I was very happy to be asked to work on this cricket tour to South Africa – my homeland!
I arrived in Durban ahead of the group and reacquainted myself with one of my old stomping grounds – Umhlanga – north of the city of Durban. Our Howzat Travel hotels up on the Umhlanga Ridge proved to be a perfect choice – away from the hustle and bustle of the Durban beachfront and city centre. With the enormous Gateway shopping complex next door and the Umhlanga beachfront and village just five minutes down the road, there was plenty to do before the cricket started and in the evenings after close of play. Having the South African team in one of our hotels – The Protea – and the English team down the road at the Oyster Box there was also plenty of opportunity for autograph hunting! A very gloomy start to the first day of the test match saw us delaying our transfer to Kingsmead, apart from a few stalwarts accompanied by Des Newton, and David Stewart led some of our group on a quick tour of Durban prior to the start of play.
The cricket got underway late morning and what a great test it turned out to be for England. The South African team didn’t produce much for me to be proud of but I was happy to celebrate the resounding victory of the England team with all the Howzat supporters. The beautiful terrace of the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga, overlooking the magnificent Indian Ocean, proved to be the perfect place for memorable celebrations – never mind the sore heads in the morning! The extra afternoon gave people the opportunity to enjoy some horseracing at the Greyville racecourse and for others some leisure time at Umhlanga beach.
Then we were off to Mother City – my hometown! Beautiful Cape Town was already busy with tourists from all over the world for Christmas and New Year celebrations. With about 10,000 England cricket supporters (including around 600 in our Howzat group) hitting town on New Year’s Eve the city was literally bursting at the seams! The New Year test at Newlands is always a great occasion and with the whole Cape region experiencing a heatwave and the British pound reaching an all-time high against the rand – all the ingredients were there for a wonderful few days! Although the match ended in a draw there were plenty of dramatic moments – the most memorable for the England fans of course being Ben Stokes’ double century! Temba Bavuma’s century had the South African fans in raptures and the Amla Army dressed in white with Amla beards gave the Barmy Army a good run for their money! The South African captain’s resignation provided more drama at the end of a closely fought final day of the test match. I was lucky to be with a lovely group in Sea Point at the Cape Manor hotel close to the beachfront – with sundowners on the terrace, walks on the beachfront promenade and lots of great restaurants and bars on our doorstep everybody had a great time and we were sorry to have to pack our bags and leave when the time came.
Our Howzat supporters all disappeared in various directions – some going back to the UK and back to work – some to the Kruger National Park – some to Victoria Falls and some to the Garden Route. I was lucky enough to join a group on the Garden Route and a safari to a lovely lodge close to Port Elizabeth called Lalibela – it exceeded everyone’s expectations on all fronts – accommodation, service, food and game viewing. A very happy group finished up at Port Elizabeth airport with some leaving us and returning to ‘Blighty’ with the rest of us heading to Gauteng and the ‘big smoke’ of Johannesburg for the third test at Bidvest Wanderers stadium – commonly known as ‘The Bullring’.
Well, the ‘Bullring’, known for its intimidation of visiting teams, certainly did not live up to its reputation. What a disappointing performance by the South Africans on the Saturday. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric in the morning and we were all looking forward to a great day of cricket on the Sunday with plenty of local support. It was not to be – I didn’t mind the fact that England won – but I would have liked the Proteas to give them a bit more of a run for their money! But, with Stuart Broad’s fast-bowling burst, that was not to be and South Africa suffered one of their worst defeats ever. Oh well, onwards and upwards to Centurion! With an extra two days in hand we organised some tours of Soweto which went down well with our groups, people had a lot more time to shop in the nearby Sandton City shopping centre and enjoy some libations and even more steaks in Nelson Mandela Square.
A short drive over from Sandton to Centurion and all groups were together this time in the Centurion Lake Hotel – a short walk to the cricket ground. Most people thoroughly enjoyed being able to walk to and from the cricket ground some of them taking advantage of the adjacent Centurion Rugby Club for a refreshment en route! My fellow countryman, Des Newton, and I bought some meat from the local butcher, typical South African ‘boerewors’ sausage and some ‘sosaties’ (kebabs) and did a ‘lekker South African braai’ (good South African barbecue) for some of our group in the ground at lunchtime on the fourth day which everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy. With the series victory already in hand for England this test match finally gave South Africa the chance to save some face and Kagiso Rabada gave South African supporters reason to feel proud again – he became the third South African to take so many wickets in a test following Makhaya Ntini and Hugh Tayfield. The fifth day was over well before we expected and gave people more opportunity to spend their pounds and enjoy a few more Castle beers before packing their bags and heading home after a fantastic test series in South Africa.
I had a fantastic time with all the Howzat supporters and miss them all already! Thanks to all of you who made the trip over to South Africa – I hope that you all took home happy memories and that you will come and see us again soon!