ASLAM KHOTA pays tribute to two cricketers – one who served the game as the greatest cricket manager and the other, like many other during his era, were denied full international honours because of apartheid.
The third wave of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage communities across the country and countless families have lost near and dear ones.
The sporting fraternity has not been spared either and in recent months Goolam Rajah, Yusuf Delair, Mohamed Ganchi, Imtiaz Noorbhai, Idrees Mangera and former soccer maestro Louis Jeevanantham and Abdul Hamid Bloms Nanabhay succumbed to the virus. Veteran cricketer and administrator Rafique Khota passed away due to ailing health.
Rajah, the former team and logistics manager of the Proteas cricket squad, passed away on the June 29, 2021 after an eight week battle with COVID-19. He was 75 and laid to rest in the West Park cemetery.
Tributes poured in from the cricketing world led by Kumar Sangakkara, Brian Lara, Anil Kumble, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith, Vincent Barnes, Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers and old friends and colleagues among many others.
‘He took care of everything with such detail that the players were able to focus totally on the cricket and that was why his tenure was so successful. We will indeed be fortunate to see his like again,’ lamented Smith.
‘Goolam was an outstanding and gentle person. I got to know him well through the years. He was kind and generous and I have so many wonderful memories of him and the great conversations we had,’ said Sri Lankan great Sangakkara.
Former cricketer and writer, Yusuf ‘Chubb’ Garda, noted: ‘Goolam Rajah shall be remembered as the greatest cricketing manager the world has ever seen. His dedication to his vocation, his passion for the game of cricket, his love for his family and friends, above all his moral integrity, are qualities that have endeared him to the peoples of South Africa and the international community.
Gooly, as he was popularly known, was soft spoken with a quiet purposeful temperament that radiated competence, confidence and compassion. He was born in Doornfontein, downtown Johannesburg, on December 16, 1946 and was the eldest of four brothers and one sister.
As a youngster, Rajah captained the Doornfontein United soccer team, was a competent batsmen, wicket-keeper and fielder but was best known for his amazing feats as an athlete. He gained provincial colours in the 100 metres, 200 metres and relay.
He returned from England after graduating as a pharmacist, and promptly settled in Lenasia where he opened a chemist in the Laljee Centre. He later bought into a larger chemist in the Trapezium Centre on Rose Avenue. In 1990 he then sold the business to run a tyre franchise in Carletonville. The door to cricket was ajar and Rajah walked through it to carve a career that lasted 20 years.
The brothers were founding members of Cavaliers cricket club and Rajah and younger brother, Yusuf, served on the executive of the Transvaal Cricket Board and were among leading activists in the fight against apartheid.
During the 1980s Rajah cut his teeth as a manager of the Howa Bowl provincial team for a number of seasons. At the time of unity in 1991 he was elected on the executive and served as selector on the united Transvaal Board under the auspices of the newly formed United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA).
Rajah then managed a Transvaal team under Jimmy Cook on a two-week sojourn to the United Kingdom.
After a successful tour he was recommended by the Managing Director of UCBSA, Dr Ali Bacher, to manage the national team on local and overseas tours. He shared this duty for a few seasons with Cassim Docrat, who was preferred for the sub-continental tours because of his fluency in Urdu and Gujerati.
Kwazulu-Natal then employed Docrat as their CEO and Rajah fulfilled the dual role as the logistics and team manager.
His ultimate accolade was when the ICC named him in 2005 as manager of the World XI that took on the World Champions Australia in a one-off Test.
In 1993 Rajah headed the committee that successfully hosted Pakistan, the 1992 World Champions in Lenasia.
With his legendary status in the management field, Rajah interviewed and trained candidates to act as logistics and liaison officers for visiting countries during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
Rajah was once relieved from the manager’s post to take care of logistics from the office but that changed within nine months as captain Graeme Smith and his team requested his return and he went on to serve another five years. Logistics became more demanding as the numbers of personnel increased. Rajah then handed the manager’s position to the team doctor, Mohammed Moosajee, until his retirement in 2011.
In total Rajah administered over 179 Test matches, a staggering 444 one-day internationals and 40 T20 internationals. He attended six world cups and saw over 100 players capped during his tenure.
In the early days of managing the Proteas, Rajah had to bridge many a cultural divide and played a huge role in getting players from diverse backgrounds to appreciate and understand each other. That was undoubtedly his most important contribution.
Rajah was head of a very successful family business in the food franchise game until his sad passing.
Rajah’s wife, Shaheda, son Mohamed Faez, and daughter Zuraida, and their respective spouses as well as five grandchildren survive him.
Khota passed away with his family at his bedside on June 28, 2021. He was 88.
Khota was born in Nigel on January 1, 1933 and six years later accompanied his parents to India.
With the outbreak of the Second World War the family were unable to return home. They remained in the district of Surat where he played cricket as a young boy. On their return to South Africa in 1946 Khota attended the Johannesburg Indian High School in Fordsburg and became a key figure in the school’s cricket team.
In his contribution to my book, Across the Great Divide – Transvaal Cricket’s Joys, Struggles and Triumphs, Khota wrote about their white vice-principal, Mr John J Smith, regularly organising matches against various white schools and colleges. It was obviously a very different period in South Africa with the National Party coming into power a few years earlier. Yet these matches went ahead and the schoolboy team under his captaincy had beaten sides from the Marist Brothers and St John’s Colleges. White provincial players occasionally turned out for these teams.
Khotas career blossomed after he matriculated and he went on to captain Kohinoor Cricket Club for over 15 years.
In an era when teams were selected on a racial basis, he made his provincial debut in 1955 and represented Transvaal Indians and South African Indians in the centralised tournaments. Khota captained the Wits Union team in the inter-union competitions and represented Transvaal in the early years of the Sacboc era.
He is fondly remembered for a five-hour marathon innings for an undefeated 83 in partnership with Hashim Rasdien, then Hashim Abrahams. This earned Transvaal a creditable draw against Western Province and ensured the province winning its first major trophy by annexing the Dadabhay Cup!
Khota then served as a manager and selector of the Sacboc Transvaal team that won the Dadabhay Cup in 1974/5 and he managed the North Zone XI.
Khota and the late Abdul Bhamjee shared a unique relationship that spanned over 60 years. They lived next to each other in an apartment in Fordsburg! They were arch rivals on the field as captains of their respective teams, Kohinoor and College Old Boys. Bhamjee, as captain of Transvaal, and Khota the manager, together plotted the downfall of rival provincial teams.
Khota was presented the Cricket South Africa Heritage blazer in 2015 for his services to cricket.
A memorable reunion that was organised by the late Goolam Rajah and friends, Liaquat Nosarka, Imtiaz Patel and Munir Saley, in October 2018, which saw the Khota and Bhamjee jointly honoured along with Transvaal team mates that won the coveted Dadabhay Trophy in 1974/75.
The significance and timing of the reunion was important as the fraternity has since seen the passing of Rashid Nosarka, brothers Abdul and Ebrahim ‘Chicken’ Bhamjee, brothers Yusuf and Goolam Rajah, Sulaiman Saloojee, Baboo Ebrahim, Ashraf Variawa and Rafique Khota.
- Aslam Khota is a cricket commentator on SABC.