South Africa Tour 2015/16

The Bells and Balls of Pietermaritzburg

Sunday dawned somewhat cooler, thankfully, and after a hearty breakfast of chilli beef and chicken livers I made my way to the Maritzburg Oval in a taxi with Lofty and our latest Addis recruit West Ham Dave.

Last night we had watched the football and dined with Howzat Bob, who had managed to trace us to the Casino. Probably not too difficult, as this seems to be almost the only viable alternative to our hotel for a night out in Pietermaritzburg.

A rotten nights sleep had followed, in which I was plagued by a recurring nightmare. I was running sh*t scared through a cornfield, being chased by Louis Van Gaal, who was grinning insanely, whilst riding atop a green and gold coloured combine harvester.

I must ask the doctor to review my pills!

Now, very much unlike me some might say, I have some positive cricket comments to impart!

Given our eye opening experiences with the town, the cricket ground came as a very pleasant surprise. A bucolic setting next to the Dusi River, with the playing surface largely bounded by fine trees, one of which was inside the boundary a la Canterbury.

The pavilion here is a distinctive affair, with a pair of green - topped dome turrets, and just for the personal guilty pleasure of The Saint, I can now inform that this handsome building was used in the film 'Zulu Dawn' as the headquarters of the British Army High Command.

I presume someone removed the satellite dish before filming started.

The game commenced at 9.30 am : entry was free, and in truth a decent crowd had turned up to watch the frolics, including several members of the Barmy Army advance party.

Ice cream vendors patrolled the grass banks on tricycles and each one had a distinctive cowbell to ring to alert potential customers to his presence. This constant ringing upset one of the Barmy Army ladies, who first asked the vendor to shut up, then later tried to buy his bell, along with a couple of ice creams, in order to emasculate his clapper.

Personally, I thought the gently tinkling bells added a certain charm, but I guess it must be different strokes for different folks, eh?

The South African XI was not weak, containing amongst others Steve Cook, Rilee Rousseau, Quinton De Kock, Reeza Hendricks and Marchant De Lange, but run scoring proved difficult against some tight bowling by Broad and Footitt, and when Steven Finn was introduced he proved both too fast and too hostile.

Finn ended up with four wickets as South Africa were blown away for 136. England finished 64 - 0 at the close of day one.

In the evening we went to the casino with our new pal West Ham Dave who, despite his football allegiances, hails from Colchester. During the evening Dave related a terrifying story of violence and football hooliganism he had experienced at a Colchester game in which he had found himself at the mercy of a small firm of aggressive Wycombe Wanderers fans, "all kitted out in Stone Island gear."

I'm sure we have nobody in the Addis Army fitting that description who would stoop to such behaviour!

Day two of the cricket started as an absolute pleasure. The sun shone, and England romped to a massive 414 - 6 which included fine centuries first by Cook, and then by Root.

As if to prove a point at the home ground of the young Kevin Pietersen, Cook went to his hundred with a massive six over cow corner and we were all scratching our heads as to when this had last happened.

Earlier, Hales had compiled a nice fifty after a scratchy start and Compton had looked solid enough in scoring 29.

When Stokes came in he proceeded to belt the tiring bowlers all over the place for a quick fifty and in reality, of the England batsmen, only Taylor missed out, scoring just 13. As Taylor is already pencilled in for the first test, I would suggest that our Durban batting line up will be as per this Pietermaritzburg side.

As for the bowling attack, I suggest this side but with Anderson replacing Footitt.

For some time lately I have suspected that Sky TV are finding the competition from BT Sport particularly challenging, and it seems economies are even being made with our sacred cricket coverage. During the afternoon, I came across Tim Abrahams doing his live Sky Sports News score update not with a team of cameramen, but sat on his own on the grass bank with a notepad and mobile phone.

Times must be hard!

As is usual at this type of game the players made themselves freely available for photographs and autographs and they also signed West Ham Dave's balls.

Maybe I should explain this a little further. Dave is in fact playing Secret Santa with signed gift cricket balls for his pals who arrive later this month in South Africa.

My personal highlight of the day was snaffling a photo with Alastair Cook, then five minutes later having the opportunity for a brief chat with England's shining star, Joe Root.

His face, when told of the duration of our stay in South Africa was a picture:

"I thought only the players had to do that!"

As if to prove what a complete and utter hypocrite I am, I even took a picture of Gary Ballance after nets, although to be fair on myself I must point out that I am about to edit the camera memory stick after typing this diary!

So, after all this positivity, its time for more familiar territory and 'wish you weren't here' Midnight negativity.

Come on down, the Protea Imperial Hotel and in particular, its f*cking hopeless restaurant.

The three of us had dinner here on Monday night. Or at least we tried to.

In a huge aircraft hanger of floorspace we were almost the only diners. Apart from one other.

A bright young lad from St Albans on his first tour, Sam, was just finishing his meal and was stuck into a copy of "Middlemarch" by George Eliot - for those unfamiliar, a considerable English literature classic tome. Sam is a criminal lawyer, does not seem to drink, and goes running around Pietermaritzburg at regular intervals in his shorts presumably as part of a fitness regime.

Despite the wisdom gleaned from these clean and healthy pursuits, Sam has purchased a ticket for the Barmy Army Xmas Party in Durban at which, this year, the food will not be served until 8pm to accommodate a plane full of late arrivals. As I reasonably assume that the boozing will start just as soon as the bar opens , this meal may be a somewhat messy affair, and when Sam asked me what he should expect I did not have the heart to spoil his anticipation with my world - weary and jaundiced opinions.

Perhaps, however, I should have advised him to leave "Middlemarch" in his hotel room!

Anyway once Sam had left for his evening jog, the remaining three of us were sat at our table like piffy* for quarter of an hour without menus. When these were eventually brought and we chose our meals, it was another hour and a quarter before we saw the staff again - when they delivered incorrect starter orders.

Eventually after calling for the manager this was corrected. Then our main courses appeared.

West Ham Dave says his chicken was just about edible. Lofty's steak was certainly not, and resembled a Doc Marten boot sole that had been cremated on the braai for two days. My lamb chops were similarly overdone and could have been carved from the limbs of a stegosaurus.

Fortunately the wine supply only went awry after the second bottle, so with the aid of The Small Faces and Rod Stewart blasting out on my tablet and a third, different, bottle of wine, we survived the experience. Lofty was even able to negotiate a 92 rand price reduction on our 992 rand bill. Afterwards in the bar we found out that he had cynically worked out this amount of refund because he only had 300 rand in his pocket. Potential maths students will be able to work it out, but for those who cannot, basically Lofty must have some Scottish as well as Saffer blood.??

To cap off a perfect evening when I returned to my room the plastic key card would not let me in and on complaining at reception, instead of an apology, I received a lecture on the hazardous nature of storing my hotel key card near my mobile phone.

Finally, too late, I awoke and discovered a renegade mosquito on the loose in my room at 3am which had by then enjoyed a better meal than we did. Greenfield white pudding, I bet it said on the Mossie menu.

This hotel will be getting a Midnight 'Special Measures' review on 'Trip Avoider!'

On day three the cricket was wrapped up before lunch with South Africa being bowled out for 187 resulting in a predictable England innings victory.

After the game Lofty and I passed up the opportunity for a drink with the Barmy Army in the local Bowling club and instead, as it was still light, decided to walk back to our hotel.

On the way we encountered more eye - popping sights. Fly posters for 'Doctor Omar's Egyptian penis cream - Penis Enlargement - Stop Quick Ejaculation - Same day service' were juxtaposed with other flybills offering 'Same day pain free abortion'.

Doctor Omar sounds like a philanthropic genius with a good eye for business to me.

We passed a large gated doorframe protected by electric fencing in which some poor homeless person had carefully positioned a double mattress with floral duvet and pillows. We did not stop to enquire if the facilities were en - suite.

Tonight to avoid the hotel restaurant we are going to visit a pub called the Keg and Hedgehog, which is apparently four kilometres outside town. This recommendation was given to us yesterday by a South African cricket fan we met at the game called Dylan Campbell.

Dylan, this pub had better be good. As you have now subscribed to the Addis Army newsletter we rooinek have ways of tracking you down!

I shall not be sorry to move on to Durban but a win is a win and the next diary will cover the much anticipated first Test match. The weather forecast is for rain.



PS * = Traditional Lancastrian dialect.

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