South Africa v India, Saturday 21st December 2013

0 - opening shot

It had been a month since we had last got to a match of some sort. We had planned to see the First Division (second tier) game the previous week between Baroka and Vasco da Gama up in Polokwane but the death of Nelson Mandela meant that all the weekend fixtures were cancelled to enable the stadiums to be used for memorial services.

I didn‘t go to any of the organised events but we did have a service  in the car park at work featuring plenty of singing and dancing. It seems that any immediate fears that the country might become less stable as a consequence of Mandela’s death were unfounded. I’d say the general feeling amongst South Africans seems to be one of determination to build upon the spirit of reconciliation that Mandela left as his legacy and to try to avoid ending up like the Zimbabwean neighbours.

That's what we are building.

That’s what we are building.

With the lodge in Polokwane already booked and paid for, we headed up that way despite the lack of football. It’s a three hour drive from where we live and the roads were packed with mini-bus taxis and overloaded pick-ups taking people home for Christmas.

We did a bit of hiking, where we stalked a couple of giraffe and then watched a pair of dung beetles fighting over a specific piece of shite. As the loser slunk away it occurred to me that some battles really aren’t worth winning. The highlights of the weekend though were a walking with lions session at a nearby hotel and then an opportunity to get up close to some three month old cubs.

I'm not sure that pulling a lion's tail is all that wise.

I’m not sure that pulling a lion’s tail is all that wise.

The lion walk involved an hour‘s stroll through the bush with four lions, the oldest of which were around two years old. They had been brought up interacting with humans and so didn‘t seem to have much interest in eating us. Just as well really. We carried big sticks in case they got arsey, but I didn‘t ever feel in any danger.

Later in the day we got to handle some lion cubs. I took it a bit further than I think you are supposed to and teased them in the way that I tend to with dogs. As I focused on avoiding the teeth of the ones in front of me, one of them grabbed me from behind. If the rangers hadn’t been there I might have wrestled with him for a while, but I didn‘t think they’d approve of that.

I was relatively unscathed, with just a few scratches on my back whilst Jen received a bite to one of her legs from one fella who didn’t think he was getting enough attention. Or maybe it was just that biting people is what lions like to do.

Lion attack.

Lion attack.

So that’s the catch-up done and it’s time for the cricket at Wanderers Stadium. India are over here for a two-test series. It’s a shame it isn’t longer really, with the teams being numbers one and two in the world rankings. It’s also a shame that Tendulkar has called it a day, this being the first Test for India since his retirement. Still, I’ll take what I can get.

I’d ordered a couple of tickets online for the fourth day, the Saturday, at seventy rand each. That’s around four quid. Four quid for test cricket! I’m sure it’s around eighty quid a pop to see a day’s play in England these days.

We were cutting it fine for the morning session and I hadn’t bothered to buy Park and Ride tickets. We ran the gauntlet of fellas trying to guide us to a parking space by the side of the road until we reached the barrier that signified the point where the roads were closed off. The sat nav still showed we had a kilometre to go but that was as close as we were going to get in the car.

At that stage we put ourselves in the hands of the parking touts. We were directed to a gated car park around the corner where we were charged a hundred rand for a spot in what, as far as we knew, could just as easily have been somewhere that cars were dismantled for scrap.

A brisk ten minute walk past the hat and flag stalls took us into the ground and our seats in the Memorial Stand. There weren‘t many people in the stadium at that stage, but I suppose when you have all day then there’s no real rush.

Nice tribute.

Nice tribute.

India resumed their second innings on 284 for 2 and with a lead of 326. With Pujara and Kohli well set overnight on 135 and 77 respectively, they were in a pretty decent position. I’d been keen to get there for the start as I’d expected some fairly rapid scoring in the morning session. It wasn’t to be though and India ticked along at two an over for most of the session.

View from the Memorial Stand.

View from the Memorial Stand.

The pace picked up a bit when Dhoni came in to bat but by lunch India had only added another seventy-odd runs for the loss of a further four wickets. It all seemed over-cautious to me, but I suppose they were working on the theory that if they could bat until tea whilst stretching the lead to five hundred then there would be only two possible results.

For Eric.

For Eric.

I took the opportunity to stretch my legs on the field at lunchtime. As usual there were plenty of kids who had brought a bat and ball for a knockabout. One young lad seemed to be taking it all very seriously and was kitted out in full whites plus pads, gloves and even a helmet. There was no shortage of kids keen to have a bowl at him or, I suspect, aim a few deliveries at those rare parts of his body that weren’t protected.

His technique was sound though and he generally managed to defend himself and the bag he was using as a wicket. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up playing on the ground for real when he grows up.



Once everyone had been chased off the field I had a wander around to pick up some food. If I’d had the inclination I could have cooked us some sausages at the braai area that Weber had thoughtfully provided. Judging by the numbers of people who were returning to their seats with boxes of freshly cooked food it was a well-used facility.

Better than cake.

Better than cake.

India picked up the pace after lunch, mainly thanks to Dhoni and Khan who added the majority of the sixty-three runs scored in a little over fourteen overs. There were plenty of Indian fans in the crowd, mostly on the grass bank, and their flags were waved in celebration of every boundary.

With the lead on 457 Shami bowled Tahir to bring the Indian innings to a close, leaving South Africa to bat out four and a half sessions to save the game.

I'm going to be a sports photographer when I grow up.

I’m going to be a sports photographer when I grow up.

It was good to see the hosts attack their target with a sense of purpose. I couldn’t help but think that England in their current state of mind would simply defend or throw their wickets away. South Africa pushed the score along at around four an over and when they passed a hundred without loss a record score in a fourth innings to win a test didn’t seem as unfeasible as it should have been.

The South African crowd certainly had faith and as the afternoon‘s drinking took effect the singing got louder.

The not so barmy army.

The not so barmy army.

Jen and I nipped away during the final session, missing the two wickets to fall before the close. I was tempted to go back for the final day but decided not to as we already had tickets booked for the Orlando Pirates game.

The next day at the football I contented myself with checking the cricket score on my phone as South Africa narrowly failed to pull off what would have been the greatest run chase ever. It was just as well really as I’d have hated the thought of history being made whilst I was just a few miles down the road.

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