On Thursday afternoon, not long after the Fireman’s Arms on Buitengracht St opened and a good part of Cape Town became a happier place, Steve Walsh, the Australian referee from New Zealand who once made too regular a habit of being happy, was sitting in the bar of the Cullinan hotel with a laptop. He and a person I did not recognise, were going through videos and explanations of the way things would be for Friday night’s match between the Hurricanes and the Stormers. It was, from the looks of things, a rather relaxed discussion, focused, I guessed, on the breakdown and the mess it has a tendency to become.
There were nods, smiles and words along the lines of “I’ve got you”. Walsh drank water. A lot of it. The man who once loved a drink or 15 and arrived at a referees’ function in showroom condition worked his job, loved his job. He was, it must be said and praised, good at it on Friday. Preparation, interaction and explanation paid off. A simple trio.
It was the best of days, it was the worst of matches, if you were a South African. The fourth day of the first Test between the Proteas and Australia at SuperSport Park may just have produced the best atmosphere of any match in the country this summer. They came in their thousands, not to bury South Africa, nor to praise them, but to have one hell of a party.
Around 17000, the cap for the crowd for the prettiest, little stadium in the north of the land, arrived on Saturday, pouring out of cars, buses and trains. By Tuesday, the day before the Test started, 14500 tickets had already been sold for the Saturday. The silliness of starting a Test on a Wednesday was necessitated by the schedule, with the quick turn-around between Centurion and Port Elizabeth. If the match had started on Thursday with days three and four on the weekend, we might have had a two-day party instead of a one-day festival.
Most conversations with Mark Boucher start with “Howzit” and end with the word “rhino” in them somewhere.
The conservation of the rhino and the halting of the poaching of these creatures, has become Boucher’s post-cricket life, a passion as strong as that which drove him during a playing career that saw him leave the sport as the most decorated wicketkeeper in the history of cricket.
One of the comments under a report in the Times of India this weekend headlined “BCCI rules the world, Srinivasan to be ICC chairman from July”, summed up the feelings of many in the sport: “God save cricket”.
God, for all the times that he-she-it-they is-are asked to intervene in sport, has never quite come to the party, unless, of course, you are on the winning side.
A colleague tells a story of watching Kevin Pietersen when he played a match for KwaZulu-Natal in his time at the union at the beginning of his career. He claimed a catch that had bounced, quite clearly to the few in the ground, well in front of him. He wasn’t even going for one-hand-one-bounce. His teammates grimaced and shook their heads. The catch wasn’t given.
Not long afterwards Pietersen ended his tortured career as a cricketer in South Africa and took off for England for a tortured, celebrated and colourful career as a cricketer in England. When he returned to these shores as an English player in the summer of 2005, Shaun Pollock was asked what he thought about Pietersen playing for another country and what he remembered about him. Pollock’s reply was that, as he recalled, Pietersen was an offie who could bat a bit. Had he suggested that Pietersen was a bit off and a bit batty, he would have been more on the money.