Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches by Colin Shindler – Review

Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches by Colin Shindler – Review logo

By Karl Hornsey

Colin Shindler first came to my attention, as he did for many sports fans, thanks to his memoir Manchester United Ruined My Life in 1998. The timing of its release in itself was rather remarkable, as presumably United ruined the City fan’s life just that bit more a year later when they won their unprecedented Treble. What I didn’t realise is that Shindler is also a huge cricket aficionado, eminent historian and has lectured on film and modern history at Cambridge University for 20 years.

And so he’s perfectly placed to write Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches, telling the story of the ultimately doomed cricket tour by Apartheid-era South Africa to England in 1970. This may on the face of it seem to be a cricket book, but it’s very much more than that, focusing as much, if not more, on the social issues affecting England and South Africa over 50 years ago. There’s a danger with such an aim that an author can lose the attention of cricket fans by documenting in such detail the political machinations that were taking place behind the scenes and in full view of the watching world, while also losing those interested in the social aspect, but not the cricket. Thankfully, Shindler walks the line adeptly, mapping out events chronologically from 1968 through to the summer of 1970 and a subsequent ‘Test’ series that has seemingly slipped through the cracks and become forgotten.

Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches by Colin Shindler – Review cover“Huge depth”

More than 50 years on from the proposed tour there are few survivors to tell their story, but Shindler has dug deep into the archives to at least provide the opinions from the time of many of those involved. In fact there’s a huge depth about the book that does mean concentration is needed to follow who said what, where and when, but this approach pays off as the leading protagonists gradually realise that the proposed tour simply can’t go ahead. Had this been accepted much earlier, an awful lot of time, money and reputations could have been saved.

It might be hard now to even entertain the thought process that was the norm in South Africa at the time, and the insistence from the government that sport, as with all other aspects of South African life, was prohibited from being multi-racial. The cricket team was a source of great pride in the country and boasted one of the most talented squads ever assembled, but set in the context of what else was going on in the world at the time, it quickly became apparent that the days of Apartheid as a policy were numbered. This is where Shindler excels, pulling together what might seem like disparate threads to show how the pressure built and built on the MCC and British government to abandon the tour, before the inevitable happened.

The cancelled tour led to a hastily arranged and sadly poorly attended series between England and the Rest of the World, whose squad ironically featured several leading South African players. This is the series that seems to have been forgotten, so it’s great that Shindler has paid it more than just lip service, offering a detailed account towards the end of the book of each ‘Test’ and giving cricket enthusiasts a reminder of a time that should in many ways be consigned to history, but which in other ways needs to be in people’s minds in these current days of division and dispute.

‘Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches – The Controversial South Africa Cricket Tour of 1970’ by Colin Shindler is published by Pitch Publishing, £19.99 hardback


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