January 2, 2014

Goodbye to Jacques, Durban and all that

The second leg of our correspondent's South Africa tour diary features steel bands, pelvic thrusts, Ethiopian food, and a low-key last innings

December 16
"Must" has overtaken "should". "How are you" has become "howzit". "I am fine, thank you?" has become "goodandyou?" "Shap shap" is okay, all right, thank you, everything. Enough time has been spent in South Africa. There hasn't been much cricket, though. Only two completed matches in 16 days. Only one team turned up during those.

Elsewhere, people have begun draining out of Johannesburg. Restaurants and coffee shops are closed for the year. Biggest loss, Wolves. Nice little coffee shop and bar near the Wanderers, with free wi-fi. Owned by slightly obscure South African rock band, the delightfully named Desmond & the Tutus. One of their songs is "Car Guard Tan", a tan presumably got from doing standing and doing nothing all day. All of Johannesburg away for a car-guard tan.

December 17
Jimmy Cook. Former South Africa opener. Most of his career passed during apartheid. When the chance finally arrived, he was out first ball of a Test. Caught at slip off Kapil Dev. Jolly good talker of cricket. Has mentored and coached Graeme Smith since his childhood. As he has Stephen Cook, his son. Stephen is part of South Africa Invitation XI that was supposed to play India but couldn't because of bad weather and a wet outfield. Story of his life, says Jimmy.

"He had one fantastic season. One-day cricket, he batted beautifully. He did really well in the four-day stuff. He had had his best year by miles. And they were picking an SA A team to go to Zimbabwe. And I said, 'He has got to get in there. He must be there.' Anyway the team came out, and his name wasn't there. I said, 'Geez, you are unlucky.' So I looked down the names, and I said, 'Ah I can see who they have put in his place. Don't even know this bloke. Who is this little bloke they put in in his place?'"

It was AB de Villiers.

December 18
Commentary boxes at the Wanderers are next to the press box. When off air, some commentators shoot the breeze in the lounge area and watch cricket on TV, which has a lag. One way to kill time is to predict from the crowd reaction what has happened, then watch on TV to see who's right. Shaun Pollock knows his Wanderers crowd well, and wins a lot. Not a lot of wickets to cheer on day one, though. Especially after India's openers are gone for 24. Virat Kohli, in his first Test in South Africa, scores a century to give the first signs India can compete in South Africa.

December 19
Those sleep scientists "must" conduct their studies on South Africa. Incredibly sleepy country. Especially when it pitter-patters continuously. Wake up to rain, go back to sleep, certain play won't start on time. Wanderers drainage has other ideas, and we have not lost a minute.

Lots of wickets are lost, though. India lose their last five for 16, but fight back through their quicks to take five South African wickets for 16 and leave the Test in the balance.

December 20
Vernon Philander becomes the fastest South African to reach 100 Test wickets. Morne Morkel injures himself when he slips while fielding. Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli add 222 for the third wicket to start batting South Africa out of the game.

Ethiopian food in the evening in the inner-city suburb of Kensington. Almost miss the restaurant because it seems locked. Turns out they take guests in, then lock the doors again. Not very safe late in the night, they say. Surprised to see a lot of Indian influence in their food, and music: Lots of unfit singers dancing in music videos. A bhangra-like feel even to dances around a bonfire in the desert. Informed of a large Indian population working in Ethiopia. Injera bread it is, then.

December 21
With Morkel injured, India rack up the runs before leaving South Africa 135 overs to bat to save or win the Test. Jacques Kallis bowls 20 overs to make up for Morkel's absence, so he doesn't bat at No. 4. Faf du Plessis is his replacement. Sign of things to come?

Moyo's. Restaurant that serves African food. Has live bands every Saturday evening. Congolese this night. Despite it being live, the music is trance-like, looping. Loud. Pelvic thrusts by the frontman. Crazy. Goes on for hours. Almost possessed. Turns around to thrust to each band member's solo. Band play with straight faces. Sreesanth, man last seen with such thrusts on a cricket field, might be missed in this Test.

December 22
Great finish to Wanderers Test. Du Plessis. Hard little nut. Reprises Adelaide. AB de Villiers. Considered soft. No more. Scores a hundred that keeps chase alive. Both teams get into one-upmanship after draw. Kohli says South Africa gave up chase, Smith says India didn't have bowling to bowl them out. Crowd boos Dale Steyn and Philander who shut shop, knowing Morkel can't even stand up properly, and Imran Tahir is no good with the bat. Need to appreciate how much rests on decisions Steyn and Philander make. Could easily have ruined all the hard work done by du Plessis and de Villiers.

December 23
Tongaat. Outside Durban. Indian town. Temples. Sugarcane farms. White gold, they called sugar when they brought indentured labour to work here. Chinatown-type establishments. Start with provisions store. One door leads into a residential hotel. Cross it to reach bar. Another door into a private bar. Door at end of bar opens into a gambling den and pool parlour. Somewhere off this road used to live the Amlas. Logan and Mirinda live there now. Mirinda was Hashim's teacher in primary school. Logan was "Logan uncle" to Hashim.

Visit TV room where Dr Mohamed Amla and babies Hashim and Ahmed spent hours and hours and days and days watching and discussing cricket. Backyard where Dr Amla installed a bowling machine and net and built a swimming pool for the kids to do their stuff. Mirinda remembers a shy kid. Balls Hashim used to practise with still lie around in the house. Dr Amla still visits Tongaat everyday to work at his surgery - South African for "clinic".

December 24
Some things I know about Durban:

Its roads go up and down so steeply it is like being on a rollercoaster.
Vasco da Gama discovered it on Christmas Eve, and named it Rio de Natal, meaning "Christmas river".
Malcolm Marshall played domestic cricket here. They still talk about it with awe.
Over 100 streets have recently been renamed to honour heroes of the struggle against apartheid. Still, people use mostly the old names.
Durban Poison is the name of a punk-rock band in Canada.

December 25
Christmas day. Not many present to watch practice at Kingsmead. Kallis bowls a lot of overs in nets. Later South Africa media manager in the dressing room seen discussing stuff with Kallis. Later he takes the seat and looks at her laptop. Don't realise he is reading the media release that hours later will inform everybody he is retiring from Test cricket. Now the slightly sombre mood during their training a day before makes sense. Told they all shed tears when informed of the decision on December 24. Also told that Smith was the first one to know when Kallis told him from second slip during Wanderers Test. Haven't confirmed it. Better this way. Shouldn't ruin a great story.

December 26
Boxing day. Crowd not great. This is Kallis' last Test. Joke goes around he would have got a bigger crowd had he retired in India. Quietly M Vijay accumulates 91 on stop-start day, showing admirable discipline in leaving balls outside off. Says later he had realised he was playing at too many balls in home series against Australia. Good awareness of own game.

Sixto Rodriguez. Folk singer-songwriter. Born in Detroit. Completely unknown in his country. Unbeknownst to him, he became a huge hit in South Africa. Searching For Sugar Man tells his fascinating story. Has footage of when he was finally found - he had been rumoured to have killed himself during a performance - and brought over to play in South Africa. Goosebumps stuff. Meet people who were at the homecoming concert. They remember how he had even forgotten his lyrics. Pretty old by the time he was rediscovered. Can't take away from his earlier work, though.

December 27
Zaheer Khan plays a horrible shot first ball as India lose their last five wickets for 14 runs. Second time this series, Ajinkya Rahane stranded at the other end. Punters at the nearby Suncoast Casino more careful. Suncoast not quite Vegas. No glamour here. People mean business. Can tell these are regular faces. Running tables must be extremely difficult. Dealing with someone else's money. Place bets for different people with different coloured chips. Calculate earnings after every spin. Sometimes times 35, sometimes 17, sometimes seven. Watch ecstasy, glee, despair, sadness. Beginner's luck. Veteran's muck. Chat sometimes. Stay indifferent at others. Watched by cameras all along. Wonder if they ever gamble themselves.

December 28
Kallis is batting for possibly one last time, but no crowd again. Is he going too slow, though? Rain around. Forecast not bright. Alviro Petersen says you can't trust South Africa's weatherman. Can't plan for the weather. Truer words never spoken.

December 29
Kallis goes on to get a century in his final Test, only third South African after Barry Richards and Lee Irvine. A low-key innings from a man who forever wanted to stay low-key. Setting South Africa up for win if weather stays good.

If it's Saturday, it must be Moyo's. Storytelling through dances this time. Steel band makes a late appearance. Originated in West Africa, perfected in Trinidad.

December 30
Steyn does it for South Africa once again. Went more than 70 overs without a wicket during the series. Now has run through India twice. Says he had to do it for Kallis. When asked how it feels to have the power to change games single-handedly, humbly says anybody could have done it. Also adds, "Kinda cool."

And suddenly it is all over. Everybody is asking about flight plans, saying farewells. Stand outside press box at Kingsmead and look at buildings that have become familiar. Want to know what will go on there and at Kingsmead tomorrow. Just like when passing a cricket field on a train and wondering what happened next ball. Shall never know.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo