The spin doctor expanding the boundaries of South African cricket


Gladman Xali remembers watching cricketers from the edge of the oval during the 50s. They always looked grand in their match-day whites. With vicarious excitement, he absorbed the technique of batsmen defending their wickets as bowlers surged up and down the track probing for ways to penetrate their guard. Even as a spectator he loved the game. Then one day an unexpected kindness gave him a taste of the real thing.

A local Bathurst farmer named Ramsay Forward was a keen cricketer. Eager to improve his batting, he asked Xali and his friends to bowl to him in the nets. Growing up in the township, they’d often played with a tennis ball and makeshift bat, but this couldn’t compare to the feeling of a hard, red-leather ball in hand. Forward taught the children everything he knew about the game and ignited in Xali a passion that is still alive as he approaches 80.

The time during which Xali grew up prevented him from discovering how far he could have gone in the sport. Perhaps he’d have become a Protea in a different era. But that’s all history now – what concerns Xali is the future. Through Bathurst’s Tiger Titans Cricket Club, he’s coaching youngsters in the sport he loves and giving them the opportunity to excel that he never had. While Xali coaches with the hope of producing future stars for his country, all of his players benefit from being exposed to a game centred on discipline and teamwork. And that’s the stuff of great nations.