Back in the days when Test matches were sacrosanct and every team in the world selected their strongest available XI for every match, South Africa traveled to Harare for a Test match against Zimbabwe with a hopelessly over-qualified team to take on what was, in 1999, a still plucky team with a strong batting line-up.
Nonetheless, the Flower brothers, Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson and Alistair Campbell couldn’t do much to prevent a slide to 102 all out in the first innings with Shaun Pollock collecting 4-32, Lance Klusener 3-39 and Hansie Cronje exercising his captain’s prerogative to jump the queue at the end to pick up 3-14. Allan Donald had literally been unplayable during two spells which added up to 10-5-10-0.
Jacques Kallis (115) and Mark Boucher (125), bizarrely used as a nightwatchman ahead of Jonty Rhodes, helped the visitors to 462 and Zimbabwe were bundled out for 141 second time around with Pollock taking another three wickets and Paul Adams (3-40) finally getting a bowl. Done and dusted by an innings and 219 runs inside three days. Time for an outing.
Three of us headed to Victoria Falls for a spot of bungee-jumping from the Livingstone Bridge, the highest commercial jump in the world at the time, and white-water rafting on the Zambezi River, still the river with more grade five rapids than any other.
Paddy Upton, Proteas fitness trainer as he was then, was not just an experienced bungee-ist but had actually worked on a commercial operation. He asked if he could tie my ankle bindings for my debut and then did that thing where he shouts “Oh my God, they’re not tied…” just as I took off. Fun and games. Team physiotherapist, Craig Smith – ‘Fizz’ – thought it was pretty amusing.
So, to the rafting. Three boats would be going and plotting slightly different courses depending on the strength of the paddling passengers and the level of adventure desired, or required. Our boat was skippered by a Kiwi raftsman called ‘Muzza’ who had worked the rapids of his country’s South Island for many years before challenging the toughest, navigable river in the world.
At first there were just six of us assigned to Muzza’s boat. The other two were ‘running late’, he told us. But they arrived, in a private land rover, just in time to be fitted with their helmets and life-jackets and to undergo Muzza’s on-river safety briefing and drills on a quiet section, flat section above the decent. It was his third season on the Zambezi and there was no doubt he knew what he was doing.
It was preferable, he told us, not to capsize because that’s when accidents happen. The rocks are hard and the whirlpools can suck you under the water for 30 seconds or more. He suggested we held our breath and didn’t panic because the river would spit us out eventually. If we weren’t able to hang onto the raft if we flipped, we were to fold our arms so they didn’t snap off and go through the ‘washing machine’ until we reached the next section of calm water where he would pick us up.
It was important that we worked together as a team and followed his instructions, paddling on one side of the boat or the other to maintain the correct line of approach into each rapid. Safety briefing and a few practise manoeuvres completed, he said we should get to know ‘a bit about each other’ to help with our teamwork. He went first. That’s when he told us about the South Island and some stuff about New Zealand men, tatoos and facial hair. It was more amusing than Paddy’s bridge joke.
He went around his crew, one by one. I’m the fitness trainer for the SA cricket team, I’m the physio, I’m a journalist etc. He had a couple of deprecating one-liners for each of us which made the others laugh. Then he came to the last one.
“And what’s your name, and what do you do?”
“I’m Richard and I’m, err, in the music business.”
“Sounds cool – like what, exactly? Do you play guitar? Sing? Drums?”
“More, umm, on the business side.”
“Guess the music business can be a bit seasonal, like my game, so what else keeps you busy? Got your finger in any other pies?”
“A few things, yes…”
“Tell us a bit more, mate. Any one us could save anyone else’s life today, it helps if we know whether we’re worth dragging out the water. Don’t be shy, Richard – or can I call you Dick? Are you a Dick, or more of a Richard?”
“I’m, ha ha…I work, I’m involved in the air, err, travel business. I’m more of a Richard.”
And with that, we were off. And sure enough, we flipped. That’s me clinging on for dear life in front of the picture. And Richard disappeared. There were seven of us, and no Richard. Then he popped up. A whirlpool had taken him but he had clung on to his paddle which was bent beyond 90 degrees. He had no idea how it had happened but it was, wryly observed by Muzza, fortunate that it wasn’t his arm. We posed all for a photograph afterwards having signed the oar. Cricket.
In this article, Neil Manthorp unwittingly introduced me to something I have never before experienced. Feeling sorry for Richard Branson. That whole blokeish humour thing involving the feeble and ancient Richard or Dick line, was nearly enough to make me reconsider my views on Branson. But only nearly. Ultimately, sanity prevailed.
Still, in Neil's hands, even blokeish humour can be transformed into beautiful story telling.
nice one Neil. Branson- a real character! I rafted and was a so-called 'long swimmer', but it was an incredible experience. The hardest part was retaining the 2 beers that were quickly drunk after the steep climb out- on a very bumpy truck. Sweated blood for that!