Duncan Hugh Cocksedge
The tour of Southern Africa in 1955-56 by a powerful amateur team from America has remained the most momentous event for baseball in both South Africa and Rhodesia. The all star Americans — some of whom later rose to the highest professional ranks — were unbeaten on their three-month tour which included three matches against Rhodesia.
The visitors first played the Federal Rhodesian side at the Queens Ground at Bulawayo on 22 January 1956, slamming nine runs in their opening frame and winning 12-5.
Then to Salisbury to face Southern Rhodesia at Raylton, when the local team included such noted players as Pat Dunn, skipper Jimmy Gilmour, Alf Davidovics, Tony Bennett, Ross Bradley, Reg Chittenden and Johnnie Reilander.
And making his national team debut that day was a short gap-toothed, bespectacled twenty-one-year-old, Duncan Cocksedge. In only his second season of major league baseball he had been brought into the Mashonaland team for the inter-provincials at the last minute and had batted and fielded so well that he was selected to face the Americans.
The visitors — who had been unmatched on an extensive South African tour - humbled Rhodesia at Raylton 9-2 before a crowd of 4 000, then repeated the performance at Que Que 14-7 in one of the best games of their tour on a field which they rated the best on which they had played during their entire tour.
It was a severe introduction to 'big ball' for Duncan Cocksedge, but he performed well and gave notice that he was likely to be a star in the future. Over the next two decades that rich potential was to blossom as Cocksedge quickly grew in stature to earn ultimate recognition as the finest all-round baseballer this country has produced.
Next to Tony Bennett the best infielder Rhodesia has known, he was also a superbly consistent lead off batter, while he was a brilliant base runner and un- surpassed as a master of the art of stealing bases. When he retired at the end of the 1974 season, his seventy-two national caps were a Rhodesian record, he had gained Springbok colours and had been an All-Star three times (1963-65) at South African inter-provincial championship tournaments, capped by his selection in 1965 as the star player of the tournament.
Born on 1 May 1934, at Salisbury, Cocksedge was educated at Prince Edward School. After playing rugby and cricket for minor teams at school he turned to baseball and soccer in 1951 at the age of seventeen. He soon gained junior and senior Mashonaland soccer colours and began playing baseball for Raylton under the guidance of Charlie Ferguson and Mansel Edwards.
In 1953. he wore Bulawayo Raylton colours when doing survey work on the Victoria Falls road, though he joined Old Hararians on his return to Salisbury in 1954 when he started to play first-league baseball for Dodgers. He gave the club twenty years unbroken service in a period during which Dodgers dominated Rhodesian baseball.
In Cocksedge's debut season for the national team of 1955-56 it was another star Rhodesian who created a spot of sporting history against the Americans—the first overseas country to visit this country to play baseball. He was Tony 'Monkey' Bennett the Black Sox pitcher and second base who had made his Rhodesian debut against Northern Transvaal in 1948 at Bulawayo.
He became the first Rhodesian to gain Springbok baseball colours with his selection for the first, second and seventh Tests against America as a third baseman. Bennett made his South African debut at Pretoria — the first-ever baseball Test played by the Springboks. who lost 10-1. Bennett wore the number thirteen shirt and was one of the few batters not struck out by the fearsome American pitcher Monty Geiger He was also rated by many critics as the best fielder for South Africa in this first Test.
Harry Daniel of Northern Rhodesia came in for the second Test at Johannesburg (which South Africa lost 16-4), but both Rhodesians were dropped for the third Test Bennett being recalled for the seventh and final International and another Southern Rhodesian. Willie Viljoen. making his Springbok debut. The Americans won 15-2 to make a clean sweep of the series. The Rhodesian captain and catcher. Jimmy Gilmour. was rated unlucky not to gain Test selection in this series He must rate alongside Cocksedge as the most outstanding all-rounder the country has produced Gilmour was first-choice catcher for Rhodesia from 1947 through to the late 1950s.
In 1956-57 Rhodesia recorded one of their finest victories with a 7-1 triumph over Transvaal a: Bulawayo with Duncan Cocksedge a member of the team. That season Mashonaland pipped Matabeleland 1-0 to retain the Philpott and Collins Trophy, Pat Dunn's superb pitching being the key as he fractionally got the better of Jackie Cookson. Cocksedge at short stop was brilliant and a report in the Rhodesia Herald said: ''Typical was a magnificent catch by Cocksedge which ended the game. Martie Dominic, slammed the ball very hard between short stop and third and Cocksedge leapt through the air Ike a gazelle to take a fire catch one-handed."
From this came selection for the Centenary Cup matches against Northern Rhodesia, the holders. The South won the first leg 12-4 at Bulawayo and are report said: In a clash characterised by some wonderful fielding, the South Dominic and Cocksedge stole the laurels. Cocksedge's blocking and pegging were brilliant."
In 1965 at Durban, Transvaal gave a mighty display of batting to beat Natal 13-3 and win the South African championship. Rhodesia finished third, winning four out of eight games with Ronnie Charsley. Cocksedge and Russell McKinley named in the All-Star team and Cocksedge the All-Star player of the tournament. It was the first time as many as three Rhodesians were in the All-Star line-up and the first time a Rhodesian had been voted Southern Africa's supreme player.
Cocksedge was chosen for the Springbok trials of 1969 and topped the averages in early trials, but he went down with jaundice which cost him a place with the South Africans on their tour to Europe, for which McKinley of Bulawayo gained selection as a pitcher.
In 1971 the Continental Cavaliers — overseas tourists have been a rarity in Rhodesian baseball — played Rhodesia at Alexandra Club at Salisbury on 28 March. The local team included McKinley and thirty-seven-year-old Cocksedge, just behind Jackie Cookson as the team's veteran.
Despite advancing years, Cocksedge remained a superb player with amazing reflexes, and three days after the Salisbury match he gained his Springbok colours for the first time against the Cavaliers at the Queens Ground, Bulawayo. where the first ball in Rhodesian baseball history had been pitched in 1934.
It was the first time South Africa had played a Test in Rhodesia and McKinley, Cocksedge and Dave Judge were the Rhodesians in their line-up.
Other Rhodesians who later became Springboks were Robbie Fulton (1976 v. American Eagles), Ian Mathews (1973 tour to Europe) and Kenny Doull (1976 v. Eagles). Fulton got his colours two years after withdrawing from the side which went to America because he had passport problems. Another Rhodesian, Bruce McLaren, was named as his replacement but he, too, was counted out because of visa problems and thus was denied his Springbok colours as a Rhodesian, though he won them later when he moved to the Transvaal.
Among other leading Rhodesian baseball personalities down the years have been Pat Dunn (pitcher), Ross Bradley (debut for Rhodesia 1950), Jack English (started baseball 1939, represented Rhodesia 1947-48 and managed national team against America 1956), Albert Venter (Rhodesia debut 1950), Willem Kloppers (Black Sox pitcher in the 1950s), Reg Chittenden (probably the finest control pitcher Rhodesia has had; Rhodesia debut 1948), Alf Davidovics (Rhodesia debut 1948), Charles Ferguson (captained Rhodesia on 1952 South African tour), Cecil Petzer, Rob Shiel (who hit a homer against the 1956 Americans in Que Que), Harold Woods, Arthur Barkley, Bertie Venter and Henry Dunn.But the three most outstanding players have been Tony Bennett, Jimmy Gilmour and Duncan Cocksedge, with the latter narrowly gaining the honour of being rated top of the list.
Cocksedge also toured Europe as a member of the 1967 Rhodesian hockey team though he never played this sport for the country on home soil.
Not only did he bring honour to his country as a player of the highest calibre, but if one sportsman could be held up to Rhodesian youth as a model in every respect it would be Duncan Hugh Cocksedge.
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