HomeCategoryCricket's Pineapple Week is 120 Not Over

Cricket’s Pineapple Week is 120 Not Over

Treasured Moment: Mninawa Njokweni is recognized by Mthetheleli Ngumbela, founder of the Ngumbela Cricket Tournament which takes place in Healdtown, Eastern Cape. The winning team plays against the best team in the Pineapple Week contest. Photo: Michael Pinyana

South African cricket’s best kept secret has to be Port Alfred’s annual Pineapple Week, which has been going strong since 1904 and shows no signs of waning.

There have been occasional interruptions, for World War II and a year during the Covid-19 pandemic, and next year’s tournament is its 120th anniversary.

So named because pineapples were ubiquitous in this area of ​​the Eastern Cape (they are still cultivated but not as much, and chicory and ranching are preferred), there were 24 teams in the week this year divided into three strength vs. strength groups. .

Many of the teams, such as Salem, Station Hill, Southwell, and Manley Flats, play regular weekend games in local leagues, but some are guest teams that come together to compete in the tournament.

Cricket is played over 50 on coir or burlap mats placed on the grass wickets to protect them from seven or eight days of use. The rules are strict—no “substitute” or privateer can play exclusively on the week if he hasn’t first played a minimum number of matches for his club—and matches are officiated by long-suffering neutral referees.

Covers off: The game is about to start.

Like high-speed fiber, neutral referees are one of the greatest inventions of the modern world. They may be seen, but ultimately they are obeyed. Barry Smith, a former bakkie driver, is the head referee for Pineapple Week and a much-loved feature of the contest.

“Nobody puts Barry up the hill,” says former tournament organizer Justin Stirk, “in part because he has a long memory. They know that fringe decisions could work against them if they do.”

Although it’s tempting to fall asleep in the afternoon session while umpiring at the country club, umpires must remain vigilant because risk-taking is quite institutionalized in Pineapple Week. Anything can happen, and it often does.

Once, a team nonchalantly entered the field with 12 players. A ball from the outfield could not be recovered because it landed near two mating Cape cobras. No one had the courage to bother them on the spot.

A story is told (Pineapple Week is an endless source of good stories) of a batter already out in a low-scoring game desperately asking a teammate if he thought

the opposition would care if he hit again.

“With you as a hitter? No, not at all”, was the serious answer.

Stories need characters and Pineapple Week is full of them. Who could forget long-legged, bony-kneed “Tick bird” Fowlds, or “Dog Shark” Fletcher, or “Mielie Meal” Yendall? And who could forget the superstitious partisanship of Beth Amm, wife of Rex and mother of brothers Phillip and Pete, both excellent cricketers in their day.

Beth was a heavy smoker and believed in her divine powers to sway the opposition at games against Salem, the team her husband and sons played for.

If a visitor scored too easily or was difficult to evict, Beth would write their name on the side of her cigar in pencil. By the time the cigarette was smoked, legend has it, the batter would have gone out.

Besides the hocus-pocus, the neutral referees and the organizers’ insistence on good behaviour, there are other reasons for the good health of Pineapple Week.

“Some of the youngsters are coming back and playing for their parents’ and grandparents’ clubs,” says Pete Amm, one of the driving forces behind the Salem Cricket Club revival. His son Simon plays there. “They love the idea of ​​reinvigorating area cricket and giving it a chance,” he says.

For those who haven’t seen it, Salem is one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the country. The field is flanked by a church and a cemetery and, depending on the time of year, by a purple shower of bougainvillea. The structures provide clues as to the priorities of those who settled there. The word of God was paramount, but so was the word of the defensive forward, the covering offense, and the maiden.

The winners of this year’s annual Pineapple Week cricket tournament.

One of the eureka moments of the organizers of Pineapple Week in recent years was pairing the winner of the week with the winner of the Ngumbela Cricket Tournament, started in 1989 by Mthetheleli Ngumbela in nearby Healdtown (pronounced Hilltown). .

Ngumbela, a cricketer and self-made millionaire with fruit and vegetable shops in Idutywa, started his tournament because he was disturbed that the youths of Healdtown and Fort Beaufort had nothing to do during the Christmas holidays but get drunk.

The tournament traditionally begins on the bank holiday of December 16 and features teams like Jackhammer, Lamyeni Hard Catch and Fear Not, in an attempt to drive men out of taverns and turn them into targets. The vision of him surpassed his tournament, but they both grew steadily. Now there’s the Ngumbela Oval, ample prize money and a thriving cricket culture as the tournament nears its 35th edition.

The atmosphere at this year’s Pineapple Week cricket tournament.

The first match between the winners of the respective tournaments took place in 2015 in Cuylerville; the return meeting took place at the Ngumbela Oval the following year.

Ngumbela was a serial maverick. Once, while walking through the gardens of the Port Alfred Country Club, he noticed holes in the roof of a grandstand.

“You white people should be ashamed of yourselves, letting the rain fall on the heads of the people sitting in the stands,” he is reported to have told a group of Pineapple Week organizers with a devilish laugh.

Never being judgmental when doing something tangible would be better, Ngumbela quickly wrote a check for R25,000 to repair the roof. His generosity has not been forgotten. The roof of the grandstand lives on as an informal memorial to Ngumbela, who was killed in a car accident last year.

Cricket needs more men like the tireless extroverts. And it needs more tournaments like Pineapple Week.

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