New Zealand in South Africa 2012-13 January 9, 2013

Port Elizabeth welcomes Test cricket after six years

St George's Park may not get its share of Tests unlike the better known stadiums, but its special spectator experience and quirks make it an attractive venue, which hopefully will get to host more games in future

To remember the last Port Elizabeth Test would seem to be to go back three decades. South Africa lost to West Indies by 128 runs but it was not the 1980s.

The hosts came back to win the next two matches and the series in the summer of 2007. Since then, St George's Park has not seen men in whites.

The return of the longest format is being hailed as a homecoming, especially because the ground is the oldest in South Africa and where the first Test was played. Now the No.1 team in the world will return to it.

"It's important that we play Test cricket here because of the history," Rory Kleinveldt, who will turn out for South Africa in place of the injured Vernon Philander, said.

Despite its age, St George's has only hosted 23 Tests and 11 after readmission because of its status as a second-tier ground. That reputation was not earned because the facilities are considered sub-standard (which they are not) or because its pitch is known to be as slow as the traffic outside. Rather, it is because of hierarchy determined by capacity and crowds at other venues.

The Wanderers, Newlands and SuperSport Park are all guaranteed Tests every summer. Durban's Kingsmead will miss out on a Test for the first time since readmission this summer. Because most of South Africa's series are three Tests and most summers only involve five Tests with six on rare occasions, Port Elizabeth has to wait its turn.

"The way it has gone, Test matches have become fewer on the calendar and we usually allocate the big teams to big stadiums," Jacques Faul, acting CSA CEO, told ESPNcricinfo. "But we do like to have Test cricket at St George's as there is a special spectator experience."

The obvious difference between St George's Park and other grounds is the band. The brass instrumentals occupy a section of the Grandstand and entertain throughout the match. Their repertoire includes golden oldies like Ben E King's Stand by Me and Eddie Grant's Gimme Hope Joanna which are oft repeated but they add modern tunes annually. Adele's Someone Like You is a recent example.

They have also taken to creating bespoke songs for their favourite players. "JP jou lekker ding," (JP, you good thing) was invented two seasons ago for an ODI. This time, they could come up with tunes for the two P's - Alviro Petersen and Robin Peterson. Both are local lads and neither have played a Test in the city before.

"I was born in Port Elizabeth and I always wanted to play a Test here," Petersen, the batsman said while Peterson, the bowler, said it would be "special," to play a match in his home town.

Both will have large family and friend contingents in attendance. "It's always nice to play in front of people you know," Petersen said. They will be able to get close to the pair too, closer than fans elsewhere because there is no moat separating the stands from the field in some parts of St George's.

Like any ground, it also has its quirks. Among the best in Port Elizabeth are the Westering Methodist Church's ladies group burgers and the pancakes. Both will be in abundance as the city ends their international cricket involvement this summer.

They hosted the deciding Twenty20 against New Zealand last month to become the only venue other than the Wanderers to host more than one T20 match as part of a series and not an event like the World T20.

That will change soon as T20s are now spread all over the country but something like that obscure fact that could help Port Elizabeth build an identity for itself. Unlike South Africa's big four stadiums, Port Elizabeth is still looking for a reason why it cannot be ignored when it comes to international cricket.

Port Elizabeth were the hosts of South Africa's first Boxing Day Test in 1992 when they played India. The last Test played there was also a Boxing Day one, when CSA decided to experiment with the venue of the festive season fixture.

But Eastern Cape residents need not despair. The recent rotation of limited-overs matches to grounds including Boland Park in Paarl, Buffalo Park in East London and Senwes Park in Potchefstroom shows CSA's commitment to move the game around.

Test cricket may be infrequent here but it will be back. "If we have a Boxing Day Test against India we'd want to play it in Durban because of the fan base there but if we played against, maybe England, we could look at a venue like St George's," Faul said. It is just a case of when it will be back.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pete on January 12, 2013, 2:58 GMT

    SurlyCynic, TommyTuckerSaffa, therein lies a problem for South African cricket. You've got such a poor sense of history, there is a real problem augmenting it. Boxing Day works because it combines real history (the birth of Test cricket) with pseudo-history in the right spirit (the idea of Boxing Day as a tradition). It seemed a little out of character that RSA didn't want to play.

  • greig on January 11, 2013, 17:48 GMT

    We are the best team in the world why should we fill CA coffers with money by playing Boxing Day cricket in Oz.. England/Lords is the home of cricket not the SCG.

  • des on January 11, 2013, 16:41 GMT

    Batmanian : Boxing Day is not a good time to play a test at Lords as it's the middle of Winter.

  • Pete on January 11, 2013, 14:18 GMT

    @quitthewhinging, it definitely struck me as strange Sth Africa wasn't interested in playing the Boxing Day Test at the home of Test cricket. Not so much for sentimental or chauvinistic reasons, though; a three Test series between top teams (and that goes for England and India, too) isn't really good enough for the peak form of the game. RSA won the three match series 1-0; if they'd had five or six tests, they probably would have stamped their supremacy on the game.

  • Dummy4 on January 11, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    it is great to see the Westering Meth Booth get a mention in this.....Remember those days....

  • Dummy4 on January 11, 2013, 8:57 GMT

    I am originally from PE. And I went to St. Georges for the T20 in December. It was brilliant. The atmosphere, even the band, which does not play every second. The main thing about St. George's is the view. It is brilliant, similar to the bullring of the Wanderers, where you feel like you are a part of the play. Better than the Wanderers is that because it is a smaller ground, you actually seem to be a lot closer to play. It was one of the most enjoyable cricketing experiences I have had in a long time. Even better than Newlands, which although is an excellent viewing ground, is quite unwelcoming, especially the spectators. I do think that PE should be the ground for a Boxing Day Test match. The humidity and threat of rain in Durban make it a venue that will always have less than 5 days, and the weather-affected toss has too much of an effect on the outcome of the game.

  • Ivan on January 10, 2013, 10:17 GMT

    @ Simoc. Australians seem to overestimate the interest shown by other countries in taking part in their holiday period Test matches. Firstly, let us remember that world cricket does NOT revolve around Australia and, secondly, if CA were prepared to reciprocate by playing Boxing Day and New Years Tests away from home periodically, it would be more of an incentive to other countries to play in Melbourne & Sydney. Like always, it is a question of filling the coffers; CA is already a rich administration, why should poorer administrations go out of their way to make it richer still?

  • Gareth on January 10, 2013, 9:52 GMT

    While the atmosphere is great, the stands at St. Georges are terrible. You can barely see any action in 1/4 of the field.

  • Geeva on January 10, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    @Pablo123....hmmm i saw all the Potuuguese suport Potugal at WC 2010??I see lots of Man Urd FanS Liverpool fans etc in SA with no links to to Mother England....At least Dbn will be packed wen India tour.Anyway u wont understand casue u prob not Indian..the Indian team was role models for indians in SA and across the world(laxman Dravid Kumble)

    CSA really needs to look at 6 tests in the year...when England tour it should be a 5 match series

  • Paul on January 10, 2013, 8:09 GMT

    The brass band is a unique thing in cricket and it has over many decades become a staple there. I remember a few years back they were banned from the ground, it caused a bit of a stir. I think it brings a nice flavour to the game when watching on TV - send one off to sleep on a Sunday afternoon watching tests. Enjoyable.

    The one area where I totally disagree with the CSA in this article. Taking Indian games to Durban is kind of counter productive as in Durban you get a sea of South African Indian faces routing for India and SA feel like they are playing away from home.

    I've never understood it and it is highly annoying. SA Indians have been here in SA for many generations and have no link to the Indian motherland, yet they continue this support. It smacks of raucous protest for which there is no reason.

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