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Christmas in Durban, New Year in Cape Town. It must be the second instalment of our South Africa tour diary
January 9, 2010
Head south towards the coast for Christmas in Durban. South African Airways does not have the greatest reputation at the moment, but so far it's all gone to plan. The in-flight safety video has an amusing piece of information when it says that portable tape players can be used when the seatbelt sign is switched off. Probably time to update that video.
The England touring party has swelled to mammoth proportions with the arrival of families, wives and girlfriends. They are based in Umhlanga, a coastal suburb about 15 minutes north of the Durban CBD. It is one of the prime property locations in the area, and it is easy to see why, with beaches, cafes and boardwalks - all far removed from the urban sprawl in the city centre.
Kevin Pietersen is back "home" again, so that is big news… again. He says Jonathan Trott did exactly the right thing to stand his ground during the Centurion mix-up and adds that the Test will be a special occasion, but no more special than scoring runs at Faisalabad or Lord's. We'll see.
Watch a high-scoring MTN40 match on the box in the evening with the Titans chasing down 296. Farhaan Behardien hits 73 off 41 balls. Keep an eye on him, he looks a good player.
Preview days come early for the next Test because there are no papers in either England or South Africa on Christmas Day. Graeme Smith comes straight out and confirms that Makhaya Ntini will play, which is tough on Friedel de Wet, and then starts to play a few mind games with England about their weaknesses.
A curious evening taxi journey to another hotel for dinner. The driver seems a little confused about which entrance to use, takes us round the back and stops near what seems to be the refuse area. It's also throwing it down, so make a hasty dash for the nearest door which opens onto two security men playing table football. Slightly taken aback, they agree to take these two lost journalists through the back corridors of the hotel. And they point out the front door on the way.
When leaving a few hours later there seems to be an object in the sky being pulled by reindeer. Surely not?
A strange Christmas Day. Off to the ground in the morning for team training, where there's a noticeable lack of Santa hats. Graeme Smith wears one, but none of the England team get into the spirit until Graham Onions is convinced to put one on for the TV cameras. Apparently Graeme Swann declined because he didn't want to look like the team joker.
Very enjoyable afternoon spent at a local journalist's house where there is a huge spread. The steaks from the braai are outstanding; it is nice to have something other than turkey and stuffing.
The Boxing Day Test. A great occasion and there's a crowd to match. More than 17,000 come down to Kingsmead. Play meanders along as South Africa battle bowler-friendly conditions until the final half hour, when England grab three - including Graeme Smith to a run-out that rivals Pietersen's at Centurion.
After play ends early four people, who have clearly spent the entire day drinking, decide to test the skills of the security staff by running onto the pitch. All are eventually hauled off and will have more than a hangover in the morning.
Have been eating in the wrong dining room at lunchtime during the first two days. Thought there were some strange looks while piling curry and rice onto my plates.
|Have been eating in the wrong dining room at lunchtime during the first two days. Thought there were some strange looks while piling curry and rice onto my plates|
Meanwhile, a theme park has sprung up outside the hotel and proves a popular attraction. The only problem is, it runs until midnight and the music from the stages makes the windows vibrate.
Well, that was quite a day. England pile up 574 (it originally goes down as 575, but they later lose a run after an overthrow is downgraded from a five to a four), with Ian Bell playing superbly for 140. Then the fun really starts. Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann take six South Africa wickets in 71 balls as the home side crash to 50 for 6. Four-day finish on the cards, but bad light puts paid to that notion. Still, England won't have to wait long.
A little over an hour into the final day and the rout is completed when Swann picks up his ninth. He has had a phenomenal year and finishes as the second highest wicket-taker behind Mitchell Johnson. Not bad for someone who didn't play the first match of the year. However, there's no gain without a little pain. "My finger's got a big hole in it," he says.
Flight to Cape Town is like a flying nursery with all the players' children on board. "In my seven years of flying these planes I've never had so many prams loaded on board," says the captain.
The countdown to New Year's Eve is spent on Long Street, one of the main entertainment areas in the CBD, and 2010 is welcomed in with a few cool beers before the rest of Cape Town is left to dance until the early hours.
The expectation is growing that Ntini will lose his place. Mickey Arthur basically says the next two days will decide his future. The pressure is really on the home side to turn the series around. Losing on home soil never goes down very well.
Get called to do a phone-in to a New Zealand radio station in the evening. Mobile phone connection from New Zealand to South Africa isn't great and there's a 20-second delay on during the conversation. Landline proves a better bet.
Smith almost loses his cool at the press conference after taking half a dozen questions in a row about Ntini. "I think I've answered enough," he says. "It's a sensitive issue, but we have to make the right decision to win a Test." The local media have been strong in their criticism of the team and nothing less than victory will do now.
Wouldn't you know it. The opening day of the Test is greeted by low cloud and rain, although it holds off until the boundary-side wedding is complete. Another marriage, up in the stands, is interrupted by James Anderson's first-over wicket of Ashwell Prince. The groom doesn't seem too disappointed.
Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, next-door neighbours and great friends, combine to rescue South Africa from 127 for 5. Boucher later says there have been a few garden-fence arguments in the past. "Jacques' pool is on the other side, so a few knives and forks have gone over the fence."
It's always wise to get to a day's play in time to see it start. You never know what excitement you might miss. Anyone who walked in late today would have missed four wickets in 17 balls for England's attack and the early removal of Andrew Strauss.
Alastair Cook, who made 65, reveals he may never play another cover drive again as he regains his form with an obdurate style of play. "The cover drive might be there at some stage, on wickets I feel I can play it on. But it's a high-risk shot for me," he says.
Is this the first major controversy of the series? Yep, it most certainly is. Stuart Broad has been spotted on TV treading on the ball. The South Africans aren't happy, but England seem quite perplexed by it all. The home side "raise concerns" about the ball with the match referee and now it's a waiting game.
Whatever England were or weren't doing to the ball, it doesn't help them. South Africa reach 312 for 2. Smith gorges on the bowling on the hottest day of the series, when temperatures in the middle go past 100 degrees. It's hotting up in every sense.
South Africa decide not to make an "official complaint", which would basically have meant accusing England of ball-tampering. The ICC says the matter is closed, but it still lingers. At the close it is given renewed impetus after an extraordinary press conference from AB de Villiers. "It was a bit naughty" he says of England's tactics. South Africa have a very commendable policy of openness towards the media, but this may have been a little too open.
Test cricket, eh! What a wonderful game. Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood put England on course for a draw, but South Africa refuse to give up, and for the second time in the series it's left to England's final pair to safe the game. This time it's Swann alongside Onions, but as at Centurion, the No. 11 is left with the final over. Would you believe it, he does it again. A leave, a block, two yorkers dug out, a searing bouncer that clips the shirt and finally a cool-as-you-like leave outside off stump. What drama. "I won't lie, I'd rather not be in the situation but it was great to get the draw again," he says afterwards.
Andrew Strauss is asked if he was confident. "I was feeling pretty comfortable until Graham went in there." He needn't have worried. Now, to the Bullring. It should be a grandstand finish.
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