The Life of Ali Bacher
Story of cricket legend Ali Bacher was the SA Jewish Museum’s summer exhibition
An exhibition presenting the extraordinary career of Ali Bacher opened to the public at the South African Jewish Museum on 13 December 2021. Visitors to The Life of Ali Bacher: From the Cricket Field to the Boardroom followed the life story of a giant in the history of South African cricket, known to fans of the sport around the world.
Born in Roodepoort to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in 1942, Aron “Ali” Bacher was a child prodigy who represented his province at the age of 17. To quote Bacher’s biographer, Rodney Hartman: “There was a feeling… that Ali was somehow more special than the other children; that he was the ‘chosen one’ who was born to lead.”
And lead he did. In March 1965, at the same time as he was studying to be a doctor, Bacher was named to the Springbok team. Soon thereafter he was made captain of the legendary 1969-70 Test side that trounced Australia and featured legends such as Graeme and Peter Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor. He would later recall: “I was blessed and privileged to captain what was probably the finest team South Africa has ever produced. Some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen were in that team.”
Sporting isolation meant that this team would never really be able to prove itself in the international arena. Bacher retired from playing and spent the next decade in private practice as a medical doctor. A short foray into the business world resulted in a stress induced heart-attack, when once again, Bacher took the lead by becoming one of the first ever bypass patients in South Africa.
Following this brush with mortality, Bacher returned to his first passion, and embarked on an extraordinary 22 years as a cricket administrator, rising to managing director of the South African Cricket Union in the late 1980s. In this position he spearheaded the expansion of the game in disadvantaged communities through coaching clinics and development programmes.
He professionalized the game, arranged for the infamous “rebel tours”, midwifed the unification of white and black cricket, the birth and welcome of the Proteas to the global stage, managed the Hansie Cronje match-fixing saga, the hosting of the 2003 Cricket World Cup, and all manner of crisis in-between. Ali Bacher was at the heart of almost every memorable and historic occurrence in South African cricket from 1981 until 2003 had. It is astounding that Bacher was able to navigate South African cricket so ably through this period.
The exhibition, consisted of a variety of panels detailing Bacher’s entire career, artefacts from his time in the game and archive footage not seen since the 1960’s. This original exhibition traced the immense contribution of one of South Africa’s most recognizable men.