South Africa Preview
So the South Africa tour is nearly upon us. The players and backroom staff have arrived and as you read this I will have arrived back in Africa. We are looking at a four-test series (let’s be honest, no one cares about the rest of it) and we should be looking for some very enjoyable away victories.
South African conditions are usually relatively familiar: the weather is warm but pace, seam, swing and spin bowling all come into play. Anybody remember Dale Steyn’s snorter-spell in Cape Town 2010, or Matty Hoggard’s Jo’burg rampage in 2005? Batsmen, too, should have plenty of capacity to get themselves in and play. In cricketing terms I think it’s my favourite overseas tour because it offers so much to our players that we don’t get elsewhere.
And away from the cricket, South Africa is an incredibly beautiful country offering a full range of experiences. This year, family Tractor are starting off with a few days in Kruger National Park, stopping en route at the Mac Mac Pools (named after the proliferation of Scotsmen working the mines there back in the day) before returning to the university town of Centurion. Staying in the 1355 backpackers’ run by the family of friend of the Addis, big Tim, the vibe will be eclectic with poolside pizzas and ‘downtown’ bar and restaurant culture on offer.
Last time we were at Centurion the career of Makhaya Ntini was celebrated by the distribution of beer tokens to all spectators in the ground. Sadly for them, the organisers had not quite grasped the propensity of English fans to procure and make use of these tokens by the score and Tom and Midnight were delighted with a free day on the booze courtesy of the big fast bowler.
Centurion has usually provided England with good, five-day pitches and I am hopeful that England’s still shaky batting lineup will take this chance to shine. With Jimmy back opening the bowling, too, England should be confident of avoiding defeat and maybe even starting the tour with a win. Fingers crossed!
After what will, I hope, be a full five-day match here (I’m not overly tempted by the rest of Pretoria’s tourist offerings) it’s off to Cape Town: beautiful, complicated, and likely to be overflowing with England supporters. This time we are headed to an Air Bnb on the outskirts of Bo Kaap. This is one of Cape Town’s most interesting neighbourhoods and although I’ve visited before – and Harry and Meghan obviously copied me earlier this year - I’m excited about being able to walk around Cape Town as a tourist. On my first visit in 1997, private armed guards stood in almost every café and shop front, and we were repeatedly warned against walking any further than taxi-to-venue across the pavement. In 2009-2010 there was definitely more freedom to roam during the day, but the notion of a downtown Cape Town with the kind of bar-café culture more often seen in European cities is new to me.
At Newlands, England will feel the cricketing pressure, as they always seem to do, but Port Elizabeth offers a scenic diversion and we have held our own at The Wanderers over the years. Cape Town tickets are long since sold out (within the hour of going on sale for days 1-2) but we shall do all that we can to get in for the opening day before flying home and straight back to the new school term.
On each of my previous visits to South Africa I have been conscious of the continuing racial inequality and I am hopeful that this visit will offer a more hopeful cosmopolitanism, if not a satisfactorily equal society. With the exchange rate so firmly in our favour, an often boorish (pun intended) white South African population, evident political corruption and continued poverty for the majority of the Black population this tour can also be one of the most difficult for tourists with their eyes open.
While cricketing tourists are never going to change the political landscape of this turbulent country with such a shameful past, what we can do is take every opportunity to demonstrate our opposition to racism in all its forms: personal, individual, institutional and we can rest satisfied that we have brought our tolerance, as well as our spending power, to this most beautiful of countries.