Springfontein: Sixes & Slip-Slops

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Prior Grange Guest Farm outside Springfontein in the Free State becomes Cricket Central on the occasional happy weekend when almost everyone arrives thirsty, in whites and ready to whack the willow and send the ragged red ball to all corners of the Karoo.

One of the guest cottages becomes the club-house, grandstand and watering hole for the wayward, sun-burnt party animals who earned a beer or two fielding on owner Blackie de Swardt’s pitch.

And make no mistake, it is Blackie’s pitch.

“It’s my field, so I open the batting,” he said with a smile under a silver moustache. “I also get to be the wicket-keeper.”

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There’s a six! Now gather the search party.

Hell, if Blackie de Swardt wanted to be umpire, captain and convener of selectors as well, no one would mind.

On a weekend in the late summer, the Springfonteiners played against the Colesbergers, from down the pike in the Northern Cape.

Only two days before, the cricket oval had been a pasture to 500 merino sheep. Stephen, the groundsman, told us the pitch would favour the spinners on the day.

We asked about the cricketing attire – would everyone be in white flannels? Most of them would, they assured us.

“It’s really only the boys from Bethulie who like to wear PT shorts and rugby socks on a cricket field,” said Blackie.

And what about elbow guards and helmets?

“Helmets are only worn by those who cannot bat,” said Blackie loftily.

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Looking for a lost ball in the meerkat burrows.

On match day, the clubhouse was all about salami sandwiches, chocolate cupcakes and friendly faces.

Huge picnic baskets were placed under shady trees and children had free access to all things sugary. It all looked a little ‘country Brit’, what with the flowering pink and white iceberg roses and a small purple tide of wild garlic blooms.

And then your eye caught sight of the Trans-Gariep Challenge trophy in the corner and you were right back in Mother Africa: it was a bloody great wildebeest skull pinned to a wooden shield.

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Blackie de Swardt leaves the field after a pesky fly distracted him.

Blackie’s field has been in operation since 1990, and has seen some cracking matches in its time. The Springfonteiners are also a travelling team, having played against places like Tweespruit, Aliwal North and Philoppolis with a reasonable degree of honour.

The players looked a bit more resplendent than the umpires, one has to say. The umpires wore long blue dust jackets, takkies and slip-slops, later dispensing with the formalities of slip-slops and digging their bare toes ecstatically into the ‘hallowed turf’.

They start young out here in the Karoo. A young boy of seven took the field as a replacement for a no-show and acquitted himself well.

Blackie came in to bat, scored a couple of runs and was (in his own words) mightily distracted by a farmyard fly buzzing about his helmet. As a result, he was clean-bowled.

Then the six-balls started flying around the place, mainly into the rough.

Waiting for the next man in…

Play was often suspended as the search parties were sent out to retrieve the R400 Hat Trick ball (a Kookaburra costs about R1 500 these days, I was horrified to discover) from one of the many meerkat burrows.

It was a glorious day for cricket of any shape, form or standard. Puffy white clouds in the blue sky, a cheerful breeze taking the edge off the 34-degree heat, cold beers in the bag  and trucks passing back and forth out there on the distant N1 like moveable advertising hoardings.

Eventually, it was clear that Springfontein was running away with the game, prompting one of the Colesbergers to say:

“Why don’t you guys declare, so we can get this braai on the go?”

Indeed, Springfontein scored a mammoth 203 for 5 in 30 overs, breaking a rather tiresome losing streak.

Things went pear-shaped for Colesberg, who could only raise 117 before the tantalising aroma of grilled lamb chops drew everyone back to the clubhouse.

The wildebeest skull was duly handed over to Blackie & Co and the socials began in earnest. Another good day’s cricket in the Karoo…

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The winning Springfonteiners and their Trans-Gariep wildebeest trophy.

Prior Grange Guest Farm:

Blackie and Sheryl de Swardt
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 310 3284

  • Prior Grange Farm cricket also features in Karoo Keepsakes II – The Journeys Continue. The recently-published book is the perfect gift for someone with any link to the Karoo.lowcovers0002

5 thoughts on “Springfontein: Sixes & Slip-Slops

  1. Pingback: Downtime in the Karoo | Karoo Space

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  3. Pingback: South African farmstays: Free State: Springfontein: Prior Grange FarmKaroo Space

  4. Suki says:

    Love it – can see it in my mind. Wish I could experience it.
    Be safe. Be healthy to everyone out there in SA.

  5. Andrew Newby says:

    What a whimsical litle piece! I enjoyed it and could relate because I stopped over at Springfontein for petrol shortly before the lockdown and was pleasantly suprised,

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