South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day January 2, 2005

Where better than Newlands at New Year?



The view over Cape Town from Signal Hill, with Table Mountain looming above © Getty Images
In the balmy heat of New Year's Eve, thousands of revellers thronged the Victoria and Alfred waterfront to celebrate the start of 2005, and as the vast majority would later testify, Cape Town certainly knows how to create a hangover. For these poor unfortunates, the spectacular firework display that marked the arrival of midnight was matched only by the cranial explosions that kicked in roughly 12 hours later, and for an excruciating afternoon, as one lurked in semi-darkness waiting for the bad men to go away, it was briefly possible to take for granted the charms of perhaps the most beautiful city in the world.

That indifference doesn't last for long, however, because if there is one factor that makes Cape Town the sine qua non of New Year venues, it is its unrivalled ability to right the wrongs that it has inflicted. A cooling sea-breeze and a massaging midsummer sun are good starting points; then, once you've dared to open your eyes again, there is the opportunity to drink in the breathtaking scenery of the fairest cape; and then maybe, if you're feeling brave or foolish (or both), you can go for a quick yomp up Table Mountain (or Signal Hill for the less energetic).

A far more palatable option, however, is to write off the first of January entirely, and start your year afresh with a day at the cricket on the second. Newlands is a leafy suburb on the flip-side of the city which boasts scenery and sea-breezes in abundance, and with 22 appointed athletes doing all your exercise for you, you can even kid yourself into believing you've kept your New Year's resolutions. It was certainly the preferred option for scores of Capetonians, not to mention a vast throng of English fans, and after the relative lack of interest at Port Elizabeth and (latterly) Durban, a full and enthusiastic house was an uplifting sight to launch the year.

Rather like Lord's, cricket's other leafy bastion, Newlands is a ground that is aware of its assets, and makes sure that it lives up to its reputation. Admittedly, with Table Mountain seemingly within touching distance, it would have to try particularly hard to be anything other than stunning, but the ground doesn't just trade on its location. There are none of the lawnmower's graveyards that were dotted around the fringes of Kingsmead, nor the grim barbed-wired backstreets that were hidden from view at St George's Park. Aesthetes might grumble about the nearby railway line and the adjoining Castle brewery, but the spectators can hardly complain about the convenience of either. (Well, OK, one or two delicate souls might consider the brewery to be an unpleasantly in-your-face reminder of the weekend's revelries ...)

Given that the purpose of this day was primarily medicinal, it is probably just as well that the cricket was hardly edge-of-your-seat stuff. But whatever your state of health, the ground provides something for everyone. On each side of the ground, there are four fabulously appointed pagoda-style stands, with their green roofs and elevated views of the ground, where the spectators lounge beneath canopies (and, given the number of corporate boxes up there, no doubt eat canapés as well).

These are offset by the grassy banks beneath the scoreboards at midwicket, where on one side, the Barmy Army take up residence in the shade-free vicinity of the beer tent, and work themselves into a more original voice than they have been demonstrating so far on this trip - to their signature tune of "Everywhere we go ...", they have added one or two new numbers, including the hilarious jibe "You're Dutch and you know you are." And sure enough, on the opposite bank lurk the Dutchmen, although given that they have a row of trees to shelter them, a full mountain vista to please them, and a range of tempting braais to whet their taste-buds, it is hard to find fault with their choice of location.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.