Preparations in full swing for Pineapple Cricket Tournament

Pineapple Cricket Tournament organisers are ensuring that all fields to be utilised for the upcoming 120th edition to be played from Saturday March 2 to Saturday March 9 will be in tip-top shape by the time the first ball is bowled.

With the tournament just over one week away a new carpet has been laid at The Helpers and The Hospital Fields. The crack at the Hospital field has been repaired with Peter Amm and his son, Simon taking on the repairwork, said tournament secretary Megan McCallum. 

“Rosehill Spar has been welcomed as a co-sponsor this year together with Kowie Toyota. They will be hosting the cricketers and invited guests at the prize-giving marquee at one of the venues,  Port Alfred Country Club, every evening after matches are concluded,” said McCallum.

Live music and entertainment has been finalised for every night of the week’s festivities at the marquee with opening night entertainment on March 2 being provided by Greg Short. The tournament booklet/fixtures are being designed and printed, which is a free issue.

Oldies day  – which comprises a fixture between the East v West Legends – on Monday March 4 is in the hands of former Pineapple Cricket president, player and MCC member, Ross Purdon. Following the illness and sudden passing of SA cricket and Gloucestshire legend, Mike Procter, who was pencilled in as guest speaker on the evening of March 4, Pineapple Cricket organisers are having to make arrangements for a replacement. This will be confirmed by the end of the week, said McCallum.

There are six teams that compete for the main trophy in the A league, 10 in the B league and eight invitational teams.

Tournament director Dave Duncan said it was with deep regret that the cricket community learned of the passing of Procter over the weekend.

“Mike was an absolute legend on the cricket field in the 60s and 70s, rated by many as the best allrounder of his time in world cricket,” said Duncan.

“A few of us had befriended Mike over the past few years and it was while watching the Ashes at Lord’s [London] last year that Mike committed to joining us at the Pineapple Tournament as our guest speaker on March 4. He was to spend three days in Port Alfred as our guest of honour.

“Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends who have lost a part of their lives,” said Duncan.

Unfortunately Hong Kong outfit KaiTak CC are unable to make it to the tournament. “Their visas could not be ready in time,” said McCallum. “We have replaced them with a new invitational team, the Lower Albany Legends, headed up by Rodney Nightingale and will comprise players from the district.”

Meanwhile, former Southwell CC cricketer and Pineapple Cricket president, Justin Stirk, said the longevity of Pineapple is testament to the commitment by the many role-players involved in the spectacle. “It’s probably the only cricket tournament in the world where people play cricket for eight solid days and if I’m not mistaken, there are 24 teams. There are six games per day in one small town or location. It is incredible that it’s been going this long in its original form since 1904,” said Stirk.

“Some people just for the love of cricket  take annual leave to be part of Pineapple. A lot of young people seem to be coming back to the game after the tournament experienced  a dip in younger cricketers participating for a few years. it’s probably the highlight and, perhaps, the biggest money-spinner outside of the Christmas season for the town of Port Alfred.

“You’ve got 12 teams playing each day, that’s about 132 players eating lunch somewhere, and you have all the supporters having food and drink  … it’s a heck of a boost for the town.”

Stirk who first took to the cricket field for Southwell CC in 1985 playing in many Pineapple tournaments, before retiring from the game in 2020, said the tournament Cup was purchased in England in 1920 and presented for the first time the following year – and is still the prized silverware for A section teams. 

“It [Pineapple tournament] started with four teams in 1904 …cricketers would go out on ox wagons for two two-and-a-half weeks with some games continuing for a day-and-a-half,” said Stirk. So Pineapple Cricket has really evolved from there and gone from strength to strength up to its present format,” said Stirk.

“And today, with 24 teams involved it’s a heck of a lot of cricket and a lot of organising … one must remember all organisers are volunteers, no one is paid to do this job.

“When you have a tournament like this run by volunteers … from preparing the fields, organising the tent, organising sponsorships, organising the payments, the lunch venues, the umpires … everything is done by volunteers and is a reflection of their commitment to the game.”

Stirk said a number of talented players had chosen to play Pineapple and club cricket instead of furthering their careers “because they are farmers and can’t spend time away from their farms”. “There are many who would walk any provincial side, guys like Brandon Handley and the Norvals also come to mind.”  He said rural-based cricketers of the past who  have made provincial sides are Lorrie Wilmot, Claude Pittaway and Phillip Amm. 

Opportunity for rural cricket

Grahamstown Cricket Board president Leon Coetzee said it is testament to the farming and surrounding community’s love for the game that Pineapple Cricket could have survived up until now – the upcoming 120th anniversary.  Coetzee himself is a former Willows CC player who has played in at least  two Pineapple tournaments.

“The Pineapple Tournament happens at the end of the club season and it’s an opportunity for our 1st and 2nd teams to participate in a tournament which brings all of the rural cricketing communities together. Pineapple Cricket has actually promoted the game in our region over many years,” said Coetzee.

“The inclusion of development clubs  in later years has been a great and interesting development. The Ngumbela XI versus a Pineapple XI [that takes place later in the year] has been a great  development which has strengthened relationships between the respective administrators. 

“Pineapple Cricket is also a massive family occasion and boosts the local economy. From a cricketing point of view, the younger players have benefited immensely from the older players who are still playing. Pineapple has definitely boosted interest and grown the game in Makhanda and the region,” said Coetzee

He said the Makhanda area is proud of its tradition of providing the bulk of the umpires who stand in the tournament and “it’s a great achievement”.

“The GCB is really excited and happy to be part of such an event such as pineapple cricket.”   

A book titled Pineapple – an astonishing cricketing story written by Luke Alfred which chronicles the history of Pineapple Cricket with its several anecdotes by former and current players and administrators, will be launched at the PA Country Club marquee on the evening of  Monday March 4.