For more than a century cricket, in what is now know as Northern Gauteng, has had a colourful history. There was an occasion when it was played on Church Square, then Market Square - the second of several "homes" of the game, during the days of the South African Republic (ZAR).
Such was the interest of Volksraad members in August 1874, they repeatedly adjourned their deliberations during the second of what were many Pretoria Potchefstroom games. Although the older members didn't understand this strange English pasttime, they certainly encouraged it.
But one particular incident almost ended in the sport being banned from Pretoria (shades of Cromwells's 1656 decree when all bats and balls were burned in Ireland by the common hangman). Jim Nobel, President Burgers' secretary and a mighty slogger, put a ball through the window of the Volksraad chamber, and narrowly missed the Speaker. The furious Landvaders seriously debated for almost two hours over closing the square to the game. But President Burgers and his Attorney-General, both lovers of the game, interceded.
Several attempts to find suitable accomodation for all sport in what was then a growing frontier town ended in disaster.Space set aside at Burgers Park was, for cricket, the size of two tennis courts, because the architect given the task of setting out the sports field had no idea of the size a cricket field required.
Then in September, 100+ years ago, a cattle compound, only a few minutes buggy ride from Church Square and part of the Widow Hoffman's large farm which incorporated what is now the Fountains valley, became the next home for Pretoria's cricketers. By the time Walter Read's England XI visited Pretoria, the compound had become known as Berea Park. But its fate was by 1902 uncertain as co-holders of the deed, Messrs Bouke and Nourse, wanted to sell their interest.
That was until Joe Darling's Australian XI arrived and played a match against a Transvaal XI. Victor Trumper, one of the game's immortals and the gentle artistic batting prince of the game's Golden Age scored 218 for the Australians and sparked a vision among Pretoria's cricket administrators which rescued Barea Park from being divided up for housing purposes.
Eventually Berea Park became the home of the old North-Eastern Transvaal Cricket Union, 35 years later. After World War II, the union had temporary homes at Willowmoore Park, Benoni, the Caledonian Ground, Pretoria, and Loftus Versveld, Pretoria. Yet they always returned to Berea Park
Only by the end of the 1981-82 season, with A Section Currie Cup status secure, it had become obvious the grounds aged facilities were in need of a major facelift and upgrading if it was to survive as a major cricket ground. Thus the eventual realisation that another venue must be found.
Throughout the ages dreams in pursuit of a goal have been the vision of realist. Only turning that vision into reality, based on a foundation which incorporates hours of bold planning, hard work and motivation in overcoming the thousand and one problems is another matter altogether.
Centurion Park, Northern Transvaal's brand new cricket stadium in Centurion, was such a dream: born out of frustation and the need to see the sport in the province develop, and it was put together by a group of unpaid, part-time administrators. Northern Transvaal's new home, because of its size, has more than double the capacity of Berea Park and can accommodate 20,000.
Centurion Park is, and will always remain one of the greatest things that has happened to Northern Transvaal. The true value of this combined effort between the Union and the then Verwoerdburg Town Council as a symbol of S A Sports' refusal to lie down in the face of vicious international campaigns to isolate against an Australian team further substantiated and highlighted the resilience and determination of South Africans to overcome the problems related to their deeply troubled society.
From a pure cricketing point of view, Centurion Park translates the efforts and determination of many people over a period of 50 years to establish cricket as a game and a useful asset to society in general.
Since picturesque Centurion Park made its controversial dew-laden debut as a provincial venue on November 15, 1986, there has always been a hint of the spectacular about Northern Transvaal's headquarters. Project Red was born out of frustrations and the diffidence shown by the Pretoria City Council in the NTCU's quest for a location that would one day host a Test. The Verwoerdburg municipality listened sympathetically to Dr Basson and saw the long-term advantage of having an international sports stadium within their boundaries. It is now fulfilling the role for which it was initially created when it became a Test venue: in this case the 75th, with the honour of staging the first test between England and South Africa of Mike Atherton's team's 1995/96 tour.
About 12 kilometers south of Pretoria, it is the only sports ground in the world which has given its name to a municipality: Centurion. Dr Willie Basson, former president of the NTCU, recalls selecting the name after a "name the ground" competition. "It was quite revolutionary," he recalled. "We needed a neutral name with a cricket connotation: forceful, displaying competitiveness, such as players engaged in combat. There was a ring about it that depicted a batsman scoring a century, or a bowler taking his 100th wicket .... That sort of thing. And it has worked," he smiled.
The stadium won a special distinction award in 1994 from the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities based in Cologne, Germany. Special features contributing to the selection for the award were its suitability for popular use and effective integration into the surrounding community, as well as its relaxed rural atmosphere and proximity to a major Central Business district and international hotel.
In Colombo Centurion Park was handed the ultimate bouquet by Ranjith Fernando, manager of the Sri Lanka team in South Africa and a memebr of their national board, who described the ground as "a players paradise" with the most perfect practice facilities in the world and the view from the players' balcony like "looking through God's window". Views that are shared by the variety of visiting test sides from the manager down to the baggage master with Bobby Simpson remaking how much Centurion Park and Adelaide have in common.
Centurion Park has since been renamed SuperSport Centurion.