Home Tour Diaries World Cup, Tests & Vibes

World Cup, Tests & Vibes

by Dan MacPherson

Over a year of planning and saving went up in smoke when the ECB confirmed that the men’s ODI tour of South Africa would involve no games at Newlands but instead, Kimberely & Bloemfontein. Or so I thought. My luck was in and the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup was being held in Gqeberha, Paarl & Cape Town. 2 hours and one annual leave email response later, flights and hotels had been booked and the countdown to a dream trip had begun.

It would be remiss of me to say I knew much about Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth) but it was my first port of call and an opportunity to tick safari off my bucket list alongside the cricket. The 14 hours of travelling via Johannesburg had not deterred me and after a wonderful safari trip to Addo National Park, it was now Saturday. Matchday!

I woke to every cricket fan and players worst nightmare – rain! My wonderful view of the Indian Ocean had been replaced by clouds for as far as the eye could see. Like any cricket supporter I did the logical thing. Ignore all the signs that the game would be cancelled and made my way to the nearest beer house full of deluded optimism. This optimism was soon rewarded. Sat on the balcony of Barney’s tavern on constant weather watch, small pockets of beaming sunshine were appearing and shortly after, the rain subsided.

From the second I entered the turnstile at St Georges Park the vibes were overwhelming. The colourfully dressed dancers dancing to the rhythmic beat of the djembe drums felt like the perfect welcome to this festival of cricket. First up was the ever intense clash of India V England. At this point it was almost a formality that both sides would progress but with the prospect of the runner facing Australia in the semi, it was all to play for.

A shakey start had the small English contingent worrying before Nat Sciver-Brunt made her way to the crease. 10-2 soon became 120-5 when the newly named batter was dismissed shortly after her half century. England would go on to make 151/7 after a fine knock from Amy Jones. A defendable total but a tough ask. India came out all guns blazing and took advantage of a sloppy start from England. The economical bowling of world number 1 Sophie Ecclestone, with help from Lauren Bell & Sarah Glenn, was too much for India. Against the odds England had won fairly comfortably by 11 runs.

My first experience of World Cup cricket had been superb but we were only half way there. The hosts, South Africa were up against Australia in the late game. By time I emerged from the food kiosks, armed with the spiciest burger and chips I have ever eaten, the crowd had doubled. The famous St Georges Band who had the place bouncing all day now had hundreds more surrounding them. Naturally I joined the hosts and supported them against our Australian friends.

I have been to what must now be close to 1,000 sporting events across many countries and 3 continents but nothing has come close to the atmosphere I experienced alongside the band and the incredibly passionate local support. I had no idea what we were singing, but even during the difficult spells for the hosts, the numbers kept growing and the decibel levels kept rising. It was just the perfect start to my cricketing journey in South Africa. Of course the Aussies went on to win, that’s what they do, but South Africa were still in it. Just.

A small hangover on the Sunday could not wipe the smile off my face. I was finally going to Cape Town. A long standing bucket list trip about to be ticked. A visit to the penguins at Boulder Beach and the vibrant V&A Waterfront provided the entertainment for day 1 before a second double header of the trip – England V Pakistan & South Africa V Bangladesh.

Anyone who has visited Newlands will know what I mean when I say the first time you walk in to the ground is spine tingling. No photo you see on the internet will do it justice. The immense Table Mountain towering over the ground provides one of the most scenic views of any sporting venue anywhere in the world. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to play there.

England would take this fixture even more comfortably than their previous games. 213 on the board with Nat Sciver-Brunt & Danni Wyatt dominating the Pakistan attack. Another economical effort from the England attack made short work of the Pakistan batters and England were group winners with a 100% record. Once again the crowd doubled during the break as the locals gathered once again to support the Proteas. Not quite the same atmosphere as I experienced in Port Elizabeth, but an upbeat friendly vibe around the place nonetheless as the hosts raced to a 10 wicket victory. The semi finalists were now all confirmed – India V Australia & South Africa V England.

I am using the sentence “I climbed Table Mountain” when I tell people what I did. I actually got the cable car but it sounds far more impressive. Regardless, I took in the views of Cape Town from it’s highest peak as my pre match entertainment. Back to Newlands to do something I don’t do too often – Support India. Alas I did not provide them with much luck. Australia were a mile off it. They showed that they weren’t the invincible side we all believed them to be. Unfortunately the Indian field decided to not take advantage and gifted the Aussies an extra 25-30 runs with sloppy fielding instead. 173 was the target set. Ominous but on a batting pitch, it was chaseable…

By now I am sure we have all watched the bizarre Harmanpreet Kaur run out where her bat was stuck just short of the crease. Whether you call it bad luck or sloppyness from the batter it’s irrelevant. More gifts from the Indian side and they fell just short. The strong Indian following at Newlands will have left the ground frustrated and asking “what if?” over and over again.

With the Aussie vulnerabilities shown, both sides going in to the semi final had reason to be optimistic. England with a 100% record and South Africa with the momentum. A 3pm Friday start meant the crowd gradually built throughout the game. Cricket often shoots itself in the foot and not moving this game to a 7pm start feels like another example. The crowd was almost at capacity by time the 20th over of the game was to be bowled. England had kept things fairly tight before giving away 20 runs with the last 6 balls. It felt like a turning point. The mood of 95% of the crowd lifted while the small pockets of English fans grew more nervous.

England made a great start going at 10 an over until the first wicket fell in the 6th. Alice Capsey failed to add to the score and once again the hopes of the nation seemed to rest on the reliable shoulders of Nat Sciver-Brunt. A handy 40 kept us in it but her wicket, along with a flurry of middle order wickets left us with the skipper protecting the tail, still well short of the target.

Now I have been in some heartbreaking crowds. I have watched my beloved Sunderland AFC lose to a last minute goal at Wembley, a penalty shootout at Wembley and endless others where watching a huge opposition crowd go wild while I just stand there numb. When Heather Knight was beaten by a wonderful Ismael delivery and the bails flew into the air, that feeling was back. The roar could be heard in Zimbabwe as the South African crowd began jumping around and hugging. I was numb. Our World Cup was about to be cut short. The tail put up a valiant effort but we fell just short. The incredibly kind Proteas fans who came up to shake my hand and offer commiserations lifted my spirits slightly but, for a good half an hour until the wonderful Kate Cross came over to chat to the travelling fans, I was speechless.

I did a good job of pretending this game we all inexplicably love didn’t exist on the Saturday but it was back off to Newlands for my first ever World Cup final on the Sunday. As devastated as I was, I was fully behind the Proteas. Everyone from my uber drivers to the bar staff to the local fans had been amazing from the second I landed. They deserved this day. The build up was as expected, an amazing vibe with smiles all around and lots of noise from the crowd. The national anthem being sang in a sold out Newlands was yet another spine tingling experience. South Africa were ready, everyone was up for this fight! The buzz and the optimism had however made us forget one minor detail – Australia always win.

It was an exceptional effort from the Proteas bowling attack and every wicket was celebrated as if it was final match winning wicket of the game. The roar which had scarred me days earlier was now a roar I was contributing to. A target of 157 would not be easily reached, but it was a total that would worry the Aussies.

Alas, and don’t make me say this too much, the Aussie attack is simply too good. That side is made for these occasions. The bowling seemed to be a few clicks too much for the Proteas batters and they were giving very little away. There was the odd glimmer of hope from what was a more than valiant effort, Laura Wolvaardt in particular, but this was another comfortable final victory in the seemingly never ending list of Aussie final victories.

Not the outcome I had hoped for but Cape Town had delivered everything I expected and more. There was just one more stop before I returned to England. A long layover Johannesburg meant an opportunity to watch some test cricket at Centurion as the West Indies were in town. I naively believed that following a successful SA20 and World Cup, the place would be rocking. I was over the moon to be watching cricket at another amazing venue in this wonderful country, but I’d be lying if I said the crowd of no more than a few hundred was not disappointing. More choice of seats for me to choose from if we’re looking for positives.

A word of advice, advice which probably doesn’t need to be given, if you ever visit Centurion in the summer to watch a day of test cricket please make sure you wear sun cream. As Aiden Markram’s total grew, my arms legs and face became redder and redder. Just what one needs before a long uncomfortable flight home. A ton from Markram, a captaincy debut duck from Bavuma and middle order collapse from South Africa made it a typically enjoyable day of test cricket.

An incredibly busy two weeks had reached it’s conclusion but I had done everything I’d wanted to. Cape Town is the most amazing place I have visited and Newlands is by far the best sporting venue on the planet. England may not have brought a World Cup trophy home, but the memories I have from this experience are just as valuable.

0 comment

Related Articles