England 303 and 326, South Africa 214 and 136-4
Well England haven’t won yet, and South Africa are one of the few teams who could genuinely have a go at blocking out for a day and a draw, but two of the real danger men in that situation, Hashim and Faf, are already out, so I have a genuine hope – even expectation – that England will win this Test tomorrow. No doubt I will be punished for my hubris by a stunning 280-run partnership between AB de Villiers, arguably the best batsman in the world, and Dale Steyn, arguably the best bowler in the world. If that does happen, I think I will be so proud to have been here to see such an incredible run chase that I won’t mind losing the Test.
Although England haven’t been faultless by any means today, in fact appearing all too humanly flawed quite a lot of the time, their lead from yesterday was enough that the game never felt at risk. The highlight of the day for me was a Moeen Ali cover drive in the morning session which was timed and executed to perfection – a true thing of beauty. Dane Piedt, friend of Guerilla Cricket, taking a five-for was also pretty special, and it’s exciting that South Africa have found such a promising young spinner.
I spent the first two sessions sitting in the shade on my own, and joined the Barmy Army lot on the grass bank after tea. I like to move around during the game and get different angles, and it got me thinking about the different ways I like to watch cricket. Seven hours in a day is a long time to concentrate on one thing, especially when two thirds of that is the fielders retrieving and caring for the ball, the bowler returning to his mark, or the movement of the field between overs. Most often I watch alone, and then I tend to have my headphones in listening to the commentary (normally about a delivery behind live, which gives me time to work out how I would describe the ball and then see if they do the same) and my phone out tweeting about what I’m watching. About 90% of my twitter feed is cricket-related, so there are always people to talk to. Sometimes I’ll bring my camera out too, although the results are only barely passable, but it gives you another way to look at the field placings and the interaction between batsman and bowler.
More often these days, it will turn out that someone I know from twitter is also at the ground, and then we will meet up and watch some play together – hanging out with a large group of the travelling supporters this Test is the extreme example of that. It’s such a treat to be surrounded by other cricket obsessives, most of whose know far more than I do about the game. Someone will shout out a cricket trivia question (“In which game last season did a team play without a wicketkeeper?” “Who is the only Test cricketer whose first name and surname rhyme?” “A picture of whose penis made it into the 2000 Wisden almanac?”) and everyone will try to guess the answer; or else we’ll try to come up with an XI of players who fit some rule or other (share a name with a musician; puns on alcoholic drinks; both first and surnames begin with M). Then when everyone gets bored of that, or if the play is getting exciting, someone will start up one of the player songs, and we’ll all sing about Broad or Finn for an over or two. And of course when a South African wicket falls you’re surrounded by other people celebrating too. It’s a great atmosphere.
One thing that I find interesting talking to these people is that most of them go to few or no internationals in England, despite being dedicated overseas followers. I can’t help feeling the ECB are missing a trick in alienating people like this in their seemingly endless quest to draw in casual supporters and commercial clients. They are forever trying to come up with (universally atrocious) initiatives to attract people to cricket, but has it not occurred to them that there are a lot of die-hard cricket fans who are priced out of the game at home? We all know that the ECB are a horrendously badly governed, selfish, short-termist, greedy organisation, but it’s a real shame that it’s the genuine cricket fans who suffer for their idiocy.