Centurion Day 3 – lunch

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South Africa 475, England 211-6

The star of the morning has been Kagiso “KG” Rabada, who has managed to take a five of the six wickets to fall so far this innings. He was fielding on the boundary just near Joanne and me earlier, and I was surprised by how young he is. It’s easy to forget, when he’s steaming in at full pace and taking wickets for fun, that he’s only twenty years old. I met him in the airport at Durban when the team were flying to Cape Town. I was clutching a pen and a sheet with the South African squad photos on, including his, and he came up to me and asked if I wanted his autograph – which I was grateful for, since I wasn’t completely sure I recognised him! He asked if I liked cricket, and then said, “Me too, I love cricket.” It’s so nice to meet players who love their sport, and love what they do. On the field he’s clearly making an effort to appear cool and a little bit bored by all the kids crowding the boundary to get his autograph, but you can see that underneath he’s still thrilled by it all.

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Centurion Day 2 – close of play

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South Africa 475, England 138-2

We’ve had two days of sturdy, solid Test cricket so far, and I’m no closer to being able to say who I think is ahead. South Africa definitely won the first two sessions yesterday, with the third being roughly honours even; today has been more nuanced, but I think England won’t be too disappointed with their closing score. Nick Compton will be kicking himself for his dismissal, but it was close to an unplayable ball and suggests that this pitch is going to deteriorate – batting fourth won’t be fun, so England will want to get a decent first inning lead, and that will take them at least all of tomorrow, unless Stokes goes mental again. Cook and Root’s partnership at the end of the day was a pleasure to watch as an England fan, and is something that would strike fear into the hearts of pretty much any opposition. Although generally understated, these are two of the best batsmen in the world: Root is currently vying for the top spot in the ICC rankings with Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, while Cook needs just 50 more runs in this Test match to become the quickest player to 10,000 Test runs, and the first to achieve that milestone within a decade of his a Test debut.

In the South African innings, which added another 139 for the last three wickets, with Quinton de Kock shepherding the tail, three players made ducks (de Viliers, Rabada and Morkel) but three made centuries (Cook, Amla and de Kock) – I don’t know what that implies about England’s bowling attack or the pitch. The wicketkeeper de Kock was impressive, but I’ve not been able to take him seriously since I started following @notdekock on twitter. The only other reference I have for him is that gif of him being menaced by Dale Steyn.

Tomorrow will hopefully be a day of England batting, and I’m also hoping that it will be a bit cooler than today: after tea I couldn’t take the sun any more and hid at the back of the bank by the boxes, with a worse view but a more bearable temperature. I’ve now made my way through three bottles of Factor 50 this trip,and will be buying a fourth in the morning. I suspect I am single-handedly supporting the entire sunscreen industry in South Africa.

Centurion Day 2 – tea

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South Africa 475, England 29-1

Dane Piedt and Quinton de Kock batted well together, but unevenly: Piedt took 104 balls to make his 19 runs, while de Kock brought up his first Test tonne in the same number of deliveries. England finally bowled South Africa out for 475 and had an awkward half hour to survive before tea; they set off at a decent lick, but Hales gave an easy catch to point so it’s Cook and Compton now at the crease.

Meanwhile, I am feeling very hot in the sun. I have no idea how he players manage to play for six or seven hours in this, because I can barely manage just to sit in it. At the innings break I resorted to soaking my cardigan in water and draping it over me to evaporate and cool me down – it’s worked pretty well, but it’s now almost dry. I’m hoping the weather will cool down a bit by tomorrow.

Centurion Day 2 – lunch

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South Africa 421-8

It’s hot here today! I don’t think the air temperature is that far above comfortable, but the sun is really baking down and where we’re sitting by the boundary the air is still and stuffy. It’s not quite on Perth scale yet, but I’m considering soaking myself in water to let it evaporate and cool me down.

England have token three wickets this session, but South Africa haven’t let that slow their scoring rate and they have passed 400 and are still going strong. Apparently a par first innings score here is about 320, so they should be pleased with this.

Centurion Day 1 – close of play

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South Africa 329-5

 Without doubt, my greatest achievement today was cricketingchrist.tumblr.com. A bit of context: if you’ve ever hung around crickety people, especially when they are in the bar at the end of a day’s play, you will notice that their conversation will inevitably be illustrated with a particular set of arm gestures – either their top hand swinging fingers down, elbow raised, as they demonstrate a straight drive; or their dominant hand starting next to their ear and swinging forward, two fingers partly raised and curved, as they illustrate the bowling action of whoever they are talking about. (Apparently Nick Compton does this even when he’s not talking about anything to do with cricket. It must be off-putting on a date.) In my half-awake state as I got ready for the Test this morning, it occurred to me that the latter of these was remarkably similar to the typical image you see of Jesus blessing people in Medieval and Renaissance paintings, and thus Jesus Demonstrates Bowling was born. Many thanks to Liz who put it onto tumblr for me – she is a genius. There is also, I believe, an email address and a twitter account for it, which I will have to work out how to use. Anyway, it seems to have amused a few people this morning, so I count that as a successful day.

On the field, South Africa definitely had the best of the play despite a small wobble after tea when they lost four quick wickets including AB de Villiers for a duck. Hashim Amla and debutant Stephen Cook both made centuries, and the miniature pair of Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma were looking comfortable together by the close of play. England were fairly flat all day, and they are notoriously bad in dead rubbers when they’ve already won the series, so I don’t hold out much hope for them. We’ll still have won the series even if they lose here, but I do wish they’d show a bit more fight sometimes.

Centurion Day 1 – tea

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South Africa 224-1

Definitely South Africa’s session. Cook won the race to fifty, but Amla got to his century first (his 25th) while Cook is still on 91 at tea. I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that if he gets to 100, he’ll be the hundredth player to a make a century on debut.

The weather has clouded over a bit, thankfully, and it’s got a bit cooler. However, during the tea break a puddle seems to have developed at midwicket for no obvious reason, so the players are now hanging around in the boundary wondering when they can get on again. I wouldn’t blame the England players if they weren’t that keen to get out again to suffer more at the hands of Amla and his loyal henchman. Haven’t we seen Hashim batting for more than enough for a lifetime now?

Centurion Day 1 – lunch

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South Africa 107-1

The new South African opener Cook (that’s not going be confusing at all, is it? Apparently it’s the fifth time two opposing openers have had the same surname) is looking really comfortable on 46, and Amla is as smooth as ever on 34. England’s one wicket came from a freak knee catch by Taylor at short leg, but apart from that South Africa have looked in control of this game.

I’m enjoying this stadium so far – although “stadium” is probably an over-statement. It’s three quarters grass bank, and Joanne and her mum have brought a spare chair for me so I’m very comfortable with a great view right on the boundary. They’ve also brought a picnic lunch to share – sandwiches, watermelon and a South African delicacy called kouksuster, which is a twist of deep-fried dough dipped in syrup and is delicious. The weather is hot but bearable, so all in all I’m feeling pretty content!

If the England squad were South African mammals

  • James Anderson: cheetah, quick, lean, lithe and all muscles;
  • Nick Compton: elephant – not where you look if you want elegance and grace, but if you want someone obdurate who won’t budge, he’s your man;
  • James Taylor: dwarf mongoose (are we ever going to get bored of joking about his size?);
  • Stuart Broad: with that beautiful golden mane, he’s got to be a lion;
  • Alastair Cook: kudu – looks like he should be more elegant than he is;
  • Ben Stokes: honey badger, the animal you would really, really not want to mess with;
  • Chris Woakes: impala, with those big, dark, liquid eyes;
  • Joe Root: vervet monkey – looks all sweet and innocent, but give him half a chance and he’ll rip all your possessions to shreds;
  • Steven Finn: giraffe, not only because he’s tall but because I’m fairly sure that giraffes, with their unusual same-sided running gait, would also knock over the stumps in their run-up;
  • Moeen Ali: slender mongoose, I think because the bushy tail reminds me of his beard;
  • Alex Hales: waterbuck – there’s a target on his back;
  • Jonny Bairstow: tsessebe, because it’s the gingerest mammal around here;
  • Jos Buttler: wildebeest, because they are both spelled wrong;
  • Chris Jordan: leopard – sleek and athletic;
  • Samit Patel: hippo, because he’s surprisingly nimble and dangerous for his size;
  • Gary Ballance: baboon – fun but troublesome and always dragging everyone else into his mess;
  • Mark Footit: galago, because I have neither seen nor know anything about either of them.

Kruger National Park day 1

I’m on a mini-safari in between the third and fourth Tests – I’ve done a fair amount of animal-watching in Africa in my time, but I’d forgotten quite how much I enjoy it. Highlights of the day were a civet, a family of genets and some dwarf mongooses; I think I’m becoming a small mammal fan girl, because I’m a bit blasĂ© about the larger animals but those three really excited me. Two of the other people on my tour, Karen and Steph, were at the Test on Saturday too and we spent quite a bit of the evening chatting about the women’s county structure in England – even out here you can’t escape from the cricket! We tried to draw a Danish couple into the conversation, but after about ten minutes we realised that they thought we were talking about croquet.

It’s five or six hours from Johannesburg to Kruger, and I spent most of that road trip reading Miles Jupp’s book “A Fibber in the Heat”. I’d not heard good things about it, but so far (I’m about half way through) I’m really enjoying it. I can see it would have a limited audience: he assumes not only a pretty solid grasp of cricket, its terminology and history, but also a working knowledge of most of the cricket press corps. Fortunately, that’s fine for me. I think what I particularly like about it is how much I can relate to so many of his experiences: admittedly I’ve never pretended to be anything but a cricket fan on tour, with only a limited knowledge of the sport and no pretensions to a cricket-related career, but the feelings of being an impostor, and of trying to act cool and fit in when surrounded by your idols, I could completely sympathise with. It’s also striking to note the differences between touring in those days (2006) and now, particularly the changes in technology and the emergence (or so I perceive) of free-lance and online journalists, as the dominance of papers fades away. The press corps, perhaps as a result of this, also seem much less of a single unit now, and most of the journos I’ve met seem much more approachable, friendly and good fun than many of those described by Miles Jupp.

Sadly the power has now gone off in my camp in Kruger, so I’m going to have to save the rest of the book for tomorrow. Full day game drive in store – I can’t wait!

Pretoria Zoo and Sandton

  Yesterday was one of those days – and I know they happen far more often to me than I have any right to expect – when I was surprised and gratified by how lovely the people I meet on tour are. It was a free day, when I would have been at the Wanderers watching the cricket if England hadn’t won in three days, so I had no plans. When I’d been chatting to Joanne on day two, we’d discussed the sights of the Gautain region and she’d suggested that if the Centurion Test ended early, we could go to Pretoria Zoo. That was when the Johannesburg Test looked like it was going to go to four long innings. But now, why wait till then? So I jumped on the Gautrain (really plush, smooth and well-run – it makes travelling around between Johannesberg and Pretoria so easy) and met Joanne and her friend Lesley at Pretoria station, from where Joanne drove us to the zoo.

It seems to be a really good zoo, with most of the standard animals in unusually large enclosures for a city establishment, and a few rarer ones: koalas, white lions, and two Komodo dragons that were apparently a gift to Nelson Mandela from the president of Indonesia. Lesley’s highlight was seeing an okapi, which she has been hoping to do for years. I think my favourite part was getting up close to a leopard which came right up to the glass so that we could see its huge, velvety paws and distinctive, smooth spotted pelt in perfect detail. It was also lovely to spend the day with two friendly, interesting South Africans – it’s easy to get into a cocoon of other England fans when you’re on tour, but getting a local perspective is really great, and they were just fun to hang around with.

Joanne and Lesley showed me the Union buildings and Nelson Mandela statue before dropping me off at Hatfield station, from where I Gautrained back to Sandton. My airBnB was a bus or uber ride away from the station at that end, and I’d vaguely wondered about looking round Sandton or maybe meeting up with some of my acquaintances before heading home, if I could dig anyone out, since this was where most people were staying.

In the end, I had drinks with Kate, George and Rory Dollard at a bar on Nelson Mandela Square, where various other people I know to a greater or lesser degree came over to chat – it’s clearly the place to be seen on a Monday evening! I then let George drag me out to have dinner with some of his friends, who turned out to be Antoinette, Max and Max’s parents. I feel like I’ve repeatedly landed myself on them without prior notice this holiday, but they were very hospitable and insisted that I join them for the Bensons’ last dinner in Johannesburg before flying home. The restaurant was called The Butchers, which didn’t bode well for a vegetarian (George always seems to take me to places specialising in meat or alcohol – or both – I wonder if he’s trying to convert me?), but which is apparently one of the best restaurants in Johannesburg and did a fabulous platter of mixed vegetables – delicious, but far too much for me to finish!

After dinner, which we lingered over  until the restaurant closed, we crossed the square to Hard Rock CafĂ© where we met up with Kate and some of her Barmy Army friends amongst others for a nightcap to close the evening off. It was about 1am by the time Kate and I took an uber (I’ve become a complete uber convert this trip- I’ll just have to be careful once I get back to London, where I suspect they aren’t nearly as cheap) to our apartments. It was only then that I remembered I had to pack, clean and clear the airBnB in preparation for leaving early the next morning for Kruger National Park. Oh well, who needs sleep, right?