South Africa Tour 2019/20
The Tipping Point
The last few days in Port Elizabeth were a real anticlimax. Deciding to stay on for an extra couple of days after the Test to sunbathe by the pool, my plans were frustrated by the horrible weather and in particular, the constant rain. England wrapped up the Test win just in time it seems.
Others had different plans. Smithy and Bob took their car north to Bethlehem in order to visit the Zulu war sites at Rourke's Drift and Isandlwana. After the ten hour drive, I hope there was room at the Inn when they arrived!
Five - O has flown by now to Zimbabwe for a guided tour of the country of his birth. He spent his final day here in bed, in between visits to the toilet to throw up, feeling extremely rough. Could it be that the alcohol is finally catching up with our Superannuated Somerset beer warrior?
Skip is sadly on his way home - on his own as far as I know!
Time enough for a superb meal with Lofty before his Howzat group departure on the 22nd. Another visit to De Kelder, on the seafront. This restaurant serves up some of the nicest food I have ever tasted and the lady owner / manager who has been there for donkeys years bears more than a passing resemblance to Carmen Silvera, of Rene's Cafe fame. Thankfully, she does not sing while supervising operations.
The following day I checked in with Five-O, surprisingly they do have WiFi in Zimbabwe, and I'm pleased to say he is fully recovered and seeing the sights. He sent me a photo of his old school, but not from behind the bike sheds where I'm sure he spent most of his time underage drinking.
A very quiet and boring final day in PE. My football team were humiliated again versus mighty Burnley - I dislike the current parasite 'owner' of my club even more than the ECB, assuming that were possible.
A predictable tsunami of abuse followed next morning, even from Smithy, who was "Just leaving Spion Kop". Thanks Smithy, I really wanted to know that.
Just time to call at the chemist before my flight for a supply of headache pills to combat my frequently increasing migraine attacks!
The journey to Port Elizabeth airport was quick and easy, as was the progress through security, and I was able to watch an hour of England's U-19 fixture against Australia from Kimberley before boarding. Most of our lads looked about 15, making Zak Crawley look positively wizened in comparison. Some similarities to our first team though. From a position of strength on 141-2, we lost three wickets for just five runs and handed the iniative to the Convicts - sorry, perhaps to be correct and proper I should call them 'Young Offenders'.
Maybe the England batting collapses have been going on so long, they have now become evolutionary! Throwing away a winning position certainly has. Our public schoolboys managed to chuck it away, just like they did in Queenstown 2018, and are now out of the competition. Never mind, I'm sure a meaningless victory over Nigeria will keep the press pack at bay. Ashley Giles was there to watch the debacle and at least managed to look suitably pissed off afterwards.
I arrived at Protea Wanderers at around 4pm. Smithy and Bob were already enjoying the expensive delights of Nelson Mandela Square, so I took the hotel shuttle up there where we also met Lofty. A meal in the 'Butchers Shop' followed. Smithy ordered a kebab, which when it arrived, consisted of three grilled cows on a metal skewer. Unfortunately, the third cow must have been a fat, old cow, as the steak in that one was comprised mostly of gristle. Smithy complained and the meal was knocked off the bill. Two bottles of the dearest Shiraz on the menu, and the end result was the most expensive meal I have had in South Africa. Unfortunately, it wasn't a patch on De Kelders in Port Elizabeth, and I won't be going back.
Mandela Square was strangely quiet, not helped by the inclement weather, and after a quick drink in Hard Rock Cafe Lofty and I knocked it on the head at about ten.
The shuttle back to the hotel was very late, and I feared being stranded on my own in the rain, but eventually the driver turned up at 10.30pm. His banter on the way back was quite amusing. A prostitute was leaning on a street corner talking to a punter in a parked car.
"De lady is negotiating de price. De price is going up, because it's raining...."
"Oh, dis weather.We call dis weather BMW - not de car, but Baby Making Weather......"
Sure enough when I woke up at 9am the following morning, the BMW was set in, and the scene over the Wanderers damp and gloomy.
Nobody was rushing down to the ground and the days forecast did not give any encouragement at all.
I wandered over to the Wanderers Club for breakfast. It was full of Brits drinking lager at an indecently early hour, and the Barmy Army had set up a stall just inside the bar entrance. Home from bloody home.
Some sad news arrived from Freddie. Billy the Trumpeter intends to call time on his International career.
Billy, thanks for all the fun over the years, and I'm sure I speak for everyone in the Addis Army when I say I hope we see you on tour again, and the sooner the better.
No sign of cricket so I enjoyed a solo pizza for breakfast/lunch. Sat next to me were a table of hard-bitten South African supporters, swigging Castle, and passing round a box with gaming dice - it looked like a saffer version of Barmy Army credit card roulette. The usual loud banter was in good supply but the exaggerated attempts at humour aimed at England were half hearted at best.
Inspection after inspection. Finally, a decision. Play to start at 1.20pm.
I watched the toss on TV in my hotel room. Joe Root won it, and decided to bat, stating that "The lessons of Centurion had been learned." Hallelujah, maybe the penny has finally dropped.
Both sides are without a front line spinner, which on this ground is hardly a shock.
I nip over to the ground. Lofty is already in, together with our Howzat friends, and we are soon joined by Wycombe - and his almost two year old son, Charlie.
I scan the crowd. Has anyone wondered what Prince Andrew is doing with himself since being banished from the palace? Wonder no more, just look at the photograph!
Sibley and Crawley start superbly and the South African bowlers don't seem to be threatening. A fifty partnership turns into a hundred, and Crawley comes of age with his first Test fifty. Lots of classy boundaries. With every innings, he is scoring more runs and long may that continue.
Young Charlie Wycombe is remarkably well behaved, considering. I think it is optimistic to ask a two year old to sit quiet and behave in a confined space for hours on end.
"Wycombe, are you sure he's yours? We've been here an hour now and he hasn't done anything daft yet!"
At tea, we had already seen more overs than we had dared to hope for during the morning.
The weather picked up, but so did the South African bowling. Sibley was caught on a strangle : Crawley was caught in the slips for 66 trying to pull his bat away from a lifter.
Denly came in and scored quickly but his frenetic innings was ended on 27 and then, horror of horrors.
Ben Stokes came in, played a silly shot and was caught behind for two, then got involved abusing a bespectacled spectator who heckled him on the way back to the dressing room. It is unclear whether the abusive fan was an adult or a schoolkid, as he remains 'unidentified' by both the stewards and the press, which itself is unacceptable, but the fact that Stokes has been made to issue an apology says it all.
The content of Stokes tirade was caught on TalkSport so no need for me to repeat it here : after all, I am a four-eyed **** too.
When will Stokes ever learn? A fine, and demerit points, certainly await and it sounds to me as if they are fully deserved. An anger management course might not be a bad idea, either.
Root and Pope steadied the ship, and England became the first team to score 500,000 Test runs. How's that for a totally meaningless statistic? I might have a bet on Australia being the second!
Young Charlie Wycombe, by this time, was charging around the stand being fed sweets, ice cream and chocolate biscuits by all and sundry. I'm not sure the two elderly gentlemen sat in front appreciated his presence, and when he careered crazily towards one of these gents (who was wearing a white raincoat) waving his latest chocolate ice cream, I closed my eyes in horror and waited for the messy impact. Fortunately, Wycombe senior somehow managed to pull him back.
Play finished ten overs early at 6pm due to bad light. England finished on 192 - 4 and honours are probably about even. A few drinks in the Wanderers Club with Smithy, Bob and Wycombe completed the evening and thanks to Wycs for getting the beers in for the rest of us - you had no need to do that, very generous.
I awoke at a more decent hour on day two and looked out of the window. More rain. At least the forecast shows it drying up later, but as in Hamilton, New Zealand I appear to have arrived at a final Test venue that will not make me sorry to be travelling home.
The tour planners have done us proud.
Breakfast in the Wanderers then back to the room to await removal of the covers.
I bumped into Les, one of Higgy's Barmy Army mates, and he described their group meal last night at the 'Butchers Shop'. As disappointing as ours by the sounds of it, but there were fringe benefits it seems:
"There were a couple of sex workers sat at the bar, and one of them had nipples like a blind cobblers thumbs."
Ha ha ha, not heard that one before!
The Stokes affair was being discussed at great length on TV while waiting for the start by KP and Shaun Pollock, who were both agreed that Stokes should expect a hefty punishment from the ICC. They were also highly critical of the abusive fan, of course, and related back to their own experiences at this ground. Bottom line is, the Bull Ring is noted for hostility, it's not a new scenario, and players need to keep their cool.
At the ground Pommie Mbangwa tried to intercept the Umpires while they were doing their 10am inspection for an early heads up, and was told politely to go away in jerky motions - which took the wind right out of his sails.
A 10.45am start. More time lost. They can add on as many overs as they like, but bet your bottom dollar we won't get them, as the benchmark for bad light has now been set and play will be unlikely after 6pm.
A risible screen was displayed on the scoreboard warning spectators about the consequences of racist or other offensive behaviour. Too late, was the cry.
Over to our right were five South African lads, in fancy dress as garden gnomes. They had clearly put a lot of effort into their outfits, and I went over for a chat. It seems their large, pointy hats were annoying people sat to their rear, so they had taken to standing in front of a stairwell in the hope that this would provoke less complaints.
A nice bunch of lads, who assured me that Joe Root was definitely of South African extraction and yet another 'steal' by England, a la KP. And that was before the beer really took effect!
Rejoining Lofty and the Howzat crew, we watched as both Root and Pope compiled classy fifties. They both got out in short order though, and when Curran flashed at his first ball from Nortje, and was caught behind, another collapse was on the cards at 269-7.
Buttler and Woakes played well enough at first, and had put on forty when for some inexplicable reason, Buttler decided to charge Big Vern and dollied a catch up in the air. Totally irresponsible and certainly not what was required. Are you watching, Ed Smith? 309-8.
When Woakes was dismissed just nine runs later, most of us predicted an early end to the innings.
Steve: "Now, that's Stuart Broad's mum sat just in front of us. Careful what you shout!"
I wish Stuart's mum was sat in front of us every game, because boy, were we proved spectacularly wrong. From the off, Broad started creaming it, hitting six after six off the South African quicks - who, it has to be said, bowled absolute rubbish. Wood followed suit, and soon nearly all the fielders were on the boundary. A last wicket stand of 82 took England to exactly 400 all out, beyond our wildest dreams.
I have taken your batting apart for the last three months in this blog Mr Broad, so tonight I will eat humble pie with oyster sauce and salute your superb, entertaining knock of 43. Very well done, Stuart, and congratulations on being one half of the new record tenth wicket Test partnership at the Wanderers!
There, that should keep Stuart's mum happy.
The South African reply was stunningly inert. The first wicket fell in the 19th over with the score on just 29, and the rest was just a procession. As South Africa needed to win this match to level the series I must admit I found their tactics mystifying.
A large, vocal group of African fans had gathered in our stand to support the recalled Temba Bavuma. These people were very colourful, and quite loud, and I moved across the aisle to record a short video of their chanting. This did not meet with the approval of a grumpy old git apparently called 'Pencils' who kicked off with me, despite:
a). I was two rows in front of him and sat down the whole time.
b). I was there for all of one minute, thirty seconds.
c). There was actually no cricket happening out on the pitch!
It was affirmed afterwards that this man is a rather nasty piece of work, and I am ashamed to say I do recollect now that he is a member at Old Trafford.
Ken, one of my Lancashire pals, remembered an earlier run in with this old misery at a county game, caused simply because Ken had the temerity to get up and go past him to go to the loo - at the end of an over!
Get a life, you horrible, bitter old man with veins full of battery acid.....I mean 'Pencils', not you, Ken!
The final part of the days enjoyment was provided by two fully clothed 'streakers', one of each sex.
The female ran on all the way from 'trouble corner' and almost made it to the other side of the ground before being rugby tackled.
The male ran about fifty yards doing sidesteps from the 'Stokes' area before he was clobbered by about twelve chunky stewards. A pity they weren't so alert yesterday
Both 'streakers' were a whole lot more effective than the South African batsmen.
Close of play score 88-6 from 41 overs. This game is all over bar the shouting.
Don't dither about and end up late for the cricket when South Africa are batting - as I did on day three.
Arriving at 10.09am, one wicket had already fallen. 93-7.
The rest of the morning was excitement free as De Kock and Pretorius built a solid partnership, enough to ensure the follow - on would not be forthcoming, even if technically possible. Then, at ten minutes to lunch, Pretorius was caught in the slips. The ninth wicket fell in no time and all of a sudden we were into a thirty minute play extension. The last pair ensured that the players lunch didn't get cold.
South Africa 183 all out.
Another fifty stand between Crawley and Sibley. These two are looking the part now and Rory Burns must be watching with worried eyes. A couple of wickets fell later in the afternoon, Denly in particular must feel himself under pressure now after another failure. Root and Sibley took the score to 86-2 at tea, a lead of 303.
Who wouldn't have settled for that?
After tea it dawned upon me that my tipping point had been reached.
The point I always reach at the end of a long tour when I am missing my friends, getting weary, and want to go home. Today's cricket hasn't helped. Apart from a twenty minute interlude from Ben Stokes, the day has been a turgid insomnia cure and the afternoon was always going to be spent watching England gradually build an unassailable lead.
I left the ground very early, when Stokes was out in fact, intending to have a dip in the arctic swimming pool at my hotel in an attempt to wake me up.
Unfortunately, I missed Jos Buttler's latest batting failure, but what's new? I've absolutely nothing to add to what has already been said. Anyway, my good friend Inspector Blakey was there to see it in my stead and you can hear his reaction below!
On the way back to the hotel I was accosted by a Cockney 'Little Englunder' in a white football shirt who seemed to take exception to my nice South African hat, purchased at a cost of 100 rand in Port Elizabeth.
"Why you wearin' a Sarf African 'at mate? I would never wear a Sarf African 'at. It's Engerlund, innit?"
"Well, my old china, it's like this. The hat keeps the sun off my head. And by the way, I would never wear a Tottenham Hotspur shirt, either!"
Leaving him scratching his head in the car park I walked away. Past a posh outdoor wedding at the Wanderers Club. As the bride and groom said their solemn vows in a small pagoda, every head in the audience sat on the lawn turned to the left to look at my Lancashire shirt and fancy saffer hat.
Always wear your best gear to weddings is my policy!
Smithy and Bob have been in 'hospitality' today and the gin and tonic has been flowing. Nevertheless I meet them later in the Wanderers club. A few more gin and tonics disappear.
They must have liked it, as I get a photo at 9am next morning and they are already on the hospitality balcony once more, sipping coffee!
The next day was always going to be tough viewing. With no chance of scoring the 466 required to win, South Africa did at least show defiance. Only two wickets before lunch, and as Rassie Van Der Dussen progressed serenely towards his hundred, ably supported by Du Plessis, Rear Admiral Lofty was getting a little tetchy with the bowling.
"Bloody hell, Stokes, don't bowl it there, there are no fielders on the boundary on that side!"
Several similar comments ensued and eventually I identified the root cause. Lofty was banking on a lie in tomorrow, day five, and instead another dreaded 7.30am alarm call for the Howzat coach was looming!
Thankfully for all concerned, the last few wickets went down in a rush once Bavuma was caught behind off a snorter by Broad .
An emotional presentation afterwards as Big Vern Philander said goodbye to International cricket. Wood got Man of the Match: Stokes Man of the Series.
Both worthy choices for me.
Now a quick word about the Barmy Army. They kept up the noise throughout the day and sounded louder today perhaps because of the echo in the empty stadium.
But fair play, almost each time a song started, a wicket was the result. Whether the increased noise level was a reaction to yesterdays negative 'comments' regarding the BBC article about Billy Coopers retirement, I will never know.
They appear to have found a new 'legend' too. One chap who I do not know from Adam got up as he did at the earlier Tests, to perform a long version of the 'Finger Day' song that Wycombe perfected in 2004. After half an hour, I found this bloody repetetive din positively excruciating, but didn't his audience just love it.
What goes around comes around, eh? Maybe like Billy, I am growing up at last!
A three - one Series win in South Africa is not to be sniffed at, apparently the last time we managed this feat was just before World War One. It's been a long haul this winter though, and I will be glad to get home. Safe journeys to all!
Good luck to all of those travelling to Sri Lanka, and I hope you have a marvellous time in this lovely country.