South Africa Tour 2019/20
What the Buttler saw
Just a few legacy issues from the last diary to box off.
Once I fell into the J-Bay lifestyle I enjoyed the place immensely. Highly recommended.
Busy doing nothing. I think I could easily live as a surfing beach bum if I learned how to surf and lost three stone.
A special treat on Monday night was an African KFC - three chicken pieces, chips and gravy with a drink for three quid. As I reached for the sealed hand cleaner after wolfing the lot, I was so laid back that I realised too late that the Colonel's 'wipe tissue packet' in fact contained tomato ketchup. This didn't quite have the requisite cleansing effect on my hands, or my white shorts.
Lofty had quite a few adventures on his train. The passengers were 'confined to the train' during a storm after leaving Kimberley, and a subsequent cable theft meant a diversion and a very late arrival in Pretoria. Worst of all - Lofty had to get up at 7.30am for breakfast, which for him is akin to physical torture.
Sounds like the Blue Train franchise needs to be withdrawn!
The journey to Port Elizabeth was in two parts. Firstly, an eighty km drive up the N2. Secondly, a trip round the houses once I reached the city in order to find the airport, and drop off the car. This seemed to take longer than the drive from Jeffreys Bay.
I reached my digs just after lunchtime and have I hit the jackpot this time. King Georges Guest House is a period British colonial style house built in 1915. The rooms are spacious, and there is a cracking pool just outside my verandah which is actually suitable for real swimming, as opposed to just cooling off. The room I have been allocated is called 'Newlands' - what better omen for the Third Test!
Five-O and Skip were in touch as soon as their planes landed and with Lofty already in situ on the seafront, we had enough for a beer quorum and a meal was arranged at the popular Coachman Restaurant on the bay.
As far as I can recall, the 'meal' consisted mainly of bottle after bottle of Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, and as the wine flowed, the thorny subject of Lofty's South African heritage was brought up.
"My old man was in the navy at Simon's Town" said Lofty. "And I was born in George. Hence my name!"
"Wow. You're very lucky you weren't born in Port Elizabeth!" added Skip.
A group of England players were sat outside, separated from our table by just a pane of glass. Skip was suitably star struck: having been on tour most of the winter it seems, I am now getting used to their presence, but eventually I did turn round to look who was there.
"Don't stare at them!" said Skip; who had been doing nothing else himself for about an hour.
It struck me how young they all looked and if these lads do make it at Test level, we will have the spine of a team for many years to come. Parkinson and Pope were wearing backwards baseball caps, and looked like naughty boys on a school outing. Zak Crawley was at the head of their table, and if he had ordered an alcoholic drink, the waitress would have been obliged to ask for I.D.
Also present were Dom Bess, Dom Sibley, and non - Dom Woakes, who must have felt like the old married man of the group!
Later, Collingwood, Thorpe and Jeetan Patel came into the restaurant and as the wine took hold I couldn't help giving Jeetan some gentle ribbing about his New Zealand alliances, which he swears are now a thing of the past!
A great night, but it has already dawned on me that the diverse areas we are staying in may hamper the collective beer intake. Lofty is by the seafront: I am near the cricket ground: Smithy and Bob are in Walmer: and Skip and Five O apparently have a lovely villa but I still haven't a clue about its location, despite having ridden past there in the taxi on the way home. Wycombe is further away still, staying with his extended South African family-in-law in Walmer Park.
A ten minute walk to the ground in the morning through St Georges Park with Simon, a fellow hotel guest who I sat next to in Centurion. The red brick path is festooned with ants, and when I access the ground a number of the Howzat tourists wearing sandals are complaining that their toes have been savaged by the killer ants.
Hilarious, but I shouldn't laugh. I expect to see their tour reps out spraying the path, indeed why stop there the entire Park, with DDT early in the morning to ensure no more bites occur!
My very first visit to Port Elizabeth. The ground is well appointed, lovely in fact, and only half full.
We are sat in the upper tier of the Duckpond end with a super elevated view of play, something I have consistently been denied by the dark powers that preside over Old Trafford. The sea is just visible in the distance and there is room to spread out and move seats.
England do not lose a wicket in the first session.
Wycombe informs us that this is the first time England have managed this feat since 2015. This fact was given to him he says by the Guardian (who backed the wrong horse, and lost the recent election). The day after, this date is corrected to 2011 by the Telegraph (who backed the right horse, and won the recent election).
The moral of the story here is that Wycombe should continue to write articles for newspapers, rather than relying upon them to tell him the truth.
Crawley and Sibley are circumspect but play correctly and this is what the England supporters have been yearning for.
During lunch, some amusement as Wycombe's ongoing travel plans after the Test are dissected and various destinations along the Garden Route suggested.
Wycombe: "My father in law is quite a controlling person. It's very difficult to plan anything myself as he has already got it arranged."
Skip: "Maybe your father in law knows what happens when you make your own decisions, Wycombe!"
The run rate is miserly and soon after lunch, Sibley gets out to a legside shot, which slows things down even further. Just 90 runs off forty - odd overs. We attempt to forecast the score at the close. I predict 200. Skip predicts a Chinese dentist (230). We are all waiting for the customary Wycombe forecast of 450, but alas for once, it is not forthcoming.
Zak Crawley is eventually out for 44, but his scores are increasing with every innings and he looks as if he might score his first fifty soon, and probably before reaching puberty.
Denly and Root get bogged down during the afternoon and we resort to cricket quiz entertainment.
The question: who is your most hated Australian cricketer?
You would think most of the potential answers would be predictable.
Warner, Ponting, Warne, Waugh and Smith are mentioned but as usual Wycombe's choice astounds us all.
Skip: "So you hate one of the most popular cricketers of his generation who always walked when he had hit it and was renowned for his fair play. Is there anyone else in that vein that you hate, like maybe Mother Teresa?"
A mini collapse had us fearing the worst and when Root is bowled by a snorter from Rabada, England slipped to 148-4.
No need for the hysterionics though, Kagiso old fruit, you will get another hefty fine if you carry on like that again. Quite amazing that there is ZERO comment about his behaviour on the BBC Cricket website - Rabada's wicket celebration was ridiculously aggressive.
Stokes and the increasing dependable Pope played some lovely shots towards the end and their unbroken partnership of 72 left England in a decent position at stumps, 224-4.
A great Chinese meal for Lofty and myself that evening. A set meal for two costing 225 rand (£12) between us. There were more staff than customers, and the taxi fare to get to the restaurant and back cost more than our meal.
However, there is trouble ahead for your writer. The onset of an ailment commonly associated with Delhi, North India is brewing, not helped by the extremely humid temperatures in recent days in Port Elizabeth. A sleepless night, with the carpet to the bathroom worn out by morning due to incessant footfall.
On the way out of the guesthouse next morning I meet two Lancashire members, one of whom is familiar for his brushes with authority and particularly with popular Director of Cricket Paul Allott. This gentleman is apparently known as 'The Prince of Darkness' around Old Trafford. The pair kindly offer me a lift to the ground in their taxi, which I decline as I am on my way to Spar to buy water - having virtually none left in my body. We discuss last nights unbearable heat.
"Ah got 23 flippin' mosquito bites last night, ah did!"
Opening the windows at night to cool down in this country is an invite to a Mossie, and her friends, and is not a wise strategy no matter how high the temperature.
I pointed out the availability of plug in repellant devices at the supermarket.
"I haven't got one. I wasn't expecting mosquitoes here!"
More chance in South Africa than in Old Trafford, Aigburth or even Sedburgh, fella!
I arrive at the cricket just on ten, to find that I and the two Lankies are not the only ones suffering. Skip has vertigo, and will not be joining us in the Duckpond Stand, Upper Tier today. Instead, he chooses to sit at midwicket near the St Georges Band. A few hours of that racket, and he will have tinnitus to go with the vertigo.
We are joined for the morning session by Smithy and his pal Bob, who was also mosquito bait last night it seems.
I am just relieved that the mossie blood lust is being sated elsewhere - for a f***ing change!
At the first drinks break Five-O attempts to lure Smithy into a beer. No dice, but as usual this doesn't stop Five-O from indulging.
Another great morning for England after a 45 minute rain delay. Stokes and Pope bat faultlessly, with the tempo rising all the time. Another session without a wicket - this isn't like England at all!
At lunch I go over to the Howzat camp on the other side of the balcony.
Posh Margaret's mate Sharon fills me in on the truth behind the many upgrades the pair have received on this trip, starting with their flight out to Johannesburg from Heathrow on Christmas Day.
They were booked in Premium Economy, but were approached by an airline representative offering a free upgrade providing they sang underneath the Christmas tree at the airport.
Posh Margaret wasn't keen, but Sharon literally dragged her to the microphone. After just three choruses of 'O Little Town of Doncaster', the pair were striding through First Class on the plane to the astonishment of Nigel and Helen, who had paid the going rate for the privilege:
"What the **** are you two doing in here???"
Sharon kindly provided a photo of Rabada's idiotic strop yesterday, for which he has now rightly been banned for the Johannesburg Test. Make your own minds up from the photo, but a ban is appropriate for me especially as Rabada has loads of previous form.
Cue more stupidity from Michael Vaughan on twitter, defending Rabada and saying the world has gone mad. For gawds sake, shut up Vaughan, you are becoming very tiresome now with your deliberate and entirely predictable attempts to court controversy.
On returning to our seats Smithy and Bob have gone, to be replaced by a couple of quite amusing chaps on the beer. When the hunger pangs strike, one is sent down to the lower level for food and returns with a 'Steak and Kidney flavoured Chicken pie' for his mate. He also brings him another pint of Castle:
"Bloody hell, I wanted water with my lunch"
"Well, with Castle lager, you've got the nearest thing to it" I quipped.
How is it I always get bad guts but these reckless people seem to escape unscathed?
A fine ton for Stokes during the afternoon, but this is later eclipsed by a classy maiden Test Century for Olly Pope. In between times, when Stokes is finally out, enter Jos Buttler, who scratched about for about fifteen balls before offering the tamest of return catches to spinner Maharaj. Buttler trooped disconsolately back to the pavilion having scored just one.
Buttler is so popular as a one day player that some people defend him to the hilt:
"It wasn't his fault. The wicket is getting tricky and the ball stuck in the pitch."
Yeah, sure, the same pitch that has just seen Stokes and Pope make fabulous hundreds.
Sam Curran and Mark Wood came in down the order and absolutely creamed it, showing Buttler how its done. It's not the fault of the pitch mate, it's the fault of Ed Smith for taking a punt on Buttler's transformation into a Test player and being found out.
Buttler is just not good enough with the gloves, or the bat. The clamour for Foakes to return to the squad as keeper is growing in the stands, notwithstanding this has been a great day overall for the team.
England declared on the fall of the ninth wicket with the score on 499, which was a source of some frustration to an unhappy Wycombe, who was anxious to see Stuart Broad come in and push the score over 500. Obviously, Wycombe has not watched Broad bat much lately.
South Africa contrived to lose two wickets to Dom Bess before the close. I missed the second one, as seeing a line of rain racing to the ground at top speed I decided to commence the walk to my guest house early.
Howzat and the other tour groups were not so lucky, and would have been drenched on their quarter-mile walk up the red brick path to their respective coaches.
Still, look on the bright side, at least the heavy rain would have calmed the killer ants on the path down a little!
A strange night followed, as every plug socket in my guest house blew after load shedding. No power - looks like an early night coming up. I rang the emergency number supplied, to be told the proprietor was aware of the problem, but would not be able to fix it until morning.
Still, at least I didn't get the standard cop out line commonly used for everything that goes wrong over here:
"You're in South Africa now!"
The next mornings play was very encouraging, with a maiden five wicket haul for Dom Bess, which was applauded loudest by young Thomas Blade, sat in front of the TV in Adelaide. Bess lodged with the Blades for six months during his season playing for West Torrens in Australia.
There was no sign of Skip (vertigo, we assumed) or Five-O (on the piss, we assumed).
Wycombe stayed with us for about an hour and then disappeared, but I met up with Lofty, Smithy and Bob and we assumed seats behind the bowlers arm - just in time for the arrival of the rain at 11.45am.
All of a sudden, the weather had changed. Gone, the sultry heat of the first two days.
In its place, a cold west wind, bringing drizzle and a severe drop in temperature.
It made me feel right at home.
Smithy had gone for a chat with the Silverwood family who he knows, leaving Bob, Lofty and myself shivering at the top of the stand next to a Corporate bar called 'Bojangles'. Seeing that Lofty and Bob were gradually turning blue in their shorts and cricket shirts I approached the stewardess on the 'Bojangles' door.
"Excuse me my love, and I don't want to be a pain, but my two frail, elderly companions appear to be suffering from hypothermia. I was wondering if we could come in and shelter in your lovely bar for a while?"
To my astonishment, she agreed to let us in once lunch had been served at 12.30pm.
By this time Smithy had returned, so into 'Bojangles' we went.
My first visit to the bar. I order two ciders, a large red wine, and coffee for Bob, who is still in recovery mode. The bar staff refuse to take my money, and I am gently ushered back to our table with the drinks.
It is still raining outside, so we decide upon another round, this time just large red wines. These are brought to our table by a waitress, again with no money changing hands.
It dawns on us that we have blundered into a tour group 'free booze' junket.
Gladstone Small is sat at the next table. Everyone else is wearing 'we've paid shit loads for this' wristbands - except it seems, for the four of us.
Whilst in the bar we find out that Wycombe is not the only disgruntled punter concerning England's declaration. Bob's son, Dave, had a £20 bet on England scoring 500 at 33-1. During our winefest, he sends dad a text:
"If you see Root, tell him he's a twat for declaring on 499!"
Happy days, the wine flowed, and in the words of the song, it might as well rain until September!
Unfortunately for us, play began again after just three hours delay, leaving a final session of 40 overs to be bowled. Freeloaders without wristbands (us) were summarily ejected from the bar, and as the breeze had really picked up by this time, we moved downstairs to mitigate the windchill.
The many large glasses of free red wine gradually worked their insidious magic.
First, Lofty nodded off.
Then, as Lofty awoke, we were treated to our own classic Spithead Royal Navy Review 1937: "The Fleets All Lit Up". If you aren't familiar with this wonderful piece of nostalgia,then I implore you to please take a couple of minutes to listen to the attached recording.
Not ships with Lofty though, despite his naval background in South Africa.
Instead, a rambling, wine-driven commentary about some random member of his tour group:
"There's this f***ing bloke. Obviously here on his own. Every day, he sits in those f***ing ramshackle little hospitality huts over there - on his own - over there - every day!"
Cue sweeping, expansive hand gesture to show us exactly where.
"Every day, when he comes back to our coach after stumps, this f***ing idiot comes and plonks himself next to me on the coach, and goes on and on and on about his f***ing hospitality package....the f***ing wimp!"
"Maybe he likes you, Lofty?" I innocently suggested.
"Grrr. Bollocks. F*** off!" said our inebriated Addis Lieutenant Commander!
I get the distinct impression that group integration may not be one of Lofty's strengths!
England are struggling to take wickets in this session. The night watchman, Nortje, has batted all day until finally he is caught off the bowling of Stokes at first slip. Nothing else to cheer though. As Stokes continues to bowl, an effort ball goes straight through the hapless Buttler's gloves and runs down towards long leg.
Oh no. The Fleet is about to be all lit up all over again!
"For Christ's sake, Buttler! You are f***ing useless!" shouts Lieutenant Commander Lofty, in a stentorian voice, to hoots of laughter from us all.
All humour is suppressed later, as Ben Stokes' new - found halo slips off. Three dropped catches, all of which he would normally snap up. All of them costly, as Quinton De Kock was the batsman let off each time and he would go on to a fifty.
A right Stokes Kock-up, in fact. Which of course, we will happily accept & forget.
Joe Root takes the new ball in the middle of the final over, with Bess bowling. I will never understand the true nature of cricket captaincy genius.
South Africa finish solidly on 208 - 6, but still need another 92 runs to avoid the follow on, which we must surely enforce if we are to win this Test given the poor weather forecast for the next two days.
A pool party which had been planned at the villa of Skip and Five-O that night is cancelled at short notice, so Lofty, Bob, Smithy and I return to the Chinese in Walmer. I try to phone to make a reservation without getting through, and when we arrive the car park is full to bursting and there are no tables available.
Luckily, the lad who served us earlier in the week has a good memory, and we are eventually accommodated in a separate room which is not normally used. Thanks to Smithy for the Keighley Cabs taxi service, which is somewhat more reliable than the local versions.
Up early on day four for breakfast and a different crowd in the dining room. I get stuck with a father and son combo at my table, who spend the entire time playing with their mobile phones and not talking to each other, never mind me.
I wish Lieutenant Commander Lofty were here to give them a broadside - ignorant bastards. The social skills of a pair of amoebas.
A brisk walk to the ground with Simon, and we assume our seats on the upper deck. First, Wycombe arrives, then Smithy and Bob. The arrival of Skip down below causes a commotion - he appears to be accompanied by a young black woman!
As all eyes are trained on the pair (I hesitate to use the word couple at this juncture) I ask Smithy where Five - O might be.
"Wit' mother!" shoots back the witty Smithy!
Five-O does arrive shortly afterwards and just in time to witness an amazing capitulation by South Africa, who lose all their remaining wickets in just less than half an hour, with the stumps cartwheeling everywhere. The follow-on is enforced, to a resounding cheer from the English contingent.
Our joy is short lived. Just 6.5 overs are possible before persistent drizzle forces the players off again. As it looks like a sizeable delay I leave the ground with Smithy and Bob and enjoy a South African Sunday roast in a basic local eatery.
On returning to the ground I arrive just in time to see Elgar's stumps rearranged and after that the day is one of pure attrition. Hardly any runs scored: sporadic wickets. Joe Root takes four with his lethal off spin. There are fantastic catches from Wood and Pope and yet another drop from Ben Stokes, who is not having his best game in the field.
Wycombe joins us and upon sitting down, his plastic chair back immediately snaps and he is almost catapulted onto the floor backwards. Now where have I seen that before?
Wycombe, you truly are the Uri Geller of plastic furniture.
South Africa are hanging on for grim death at 102-6 at the close, still 188 adrift, hoping that the weather will save them in the morning.
Unfortunately, there is every chance of that, looking at the recent forecasts.
Terry, the chap from Cape Town who kindly supplied me with tickets there, is in touch to say that poor weather is heading our way from the Cape, but we may have a two hour window first thing in the morning to finish the job.
After the cricket, an important game of football live on TV at 6.30pm.
One which always brings out the worst in me, similar to a werewolf seeing the full moon.
One which I don't really want to watch, but the primeval, hostile feelings welling up inside tell me I cannot possibly escape from viewing.
In an attempt to keep the evening trouble - free, Smithy and Bob take me to the Hotspot Sports Lounge in Walmer - a 100% black bar which is light years away from the pubs on the seafront that the Barmy Army and the other Brits patronise.
The beer is cheap, five quid for a round of four drinks. The locals are welcoming enough, but all seem to be supporting the opposition, leaving your writer the only Manc in the bar hurling abuse at the big screens. Expletives deleted!
Nobody seems to mind, and we emerge intact to fight another day. In more ways than one. Thanks are due once again to Keighley Cabs for getting me home safely!
Day five and we head to the ground with time, and weather firmly in mind. There is a large queue at the ticket windows - free admission on the grass bank, 150 rand for the Duckpond end seats. Obviously we chose the former and so did Wycombe, who was already on the beer when we spotted him.
"Still pissed from last night." he helpfully explained.
Three quick wickets hastened us to inevitable victory, or so everyone thought.
Higgy had been on a casino visit last night, and spotted De Kock and Paterson playing blackjack until the early hours, so when Dane Paterson came in for the final wicket with matchsticks propping up his eyelids I half expected Billy the Trumpeter to be playing 'The Gambler' by Kenny Rogers.
Instead, I got 'Twist and Shout' which, after last nights football, was the last thing I wanted to hear. What's wrong with a bit of Stone Roses? Higgy finally explained to me that this is a Barmy Army tune for Mark Wood, who was bowling at the time. My blood pressure slowly receded.
Until that is, Captain Root decided to waste the new ball with his part time spin.
The South African tail and Maharaj in particular filled their boots - 28 runs off just one over from our hapless skipper. Pontoon Paterson batted as if he wanted 21 off every over, never mind the bloody blackjack!
The crowd were on Joe's back once more. "Forget five for, Root....and get off!"
The last wicket stand reached epic proportions and was reminiscent of the Southee slog-fest against Monty Panesar in Napier, 2008. We can't win but boy, are we having fun.
Buttler let more byes through than Soft Mick, and he also dawdled between overs when surely he should have been chivvying up the other fielders. He needs to go and pronto. Preferably, back down the M5.
As the wind gradually picked up and with the England fans anxiously scanning the skies and looking at the clock - 15 minutes to lunch - a crazy run out terminated the last wicket stand on 99 and won the Test for England.
We were stood on the bank in front of a large England flag bearing the name of my home village. After the win I finally traced the owner, a retired policeman called Harry who is over here for the entire tour. I have been trying to track him down since New Zealand, sounds like a classic case of role reversal!
So that is the end of my first visit to Port Elizabeth. Final thoughts - despite all the scaremongering I have absolutely enjoyed the place. The ground is a pleasant, comfortable affair with room to move about. The city oddly reminds me of Calcutta (sorry,Indian Government, I don't do PC place name changes). Once very grand, colonial to be sure, but slowly and surely falling into decay.
I sincerely hope the decaying process here is much slower than in Calcutta.
As for the England Team - well, the song remains the same. Root's captaincy is shockingly naive and clueless. Buttler has proved once again that he isn't up to Test Match cricket. The younger lads have mainly done well, especially Man of the Match Olly Pope, who managed to refrain from wearing his backwards baseball cap for the presentation!
No doubt, all the flaws will be glossed over as usual. The reality of the situation is we have just thrashed a very poor team, and I fully expect us now to go on and win the series 3-1 in Johannesburg.
I will be there and will let you know how things unfold.