December 11, 2011

Sri Lanka in South Africa 2011-12

Benoni charms despite starkness

Firdose Moonda
The scoreboard at Benoni
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If not for Charlize Theron or Charlene Wittstock, Benoni would be as nondescript as Pietermartizburg, Welkom or Colesburg. It would be just another simple and ordinary South African town with few frills or fuss. But, the two Cs have ensured that Benoni will forever be known as the place that has produced both an Oscar winner and a princess, despite being worlds apart from Hollywood or any kind of royalty.

Willowmoore Park is a 20-minute drive from the centre of Johannesburg and almost 40 minutes away from Johannesburg's main cricket hub, the Wanderers, on the edge of Sandton. It lies at the top of Tom Jones Road, the pulmonary vein of the East Rand town, dotted with motorcar spare shops, casual grocers, gas stations and dodgy looking beauty parlours. As far as stadiums go, Willowmoore Park is no great beauty.

Concrete is the defining feature, an acceptable material for any building, but when used in hulking masses, as it has been for this stadium, it emphasises its own garishness. The grandstand is painted green and topped with a tin roof - it could easily be mistaken for a shed. The rest of the ground is humble, with covered seats in the main pavilion and new concrete stands eating up the once ample grass embankment.

The scoreboard is not the same as any other in the country. Instead of the usual black with yellow writing, it is an electronic version of a notepad, with a crammed up, small font that makes it difficult to read. The floodlight pylons are the oldest in the country and it shows. The concrete towers look like something out of the movie Shutter Island and the bank of light bulbs is significantly smaller than anywhere else in the country. Few can remember the last time a day-night match was played here.

Given the modest facilities, it's little wonder that Benoni seldom receives international fixtures, with the last one being an ODI against Zimbabwe. The Titans play half of their home matches here but it is not a venue they seem to enjoy. Jacques Rudolph, now in the South African Test squad, notably labelled it a "varkpan," (an Afrikaans word that refers to the trough that pigs eat from) during their last first-class match, in which they lost by an innings to the Cobras.

Still, there is an odd charm to Willowmoore Park, largely driven by the fact that the headquarters of the Africa Cricket Association are housed within its walls. When South Africa stage African events, they are played in Benoni. Cricketers from countries like Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria treat it as their own field of dreams. On this ground, Rwanda, Mozambique and Uganda have had some of their toughest battles, their most crushing defeats and their best victories. And they have had people to play it in front of.

Given the shortage of live sport in the town and number of things to do in Benoni, even the tour match between a South African Invitation XI and the Sri Lankans pulled in a crowd. Under pregnant clouds, with a chilly wind whipping through the ground, some people set up gazebos, brought in their picnic baskets and puppies and settled in for the two days of play.

The other main recreational activities in Benoni are to visit the mall or the lake over which the mall has been built. It also rumoured that Benoni has more horse stables than anywhere else in Southern Hemisphere. A survey of journalists covering the tour match revealed that no-one had seen any horses in the streets around the stadium. It would hardly be surprising if they've discovered some greener pastures to graze on.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by Srinath on (December 15, 2011, 15:34 GMT)

agni, why does everything always have to do with sachin for the Indian fan? Alright he has scored centuries everywhere, but why is there nothing else to talk about for fanatics like you? This is a forum where pieces are written for the global audience. So please!

Posted by Ian Finlay on (December 12, 2011, 14:13 GMT)

I used to play at Willowmore Park in the late 1960's through to mid-1970's. A few notable things to remember i) Denis Lindsay, the great South African legend, played much of his club cricket there ii) Denis Compton once scored 300 in 3 hrs on this ground for MCC iii) it used to be regarded as one of the fastest wickets in the world - compared with Perth in Western Australia. So Willowmore Park has much history lurking below the surface.

Posted by denis on (December 12, 2011, 12:59 GMT)

we (uganda) played the final of U19 world cup qualifiers there against Namibia even tho we lost we managed 2 qualify 4 da world up in srilanka..we enjoyed playing in benoni for our warm ups and then da tournament..we enjoyed staying @ formula next 2 McDonalds and thn we played very dominantly in the tournament losing that odd game in da the final..i played one of my best games in the semis against Kenya we bowled alot of pace which was so awesome with a runrate of 0.7 per over because da Kenyan strategy was 2 take on our spin..hwever,geting their 100 all out was a pain because if they hated pace we hate spin and they used it against us we eventually won buy 1 wicket but pressure was all over since da winner was to make the world cup..

Posted by agni on (December 12, 2011, 12:51 GMT)

Paranavitana could be the next Tendulkar?

Posted by agni on (December 12, 2011, 7:26 GMT)

Benoni.. ah.. Tendulkar hit a century there back in 1997 against ZIM

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