To recap, I had booked flights down to Cape Town on the 30th January – on what would have been day five of the Centurion Test – and England’s ‘unexpected’ collapse on the afternoon of day four actually suited my travel plans rather well. My hotel in Simons Town, the Lord Nelson, had arranged a taxi to collect me from the airport on arrival, namely Malcolm Pringle Shuttles.
A small glitch after the Test. While packing to leave, an email arrived from the Lord Nelson to say Malcolm Pringle could no longer pick me up – and a different driver called Alistair had been arranged. As you do, I phoned Alistair, and confirmed the details.
A trouble free ride to Johannesburg airport, an excellent and painless journey through airport security and my Kulula flight arrived in Cape Town more or less on time. As I exited the secure area of the airport I was congratulating myself on how smoothly this had all gone, avoiding the chaos that would undoubtedly result on New Years Eve.
However, then a tricky problem. I spotted a chap bearing a card with my name on it, and next to him another driver wearing a ‘Malcolm Pringle Shuttles’ golf shirt. Oh dear. Not one taxi, but two had arrived, clearly they had chatted, and neither was happy with the situation. “We’re both here for the same guy!”
For a few seconds I considered asking the two lads to submit competitive fare tenders on the spot, or maybe toss a coin or arm wrestle for my business, but then realising their mood was not ideal for humour I sat them both down and showed Malcolm my e-mail, which thankfully I had not deleted. Eventually, he reluctantly accepted that there had been a cock-up which wasn’t of my doing and left me in the capable hands of Alistair, who in turn provided a great scenic run to Simons Town for 450 Rand or £25.
I have to say that given the distance from the airport this was pretty good value and Alistair was funny & easy to talk to. On arrival I also secured his services for my departure on the 8th January:
“Well, I could ring Malcolm Pringle I suppose, but I don’t think he would f**king turn up, do you?”
At last, the REAL South Africa.
Simons Town is a naval base at the southern end of the Cape peninsula, with a large harbour which has been used in turn by the British and South African Navies. Chock full of history, scenic and safe.
My home for the next nine days is the Lord Nelson pub, which is not quite as modern as the Protea Hotel in Centurion, but has character, everything I need and more importantly there is no paranoia here about walking around, even at night.
Having been showed to my room, called ‘Just Nuisance’ (which is named after a famous British ship’s dog rather than the rooms latest occupant) I stepped out onto the balcony to admire the sea view. On hearing my voice, who should emerge from the next room but Welsh Chris, who I think I last saw at James and Laura Storer’s hilltop wedding in Fremantle, Australia on the 2010/2011 Ashes Tour.
We arranged to meet later at a lively local pub just down the street called the ‘Two and Sixpence’. As I was getting ready, a call from Lofty, who is still in Centurion, indicated that Howzat Travel had arranged extracurricular entertainment for it’s punters on the cricket-free day five. A tour of Pretoria, which Lofty had clearly enjoyed immensely:
“The centre is pretty dire. Why does the Blue Train go there, I ask?”
I explained that Pretoria used to be the South African seat of Government during the apartheid era hence the interest, but alas Lofty lacks political perspective. He has not watched the Richard Attenborough film ‘Cry Freedom’ starring Denzel Washington as Steve Biko. In addition to providing historical context and background, this admirable film also features a hilarious South African accent from iconic British actor John Thaw playing the villain of the piece, ‘Kruger’.
No, Lofty was more concerned with other matters. Specifically, a 6.30 am Howzat group wake up call on New Years Eve for the collective flight to Cape Town!
I got the distinct impression that Lofty wasn’t looking forward to this crack of dawn summons, somehow.
Anyway, off to the pub and Chris and I were joined at the bar by an affable local of English heritage who just happened to be enjoying five or six double bourbons before driving off in his car to go squid fishing. The only downside of this pub for me was, everybody seemed to be puffing on a fag, which as an ex-smoker (yes, we are the worst) I cannot now abide. For Chris it was even crueller, as he has only recently given up smoking himself, and the acrid pub atmosphere resulted in him reaching nervously for his vape comforter every few minutes!
A grim realisation on return to my room. No air conditioning – and there are mosquitoes, which as every Addis member who has ever been on tour with me knows, are my Achilles heel / Kryptonite rolled into one.
Also – no fridge, which is a minor omission comparatively speaking.
A sleepless night and an urgent visit to the new shopping mall up the road required in the morning to acquire Mortein Plug-in Mosquito Repellant Refills.
Nadima, the hotel owner, kindly gave me a lift to the mall which is about 3km round the bay. I quickly acquired the prophylactic inserts at Pick ‘n’ Pay but was then faced with a rather long walk back in searing sun, and gale force wind.
Seeing a white Baz Bus coming down the road, I flagged it, and was taxied back to Simons Town centre for the extortionate sum of ten rand (60p).
Now, some people back home have told me off since for using this ‘dangerous’ mode of transport, so I will explain my golden Baz Bus safety rule:
If you see the bus is occupied by a driver and two old ladies – get on.
If you see the bus is occupied by a driver and eight large, young, tattooed lads wearing baseball caps backwards – wait for the next one!
On my return to the hotel, I chanced to ask if I could borrow a little fridge space for my medication and a bottle of water. No problem, leave it with us, they said.
Five minutes later, a knock on the ‘Just Nuisance’ door.
“Can we install the fridge now? Do you need a microwave as well?”
A couple of staff had manhandled a full sized fridge up three flights of stairs and this is now sat proudly in my bedroom. I passed on the microwave, as I can never work out how to use them.
Customer Service, Twelve out of Ten. ‘Just Nuisance’, indeed.
A visit to Simons Town station next, and the moment of truth for the Test match – will the train be running to Newlands on January the 3rd? The lady behind the metal ticket grille refused to be drawn.
“Well, I cannot give you any guarantees except eventually a train will come. But at least by then, we will be back to our normal service. We are on a Sunday service today.”
Perhaps this explains why I have not seen a single train since I arrived.
Time for a light lunch, my last of 2019, and what better than a visit to the Salty Sea Dog fish and chip shop, recommended to me by Nigel and Helen at a County game at Old Trafford last summer. I order hake, chips, mushy peas and a pot of tea and wait.
My God, a veritable feast arrived. This meal could have fed the five thousand plus a few additional hangers on. The only chippy I have ever visited where there was more fish to a portion than chips, in fact two whole hake – and a family size tub of mushy peas. The 148 rand bill was on the dear side (£7) but the extravagance was worth it.
New Years Eve was a quiet affair. A few Guinness at the Lord Nelson bar with fellow guest Pete, a pleasant Stokie splitting his time between the UK and Holland. We swapped some old football stories, and soon it was time for the bar to close. Showing my age and the onset of travel tiredness, I eschewed the search for further entertainment elsewhere and was in the land of nod long before the clock struck twelve. I still saw in the New Year though. On the stroke of midnight, I shot out of bed as all the frigates in the harbour released a piercing volley of sound with their foghorns lasting about ten minutes, which sounded like the warning alarm for the end of the world.
Happy New Year Midnight, from the South African Navy!
New Years Day brought a trip to the Boulder Beach penguin colony in the company of the gypo army and Alex & Charis’ parents, who had driven down from the city. This experience has diminished somewhat of late and is also now quite expensive.
Admission: 40 Rand for South Africans. 180 Rand for Overseas Visitors.
“Local or overseas?” barked the girl at the window.
Time for a bit of John Thaw. Unfortunately for me, it came out more like Dennis Waterman, and I had to part with 180 Rand!
I found the ‘colony’ experience almost demeaning for the poor little buggers (the penguins, not the gypos!) .
A network of boardwalks have now been created with turnstile entry and the resulting queues, which we were fortunate enough to miss by arriving early. The whole site is now walled off. This gives the impression of an enclosure, or cage, with the sea the only escape. The hordes of small penguins were all stood facing away from their ‘audience’ to mitigate the sharp wind, which was creating a sandblast effect.
I’d also like to think that stance gave the penguins a little dignity.
“Thanks a bunch for climate change you bastards. Sod you lot!”
All very sad and the only plus I could muster from this visit is that the admission money is hopefully being used to help the colony survive.
A very pleasant meal afterwards in Simons Town central, then after the gypo army had departed I had an hours stroll around Long Beach and dipped my toes into the Indian Ocean. On the crowded beach, I was the only white person on the sand, but experienced nothing but smiles, friendliness, and greetings of “Happy New Year”.
Having been told that the Cape Town Test is not, in fact, quite sold out, I had earmarked Thursday for a train ride to Newlands to try to acquire some tickets. However, on New Years Day, a game changer.
Nadima, my hotel owner, comes up to me in the bar during the City v Everton game.
“I have some news for you Al. I’ve located tickets for days 1, 2 and 3 for you with two English guys I know called Terry & Colin. The cost is 240 Rand (£14) for all three, and they will be calling for you in an Uber at 9.15 am Friday morning.”
If Carlsberg did Hotels………happy days. I think I might just stay here again.
In sharp contrast, I understand there may be trouble up t’ mill in Cape Town with some of the tour group customers unhappy. Unsurprisingly, given the sheer weight of numbers, the punters are being packed into budget hotels like John West sardines, and I am hearing stories of insufficient space for luggage, nowhere to put clothes, and some people in fact relocating under their own steam and at their own expense. This always seems to happen with the prestige Test matches. Oh dear. At least, there should be no such issues in Port Elizabeth.
Lunch with Nigel and Helen on Thursday turned into a social event with their friends Kev and Phillipa, Lofty, and Pete from my hotel also in attendance. Kalk Bay, and the iconic Brass Bell. A collection of bars & restaurants, which are sandwiched between the railway line and the sea. A terrific meal for very little cost, loads of wine, and trains back to our respective accommodations in the late afternoon.
Health and Safety would have a few issues with South African trains, which are heavily vandalised, often with the seats ripped out, and operate with most of the doors open whilst in transit. These defects appear to be largely shrugged off by the users, anyway we all got home safe.
The gypo army spent the day climbing up Table Mountain, as opposed to sitting at a Table drinking wine. The spectacular photos they sent me reminded me of Michael Palin’s Himalayan trek, with one in particular a candidate for photo of the year. I’m still trying to figure out how they got their caravan up there! Well done all. Respect.
So, the first morning of the Cape Town Test and I wake up like a wide – eyed young kiddie on Christmas Day with a sugar – rush hangover. I have a ticket!
First a quick look at BBC Sport football to check on my dear friends from Anfield, I couldn’t be bothered staying up last night to watch them live.
Headline: “Burns Out For The Season With Ankle Injury”.
But I don’t know a Burns!
Who does he play for, let’s have a look……oh no.
When will they ever learn?
Maybe the cricketers should indulge in safer warm up sports like Netball or Sumo Wrestling. I have often wondered why more of them do not get niggles playing football before a match, it’s not as if they are any good at it, and now we have lost our most consistent scorer of runs, Root apart.
Terry arrives at the hotel just after breakfast and after an abortive attempt to hire Uber, we call Alistair who picked me up at Cape Town airport. In no time he arrives and ferries us to Fishhoek, where we pick up fellow cricket fans Colin and Doreen.
We are at the turnstiles just before 10am courtesy of some smart driving by Alistair and take up our seats under the main score board.
This is one full cricket ground. Day one is absolutely sold out, with plenty of Brits unable to access the stadium, although I do manage to buy a ticket for day 4 during the morning for 150 Rand, so now have the full set.
A few changes to report since my last visit.
The Springbok ‘railway carriage’ pub behind the ground is no longer open. It’s money grubbing owner has however retained the pub’s drinks licence for the five days of the Test, and set up outdoor bars on the area surrounding the Springbok building, which will be demolished after the Test. This, my friends, is the Barmy Army HQ. The beer is absolute shite.
My companions for the day are a pleasure. Doreen has gone to the Members area and I am sat with Terry and Colin, who, whilst living and working in South Africa, are of English heritage and are firmly behind our boys.
Terry, along with another friend Gary, is sampling the dubious pleasures of Castle lager in no time.
I politely decline the Castle on health grounds – occasionally being diabetic is a plus – and instead chat to Colin, who has had an interesting life, by the sounds of it.
He was born in Trinidad, then spent his formative years at school in Chester, and is a fellow Red. He has been married four times and as he puts it, “must like the taste of wedding cake!”
Some other good chat during the morning, including the answer to a question that has been vexing me.
Stuart, one of my more intelligent and inquisitive friends back home, blew up the photo I sent him of the Salty Sea Dog fish and chip menu, and had asked me what a ‘Russian and chips’ was. I hadn’t a clue!
Terry quickly spilled the beans: “A Russian is a hot dog sausage that they inflate with water and all sorts of crap before cooking it. It has the meat content of an ice cube!”
Best not order that at the Accrington Diner during your lunch hour then, eh, Stu?
Two thirds of the crowd are supporting England. Sibley and Crawley emerge to rapturous applause. As Crawley takes strike, the support and goodwill from the English contingent is almost tangible, everyone is willing the lad to do well, but alas after one nice shot he is caught behind for four.
The morning was quite sedate in the heat. A plane is buzzing the ground advertising a strip joint in Cape Town called Mavericks. “New Dancers” are offered on a second banner.
Not many runs and only two wickets, which most would have settled for at lunch, even though Sibley got out just ten minutes before the break. A sad goodbye to the gypo army during the lunch interval as they fly home later and today is their last day at the cricket. It’s been lovely to catch up again, and safe journey.
After lunch progress continues despite the wickets of Root and Denly. Stokes and Olly Pope play well, with the former just about to hit overdrive and fifty when he mishits a catch to Elgar. Buttler then came in and raced to within Pope’s score before being caught behind. On the replay screen it didn’t look as if Buttler got anywhere near the ball, but he walked. A common theme again – batsmen getting in, then getting out.
After Buttlers dismissal came the familiar alarm sirens of collapse.
Curran misjudged an inswinging ball, left it, and his off stump was uprooted, travelling several yards out of the crease in the process.
Dom Bess bagged a duck.
The hapless Broad was cleaned up by Rabada, this time with the stumps scattered in three different directions. I am beginning to wonder why Stuart bothers coming out to bat at all these days.
England were once again turning a decent position – 185-4 – into a shambles – 234-9.
A witty Scots lad behind us wearing an England cricket shirt (don’t worry Ms.Sturgeon, I’m sure he is in no way representative of your blue-faced independent nation) shouts:
“Day four has just gone on sale at the ticket office for f**k all!”
My retort: “Compared to what the ECB charge , EVERY day here costs f**k all!”
Throughout the afternoon, most of the crowd were happily swapping seats, and I was joined by Lofty on my left, clearly with a pass out from his Howzat Group, and a very funny gentleman called ‘Jasper’ to my right.
Jasper (named as such because he sounds a little like a certain Mr Carrott) hails from Leicester and is here on a combined golf/cricket holiday with a large bunch of mates.
Jasper is a jovial, genial giant who is also a Manchester United fan and in between his copious beers he had me in stitches for much of the afternoon, despite England’s plight. His hilarious, dire descriptions of Leicestershire Cricket and his home town in general would not have found favour with the Leicester Tourist Board. I got the distinct impression that Jasper does not own a Leicester fridge magnet.
When Jimmy Anderson finally strode to the crease, the English contingent were badly in need of lifting & entertaining and Jimmy did not disappoint. His first single was greeted with massive and sustained applause and this seemed to waken something in Olly Pope, who went on the offensive.
Suddenly, the new ball was being creamed, and two limbo scoops went soaring over the keepers head for boundaries.
Soon, a long stop was in place!
Pope went to a heroic fifty. On the grass bank, the Barmy Army went into football song mode for the first time today, and the last wicket actually put on 28, with power to add in the morning.
A most atmospheric, enjoyable and thrilling day of cricket despite England’s patchy performance – because it WAS simply patchy, rather than the disaster today is being painted as on BBC Sport.
The BBC have finally, it seems, cottoned on to the fact that England’s batting is often rubbish.
Well, BBC, its taken you long enough to catch on, but despite what you say now, todays 262-9 was miles better than the poxy 181 all out in Centurion!
The same travel arrangements in the morning, with one addition – Pete, the chap from my hotel who I drank with on New Years Eve, has also benefited from Terry’s generosity and will be accompanying us to Newlands in Alistair’s car. On arrival, Pete disappears to seek shade, and Colin sits with him for a while at the back of the stand until realising that he has fallen asleep!
For my own part I am sat behind an expat Mancunian from Crumpsall called Dave Fisher who now lives here and runs a scaffolding business just outside Cape Town. It turns out we are the same age, and get on like a house on fire. Various subjects are politically incorrectly dissected: from the hazards and joys of South Africa, to men wearing womens tights on British building sites in winter to combat the cold, to the right time to enter the property market:
“The old Jewish lads in North Manchester used to say, when there’s blood on the streets, it’s time to buy property…..!”
Ha ha ha! I can’t see Dion Dublin using that maxim on ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ anytime soon!
A great session for England. The overnight pair last just 15 minutes, but add nine runs and frustrate the bowlers. All out for 269.
Now it is South Africa’s turn to bat and England are up for it – they mean business. Three wickets fall before lunch with Broad and Anderson steaming in.
Dave has an ‘appointment with beer’ at a local bar so I go for a stroll and splash out on four samosas for lunch. Five rand apiece.
The afternoon session is a different story. Elgar is playing his usual limpet role with the bowlers unable to dislodge him.
Finally, a bit of luck at the other end. Broad gets one to lift on Van Der Dussen and he is caught behind. He walks, but not bloody fast or far enough. A no – ball. Bollocks!
The ‘Mavericks’ plane is circling again but no ‘new dancers’ advertised today.
Perhaps the poor girls become ‘old dancers’ after just one night twirling round the poles!
No progress at all in the afternoon, in fact, and as far as Elgar is concerned I would rather listen to Sir Edward than watch Dean, so I go on various wicket walks to do a bit of people watching.
The Hashim Amla lookalike block of South African supporters have been in good voice throughout, and during the afternoon even attempt a version of ‘Everywhere we go’, mocking the Barmy Army to their left.
Ouch. Where is Jimmy Savile when you need him?
Poor old Howzat Travel are sat behind this noisy lot, ensuring that their elder statesmen and women will get no sleep this afternoon.
The Barmy Army section has more empty seats in it than the Etihad Stadium for a Champions League fixture, and judging from this, the Springbok outdoor bars must be quite busy.
The number of football shirts on display here seems less than in previous years, with Premiership clubs almost unrepresented and instead, a bevy of tadpole club shirts from lower leagues: Yeovil, Bristol Rovers and Reading appear quite prominent for some unbeknown reason. If you gave me a pin and a map of the UK I would need a thousand stabs to find the location of some of these places. Why don’t these lads just wear cricket shirts like everyone else?
In terms of County representation, there is only one winner.
“Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!”
The Tykes are too tight to buy their own club’s home Ashes tickets at £100 apiece, but contrarily are happy to spend thousands travelling in their droves to South Africa.
On Yorkshire Airlines, no doubt. Leeds must be a ghost town this week.
No wickets and the game is drifting slowly away from England. Slowly, because Dom Bess is trundling away at one end in the middle of a very economical marathon stint – never much more than two runs per over, without threatening to take a wicket.
Suddenly, the moment that swings the Test match.
A frustrated Elgar, on 88, runs down the wicket attempting a violent slog at Bess, and holes out to Joe Root.
Cue pandemonium in the Barmy Army section – most of them have obviously now returned from the pub.
This rash shot seems to trigger a chain reaction similar to all those we have seen with England recently. Danger man De Kock is out in similar style to Elgar attempting an ugly swipe and after that, wickets galore just as the new ball is taken, including Maharaj off the last ball of the day. Which I miss, as I am on the way to the Springbok to meet Terry and Colin.
South Africa finish on a surprising 215-8, still some 54 runs behind England.
Looks like Day 4 tickets are back in vogue, my young Scots friend.
Today has featured some quite superb slip catching by Stokes in addition to the efforts of our bowlers, which it would be remiss of me not to mention.
Before going onto the events of day three, here is an important milestone from day two.
Howzat Richard reached 70 not out yesterday. Posh Margaret kindly sent me a picture of Richard during his birthday bash at the V & A Harbour – it looks like Hawaii shirts are the order of the day for septuagenarians. I know a bloke from Cornwall of a similar age who dresses just like that!
Congratulations, Richard, and long may there be lead in your scoring pencil.
Well, England wanted a quick start on day three. How about a wicket first ball, as Rabada nicked off, leaving Jimmy Anderson on a hat trick. He didn’t get it, but Jimmy did pick up the final wicket shortly afterwards, giving him five for the innings once again.
South Africa all out for 223. An England lead of 46, and that last wicket partnership between Pope and Jimmy is assuming massive proportions.
Our seats today are under the scoreboard again.
The view is fine, apart from the moronic South African TV crowd cameraman who keeps running down the steps in front of us with his enormous tool, blocking the view of the cricket.
Midnight’s patience finally snaps when this muppet stands transfixed during live play in the middle of the gangway recording a young kid having his face painted by a ground artisan – who is himself also a better door than window.
I get up and issue a volley to the pair, which does not go down well with the father of said child (from Yorkshire) who takes umbrage at his kids overseas TV debut being interrupted by an old cricket saddo.
Listen, pal. If you wanted your son painted on TV, you should have contacted Rolf Harris.
We have all paid to watch Test cricket, not this f**king nonsense!
Out on the field Sibley and Crawley have made a solid start. Crawley is playing a few shots and easily outscoring his partner, but like your writer, he seems to find pulling difficult, and is struck several times by the SA quicks. He is finally out for 25 – a good effort, lad. Learn from it.
Smoke appears out of the Castle Brewery chimney and Colin, with nose in the air, is quick to detect the changing odour: “Mmmm. Do you get that lovely hoppy smell from the brewery, Al?”
“Yes, Colin. It’s a shame the taste of the beer doesn’t match up to the smell.”
A solid enough morning but after cameragate, I resolve to move seats behind the bowlers arm after lunch.
Terry and Colin meet an old pal and go on the Castle over by the grass bank, but I manage to get a nice seat in the Presidents Pavilion using the ‘move at lunchtime when the stewards aren’t checking tickets’ strategy.
Some very interesting conversation in the afternoon while England slowly build up a sizeable lead.
First with a lad called Gav on his first visit to South Africa.
Gav is a Bishop Auckland / Everton supporter, and when I queried the latter club given his obvious Geordie accent, it turns out he is a relative of the late Gary Ablett, who played for both Scouse clubs before his early passing. Gav is eagerly anticipating the Scouse cup Derby this evening, despite his teams poor record against their bitter rivals from across Stanley Park.
Then I talk to Pete Haywood, here with son Matty. Pete is a juniors cricket coach at Hampshire, and tells an amusing story from the early annals of the Barmy Army. At Sydney in 1999, he actually had to explain to several lads from Stoke that they were supposed to be here to watch the cricket, rather than standing up facing away from the pitch, blocking his view, and singing football songs. After my earlier episode with the cameraman, I appreciated that one.
Both these lads have something in common. They both bought day one tickets from a secondary site called Instaticket, paying frighteningly way over the odds, but felt they had to do this because they had come such a long way : and in Pete’s case, brought his wife and three kids along for the ride.
Pete’s ‘tickets’ did not even allow him to access the ground without administration staff intervention, and there is an obvious warning here to all cricket fans to avoid these rip-off secondary sites and take your chances at the ground. I fully accept it is more difficult with a number of people to cater for, of course.
England made serene progress throughout the day, with Sibley and Root recording fifties. The only hiccup today really was Root getting out just before the close which brought the unfortunate Bess in as night watchman. Poor old Dom got another duck with the last delivery of the day, and thus becomes the only batsman to feature a lower batting average than Stuart Broad will accrue in this match. Not something to tell his grandkids about.
The final taxi ride back to Simons Town with Terry and Colin is fun.
Terry reveals that when my ticket request via Nadima, mine host, was received, his wife Cathy said:
“Yes, Terry, thats all very well but what will you do if this bloke from the pub that you don’t know turns out to be an absolute twat?”
Just as well then, that Terry and Colin have never been in my company after a drinking session with Higgy, methinks!
Seriously guys, thanks for your excellent company, and of course enabling me to get in!
Day four then and the train beckons. A first class return ticket is just 27 rand, so the cost isn’t really an issue but the safety and time the journey will take may be. It is perfectly fine going to Newlands, however, and I locate Lofty and the Howzat crowd and make myself comfortable in someone else’s seat.
England are in hurry – up offense mode, and Stokes and Buttler thrill the large crowd with six hitting – after all, that is what they do.
But now a word for our unsung hero. Dominic Sibley not only scored the first England century of the series, but batted throughout the innings to finish 133 not out, holding the whole thing together.
A superb effort from our big novice opener and let us hope it is the first ton of many.
At lunch I nip round to the Springbok supposedly to meet Higgy, who is AWOL, but instead a great surprise.
Welsh Wayne is there with his brother and friends and we have a good chat – I knew he was intending to go to Sri Lanka, but did not expect to see Wayne here.
Wayne tells me he has been trying to contact Tremers for four years without success.
I eventually return to find Higgy in the ground and thus dodge a bullet – I was dreading several pints of the sludge-like Springbok ‘beer’. Just a natter instead.
In the afternoon, some young folks move near to us and I am sat next to a 24 year old entrepreneur called Louie from Maidenhead (competition, Freddie?) who has his own window cleaning business. Louie has brought girlfriend Tash to the game as a special treat and the poor lass looks thoroughly cold and bored, huddled under a wrap for most of the afternoon. Louie and Tash are new to cricket and I am asked to explain the nature of our domestic game, which I have a stab at but fail miserably, as I don’t understand it now either. It will be the beach for those two tomorrow methinks!
The England declaration comes earlier than most anticipated on 391- 8, quite soon after lunch, but the subsequent high anticipation is largely blunted by the attritional batting of Elgar and Malan. Nothing doing for the rest of the afternoon and despite England’s best efforts, the game has developed into a stalemate.
An elderly South African in a yellow shirt comes down to the front of the stand waving a flag and shouting a series of insults and challenges to the Barmy Army. This old buffoon is shouted down in turn by the by now ninety percent English crowd. “Siddown, Grandad” and similar.
It is by now clear that we will all be returning tomorrow so I buy a ticket for day five and say my goodbyes, hoping for an early arrival at Simon’s Town by train – I am beginning to feel the strain now, but as we have not won at Cape Town since 1957 attendance in the morning is absolutely compulsory!
Just the wicket of Elgar so far today: we would take another while I was in transit to Simons Town. Eight wickets required to win therefore on day five.
On arrival at Newlands station it is immediately obvious that everything going both ways is subject to delay or cancellation, so I take a seat and wait. It is 4.50pm.
At about 5.30pm a train chugs into the platform from Cape Town heading south. Not only are the doors open, but it is chock-full and people are literally hanging out of every carriage. This looks far, far worse than any ‘football special’ I have ever travelled on, even in the Seventies.
As I have no idea when the next train will come, I somehow force my way on, and the next forty minutes are amongst the very worst of my life as more and more bodies squeeze on at each small station.
This service makes Northern Rail’s worst excesses look like the Orient Express.
A random black man near to the open door of my carriage attempts to supervise proceedings at each halt:
“Come on now people. Let these people get off, you get on now, no pushing and shoving or feeling each other!!”
As claustrophobic as I feel, I have to laugh!
Eventually we reach a station called Retreat where I assume there must be a township, as ninety percent of the passengers pile off and suddenly there is air to breathe. I find out later that Retreat is in fact the station that services the notorious Cape Flats, the district mainly responsible for Cape Town’s elevation to number 7 in the list of World murder cities.
I’m glad I didn’t know that before I got on the f**king train!
The ordeal is not finished yet though. On arrival at Fishhoek, which is three stations away from my destination, the train empties fully and I just manage to get off in time before it reverses and heads back up the line towards Newlands!
Fortunately, another train arrives within fifteen minutes or so to complete my journey.
Phew. Am I glad to get back to the hotel. At no point did I really feel threatened, but it was a very uncomfortable two hours when I least needed it and I have no wish to repeat the exercise tomorrow.
A final meal in the Salty Sea Dog chippy and just as my order of hake and chips with a cup of tea arrives, I get a tap on the shoulder. Oh, no.
“Are you an English cricket supporter? You will be in for a sleepless night tonight etc.”
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what the elderly idiot in the yellow shirt from Newlands said to me. He is clearly one of those annoying people that is incapable of shutting up even for a few minutes. I’m tired, not in the mood, and just want my fish and chips and an early night.
So I tell him that the game will be over by 2pm tomorrow when England win, and invite him as politely as I can to f**k off.
The Lord Nelson Hotel should be renamed the Bounty, as it keeps on giving. On day five, I am offered a lift to the cricket and back by Nadima, the owner, who will be watching the days events herself from the members. Sounds a bit better than the train!
In the morning I sit with Lofty in the sun. The cricket is slow.
I manage to nip down to the boundary to pass on the Blades regards to Dom Bess (their house guest in Adelaide some time ago) and am duly heckled by the Howzat group around us:
“Siddown” and similar disparaging remarks.
Behave you lot, initiative and thinking outside the box is still permitted for independent cricket tourists. The same guilty Howzat parties also suggested that I change Posh Margaret’s Addis moniker to ‘Upgrade Margaret’ for some strange reason, which of course I refused to do.
Night watchman Maharaj is dismissed quickly but South Africa grit it out for most of the morning until Du Plessis is caught by Denly off Bess. Just four wickets down at lunch, it looks like this might go the distance.
In the afternoon, South African dogged resistance continued, and at one point Lofty and I were discussing the appropriate time for the Captains to shake hands.
Fair play to the Barmy Army, who kept the support tempo up for most of the afternoon, and they were about to be royally rewarded.
De Kock supplied the hope. After reaching a fine fifty, he pulled the ball in the air straight to young Crawley, who made no mistake. A great wicket walk from Lofty, by the way, who was in the gents as the action occurred. De Kock hung his head on the way into the pavilion and afterwards in the dressing room – I’m sure he knew what he had done.
The flood gates were open at last. A leg trap was set for Van Der Dussen, and he obligingly glanced the ball round his legs to a grateful Jimmy Anderson.
Stokes demolished the tail in almost no time at all, it is really strange how quickly these events occur when you have been watching absolutely nothing happen for most of the day.
South Africa all out for 248 and England win by 189 runs.
The atmosphere during that last fifteen minutes reminded me of Melbourne or Sydney in 2010/2011. England have not won at Newlands since before I was born, so I feel very honoured and privileged to have seen this game, especially as I started my visit to Simons Town without any match tickets.
To put matters into perspective, the little ice cream seller in the Presidents Stand has been working here for 55 years without seeing an England win – until today.
He got a well deserved standing ovation as he said goodbye to the England fans – for the last time?
As Son Of has pointed out on our Addis Army chat group, it would be foolish to be carried away by this victory, as many flaws remain.
Joe Root’s captaincy remains a major concern for me. Today, both reviews were squandered quickly, which could have had grave consequences at the end of the day – we have been very fortunate there.
Dom Bess is not going to bowl out sides, he does keep an end tight, but Root persisted with him for far too long today. Denly looked more threatening, yes he bowled the odd bad ball as expected, but he did really well for a support bowler. When Rabada came in, even the English crowd (and not just Lofty!) were on Root’s case:
“Get Denly on Joe, Rabada’s a left hander”.
Why couldn’t Root see that for himself?
If we need a mystery spinner, Parky the chubby cherub from Lancashire is waiting in the wings. No doubt he will lengthen the tail, but I’m sure he will take wickets at Port Elizabeth. Which is what a spin bowler is supposed to do.
Changes will need to be made anyway as I gather Jimmy Anderson did not bowl for large parts of today due to ‘injury’. How serious this is remains to be seen.
Anyway, now is not the time for carping. Our first win at Cape Town in 63 years needs to be celebrated tonight, and that is exactly what I intend to do – Nadima is even buying me a drink. Would you believe Castle Milk Stout? It’s a damn sight better than their lager!
What a brilliant Test Match!