A tour to South Africa should be on every cricket watchers radar. This was my fifth visit, previously having been for both Rugby and Cricket. What happened on this tour was interesting in the main and sensational throughout.
Carole and I spent a few days in Durban before the arrival of the main tour groups, enjoying the beaches and excellent restaurants. We visited the practice game in Piertermariztburg, driving up each day through the spectacular mountains, observing phenomenal mountainous views as we did so. We found a quaint ground with a Victorian pavilion, were I was advised part of Zulu Dawn was filmed. A comfortable victory against the second string, there was definitely hope for this tour. We also received the same vibes from two well-known Cricket Correspondents.
We were soon joined by faces old and new, we enjoyed the first two days of the first test before moving to Cape Town to take up my role as Tour Manager and meet our first arrivals at the wonderful Vineyard Hotel, which was located close to the Newlands cricket ground. Our first arrivals included the ever colourful David, this tour wearing a Green and Yellow starched “Mohican”, which caught everyone’s eye! Our tour party gradually assembled, buoyed very much by the victory in the first test. They also became inspired by the presence of the team and press entourage who followed on and became resident in the Vineyard also.
As ever, all the fine local restaurants were booked to capacity and comparisons were soon being made between them. It was fair to say no one from the Vineyard reported disappointment in any of the restaurants and bars. Personally my steaks were of the highest quality wherever I ate, and one meal in the Vineyard’s Square Restaurant, was one of the finest meals I have ever had, it went without saying the wine complimented the food beautifully.
The great joy for our tour group was the exchange rate, with the Rand at over 22 (and climbing), to the GBP, meant the finest was within the budget. My superb Fillet Steak referred to above, skillfully cooked, sliced and presented, coupled with the KanonKop Pinotage, (1998) was sheer luxury at hardly any cost.
The food and drink helped take our minds off some slow cricket, particularly from South Africa, but then we witnessed one of the great Test Innings of all time, when Ben Stokes smashed the South African attack to all parts of the ground, and occasionally beyond, in his epic, yet comparatively short innings of 250. Many Howzatters will report that “they were there”. We must not forget 150 not out from Jonny Bairstow, a battling 200 from South Africa’s Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma’s ton. Unfortunately the England fielders dropped 10 catches in the searing heat. A victory lost? Who would want to be a bowler when the innings was 211 overs long?
An interesting declaration by South Africa shortly before the end of day 4 made for a rejuvenation of interest as English wickets fell. A report from one of our regular clients, that he had dreamed England had been dismissed for 129 caused some consternation. The English fans became nervous as wickets started to fall on the last day. However, Moen Ali and Jonny Bairstow steadied the ship until bad light intervened to leave the result as a high scoring draw.
A strange game, contrasting speeds of scoring, England so fast and South Africa so slow, but five full days of cricket at one of the World’s most stunning grounds.
The Vineyard party started to break up with some returning to the UK, and others excitedly waiting to move onto the next stage of the South African Adventure. Some to the Garden route, some to Victoria Falls, some to game parks and some doing their own thing.
For 43 others and I the Casa Do Sol and Kruger Park beckoned.
We started with a day’s site seeing visiting the rivers, whirlpools and the world’s third largest gorge. Magnificent! We hurried back for some to visit the Elephant Sanctuary, where 20 of our party spent a fabulous hour enjoying contact with the two Elephants on show. All reported having an incredible and moving experience with them.
A short journey took us to the Proteas Hotel at the Kruger Gate in Kruger Park for a 2 day stay. This outstanding park gave our party everything that was expected. The first rate guides soon had the big 5 ticked off. The park is full of fascinating game and birds, along with the interesting replies to our many questions we enjoyed everything that was on offer. One could go in to raptures about Kruger, please let these few words suffice for an incredible experience.
A picturesque bus ride back to Johannesburg and the third test. On arrival in Johannesburg I saw my party were suitably billeted in their very pleasant hotels, I then removed my distinctive red top, and became a tourist once again, only three days before I had to return to the UK
What a three days it proved to be. More steaks in Nelson Mandela Square, as splendid as ever. The visit of Paul Farbrace to a Howzat Q&A. This was one of the most special Q&As that I have witnessed in six years with Howzat. Straight forward, honest and amusing, with a good insight into where England were looking to go in this match as well as in the next three years.
Finally the match. South Africa won the toss, a few England players unwell? Still records fell, the lowest South African score after all players had made double figures. Well done Finny. A great ton by Joe Root on a difficult pitch. England were ten runs ahead.
I am now sat behind the bowlers arm with Broad bowling. I could see his mood and rhythm. The wickets started to fall, can he take all ten? 5 are down, my taxi is waiting. I have to leave the ground. We immediately tuned into the cricket on the taxi’s radio only, can you believe, for the radio station to switch its cover to a local football match. At the airport I learnt the result.
Well done Stuart and the rest of the team.
What an end to a fabulous tour, with fabulous people, in a fabulous place. A privilege to be on board.