run for South Africa in the World Cross Country Championships in Poland.

The cases of Budd and Henry serve as reminders to young sportsmen and women today that they are privileged.

Teenagers like Anni and Jamie will get all the help they need provided they keep working hard to develop their talent.

Jamie speaks with a maturity which augurs well. He is aware his equally strapping twin brother Craig has pulled ahead of him, playing for the England Lions in Australia, making that step up a significant goal.

"Hopefully I can put in some good performances for Somerset and get recognised by the Lions," he said.

Of his two good knocks prior to injury, Jamie said he had been feeling "very good with the bat", adding: "I have not really done a lot of work this winter but everything has clicked."

He may be 6,000 miles from home, playing the game he loves with the best of his age in an historic setting, but one thing that has not taken flight is his passion for cricket back where he was brought up. Will he continue to play for North Devon?

"If I get the chance," he said. "I played only four games last year and I think this year it might be even less.

"But I have been there so long I would love the chance. When I was younger I was always down there."

Fond memories made from an early life in North Devon. So different from those through which Budd and Henry struggled to make their sporting dreams come true.

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