South Africa Tour 2015/16

A House Divided

Day three of the Test went almost exactly to plan, and we do not say that very often!

From their overnight position, South Africa lost six wickets during the morning, with Moeen Ali picking up regular scalps without the run - plundering of yesterday.

Our opponents were all out for 214, meaning an England lead of 89.

At lunch I retired to the Castle Beer tent, where an entertaining question and answer session was taking place involving an English journalist (I'm sorry I didn't catch his name), and Gary Kirsten.

A member of the audience asked a question to which we all thought we knew the answer. Who would be likely to be dropped when Jimmy Anderson returns?

The English journalist came out with a classic switch from empathy to withering sarcasm thus:

"Well, Woakes has been unlucky. He has bowled very well and he bats well too. Whilst he hasn’t taken a wicket, he has also been doubly unlucky, in that England have a keeper who uses his gloves for keeping his hands warm!"

Ha ha ha, love it. Be prepared, then, for Bairstow making way for Jimmy in Cape Town with Chris Woakes bowling, batting, and keeping wicket!

Mind you, England were not the only side with a 'dodgy keeper' today.

A B De Villiers had a nightmare behind the stumps as the England second innings progressed. Two dropped catches and byes galore.

The juggling was infectious, and the outfielders also put down several chances.

During the afternoon session the batting was more careful than exciting but the England score continued to mount inexorably in singles and two's.

I was more than happy with our position, but as usual Herbie the Doom Raven started pecking.

"We're batting too negatively Midnight. Too slow. What's Compton playing at?"

And on it went. At one point I reminded Herbie that Mr Blade would give much gold to be in this position on the third day of a test match with a clear weather forecast for days four and five. The response:

"If I were Blade, I'd be looking for a cheap return flight from Adelaide to Durban around now. Nah mate - he will have to go to Bangladesh for that first away win even though it won't count....."

Actually Glen, if you are reading this, I don't think you will.

South Africa have been poor throughout this match and given the advantage they had winning the toss, there is an argument that they may have thrown it away somewhat in Durban.

They look like a spent force to me.

Dependent on just a few key players, lacking leadership, and injury prone.

Dale Steyn, their much vaunted paceman, had to go off the field twice today without finishing his over. Rumours abounded that he had gone to hospital for a scan, although he did finish the game fielding and signing kiddie bats at long on. Whichever way you look at it Steyn is certainly not 100%.

For once from what I have seen thus far, I really fancy England for a series victory, and so do the bookies I suspect, as I have so far been unable to get a bet on at decent odds.

In terms of this game England finished day three over 260 in front, with Root and Taylor both not out and busy at the crease, so at this stage a victory in Durban looks almost assured.

At tea I had with some subterfuge managed to include myself in the Howzat Travel group photograph, taken in the middle of the pitch. As I tried to snatch a quick photo of the wicket itself I was accosted by a steward.

"That is an illegal photograph during the match. Please leave the pitch immediately!"

Apologies to the ICC for breaking another of their bloody stupid rules. I hope nobody tries to use my holiday snaps to facilitate match-fixing.

Corridor of Uncertainty Clarkie has now arrived and taken up his customary 'hawker' position outside the ground exit. We all bought one of his shirts today, and I can thoroughly recommend the purchase. Clarkie's shirts are an unusual olive colour with a smart badge, subtle design and priced reasonably at 300 Rand.

On a purely personal basis I prefer them to any other tour shirts I have seen so far.

At least until the Addis Army ones arrive!

In the evening live football was being shown in the pubs and I had dreaded the combination of results that would see West Ham climb above Manchester United with Herbie in the vicinity. As it was, thankfully the results saw us level, so I was largely spared an evening of crowing.

Herbie also came the closest thus far to indulging in an alcoholic drink. As the red wine I had ordered for myself, Jack and Lofty arrived at the dinner table in a posh Cuban steak restaurant, Herbie could not help himself.

Picking up my glass of wine he swirled it around several times then nosed the bouquet.

"Hooligan wine, Midnight. No sophistication in that Shiraz at all!"

The cheeky bastard - at this restaurant's top-dollar prices, that bottle had cost over a fiver! The rest of us enjoyed drinking it anyway, rather than sniffing it.

Day four arrived, possibly the hottest yet. More sad viewing on Sky News over breakfast with the continued flooding of the UK. Whose crazy idea was it to give storm fronts Christian names? Surely if we treat them like old friends, they are likely to visit us more often!

On a more serious note we must mark the sad passing today of Motorhead stalwart Lemmy at the age of just 70 after a life of almost monastic moderation. I suspect our Addis friend and heavy metal buff Higgy will be distraught, in the same way I was when my rock hero bass guitarist Chris Squire died unexpectedly earlier this year.

No unexpected happenings at the cricket. Day four went almost entirely to plan, although perhaps England were bowled out a little earlier, and for a little less, than they desired. Nonetheless this left South Africa needing over 400 to win and history records the very few times that this has been done.

Today we were sat out in the tropical sun on the Eastern terrace and the Addis Army flag flew proudly at the top of the stand. Below us the Barmy Army seemed a diluted, muted presence.

The few songs we heard were largely unintelligible, although I did pick out one.

When Steven Finn came on to bowl, it became apparent that he had been allocated a song attributed to an earlier England bowler, with the word 'Finny' substituted for 'Harmison'.

I bet Finn is overjoyed about that.

Eric 'The Swann', an Everton fan and tour stalwart, came up to talk to us, and he explained that effectively the Barmies have now split into two distinctive groups.

In our stand, the traditional 'Barmy Army™'.

To our right in the VIP stand, 'Barmy Travel'.

Each distinct entity has its own, different, tour tee shirt!

All very mystifying (as if). Herbie is about to write a newsletter article on the subject of cricket touring, so I won't steal his thunder.

But clearly we are now looking at a House of Barmy Divided.

On the grass bank I met our pal Greg, last sighted in New Zealand, and he explained the sheer luxury of his independently arranged accommodation in Durban:

"Mate, I'm sharing a sh*tty backpacker dorm with seven migrant workers from Namibia.

It’s okay though, they saw my Arsenal kitbag this morning and we all bonded around that!"

Good old Greg. I bet Jackie won't be joining him there. Maybe he should have gone to Barmy Travel!

The afternoon got darker as South Africa began their reply but they put on fifty without losing a wicket. However the first three batsmen were then out in relatively quick succession, leaving De Villiers and Du Plessis to defend doggedly for the rest of the day.

Jonny Bairstow missed an easy stumping chance given by De Villiers and pounded the ground in frustration, but when Du Plessis was caught behind six minutes from stumps the stage was set for a memorable victory tomorrow.

That evening, we were treated to a great Thai meal by Julie, Herbie's ex, as a thanks for 'getting her into the cricket thing' so thanks in turn to Julie for that. After the day’s heat exhaustion and the cumulative effect of four days of cricket began to take hold, most of us were on autopilot as we turned in for the night.

Off to Kingsmead for the final time. We were half expecting to get in for nothing as we did in 2009, but the South African economy needs all the help it can get these days and tickets were required. We bought six tickets in the Upper South Stand for 150 Rand each, which was the most money any of us has parted with all week - but what a reward. An elevated balcony right behind the bowlers arm to witness another famous victory.

De Villiers was out in the first over, getting hapless keeper Bairstow off the hook again - he \ we may not be so lucky next time. South Africa then collapsed like a sandcastle in a flood and as wickets tumbled, at last some noise from the Barmy Army. Big Graham has now arrived, and he performed his party piece, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to the delight of all. His voice was pitched so high today that I can only imagine his new tour shorts must be a Tight Fit.

When victory was claimed it was photo time on the Kingsmead balcony and to demonstrate what a small world it really is, our group photos were kindly taken by Mick Lee, the groundsman at Crompton Cricket Club, who lives in Shaw - about ten minutes away from me! Thanks Mick.

This has been an interesting, rather than scintillating Test match.

The cricket has not got the pulse racing as much as, say, an episode of "Can't Pay? We'll Take it Away!"

Broad has been our weapon of mass destruction. But Compton has been the rock around which the England flair players have flowed and expressed themselves.

He has been the rock that eventually ground down South Africa.

Welcome back to Test cricket, Compo.

So although the excitement levels never took off on my third visit to Durban, there is now another precious away win in the bank. As that big, fat American singer once said:

"Don't be sad. Cos two outta three ain't bad!"

I think we can expect something altogether different in Cape Town on every level.

The age of the Barmy Army is now over.

The age of Barmy Travel has now begun.

Regards and Happy New Year to all.


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