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The first FC game in Soweto (31 Oct 1995)

SOWETO, South Africa (Oct 29, 1995 - 15:06 EST) - Sylvia Tshoma loves cricket so much she took leave from her teaching job to organize the historic match marking the debut of the firstclass game in a black South African township.

The match director of England`s current four-day game against a South African Invitation XI, which President Nelson Mandela attended on its opening day, is a sports mistress at a school in Soweto, the country`s largest black township.

Having blacks involved in what is mostly a white game in South Africa is rare enough but having a woman involved in the maledominated sport is almost unheard of.

"I`m proud because everybody is saying the match is wonderful but yesterday my principal was here and she was saying...they are missing me at school," said Tshoma, who took five weeks` leave from her job to organize the match.

Although South African cricket has always been dominated by white males, eight years ago -- before the demise of apartheid -- the country`s cricket governing body began taking the game to impoverished black townships where the main sport is soccer.

Tshoma and other South African cricket officials see the match in Soweto as one of the highlights of the development program -- and for many the culmination of a dream.

"For the first time in the country we are having a four-day first-class match in a township.

"I think it is a very big achievement which I did not think would take place. I hope it is going to contribute to (the development) of our youngsters in Soweto," Tshoma told Reuters.

The match is being played at Soweto`s Elkah Oval -- the home of cricket in the township`s Rocklands district.

The green field make a stark contrast with the dusty streets and refuse-strewn open tracts of ground in Soweto, which borders the financial capital Johannesburg.

Where a few years ago black political rivals battled each other with assault rifles and home-made weapons at the height of political violence, cricketers now do battle with bat and ball.

"Winning the test series is important but as far as I am concerned, the Soweto match is just as important," said England fast bowler Devon Malcolm, the only black player in Mike Atherton`s touring team.

Soweto`s cricket fans welcomed Atherton`s side with polite applause but saved their cheers for the South Africans led by national captain Hansie Cronje.

"Hansie, Hansie, Hansie," chanted scores of youngsters when Cronje came in to bat on Saturday.

Tshoma says young black cricketers model themselves on the players in the South African team. Fast bowler Allan Donald, Cronje and Jonty Rhodes, with his exceptional fielding, are the most admired.

Black Sowetan cricket fans were elated that they could finally watch cricket on their doorstep.

"I have never seen it live. It is my first experience at my age," said 31-year-old Zwelibanzi Nkoma.

"It is a shame to explain to your kids what is going on on the TV," Nkoma said.

Nkoma said bringing international cricketers to play in black townships could only promote the game among South Africa`s black majority, especially young boys.

"They can be the future stars. I see my boy as being the future Cronje," he added.