Several weeks ago at the Wanderers, with the Lions in the early stages their Ram Slam T20 campaign, I sat down with Edmund Ntikinca, a cricketer who played in that very stadium 40 years ago in a historical curiosity called the Datsun Double-Wicket competition. Ntikinca and his partner, Edward Habane, beat the New Zealanders Bruce Taylor and Bev Congdon early on but then found themselves steamrollered as they struggled to get to grips with the high-flyers of the international game.
The tournament, arranged by Lee Irvine and the public relations supremo Robin Binkes, was won by the Rhodesian pair of Brian Davidson and Mike Procter. They earned a winners' cheque of R1 500 for their efforts.
Australia were represented by the Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg; Frank Hayes and Tony Greig played for England. The South African white side consisted of Barry Richards and Eddie Barlow. It was a thrown-together jamboree meant to satisfy the locals' appetite for international cricket, but from a distance it looks like the stage-managed absurdity it was, one that can only have been conjured up in the freakily touched atmosphere of early 1970s South Africa.
Not so much a historical footnote as a cricketing shadow, Ntikinca was a legend on the West Rand from the time he made his provincial debut for the black Transvaal side as a 19-year-old in 1956. He continued to play well into his 60s, turning out for a variety of West Rand teams ranging from Luiperdsvlei Estates to Durban Deep, Ottomans and Kagiso's famous Starlight club.
He was a canny all-rounder bowling seam and spin and batting with cunning and charm. Throughout it all, he enjoyed his cricket, using the game to comment wryly on life and human frailty. What he says irascibly about some of the teams against whom he played doesn't bear repeating.
He enjoyed himself too. A photo from the Datsun Double-Wicket shows him lying down head to head with Greig, the two recuperating after a strenuous game. Ntikinca has a plaster on his head; a fag is dangling from his hand. The two – who wouldn't have been allowed to play against each other in normal circumstances – look relaxed, at home and blissfully at peace.
Ntikinca is retired now but a regular in the Wanderers Long Room, often casting his frequently jaundiced eye over proceedings. His life as a worker took him across the West Rand as he sought jobs with generous employers and ample free time. He worked for Cobra Brassware for 12 years and acted as a clerk at All Steel Office Furniture for 15. Towards the end of his working life, he worked as a spray painter, powder coating more office furniture.
"I loved all sports," he says with a grin. "I used to play tennis here in town with one of the owners of the company."
When I ask whether it was a good idea to beat his boss at tennis, if only occasionally, he replies wickedly: "Ja, I made him run a lot."
Ntikinca has the habit of referring to anyone even slightly younger than him as "boys" or "those boys". On further prodding it transpires that such boys might, in fact, be in their 60s.
Hoosain Ayob, the well-respected fast bowler against whom Ntikinca often played, is referred to in this slightly dismissive manner. Being 76 obviously brings its advantages.
'I don't have heroes'
Ntikinca's cricketing highlight is slightly surprising in that he doesn't mention Greig, the Datsun Double-Wicket or, in fact, combining with Habane to bowl out the New Zealanders Congdon and Taylor for six runs in their opening game. Instead he plumps for a match out of the spotlight, far closer to home. "It was when I played against Tiffie Barnes's Malays there in Mayfair," he says. "I returned seven for 13. That was a moment."
Like colleagues and fellow players James Tokwe, Templeton Gampu and Sam Nontshinga, Ntikinca hails from the Fort Beaufort area of the Eastern Cape. All of them wound their way to the Reef, either to work in the mines or in the industrial heartland of the West Rand.
With them they brought their dreams and hopes of a better life – they also brought their love of the sport, a love that sustained Ntikinca for more than 40 years of club cricket.
When I ask Ntikinca who his hero was through all of this, expecting perhaps that he would mention the name of someone famous, he surprises me.
"I don't have heroes," he says with the mischief for which he is well known. "I used to be a hero myself."