Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

South Africa v West Indies, Wednesday 17th December 2014,10:30am

December 29, 2014

1-Amla

The West Indies are in town and Jen and I were able to squeeze in the opening couple of sessions from the first day of the first test at Centurion before heading off to the airport for a flight back to Europe.

It was raining as we drove to the ground, which I thought was quite unfortunate. It rains a fair bit at this time of the year, by African standards anyway, but it usually happens in the evening. Morning rain, when you are off to watch the cricket, could be considered unlucky.

We’d pre-booked parking, but as with the recent Chiefs v Pirates game, we needn’t have bothered. The car park was the piece of wasteland that we’d used on our last visit to Centurion and every passing car was being directed in regardless of whether they had a ticket or not.

The first braai of the day was already smoking away next to a pick up truck. I couldn’t see the sense in that. There were only three-quarters of an hour to go to the start of play and there were braais available inside the stadium. Why have a leisurely breakfast on the wasteland whilst the event you’ve come to see goes on without you?

On the way in.

On the way in.

We had sixty rand tickets for the covered grandstand, in an attempt to avoid whichever of the rain or sun would be causing problems. We’d sat on the grass last time, but I’m getting to the age where I like a proper chair and whilst I could have brought one in with me, it’s less hassle to just sit in the ones already there.

The rain had eased up, but had delayed the start for half an hour which meant we got to watch the teams complete their warm-ups. The West Indies won the toss and decided to bowl. I was quite pleased with that as I hoped it might go some way to mitigating the South African team’s superiority.

Amla signing autographs

Amla signing autographs

The host’s opening pair got off to a good start before three wickets in a short space of time swung the momentum towards the West Indies. That’s what I like about cricket, particularly test cricket. A good spell can turn the advantage around, only for it to go the other way again an hour or so later.

Amla and de Villiers then batted out the remainder of the morning to conclude what I’d say was a reasonable session for both sides with the score on 102 for 3.

View from the grandstand.

View from the grandstand.

We stretched our legs with a couple of laps of the ground at lunchtime. There were still people coming in, perhaps after having waited to see how the weather would pan out. Others were taking advantage of the cooking facilities provided as an alternative to spending the day heating up charcoal in the car park.

Lunchtime braai.

Lunchtime braai.

We moved seats for the second session, partly because I like to do that but also because the fellas sat behind us were yapping away that bit too loudly. I don’t need to know every detail of each of your lives and that of everyone you know, just sit quietly and watch the cricket.

Our new seats were further around towards the grass. There was a bar with a swimming pool between the two areas. You wouldn’t want to try and train for the Olympics in it, but it was big enough to allow a few of the people with limited attention spans to take a break from proceedings and wander around thigh deep in it or throw water at each other.

Swimming pool bar

Swimming pool bar

Amla and de Villiers carried on in the afternoon in a similar manner to that of the morning. Jen and I had to leave at the tea interval to catch our flight to Istanbul and at that stage they were both looking well set for centuries. I saw the closing overs on the telly at the airport and by then they were both on their way to a hundred and fifty. Definitely South Africa’s day.

 

 

Highveld Lions v Chevrolet Knights, Sunday 7th December 2014, 2.30pm

December 22, 2014

1 - sunbathers

The T20 season is drawing to a close and the midweek results confirmed the Lions in second place in the table, with the Knights one place behind. That gave the Lions home advantage in the play-off to determine which of them would meet Cape Cobras in the final.

Jen and I had a free Sunday and so decided to go along. As with the last time we’d been at the Wanderers Stadium, we combined the game with a pre-match hike at Groenkloof. We’d hoped to avoid the worst of the sun by starting our walk at seven in the morning, but the five hour duration scuppered that plan and it was pretty hot by the time we’d finished.

We haven’t seen the giraffes the last couple of times that we’ve been to Groenkloof but we got within a few feet of a zebra group that included a couple of young ones. On the basis that horses appear fully grown by the time that they are two or three, my assumption was that these foals were under a year old.

Not as good as giraffes.

Not as good as giraffes.

We arrived at the ground with around an hour to spare, happy to read the paper in the shade as the teams warmed up. As you might imagine the place was fairly empty at that time, but it didn’t really fill up over the course of the afternoon. Tickets were cheap enough at forty rand for the grassy bank and fifty rand for the grandstand, but a combination of short notice and indifference meant that almost all but around a thousand remained unsold.

I wondered if free admission would have made much of a difference. Forty rand (£2.20) isn’t much to me, but a lot of jobs out here are poorly paid and if a family of four wanted to attend, it could add up to the equivalent of a day’s pay for some people.

Mind you, I’ve attended plenty of free sporting events in South Africa, mainly third tier football or county championship level cricket and they’ve usually been poorly attended too. Maybe it’s just a lack of interest in general.

Looking left from the Memorial Stand.

Looking left from the Memorial Stand.

Lions won the toss and batted. Chris Gayle opened the innings for them and a lot of their hopes were linked to the performance of the former world number one T20 batsman. He didn’t last for long though, tonking a couple of early boundaries before cracking one straight down a fielders throat at midwicket.

The West Indies are just about to start a tour of South Africa, but Gayle won’t be joining them. Officially, it’s an injury, but it doesn’t seem to stop him playing T20.

Chris Gayle briefly at the crease.

Chris Gayle briefly at the crease.

The home side never really got going after losing their star man and finished a couple of runs short of a hundred and fifty. I’d have thought that they’d have been wanting at least another thirty or forty on top of that.

We had a wander around the perimeter between innings to pick up some drinks before taking seats in the lower tier of the Unity Stand for the Knights innings.

Half-time.

Half-time.

The target wasn’t overly taxing for the Knights and after losing Abrahams early on, Hendricks and Rossouw chugged along at the necessary seven and a half per over. My interest was in watching Eddie Leie who has a bowling action almost as unusual as that of former South African spinner Paul ‘frog in a blender’ Adams. I did my best to capture it on camera but it was hard to do it justice.

It looks odder in real life.

It looks odder in real life.

Hendricks and Rossouw saw the Knights to within five runs of victory before Rossouw holed out trying to finish in style. It only took one more ball to bring the afternoon to a conclusion though as Hendricks succeeded where his former partner had failed and hoisted a six into the crowd.

 

 

Unlimited Titans v Cape Cobras, Sunday 2nd November 2014, 2pm

December 1, 2014

1-P1180701

Prior to the second game of three in a day of T20 cricket Jen and I did a circuit of the New Wanderers Stadium to see what was available to eat and drink. If we’d brought our own sausages we could have cooked them on the braais provided by Weber.

Who does the washing up though?

Who does the washing up?

We were sausageless though and had to settle for ready cooked food from the selection of stalls around the perimeter. The stadium was starting to fill up a bit by this stage as the people for whom a ten o’clock start was a bit too early made an appearance.

Getting busier.

Getting busier.

Our seats were upstairs in the Unity Stand. I can recommend it as a place to sit as not only does it have its own bar, but there is some interesting memorabilia in the upstairs concourse. We spent some time checking out the photos, trophies and clothing from the last hundred years or more.

There were also a selection of signed bats dating back over the same period including one used and signed by Herbert Sutcliffe. The newest bat on display had been signed by  Mike Gatting’s infamous ‘rebel‘ team of 1990. For those who need their memories jogging, that tour was the one organised by the South African government in the final days of apartheid. It all went tits up for Gatting and his mates when the unbanning of the ANC, the release of Mandela and the subsequent demonstrations against the tour meant that they crept home early after just the one ‘Test‘.

I suppose the bat had a bit of social history value, but I doubt that any of those who had signed it would look back on events with pride.

View from the upper tier of the Unity Stand.

View from the upper tier of the Unity Stand.

The Cobras did pretty well in their innings with Richard Levi dominating proceedings early on. He tonked a quick-fire ninety-one including fifty off  just two overs. Kieran Pollard then did his stuff towards the end of the innings with his half-century taking the total to 207 for 5.

Richard Levi.

Richard Levi.

For the Titans innings we followed the sunshine to the other side of the ground and sat on the benches in the open air East Stand. There were a few kids down at the front who alternated between collecting autographs and the slightly more grown-up activity of Beer Pong. That’s pretty much a perfect time of life to be at.

One of the additional interests in the Ram Slam T20 is that anyone in the crowd who catches a six with one hand wins a share of a million rand. There were big celebrations when a lad to our left managed to do just that. Sadly though, the celebrations were cut short when the small print revealed that as he was four months short of his eighteenth birthday, he wasn’t eligible for the prize. That’s a less than perfect time of life.

Looking along the East Stand.

Looking along the East Stand.

The Titans looked to have the game in the bag with a record opening stand of 151 between Henry Davids and Dean Elgar. Once the partnership was broken it just required the remaining batsmen to maintain the run-rate for the last five overs and victory would have been theirs.

Davids and Elgar celebrate a shedload of runs.

Davids and Elgar celebrate a shedload of runs.

They couldn’t do it though, perhaps because we were at that stage  where the fading light wasn’t fully compensated for by the floodlights, and the Titans ended up fourteen runs short.

Two games in a day was enough for Jen and I and so with people still arriving for the final match we nipped out of a side gate and left them to it.

 

 

Chevrolet Knights v Chevrolet Warriors, Sunday 2nd November 2014, 10am

November 28, 2014

1-P1180646

This wasn’t where I’d planned to be at this weekend. The big game was supposed to have been Saturday‘s Soweto derby with Orlando Pirates taking on Kaizer Chiefs at the FNB Stadium. That match had been postponed though after the murder of the keeper and captain of the Pirates and South African National team, Senzo Meyiwa, whose funeral took place on that day instead. As you have may have heard, he was shot during a mobile phone theft. A mobile phone for fuck’s sake.

With all the football cancelled, Jen and I settled for some cricket and the triple header T20 day at New Wanderers stadium. With play scheduled from ten in the morning until ten at night we didn’t feel in any real rush to get there and so started the day with a hike at Groenkloof Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Pretoria.

Groenkloof

Groenkloof

There was a fair bit of cloud cover which was very welcome and the odd spot of rain, which was less so. We usually spot a giraffe or two but on this occasion the best we saw were zebra, a few varieties of some sort of bok and a couple of ostriches.

The zebras were attracting the attention of those white birds that you often see eating the bugs off cattle. I suppose zebras provide just as good a food source for them.

Someone has nits.

Someone has nits.

With the hiking over we headed off to Johannesburg for the cricket. A quick look at the telly as we stopped for lunch on the way revealed that the Knights had posted a score of 205 in their twenty overs.

We got into the ground with the Warriors seven overs into their reply and took up a couple of seats in the lower section of the Unity Stand. There weren’t many spectators at that stage with the ground perhaps a tenth full, although that’s more than were at the South Africa v India test match here last year.

Mind you, a power cut hadn’t helped matters, resulting in the ticket office not  being able to sell tickets to people who had turned up on a whim. That must have been frustrating, knowing that the stadium was virtually empty, but not being able to get inside.

Unity Stand Lower

Unity Stand Lower

The Warriors were making hard work of their reply and with three wickets already down were chasing the game. Craig Kieswetter was playing for them and he did ok, smacking a few boundaries before getting out soon after passing fifty.

Four more.

Four more.

Once the former England player was back in the dugout,the Warriors got a bit bogged down and didn’t even manage to see out their overs, falling well short on 131. With almost an hour to go to the next game that gave us the opportunity to have a stroll around the ground and select our vantage point for the next session.

 

 

Chevrolet Knights v Cape Cobras, Saturday 11th October 2014, 3pm

October 30, 2014

1 - opening shot

The cricket season is in full swing over here now and I noticed that the Cape Cobras, who normally play in Bloemfontein, had a home game scheduled for a Saturday in Kimberley.

Kinberley is a bit of a one-horse town that is well-known for an Anglo-Boer War siege where food restrictions meant that the British actually ate that one horse for Christmas lunch. Better than sprouts, I suppose. Unless you got a hoof that is.

I had a camel for my tea in Oman a few years ago. It was ok, as long as you got some of the meatier parts and didn’t get stuck with just the head.

Someone must have eaten it.

Someone must have eaten it.

Kimberley‘s main claim to fame though is The Big Hole, which is exactly as its name would suggest and came about through nineteen century diamond mining. It’s something that all the guidebooks suggest visiting and so Jen and I used a trip to watch the cricket to see what all the fuss was about.

It seemed like we weren’t the only ones on our Saturday morning flight from Johannesburg who were heading for the Knights v Cobras game, although I suspect that we were the only ones that had bought tickets. We had players, coaches, umpires and tv folk sharing our flight, then clogging up the queues at the car hire desk and the hotel reception. If the plane hadn’t taken off then it’s likely that the game would have had to have been called off due to nobody being there.

The Big Hole was right next to our hotel and as we were the only people who didn’t have to be at the ground early we went for a wander around before the game. It’s surrounded by olden-days buildings, a bit like Beamish in a way, with some of them having been relocated from nearby.

It was probably busier a hundred years ago.

It was probably busier a hundred years ago.

It cost forty rand to go and peer over the edge of the Big Hole. Cheap enough, but not really an activity that will keep you occupied for more than a minute or two, particularly as it was too far away to spit into the water below and see how long it took to make a splash. Plus,when something deep is filled with water, it doesn’t really matter how deep it is below the surface. Although I doubt a Wide Hole would have been any more impressive.

Kimberley Big Hole

Kimberley Big Hole

Big Hole done, we took a taxi to the Diamond Oval for the fifty over game. I’ve a feeling that the Chevrolet Knights don’t play in Kimberley very often as our taxi driver, perhaps the only taxi driver in town, had no idea that there even was a cricket ground, never mind where it was.

It took him that long to sort himself out that we missed the first four balls. Not such a big deal really, but by the time we had settled into our seats the home side had already lost their first wicket. The second wicket went down with the final ball of the first over and the third shortly after.

The view from the grandstand.

The view from the grandstand.

We’d paid fifty rand for our grandstand seats, less than three quid, and certainly better value than a large hole in the ground that you couldn’t spit into. There were a few people in with us and some more in the cheaper forty rand grass section.

To our left.

To our left.

Chevrolet Knights managed to consolidate their position with a decent third wicket stand before progress was disrupted by a thunderstorm. It was so wild that it blew the head clean off my beer. We managed to shelter from the rain by moving to the back of the stand, but there was no respite for the blokes trying to get the covers on.

Entertaining as the cricket had been, it wasn’t as good as seeing groundstaff lifted off their feet by a sheet behaving as a giant kite.

They made a decent effort in the circumstances.

They made a decent effort in the circumstances.

Play resumed after around twenty minutes, with each side losing a couple of overs. Progress got a bit bogged down at that point with the announcer trying to gee matters up by prompting the hired band to strike up a tune every over or two. If I was them I’d have cleared off and left us to it.

The boys in the band.

The boys in the band.

The Knights failed to bat out their allocation and with the evening drawing in we headed off for some eating and drinking. A quick check on the telly later on confirmed that Cape Cobras had knocked off the runs with plenty of time to spare.

 

Knights v Dolphins, Sunday 6th April 2014, 10am

April 24, 2014

1 - opening shot

Jen and I had a choice as to what to watch on the second day of our weekend in Bloemfontein, but as we had a five hour drive back up to Gauteng that day I didn’t really fancy hanging about for the three o’clock kick-off in the Bloemfontein Celtic game.

The alternative option was going to the cricket, specifically the fourth day of the Knights v Dolphin ‘county championship‘ clash. As well as it being the final day of the game, it was also the final day of the season.

Chevrolet Park is actually only a few hundred yards from the hotel that we were staying in, but I hadn’t realised and we ended up driving around the outskirts of Bloemfontein looking for the golf club that the blue dot on my phone seemed determined to direct us to.

Eventually, by putting the previous stadium name of Outsurance Oval into the satnav we discovered that the location was pretty much where had set off from almost an hour earlier.

Chevrolet Park

Chevrolet Park

Admission was free and we entered the ground a couple of minutes after the start of play only to see the players all walking off the field. The final wicket of the Knights first innings had just been taken, after an impressive stand of one hundred and seventeen and so we had the ten minute between innings break to find ourselves somewhere to sit.

It wasn’t difficult to get seats as there were only four other people watching, all of whom I assumed to be relatives of the players. In the time that we were there I counted a total of eleven different people watching, although there were never more than seven at a time. I know there wasn’t likely to be a result in the match and even if there had been it wouldn’t have counted for much, but come on, eleven people at a free entry first class cricket game? What better way could there be to idle away a decent portion of a Sunday?

That was all of them at that time.

That was all of them at that time.

The seats that we took turned out to be a little too close to a bird’s nest just above us and so the gaps between deliveries were spent watching the parents turning up with grubs in their mouths, anxiously wondering whether they should reveal the location, before invariably deciding not to and then eating the grub themselves.

I've no idea what type of bird it was.

I’ve no idea what type of bird it was.

Jen isn’t overly impressed with cricket and so she cleared off to do a bit of shopping. That reduction in the crowd from six to five was my cue to have a wander around the ground and have each of the other stands to myself.

As I left whichever stand I was in I noticed an open door to a room with tables in it and found myself in the players dining room. I can’t say I’d ever wondered about the lunching arrangements, but now I know how they do it at Chevrolet Stadium.

Plenty of cake, I'd imagine.

Plenty of cake, I’d imagine.

There wasn’t anyone watching from the big stand to the left, but there a few people working underneath it, washing cars and doing a bit of general maintenance. I don’t suppose there will be much going on for a few months once this game had finished.

The view to the left.

The view to the left.

The first breakthrough of the morning for the Knights came as I was making my way across the grassy bank that was parallel with the wicket. It didn’t mean a lot in terms of the game as the Dolphins probably weren’t intending to bat for too long.

A first innings lead of around a hundred and twenty suggested that they would smack the ball around for the morning session or maybe a little longer and then go through the motions of having a bowl with little hope of a result.

The view back towards where we'd been sat.

The view back towards where we’d been sat.

Looking across towards the wicket you can see the Free State Stadium in the background. The realisation that we were within fifty yards or so of Chevrolet Park the previous day when at the rugby game just makes the one hour drive around looking for the ground even more laughable.

There’s another grassy bank on the Free State Stadium side of the pitch that has a few trees dotted around. Not so good if you end up behind one, but ideal if you get there early and prop yourself up against one.

As I walked between the trees I noticed that the leaves had started it fall. Autumn in April. I’m still getting used to living in the southern hemisphere and in my book April is the time for the start of the cricket season, not the end of it.

Free State Stadium in the background.

Free State Stadium in the background.

Did I say that there were eleven spectators? Well, make that eleven and a dog as one fella took his mutt for a walk around the boundary rope. Not only that, he threw a ball for it to chase. Just what you need at a cricket game. That said, the players positioned by the rope seemed to welcome the diversion. Maybe they were hoping Fido would save a four.

One man and his dog.

One man and his dog.

The Dolphins continued to hit out for the rest of the morning session, losing three or four wickets as they scored at more than six an over. I’d been expecting them to take lunch at noon, after two hours play, but they carried on for another ten minutes. Perhaps they were making up time from earlier in the game.

Time for lunch.

Time for lunch.

With a five hour drive ahead of us the end of the morning’s play was our signal to clear off.  For those of you who want to know what happened in the match, Dolphins declared not long into the afternoon session, setting the Knights a target of three hundred and seventeen. It seems that both teams went through the motions for a while before calling it a day and heading off early too.

 

 

South Africa v Australia, Saturday 15th February 2014, 10.30am

February 17, 2014

0 - opening shot

I’m doing pretty well for cricket these days. India were here a few weeks ago and now it’s Australia’s turn. The first test at Supersport Park in Centurion wasn’t too far away from us and so Jen and I went along for the fourth day’s play.

For reasons that are too long for me to be bothered to explain we’d stayed at one of the hotels in the nearby Emperor’s Palace resort the previous night and had been to an Electric Light Orchestra gig. Really? Are they still going? Well, no, they aren‘t. This was a gig fronted by a fella who had previously sang with ELO2. ELO2? Yes, ELO2. They were an attempt by a few members of the original band to spin out their careers after Jeff Lynne had buggered off to the Traveling Wilburys and then the job of producing The Beatles Anthology in the mid-nineties.

So, to recap. We went to see a fella who had once sung with some people who had previously been in ELO. To make it even more confusing, a couple of the original ELO members are still dragging their ageing arses All Over The World in an alternative tour, albeit mainly cruise ships by the look of it.

The gig was fine though and the band ploughed through most of somebody else‘s hits in front of a crowd of between three and four thousand people. Swear down. Although I suspect quite a few  of those people thought they were watching the real ELO, whilst a large percentage of the remainder were on a Valentines dinner, bed and gig package and probably had little idea who the original ELO were. Still, I’m sure it must have been a bit of a buzz for a band who are due to play at a restaurant in Huddersfield next month.

I didn't notice any of these fellas.

I didn’t notice any of these fellas.

Next morning and it was time for the cricket. We got there half an hour or so before the start and for fifty rand we were able to park on some wasteland five minutes walk from the stadium. I hadn’t bothered buying tickets in advance, mainly because when we went to the recent India test, the ground was only around a tenth full. This time though, it was sold out. Bugger.

Nothing happening here.

Nothing happening here.

Luckily we got away with it as I was able to buy a couple of spares from a fella who only wanted the fifty rand cost of his parking for them. Result. Two test cricket tickets and parking for the not so grand total of a hundred rand. That’s less than six quid. I like living here, even if the music scene does leave something to be desired.

Our tickets were for the West Embankment, but you could walk all of the way around inside the ground and as the East Embankment was nearest we selected a spot on the grass there, close to the Castle Terrace bar.

It was filling up nicely even before the teams took to the field.

It was filling up nicely even before the teams took to the field.

Things were pretty desperate for South Africa with Australia resuming their second innings four hundred and seventy nine runs ahead and with seven wickets still in hand. I expected them to thrash the ball around and declare once they had batted for about an hour or when they got down to the tail, whichever came first.

In reality they scratched around for fifteen minutes adding just the two runs before Marsh got out, prompting Michael Clarke to call it a day. I doubt it was the scenario that he had in mind when he’d woken up that morning, but after sampling the conditions I presume he just thought  “Sod it, that lead will be enough“.

The declaration meant that it was time for the latest edition of the Mitchell Johnson Show and within his first two overs he had sent both South African openers back to the pavilion and had greeted Hashim Amla by clouting him on the head first ball.

Amla and his sore head.

Amla and his sore head.

The hosts managed to make it to lunchtime for the loss of just the one more wicket but it was difficult to see how they would extend the game into a fifth day. I went for a wander around the ground and once again regretted not having brought a few lamb chops to make use of the braai facilities. Next time.

Such a clever idea.

Such a clever idea.

After lunch, with the sun getting higher and the crowd on the East Embankment getting worse for wear, we moved around to the area in front of the executive boxes. We were able to take advantage of the shade and a bit more space. The only downside was the champagne glass from the upper tier that crashed to earth a few feet from us. I suppose I should be grateful it wasn‘t the bottle.

The view from somewhere else.

The view from somewhere else.

South Africa consolidated their position for a while in the afternoon session with Amla and De Villiers looking pretty well set until Amla went for thirty-five. Johnson then returned for another spell as tea approached and soon took his tenth wicket of the match removing Duminy.

Remember when his bowling was shite?

Remember when his bowling was shite?

It’s a pleasure to watch Johnson in this sort of form, particularly when it isn‘t England in the firing line. In the over following the one in which he took Duminy’s wicket he drew blood when hitting McLaren on the head. It’s hard to see what anyone can do when he’s in what is surely the form of his life. That Barmy Army song seems a world away these days.

This was the ball that clocked McLaren.

This was the ball that clocked McLaren.

McLaren batted on after tea with a lump on his napper but he and his team mates didn‘t prolong matters unduly. Less than an hour into the session the tail had capitulated and it was all over with more than a day to spare. Johnson added one more victim to finish with twelve wickets in the match as Australia took the opening game of the three test series.

South Africa v India, Saturday 21st December 2013

January 16, 2014

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.

"Howzat?"

“Howzat?”

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.

Middlesex v Somerset, 28th August 2013

January 7, 2014

0 - grace gates

I’m getting on for fifty and this was my first visit to Lords. That’s strange really considering I spent a year in London in the mid-eighties and have no doubt had plenty of opportunities since.

Whatever. Jen and I had dropped off our visa applications at the South African Consulate that morning and whilst she headed off for a lunch with a friend I took a cab to the cricket. I got there a few overs before the end of the first session and if I remember rightly it was seventeen quid to get in.

That seems a bit steep for a meaningless end of season county championship fixture, but I suppose it was London, where everything costs that bit more.

I wasn't allowed in that bit.

I wasn’t allowed in that bit.

It was the first day of the game and Somerset were batting. I’d missed the opportunity to see Nick Compton, who was already out, but his fellow former England cricketer Marcus Trescothick seemed well set for a decent score.

Because I know some of you have an interest in scoreboards.

Because I know some of you have an interest in scoreboards.

I had a lamb pie for lunch, with mash I think. It was one of those posh pies that you get at the music festivals. I might have even have gone back for a second. That’s allowed at the cricket though.

Trescothick on strike.

Trescothick on strike.

There wasn’t much of a crowd. The Member’s Pavilion had quite a few people in it and there were a couple of hundred blokes in the stand I was sat in, but that was about it. The stand opposite was just about empty, although as the wicket was right over towards our side that wasn’t really surprising.

I was probably one of the youngest people in the crowd, although there were a smattering of small kids spending the arse end of the school holidays with their grandad.

I can see the attraction of county cricket for retired blokes. You can take your paper, flask and sandwiches and just idle away a day. It’s better than going to work as you are outside and don’t have to pretend to be busy.

Slightly busier over there.

Slightly busier over there.

Runs were scored and wickets fell steadily throughout the afternoon. At the tea interval I had a look around the museum. It’s interesting enough if, like me, you enjoy looking at stuff from the olden days.

I had an ice cream and then cleared off not too long into the final session as we had a train to catch. If you have to go to London for a visa, a trip to Lords makes it a much better day.