South Africa Tour 2015/16
ODI's Under African Skies
After such a heady Test Series win, a brief break from cricket was called for.
Lofty, Five - O and myself headed east for four hours on the N4 to Graskop, a small town in Mpumulanga (Transvaal) at the southern end of the Blyde River Canyon.
Although the Graskop area is sprinkled liberally with viewpoints and sightseeing activities, the prime reason for depositing ourselves here was to chill out, which by and large we have done in abundance.
A twelve day stay in such a small place may test the patience of some people, but after all the chasing about we had done during the last eight weeks, a good rest was overdue, and the Graskop Hotel is blessed with great rooms, friendly staff, a good kitchen and a fabulous pool.
Using our hire car we have travelled extensively around the sights of Mpumulanga.
On our first day we viewed the Mac Mac Falls and Five - O and myself swam in the Mac Mac Pools, under a warm waterfall. Unfortunately a set of municipal type steel exit steps are not installed and my left knee is still recovering from the clamber out.
Barberton was a long drive to a quaint ex - mining town where we viewed some of the Victorian houses, which seemed mainly to be the historical homes of strict looking, bearded, disciplinarian Scotsmen who had left the old country to make their fortunes in the gold rush.
Barberton is also the site of some of the oldest rock formations on the planet. There is a 37km mountain drive called the 'Genesis Trail', which has nothing to do with Phil Collins' latest comeback, but features roadside stops next to unusual rock formations, with an explanation of the significance. Tufty, our Addis geologist, would have liked this, apart from the lack of dodgy pubs & clubs along the route.
The Echo Caves were splendid, and exceeded our expectations especially in the amount of bending and crouching required for six - footer Five - O and 'not as supple as he once was' Lofty.
At Kaapsehoop there are about 200 wild horses running free, and these majestic animals do not differentiate between open country and the main road. It was a delight to watch the traffic happily slowing down to accommodate their serene progress.
On my last visit to Graskop with Tremers we drove to a scenic viewpoint called Gods Window - a gap in the cliffs from which a marvellous view opens up providing the weather conditions are supportive. Last time it was hazy, hence Tremers barbed comment that 'God had drawn the venetian blinds'. Not so this time, although since we last came the South Africans have started charging to look at the view, which was disappointing.
Similarly, the Blyde River Canyon offered stupendous views and photo opportunities and whilst driving back to our hotel after calling in at Bourke's Luck Potholes, we were lucky enough to have our own personal 'pothole experience' on the main road courtesy of Lofty's driving.
Lofty has already alluded to this incident briefly in his blog entitled 'The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth' and in the spirit of that title I will now relate a further small detail under the sub - heading 'An Inconvenient Truth'.
Lofty was speeding recklessly and, as he does, customarily treating the open road like a racing circuit. Driving much too fast, in fact, to be able to react properly to any unforeseen events, as demonstrated by his inability to negotiate the huge crater - like pothole that wrecked our tyre. This pothole is so large, it is probably visible from space.
Our 'accident' happened at 5.30pm on a Saturday evening, probably not the best time to find a branch of Kwik - Fit open in rural Africa to replace our tattered front tyre.
The fact that we spent the rest of the weekend driving around gingerly on a spacesaver tyre, with no spare, and that I subsequently had to spend two hours of my holiday in a branch of Tiger Tyres in Nelspruit with Lofty the following Monday has also been glossed over in his blog.
Still, the Tiger Tyres coffee was very nice and any annoyance was also fully offset by memories of the puerile giggles that Five - O and I enjoyed while Lofty was busy changing the wheel directly after the incident.
Graskop is not a large town and there are not a multitude of dining options.
Despite this, Five - O seemed determined to alienate the restaurants one by one with his 'John Le Mesurier put - down' conversational style.
At the Canimambo Portuguese restaurant, he ordered a steak which turned out to be full of gristle.
On pointing this out to the young white waiter: "Well I'm sorry Sir, but that's because of the way its cooked. You ordered your steak medium rare!"
Five - O put him right on this culinary cock - up, but after the ensuing argument we later discovered that our waiter was the owners son.
A similar story in the Glass House, where despite being served with good food, Five - O seemed to take umbrage at the touchy - feely owner invading his personal space with 'inappropriate' friendly petting and touching his body.
When it was pointed out to Five - O that our dining options in Graskop were growing rather limited due to his attitude and fastidiousness, he became sulky, contenting himself with learning various African words and phrases to enable him to discuss how he wanted his eggs with the hotel breakfast staff.
The first ODI arrived and we watched this in a local bikers bar.
In South Africa the 'no smoking in pubs' law is more honoured in the breach than the observance.
Behind our bar stood a chap with one leg, and sat around the bar along with two Hells Angels from the 'Mad Dog' sect was a silent man from the local pensioners home, who sported a grey parrot on his shoulder.
The parrot was the only non - smoker on the premises apart from our group.
Five - O quickly identified the parrot's breed.
"It's a Congo Red - Arse," he exclaimed. "Look at the crimson tail feathers!"
Unfortunately all I noticed was the dribble of dried parrot - shit down the back of the owners tee shirt.
England batted first and a superb ton by Lancastrian Buttler, promoted up the order, propelled us to a total of 399 - 9. An extra portion of hot - pot for Jos tonight!
After the break between innings we resumed our position in the bar slightly worse for wear and by this time, it had been fully populated by after - work white locals.
As South Africa started their run chase, some of the saffers started engaging with us.
"We will never get this many runs!" A guy sat at the bar said.
"No, you won't. In England, we call your team the chokers!" exclaimed Five - O.
A throwaway comment that would truly come back to haunt us.
Actually South Africa made a decent fist of the response and were still in with a technical chance when a thunderstorm stopped play. De Kock deservedly won the man of the match award for his unbeaten century, but Duckworth and Lewis won the match for England. One up then.
My birthday got off to a damp start as our breakfast table was surrounded by the female staff of the hotel, who all sang 'Happy Birthday' in African then proceeded to throw a glass of water over me. That's how its done here and I can only be grateful that I didn't get a glassful for each year.
Some bad news later, though. We had planned to go to Sabie Brewing Company in the afternoon, but were warned off because of violent protests that have been taking place in the town, which is 30km away, since 3am, apparently.
The birthday celebrations fell a bit flat then, not helped by persistent rain for the first time in weeks.
To my surprise, Lofty and Five - O both favoured the Canimambo Portuguese restaurant for dinner, so this is where we went, and it is to date the only time in my life when I have felt that I was paying for the privilege of being poisoned.
The first course - vegetable soup - how can that go wrong?
Lofty took a spoonful. "Ugh, this tastes like sick!" he said. He wasn't wrong either.
The imbecile in the kitchen posing as a chef had made this emetic concoction from sour, rancid coconut milk. Truly disgusting.
God only knows what would have happened to our innards had we been able to eat it.
Next, an apologetic substitute of butternut soup was offered, but after taking an eternity to heat up, this arrived stone cold. The microwave must have packed in.
Needless to say we will not be going back, and my suspicion is that the Canimambo only continues to exist because of a lack of competition and the average stay in Graskop being a short one.
The second ODI followed on Saturday, minus Five - O, who had chosen instead to wake at 4am and go on safari in the Kruger Park with a local guide. When he returned from Kruger he had not seen the Big Five as promised. However, he had seen a lion standing guard over a dead elephant, which presumably was its dinner. Talk about 'Super Size Me'. There aren't many members of the Addis Army who can eat ten times their body weight in meat, though I can think of one or two who would happily give it a try!
England won the second ODI, which in truth was a bit of a plod until another Butler explosion at the death took England over the line. Hales was unlucky not to complete his ton and batted very well from the outset.
Our final visit to the Glass House that evening, and the owners farewell to Five - O was very touching. As usual!
On our last day in Graskop we relaxed by the pool, or in Lofty's case in the shade.
Not even the news that a jazz band was playing live that night in the Canimambo could tempt Five - O to risk eating there again, and instead we enjoyed a lovely final meal at the Graskop Hotel.
Sad farewells in the morning to Brendan, Ellen and the Graskop Hotel staff, who have looked after us splendidly, as we loaded up into our hire car. We had to return our car to Bidvest at Centurion by 3-30pm and we all thought that we had plenty of time up our sleeves for the drive by leaving Graskop at 10am. Our first stop was planned for the bookshop at Sabie to pick up more reading material.
Nevertheless Lofty took the first drive in his usual 'Dick Dastardly' fashion and by the time we got to Sabie, 30kms away, I was feeling rather queasy in the passenger seat, and I wasn't the only one.
Five - O, who had been travelling in the back, as we walked to the bookshop, said :
"I feel a bit car - sick after all those braking adjustments and tight turns."
Old rally drivers do not take prisoners mate, and clearly they are not used to taking passengers either.
On changing drivers just before we hit the N4, we encountered road works almost immediately, and these had the effect of steadily slowing us down for the next 200km or so.
Even so a comfort break was required and incredibly, the motorway service station we chose for this had a large water - hole round the back at which zebra, rhino, and buffalo were drinking. Ostrich and antelope were also on view.
All this wildlife visible in a ten minute stop for a pee and some coffee - sounds like my kind of safari! There was also an information board, which purported to explain where the Kaapsehoop wild horses originated. Apparently, they are descended from German army horses, which were abandoned "after Germany was forced to surrender by South African troops in 1914." A different take on World War I for sure!
When we finally got to Centurion, we misjudged the way into town and also the directions back to Thatch Haven and got lost. By this time it was past the deadline for returning our car. In addition, Five - O was on pins, as his limousine pick up from the Protea Hotel to the airport was booked in for 4.30pm. Thankfully, he made it.
Our Addis contingent was soon restored to three as we met Posh Margaret, just arrived from Port Elizabeth, for dinner in Pizzeria Milan. Lots of stories to swap as we had not seen each other since the final Test.
Incredibly, sat at the next table to us was another guy with a parrot on his shoulder, and this bird jumped off its human perch at one point and came walking towards us.
"A Congo Red - Arse!" I exclaimed, remembering the plumage, which was identical to the parrot in Graskop identified by Five - O.
"No", said the owner, "An African Grey, actually, and he knows over 300 words including 'idiot'!"
The third ODI found us sat at Supersport Park in the midst of a tour group called 'Living with the Lions'. I gather this operation is based near Gloucester and specialises in rugby tours, having recently also branched out into cricket. There were forty or so in the group and I was sat next to a well spoken, genteel middle - aged lady. As we got talking, I asked her the $64,000 question. "If you don't mind me asking, how much did your tour cost?"
"Well, dear, I don't have to worry about that. I just pay them."
With that she consulted the chap to her right who provided a more calculated response.
A mere £2,599 for three ODI's in Centurion, Johannesburg and Capetown and two T20 matches (one a warm - up) in a 13 day stay.
With value like this on offer, I am seriously considering using this company to ferry me around Bangladesh, if the tour there happens. You also get a branded polo shirt, satchel and cap!
Unfortunately no matter how genteel one may be, and no matter how much one may pay to come on tour, there are no guarantees as to your neighbours in the stands.
Sat behind us was a Sarfend United fan whose vocabulary was rather limited and whose language was rather colourful.
"I was in this fa*kin' place in Mandela Square last night. Ordered a fa*kin' chicken starter. There were thirteen pieces of fa*kin' chicken when it came and I still had a fa*kin' twelve ounce steak to eat! Twelve fa*kin' quid! Can you fa*kin' Adam an' Eve it?"
As the latest in a long stream of expletives tumbled from his mouth, the genteel lady leant over to Lofty and I and whispered "Don't you wish you had a set of earplugs?"
England once again demonstrated that they have not yet learned all their lessons from the traumatic World Cup. Even though Joe Root scored his highest one day total, the middle order stuttered and a score of 318 proved to be wholly inadequate.
We ended up being soundly thrashed, courtesy of great centuries by De Kock and Amla. Lofty and I left the ground when South Africa's score had reached 205 - 0 and the result was a foregone conclusion.
So to the final leg of our epic trip. Johannesburg, and the Southern Sun Hotel, which really is the dogs gonads. During our first night at the bar I indulged myself in a favourite pastime - talking to Americans about cricket. After I explained why we were here, the lady from Philadelphia replied:
"Well enjoy the rest of your holiday and I hope Great Britain win the ball game tomorrow!"
Regrettably, I have to report that we didn't enjoy the ODI next day, despite a classic game of cricket.
Having moved our seats to behind the bowlers arm, we were unfortunate enough to be surrounded by loudmouthed, teenage fu*kwits, most of whom were of sub - continental stock.
The genteel lady from 'Living with the Lions' would most certainly not have enjoyed this company. No humourous banter, just a lot of mindless giggling, chair kicking and annoying high - pitched screams, added to which was quite a lot of personal abuse containing anti - English racism.
The racist angle was, in fact, sadly acknowledged (and apologised for) by a few older, wiser and calmer South African people sat in the area. Collectively, this obnoxious group might just have equalled the IQ of an amoeba. The whole scenario reminded me of the thoroughly unpleasant 2015 World Cup semi - final at Sydney, and the frenzied and disgusting behaviour of the Indian 'cricket supporters' we experienced there.
These 'fans' didn't need any encouragement to become even more feral and annoying, but England provided it anyway by basically throwing away the match.
When we batted, our much vaunted middle order collapsed once more. It was only another superb century by Joe Root that enabled us to reach a respectable score of 262, aided mainly by Chris Woakes, and the pair put on a record seventh wicket stand at this ground.
Adil Rashid also scored useful runs at the death but could not see out the innings and England did not manage to bat out the overs.
South Africa were then in all sorts of trouble at 210 - 8, but Adil Rashid dropped a dolly catch that would have undoubtedly won the series and having been let off, Chris Morris cut loose.
A series of incredibly powerful boundaries and sixes powered the Saffers over the line, and Morris seemed to go from nought to fifty in an instant. Broad was held back far too long and when he eventually appeared in the attack it was too late. Morris was well and truly in the zone.
As well as being unable to score any runs, Eoin Morgan was seemingly totally lacking in ideas to stem the Morris carnage and his field placings were far too defensive given that we only needed to take the last two wickets. We did not, and the rest is history.
As I have repeatedly said over the past couple of years in one day cricket it seems to be one step forward and two back with this team sometimes.
To complete our evening, Lofty and I had to wait over an hour after the game finished for our taxi pick - up, watching the England team coach speed off into the night ahead of us, and on returning to our hotel it was so late the bar had closed. All in all, not a good day.
However, I will not allow a few bad apples to ruin what has been a wonderful barrel of cider this winter!
The final ODI was at Cape Town on Sunday and given the distance involved we watched this on TV.
Hales got a well deserved century, but more brainless batting by the middle order saw yet another inadequate England score, and when you see Reece Topley coming in to bat with nearly seven overs of the innings left, it cannot be long before the Fat Lady starts singing. It wasn't.
Rule number one : use up all your overs. Basic mathematics.
De Villiers steered South Africa over the line and once again England had clawed one - day defeat from the jaws of victory.
I cannot remember the last time that a side recovered from two - nil down to win a five match series.
In fact, this is only the third time in history I gather.
Time to sum up this fantastic trip now that we are virtually on our way home.
Our great Addis Army buddies. No matter where cricket is played these days the Addis are in town!
South Africa itself. What a wonderful place for a holiday. Rising now in the Midnight rankings to the second - best tour on the circuit. You all know my number one!
The Graskop Hotel. What a friendly, relaxing place to stay on your holiday.
The Pizzeria Milan in Eldoraigne, Centurion. Fabulous people, fabulous food.
The South African people. With a few notable Johannesburg exceptions, friendly to a fault.
The prices. "We've got 23 Rand to the Pound. We're so rich its unbelievable...."
The sunshine, which is virtually on tap. Just one really poor day in two months!
New Years Eve in Cape Town and the Saigon Restaurant, where Herbie fell off his wagon with two glasses of 'hooligan' champagne.
The Johannesburg Test on the Saturday. A day that ranks almost alongside Melbourne Boxing Day 2011. Unforgettable.
Joe Root. What would we do without him? I cannot remember one player performing so consistently well on such a long tour, in both cricket formats. Great stuff, Joe.
The 'dichotomy dilemma' of the Barmy Army. Despite the humour the 'Barmy Travel' split has provided, overseas cricket touring will never quite be the same again because of this development.
The political, social and economic problems that beset South Africa do not seem to be fading away. Corruption at the highest level is a daily feature of the news and this filters down as far as traffic policemen - as I'm sure Jonathan Agnew can testify from his experiences in Centurion!
The selection of beer available in South Africa leaves a bit to be desired. I have lifted the drawbridge on Castle lager, preferring a wine moat instead.
The road surfaces can be uneven when driving at 140kmph, as I am sure Lofty would agree.
Imran Tahir. Pantomime villain. Your hysterical celebrations are not matched by any world beating performances. Only mediocre, Imran.
Unfair to criticise theatrical Imran without reference to the batting form and one day captaincy of Eoin Morgan. Not even mediocre, I'm afraid. Just very poor.
In a similar vein, England's brainless one day cricket continues to frustrate and disappoint. I have had to consult my own tour diaries to remember the last time I saw an ODI victory away from home. Auckland 2013! Maybe the moral is, stick to Test matches.
THE QUOTE OF THE TRIP: Belongs, as ever, to Lofty.
"The Blyde River Canyon is nowhere near as spectacular as I had expected!"
Oh, well. You can't please everyone.
It must be all those Wonders of the World they have on Guernsey, like that little chapel made of sea shells. And Kwik - Fit, of course!
Regards, and Make Every Day a Mandela Day.