TEN DAYS IN CAPE TOWN — DAY 6
It’s Sunday and the second day of the Newlands Test.
I wasn’t going to write much about the cricket, but I’ve decided that I will. Because, afterall, that is why we are here.
So for those of you who don’t like cricket, it’s time to look away.
But first a brief word about days four and five.
Friday was New Year’s Day, so mainly a day spent lounging around the pool, a brief gym session to banish the scars of Table Mountain, and a meal in the quirky, but well worth a visit Nelson’s Eye Steak House .
One word of advice though: do book, but don’t for one moment expect the time you of your booking to coincide with when you will eventually sit down; but I promise you, it will be worth the wait.
Saturday was the first day of the Newlands Test, and it’s a little slow, even by traditional test match standards. There is even a torpor shrouding peripheral proceedings, with very little of the colourful pageantry we had anticipated. The Barmy Army are, of course, here but seem almost apologetic when they eventually break into song.
Newlands is generally regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful settings for test cricket with a backdrop of Table Mountain — it’s ravines and hues changing shape and shade with the movement of the sun. The cricket may be dull, but the view certainly doesn’t disappoint.
England crawl to around 245 before the fall of the fifth wicket brings Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow together. With the score at 317 for 5 at the close, there is little indication of the carnage that is to follow.
One minor annoyance, however, was to arrive at the ground — having followed Howzat Travel’s instructions regarding dress code for the Members’ Pavilion — to be turned away for not wearing a shirt with a collar.
Despite wearing smart plain Tee shirts we are told this is unacceptable and pointed in the direction of Grab & Pay (think Millets) where we purchase the most ridiculous floral shirts we can find.
We dine in Belthazar’s again that evening with Matt, a cricketing friend of Cam’s, and his dad Richard, and consume outrageous quantities or ostrich, springbok, steak and, of course Pinotage.
Even if you are as disinterested/unknowledgeable about cricket as I am about soccer, you must have some idea that yesterday was a sensational day for English cricket.
Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow shattered more records in under two sessions than I have had bottles of Pinotage on this trip. Heck no… probably more than in a year, and I do like Pinotage. It was a statistician’s nirvana.
I’m not going to list them all but not to include a brief summary in what is, afterall, a cricket blog, would be a tad disrespectful.
They recorded a stand of 399 for the sixth wicket before Stokes, who had struck the ball with pure majestical aggression for his 258, was dropped by AB de Villiers, who recovered sufficiently to throw down the wicket and run him out.
A South African friend of mine once told me: “You know, my friend, we in South Africa do not consider winning to be the most important thing… it’s humiliating the bastards that really counts.”
And when Morne Morkel dropped a straightforward catch from Bairstow at long-on shortly before Stokes’ dismissal, I understood perfectly what he meant: South Africa had been totally humiliated: bent, bloodied and bruised, down on their knees, with absolutely no idea as to how to stop the massacre.
But thankfully Cook did it for them by declaring at 629 for 6.
A poor decision, I consider.
To win this match, England have to put it entirely beyond the reach of the hosts. And, on this perfect batting surface, they do have not enough runs to create the scoreboard pressure to do this. I hope I am wrong.
Then with the score on 96 for 2, Root spills the simplest of catches from AB at slip, and the match is — in my view — rubber-stamped as a draw.
Enough about cricket… well, not entirely.
Because for me, the most poignant moment of this unforgettable day was when Bairstow reached his hundred. His previous best was 95 scored at Lord’s and so, understandably, he works his way to three figures after lunch in singles.
The moment he achieves this precious milestone he gazes, helmet off, into the deep azure of the Cape Town sky. And while other centurions thank God, Allah, Mohammed or whatever deity works for them, for my money he is saying: ‘this one’s for you dad, I hope you caught it up there.’*
Cricket apart, the languor of the first day has been replaced by a welcome colour and vibrancy.
But the heat is relentless. Despite being under a canvas shade in the lower tier of the Members’ Pavilion, it’s still over 35 degrees and the power of the sun burns through to inflict yet more skin damage.
It’s 4pm and the beer snake has reached a respectable length. The Barmy Army are in full voice: before lunch they warm to up with their adaptation of the Gypsy King’s classic in deference to RSA’s opening paceman, Kagiso Rabada:
Rabada… oh oh,
Rabada… oh oh oh oh,
You’re big… you’re black… and you’re quick,
And we’ve heard that you’ve got a big… shhhhhh!
And then, with RSA on the ropes and praying for a wicket, we are treated to:
Are you Zimbabwe…?
Are you Zimbabwe …?
Are YOU Zimbabwe in disguise?
Are YOU Zimbabwe in disguise?
But the best is saved for later.
Around 5pm, with AB given a life and RSA starting to make serious inroads into England’s 629, Hashim’s Army —a band of RSA supporters wearing Amla lookalike beards and cricket whites — challenge the the Barmy Army to a rendition of the Yaya V Kolo Taure classic : Amla V Moeen.
In all honesty, after an hour it begins to wear a bit thin and no one is sorry when the umpires and players bring both play and the chanting to an end at 6pm.
What a day… I will never see a better day’s cricket as long as I live. And I actually managed to stay awake for most of it.
(*Jonny’s father David Birstow, also a Yorkshire and England cricketer, suffered from depression and took his own life on 5th January 1998).