My Favourite Test
So it’s not a venue that many people would go for, but after a bit of deliberation I came up with a few criteria to help me choose my favourite away test: it should be an England win (ruled a few out immediately); food and drink in the evenings have to be at least decent; there must have been ample player-stalking photo opportunities and there should be at least two ridiculous Addis moments.
So, Durban, 2009, it is.
For most of the Addis Army, an away win is something to cherish. We generally know our own away win-draw-loss record in the same way Alastair Cook can recall every run he’s ever scored. And this was a spectacular winning margin: an innings and 98 runs. We got the chance to see Smith, Kallis and de Villiers score nicely but not destructively on Day One. Cook and Bell scored centuries in England’s only innings, with Strauss, Prior and Collingwood all passing 50 in a beautiful 574/9 declaration. After the tension of the late draw at Centurion a week before, this batting dominance was a welcome relief. Graeme Swann led England’s attack on the Saffas, returning man of the match figures of 21-3-43-5 (having also taken 4 wickets in the first innings) and England began celebrating at Close of Day 4, with South Africa reeling at 76/6. This time, unlike the 2005-2006 tour, we knew we had enough time to wrap things up on Day 5 without bad light hindering us.
This was an early DRS test match and teething problems were still being ironed out: the players quickly became aware that Deco, temporarily up in a hospitality box, could watch the TV replays and inform the England boys of the decision well before the Umpires could. They even began to look to him to decide whether or not to review a decision, in a bizarre set of circumstances that led to changes in the way broadcasters and third umpires now work.
After the win, as is customary the England supporters gathered beneath the players’ balcony, where we were treated to Paul Collingwood’s rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight and much more singing and beer drinking. I was all the more giddy having won 10,000 Rand in a lunch break ticket raffle which required you to make it to the field of play within 60 seconds if your number was called. I think I did it in about 12 seconds, squealing with excitement all the way.
The Florida Road area of Durban provided us with a ready watering hole with plenty of steak and red wine dinner options, as well as an Italian recommended by Midnight. Expecting a repeat of his 2007 Sydney Chicken Curry selection, Midnight was harangued all the way there, only for all to be forgiven when the Maître d’ informed us half the South African team were dining inside and would be more than willing to pose for photographs on their way out. Super bonus photo-stalking! Unsurprisingly, the nicest of the bunch was Mark Boucher, while our appeals to Graeme Smith to keep bowling Paul Harris (1/146 in England’s only innings) were heeded. Selected purely for his bowling, Harris took just 3 wickets in the following test in Cape Town. Oh how we laughed.
While the Zimmer Platoon of the Addis Army lorded it up in an uMhlanga villa, entertaining us one night with a splendid braai, the thriftier among us took up residence at Banana Backpackers which, it transpires, is located above Red Sonya’s Massage Parlour and the girls were only too happy to seek out business upstairs among the travelling supporters. One of the Addis Army’s most iconic photographs is of us all ranged out on the flag-draped balcony, scene of one of Wycombe’s hilarious mishaps. One of the 1980s-style plastic garden chairs had been identified by Herbie as having a weak and wonky leg. We all avoided it. Poor old Wycombe arrived back from the bar, innocent of this knowledge, and sat. And collapsed the chair. Maybe you needed to be high on victory (and a few beers in), but oh, how we laughed. Almost as hard as we laughed at Herbie’s spread bet on Day 2: once South Africa reached 280, each run cost him £2. We’re a supportive bunch, us Addis, so when Dale Steyn smashed 47 off 58 balls, including three fours and three sixes, to take South Africa to 343, we literally rolled around on the floor laughing as news spread through the Barmy Army and each boundary was greeted with wild cheers. I’m not sure whether Steyn himself or the England players were more confused by the noise that accompanied each run!
So there you have it: an imposing win; steak, red wine and beer in abundance; beachside villas and a brothel-backpackers; photos with the England boys at the ground and the Saffas at dinner; and the ritual humiliation of both Herbie and Wycombe. Durban, 2009, you had it all.