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 people (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.
The Cricket South Africa board even arrived in their numbers, a meeting apparently having been scheduled at SuperSport Park during the Test. On Friday, at the Gautrain station at Centurion, 900 metres away from the ground, a man held up a sign that read: “CSA Board Members.” Board members on a train with the masses? Guess that BCCI money hasn’t come through yet. There was a van with a police car – blue lights flashing – in front of it outside the Gautrain as we walked by on Friday. Surely, they weren’t going to get a blue light escort for less than a kilometre? No, they weren’t.
The van drove around the police car, which was telling off people for parking in silly places.
They streamed into SuperSport Park and headed for the bar. On the eastern side of the ground they stood 10-deep at the beer concession stand underneath the main scoreboard, lines stretched interminable at the Stumps Bar near the team changerooms and they splashed like a sardine run in the swimming pool at Castle Corner, perhaps one of the few bathing areas with a perfect view of the pitch in world cricket.
The first beer towers appeared well before lunch as soon as enough of them had been emptied. After lunch, beer tower building evolved into extreme beer tower construction, with young men standing on each other’s shoulders as they placed more and more cups on top of each other. The South African beer cup is a work of genius, allowing the holder to carry four beers in each hand. An Australian journalist spoke longingly of how they had to introduce them back home.
There were once wooden huts around the western and southern ends of the grounds, each of them belonging to the clubs in the province. The clubs would either use them or rent them out during matches to generate income. It was one of the clever initiatives brought in under the leadership of the then CEO, the late and very much missed Elise Lombard, who died in 2012. They were knocked down and replaced with double-storey, brick-and-mortar boxes.
It was in front of these that the world got to see the robustness of the South African female. Dared to down a beer from a funnel by some men on a stag do, she did so with aplomb and much style, giving them the finger as she did so.
SuperSport showed this live on TV. Around the world, there was admiration and shock. The Australian Fox Sports Cricket Twitter feed posted a screen grab of the young lady’s feat and asked: “OK seriously, when does the next flight leave for South Africa?”
Sky Cricket in England got up themselves and tweeted: “Apologies for the slightly questionable coverage from SA. Please be aware we have no control of pictures!” It seems they weren’t happy with the young lady showing a rude gesture on live television as it was “swearing”. Lip reading batsman as they say “FFS” is okay, but never show the finger. Sky subsequently send both SuperSport and CSA a grovelling apology.
And then there was the cricket, which was over before the party was, a silly run out bringing to an end a wonky performance by the South Africans and a dominant one by the Australians. Some of the visiting media dived straight into gloating, while a few of the South African media worked the “mental scarring” angle. Neither Graeme Smith nor Michael Clarke would be drawn on whether the South Africans would be mentally scarred by this loss.
Smith said they would treat it no differently as they did any other loss, having good reference points and experience of coming back stronger from a poor start to a series. They have done so against Pakistan and India in recent times. They were short of a trot, the BCCI’s curtailment of the India tour leaving them shy of a match.
Clarke, who has had to deal with heavy losses, and twists and turns in team dynamics and personnel, answered it best: “They’re a class team. It happens,” said Clarke of South Africa losing. “We all lose games of cricket. It’s about how you bounce back. When you’re winning games of cricket, it’s about running with momentum for as long as you can. Port Elizabeth is going to be a really tough Test match for both teams.”
The series now moves to St George’s, who have been starved of top-class Test cricket for some time. It is hoped that their brass band has now learnt more than two songs and that the Thursday start will encourage the people of Port Elizabeth to continue the party that started in Centurion when the game was lost but the fun still rolled on.
From: @MichaelVaughan (The former England captain watches Mitch Johnson in action against South Africa)
Sent: 13 Feb 2014 2.57pm
“That spell from @MitchJohnson398 puts it all into perspective .. No Batting line up in the World can cope when he fires ... #Fact.”
From: @KP24 (Kevin Pietersen on Johnson)
Sent: 13 Feb 2014 2.16pm
“When you facing someone as quick as Mitchell, your instinct occasionally makes you do things you shouldn’t.. PACE causes indecision!”
From: @PhilTufnell (Former England spinner on Johnson)
Sent: 13 Feb 2014 2.31pm
“What a spell from Johnson...sheer pace and hostility. Proving too good/quick for the best batting line up in the world – not just Eng!!”
From: @hughlaurie (Hugh Laurie gets ready to watch Arsenal play Manchester United)
Sent: 12 Feb 2014 9.43pm
“Arsenal Man Utd. Two bruisers squaring off in the car park, but one’s in a neck brace and the other’s got a bad cold. Should be interesting.”
All posts taken from twitter.com