December 6, 2012

Memories and memorabilia

Plenty of sporting history is on display wherever our correspondent heads on the last leg of her Australia tour

November 17
A trip to Melbourne necessitates a visit to some of greatest sporting theatres in the world. Pop in at the Rod Laver Arena, which is decked out in billboards advertising concerts. Nickelback, Pink, Nicki Minaj and JLo will perform there in the next few weeks. Not quite the same as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Then to the MCG, where a statue of Dennis Lillee welcomes visitors. Take the William Barak Bridge on the way back to the city. Midway through, an Aboriginal song plays. At the end, the Federation Bells chime a haunting tune. Public art is in abundance here and I am awed by its power.

November 18
Next stop Adelaide. See Jacques Rudolph, assistant coach Russell Domingo, team physiotherapist Brandon Jackson and performance manager Paddy Upton at the airport. They are back from a visit to the Great Barrier Reef and look well rested.

Get into a taxi to travel up Sir Donald Bradman Drive and think about how aptly named it is. Did they choose "drive" because, unlike road or street, it is a cricket term?

The rest of the team are delayed from Brisbane, which is just as well because by the time they get there, we have only figured out how to get into Adelaide Oval - since it is being renovated, there is only one entrance and we have to walk around the whole perimeter to find it.

November 19
Time to take in the contents of the Sheffield Shield Room. A well-designed tribute to cricket in the state, it commemorates every era of the game in South Australia: from the kit of the early 1900s to their 20-over success in the 2010-11 season. Barry Richards features prominently, along with the bat with which he scored his famous 356.

November 21
The eve of the second Test is finally here. The break has been so long, it seems neither team will take much momentum into the match. Bump into CSA's acting chief executive Jacques Faul on the main drag. He does not look a happy man - having arrived in the country yesterday, he has to leave tomorrow for a board meeting, so he won't see any cricket.

November 22
Immense déjà vu when Jacques Kallis has to leave the field after bowling only 3.3 overs. At the Gabba, JP Duminy was ruled out of the series on the first day. South Africa are making a habit of playing with ten men. Before the injury crisis can be digested, Australia provide whiplash with their high scoring rate. The day ends with another double-hundred to Michael Clarke's name.

November 23
Graeme Smith scores another century. In all of his 25 previous ones, South Africa have not lost. Rory Kleinveldt redeems himself too. The Adelaide Test is playing to script.

Dinner at Jasmine restaurant after one of the South African party recommends it. Inside are signed cricket bats from touring teams dating back to the late 1980s. South Africa's 2001-02, 2005-06 and 2008-09 squads are featured. The manager tells me the 2012-13 lot left a piece of memorabilia that will be added soon.

November 24
For a second successive Australia tour a middle-order debutant saves South Africa the blushes. Faf du Plessis' 78 helps them avoid the follow-on. Later, speaking to the media as confidently as he played, he relates the story of how he was almost timed out after he tripped over his own feet coming down the stairs to bat. A new star is born.

November 26
The South Australia Cricket Association invites the media to lunch in the president's suite. After four days of lunch under a marquee, we're looking forward to it. As we get to the venue, there is a hush and we are told we may not be let in because none of the men are wearing ties. In a dress, I can enter regardless. Eventually we are all let in.

We stay until after AB de Villiers is bowled by a tiring Peter Siddle. He and du Plessis bat for over two sessions and de Villiers shows remarkable patience in the stand. When South Africa pull off their great heist through a debutant and a wounded great, it is obvious the momentum has shifted.

November 27
On to Perth, which we are told will feel just like back in South Africa. At first glance it doesn't. The inner city seems more London than Johannesburg - bustling, not like a typical South African city, where most of the activity is in the suburbs. I can see why so many of my countrymen move here, though. Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, it is not intimidating, but just like in the rest of Australia, everything works.

November 28
Had also been warned to expect a bit of Perth lag, and discover it is not a joke. Wake up far earlier than normal.

See the WACA for the first time and wonder whether it will undergo any redevelopment. The concrete makes it seem lifeless. At least we are told the pitch will not be. The air outside certainly isn't either. A gust fiercer than I have known in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and even Wellington threatens to blow me from the Swan River's edge into the water.

November 29 Ricky Ponting announces his retirement from international cricket. There is a standing ovation in the industrial-style gym and tears from Michael Clarke. By the time Smith has to do his pre-match conference, the journalists are drained. Feel sorry for Smith because his message of his team being on the brink of something great will probably be forgotten.

The doyen of journalism in Perth, John Townsend of the West Australian, hosts his annual barbeque. The event has been a fixture for 13 years and he invites all the media, local and foreign. Just like a South African braai, it's a great way to socialise, relax and get outdoors.

November 30
Kallis is declared fit to play in Ponting's farewell match, but after all the hype, he scores only 2. South Africa's team has a different look to it. Rudolph is dropped for Dean Elgar and Imran Tahir has been sent home as Robin Peterson makes his return after a four-year absence. The surface plays according to its reputation. Wickets tumble.

December 1
South Africa pull off an almost Cape Town-like comeback and at one stage have Australia 45 for 6. Dale Steyn's heat has arrived. In the afternoon, Smith and Hashim Amla blast Australia all but out of contention. A frenzied day's play has probably determined the outcome of this series, and it looks like South Africa will keep the Test mace.

The Western Australian media guild host a dinner. Note that Australian gatherings are often places where speeches are made: Jim Maxwell delivers a long one about the importance of first-class and club cricket.

December 2
De Villiers scores an audacious 169 and everything is going South Africa's way. In the press box, Lillee has arrived to talk to the media about the apartment blocks that will be built along the WACA's western boundary. Imagine being able to watch the cricket from your own balcony. A pleasant thought, but at the prices quoted, not an affordable one. He accepts some cricket questions as well and says Australia's attack needs a leader like Steyn. When asked to name who that person could be, he says, "That whatsisname who is injured", referring to James Pattinson. Lillee is nowhere near as fierce as I thought he would be, but when he talks about what he would have done if he had been asked to rest a match, his eyes dance with mock fury and he jokingly grabs Townsend by the collar. There's the real Lillee.

December 3
South Africa make history. They are rightful series winners, and have achieved back-to-back wins in England and Australia. Smith calls that the greatest achievement of his career.

The Australian media want to bid their South African counterparts farewell and invite us to the Lucky Shag pub on the river. Despite the dubious sounding name, it is a respectable establishment. Soon, some of the victorious South African squad arrive. Vernon Philander and Peterson are the loudest, but the rest enjoy a few quiet ones.

Some of the last left are de Villiers and his fiancée, Danielle Swart, who I am introduced to. The couple will be married in March, she reveals, and she has just moved back to Pretoria from Cape Town to begin wedding preparations. With all that and her corporate job she seems a busy lady.

December 4
The morning after. Some of South Africa's squad have gone home and the rest are preparing to. Du Plessis and Peterson will hold short media conferences. In the hotel lobby, Kleinveldt and his father chat to fans, and Kleinveldt senior's pride is evident. His brother, Johnny, would probably have played for South Africa had apartheid not prevented him.

AB and Danielle leave hand in hand for a quick walk into the city. Smith arrives with baby Cadence attached to him in a carrier.

This South African squad seems to have grown up. The exhaustive and explosive joy that normally accompanies a big win does not seem to be there. Maybe winning away from home has just become the norm now.

December 5
Just like that, the tour is over, and so is South Africa's year of travel. In 2012, they have not lost a single Test, and played nine of their ten matches away from home. The summer is just beginning but its biggest Test series is over. New Zealand and Pakistan await at home.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent