Afterlife in the Newlands turf
Sunday was bittersweet for Cape Town. The rain was sweet respite from the long drought that has taken water usage restrictions to level 6, but this was also the last day of the weekend. On Monday, people will go back to their offices. Back in the 1970s, it wasn't a problem. Offices would empty out when Eddie Barlow would make his famous Monday-afternoon declarations to bring to life dead games. They loved Barlow at Newlands. Barlow's uppercut, his catches at second slip, his ability to produce breakthroughs with the ball, his slower balls, the Newlands crowds enjoyed it for years.
To Barlow, Newlands was home. A part of him is still at Newlands. After Barlow died in 2005, his widow asked Newlands if she could spread his ashes on the outfield. She was welcome to because there has been a tradition here to let people come back home after they die. If the place meant enough for someone for them to request their survivors to spread their ashes on the outfield, they are welcome to do so. And it is not restricted to former cricketers. Spectators, scoreboard operators, groundsmen, anyone to whom the place meant something.
It is hard to place an international ground that lets people do this. What they do here might sound unusual, but to those who run Newlands, it will almost be disrespectful to turn down such a request from the loved ones of someone to whom the ground meant so much. It is an honour for someone to consider the turf important enough. You do this to only special places. David Bowie's, for example, were scattered at the Burning Man Festival.
"Someone who used to watch here a lot and really enjoyed coming to Newlands, they will phone and say, 'Listen my dad really loved to come here, and can we come and spread his ashes here?'" Evan Flint, the Newlands curator, says. "As long as it's not on the pitch, anywhere on the outfield is fine."
Apart from Barlow, Hylton Ackerman is another famous player whose ashes have been scattered here. The last time someone did so was in July when a deceased person's dad called. There was a small family get-together, they were given quiet time to themselves, and then they spread the ashes.
When Andre Odendaal, a former first-class player and historian, took over as Western Province CEO, he sought to bring players back to the ground. Newlands has seen days when only about 200 coloured people were allowed in, and were made to sit in segregation. Odendaal wanted everybody to come back; he came up with the idea of the memorial wall where families can get plaques to commemorate the lives of their loved ones.
Deep into Odendaal's stint as CEO, Newlands' outfield had to be relaid. And they made interesting discoveries. "We had a period when the ground was not up to standard," Odendaal says. "We raised and levelled it. And totally replaced the outfield. It really was the archaeology of digging up the place. In the digging up, we found a lot of old artifacts. It wasn't a huge shrine but amongst the oddities one found were small bottles. We figured they must have been used for the ashes."
Newlands is more than just a cricket ground. It is one of the oldest in Test cricket. It is at the bottom of the Table Mountain. It has seen some of the most exciting cricket, some of its most exciting practitioners. It has seen racial segregation. It has seen Barlow lean on Ackerman's shoulder as the two stood in the slips. Now a part of them is here forever. You'll never watch alone.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo