Quite a bit’s happened since my last post.
In fact I’m home now, struggling to adjust to the dark, wet evenings of a miserable, mild British winter.
But before I provoke too much sympathy dear reader, I should tell you that this misery will soon pass — in two weeks’ time I’ll be in Marbella, where it is currently a pleasant 22 degrees and sunny — until Easter.
And so my final blog is a summary of the trip, of South Africa and, of course, of the test series.
Let’s start with the latter.
England won a series away from home 2-1. Full marks for that.
I was fortunate enough to witness two of the most exhilarating days of test cricket that I am ever likely to see: first, the Stokes and Bairstow pyrotechnical display in Cape Town, and then the Stuart Broad show on the third day at the Wanderers’ ground. England demolished South Africa, dismissing them for 83, knocked off the runs, and won the series.
Of course, the Certurion test was a damp squib; England’s batting on the final day can be summed up in one word: pathetic.
So, series won, who actually came out the better? For my money it was South Africa.
They took on England without two front line pace bowlers — Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, and Kyle Abbott was unable to produce any pace or venom in Pretoria due to a hamstring injury.
England played Hashim Amla back into form, and 33 year-old Stephen Cook rewarded the selectors’ long overdue call-up with a maiden century.
And then, of course, there was Rabada…
ohohoho; 20 year-old Kagiso Rabada, the new favourite of the barmy Army, was a thorn in England’s side throughout the series, and no more so than when he finished with figures of 13 for 145 at Centurion.
And what about England? We won, after all.
Yes we did; but cricket pundits more acerbic than me are quick to point out that England currently are wanting at numbers 2, 3 and 5. England lack a decent wicket-keeper — although a specialist keeper in the modern game doesn’t seem to count for much — and the catching was frequently as poor as the batting on the final morning.
So this is hardly where they’d want to be, having won a test series away from home.
In my opinion, Hales and Compton must go but I don’t have an answer as to who should
replace them. The gap between county and test cricket has seldom been larger.
Certainly we need someone who will not throw his wicket away tamely in the last over before tea, try to run his captain out then play across the line to a straight one when occupation of the crease is the only item on the agenda.
Well, that’s enough about cricket.
South Africa? I had a ball.
But first a word or two about Jo’burg.
Remember I left you having alighted the slow train, heading for my hotel? Well let’s pick it up from there.
Jo’burg is not a place I would crave to return to. We’re billeted in the Davinci Hotel in Sandton, belonging to the same group as the Commodore. The rooms are fine but there’s a pool the size of a bird bath, the sun deck is in shade for most of the day and there isn’t room to swing a cat on the bar terrace.
Sandton is affluent and safe but you do not wander beyond the district’s limits. In truth there’s not much need to: Nelson Mandella Square is buzzing with shops, bars, restaurants and clubs. Everything, in fact, the cricket supporter with no cricket to watch needs.
Jo’burg is at altitude… it’s nearly six thousand feet above sea level and you notice it. But it’s cool compared to the heat wave we left behind in Cape Town. Temperatures nurdle around twenty to twenty-two degrees but there frequent and violent thunderstorms, none more vehement than the one I observe from the Emirates Business Lounge waiting to board my re-arranged flight to Dubai. I drink more Moet and take a travel pill. Planes fly around them and are frequently and alarmingly re-routed to other airports until the storm blows through.
I spend the last few days in Jo’burg immersed in a red meat and Pinotage induced torpor. I have already lost a couple of days, struck down with Delhi-belly that not even industrial quantities of Imodium can shift, so time to make up for it.
I would gladly return to South Africa; certainly to Cape Town and it would be good to do a bit of sightseeing… something cultural perhaps.
The only museum I visited was the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum in Cape Town, and that was only because it was adjacent to the Commodore.
I did, however, feel the need to point out to the curator that the presentation lacked balance and was somewhat out of date as there was no mention of South Africa’s momentous defeat by Japan in the 2015 World Cup.
And the hightlight of my trip? Without a doubt when Cam and I yomped up Table Mountain on New Year’s Eve in around one hour fifty minutes!
South Africa, in keeping with its neighbours, is still an extremely dangerous country. It is, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, still in transition — a work in progress.
And if a boy can be beaten to death for farting at the dinner table, it suggests that they may still have some way to go; violence and death are never far from the surface, with the expectation that this is simply the way things are.
For all of that, there are many green shoots of hope and Kagiso Rabada is certainly one. Albeit a black, privately-educated boy from a privileged background, this wouldn’t have happened during the bad-old-days so let’s at least be thankful for that.
Just to conclude — I would like to thank the organisers of my trip, Howzat Travel. I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them to anyone wishing to travel abroad to watch cricket.
The booking process was straightforward (they even managed to persuade BA to reserve me an aisle seat upon production of a letter from my orthopaedic consultant). But more importantly, their representatives and Tour Managers in South Africa were well organised, knowledgable both of the grounds and the localities and extremely helpful on all occasions.
You can, of course, organise your own trip, and I booked all of my own onward travel when I decided to extend my stay. However Carl Sutton, back in the UK was extremely helpful in procuring hotel accommodation and match tickets at a reasonable price and at very short notice.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Tour Managers David Stewart, Stephen and Karen Newman and to Des and Allan who worked tirelessly to ensure that all obstacles were overcome. The package was extremely good value… well done guys!