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Heartache tonight (and every night)

The Bridgewater Canal in Manchester: stroll, run or simply contemplate life along its banks ESPNcricinfo Ltd

July 18
The early finish at the Trent Bridge Test has allowed me the chance to cover the South African women in their semi-final against England in Bristol. I will have to make a six-hour round-trip, but it's a mission I am keen on. The women's team have impressed and I sense something special is on the horizon.

At first, it seems I am right. Young Laura Wolvaardt sets the tone with 66, but the team finish on 218 for 6 and it does not seem like enough. England cruise initially, but when South Africa make some inroads, get the required run rate up to a run a ball, and launch a collective comeback, the impossible seems possible. Until England hit back and a nail-biting finish puts the South Africans out of another major tournament in heartbreaking fashion.

After the final ball is bowled, the women sink to the ground like the men did in the 2015 semi-final. The hurt is so raw that I find myself unable to hold back tears. Dane van Niekerk can't either, and a painful press conference follows. Despite the disappointment, the team can be proud of how they fought, and I won't be too surprised if they beat the men to a major trophy, provided these scars heal soon.

July 20
I've travelled back to London to await the winner of the India-Australia match, who will play England in the final. We've had news that the match is a sellout, making it the biggest event in women's cricket to date. Australia are the favourites, but I'm quietly pleased when India stun them, because having the game's financial powerhouse in the final should change the face of the women's game.

July 21
If you're a lover of books and movies, the Travel Book Company from the film Notting Hill is a must-see. In reality, it's called the Notting Hill Bookshop. I get around to visiting it today, and it is everything the movie made it out to be.

July 23
The big day has arrived. A completely different Lord's to the one I have encountered on my previous visits greets me, with a relaxed vibe and a family feel, as the Women's World Cup final gets underway. I am covering it with colleagues Melinda Farrell and Jarrod Kimber. We decide beforehand that I will write on England, Jarrod will do India, and Melinda will write a colour story. For most of the match, it looks as though I will be writing about the losing side. Then Anya Shrubsole leads the mother of all comebacks and I have a fairy tale to tell.

July 24
So much cricket has been played already but we're only halfway through the Test series and it's set for a cracker second half. The teams are locked at one-all but any momentum South Africa could gain from their Nottingham victory was halted by the break. In that time, JP Duminy has returned home, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock also popped back for quick visits, and other members of the squad took the week off to explore parts of the UK. Assistant coach Adrian Birrell, who is a cattle farmer back home, went to Northamptonshire to learn about their cows. Everyone is back in camp today, though, getting an extra training session in than England, who will only regroup tomorrow.

July 27
Rain has hung around The Oval for the two days leading up to the Test and it has its say on the first day. Only 59 overs are possible and England are 171 for 4, which seems neither here nor there, but the inside track from the South Africa camp is that they are worried. Not only do they think batting will become much harder but Vernon Philander, who can best exploit these conditions, is struggling with a stomach bug and has been on and off the field all day.

July 28
Philander's condition worsens to the point where he is taken to hospital; South Africa's worsens to the point where they need him to bat. At 61 for 7, after conceding 353, they are starring at some embarrassing milestones but gutsy Temba Bavuma saves some blushes.

July 29
A night on a drip doesn't stop Philander from coming out to bat, but it is soon clear which way this match is heading. At least I have a personalised pot of tea to enjoy while I watch the chaos. Yorkshire Tea have made all the media their own packs, though I don't think Moonda's Tea has a ring to it.

July 31
After the inevitable happens, I head to Hammersmith, to see my London colleagues one last time on this trip. We have plenty to talk about, because ten days ago ESPNcricinfo has had a facelift. There are some issues that are being sorted out, but by and large the changes are positive and we're excited about what it means for the way we work.

August 1
The last stop on the trip is Manchester, and it's also the furthest north I will be going. I'm particularly looking forward to the red brick and the contrast between industrial-era and new-age architecture. One of my first sights is the Midland Hotel, where Rolls and Royce met to form… you guessed it.

August 2
I'm closing in on 250 miles on foot this trip, and this morning's run starts on the Bridgewater Canal. The first few hundred metres are over cobblestone and I have to be careful not to do an ankle. Then I go past Old Trafford. Not the cricket one. I expect to feel something as I see the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand - awe, admiration, maybe a bit of irritability because I am kind-of a Manchester City fan - but it looks like just another football ground to me. Plenty in the South African team disagree. Tomorrow they're set for a stadium tour, where Russell Domingo will really get to feel what its like being David Moyes - in all sorts of ways. Domingo succeeded Gary Kirsten four years ago, a month after Moyes took over from Ferguson, and the Old Trafford Test is set to be his last.

August 3
The youngest member of the South African touring party is out and about today: Faf du Plessis' month-old daughter Amalie, who is with her mother, Imari, in a coffee shop on Deansgate.

This is a must-win match for South Africa and there's a lot at stake. They have not lost a series in England since 1998, and they have won their last two here, but their chances of sharing the spoils have suffered a blow this time: Philander, who was thought to be fully fit, following his recovery from his viral infection, is now suffering from back spasms and will undergo a last-minute fitness test.

At least those of us not playing cricket are having fun. The Cricket Writers' Club hosts a dinner for the media and the deal is that the English journalists will pay for us Saffers. Win.

August 4
Philander and Chris Morris are ruled out of the final Test with back problems. South Africa are forced to field two inexperienced players, Theunis de Bruyn and Duanne Olivier, and behind the scenes, Graeme Smith fires shots at Philander's lack of fitness, accusing him of not paying enough attention to his conditioning. As if that isn't enough to keep us busy, news breaks that CSA has approached Ottis Gibson to take over from Domingo. It's all kinds of awkward to think that Domingo might have been in the change room across from his successor's for the last six weeks. The ECB denies it has had an offer, but all indications are that the deal is done.

August 5
A finely poised match swings England's way in the morning session when they pile on 100 runs and South Africa wilt. James Anderson seems to like bowling from the James Anderson End and South Africa are 220 for 9 overnight. Though it's not even day three, its time to turn attention to the post-mortems, which will focus on South Africa's batting. They don't seem to have many answers and have picked discarded opener Stephen Cook in the A side to play against India later in the month. Aiden Markram will captain the team, with David Miller batting at No. 4.

August 7
South Africa lose the series 3-1. And so, three months on the road ends. They return home with nothing, not even a coach. Domingo manages a smile when he speaks to the media in what he jokes is the "departure lounge", a stairwell at the ground. He is candid about the challenges the country's cricket faces going forward.

About an hour after play, the South Africans - who have become so used to singing a team song at this stage of a series - are packing up. Heino Kuhn is on the dressing-room balcony, staring wistfully at the Old Pavilion, as if he knows his first taste of Test cricket might be his last. The England camp are celebrating with champagne and pizza, delivered by the groundsman.

Melinda and I see Moeen Ali on our way out. "You're not bad for the second-choice spinner and No. 8 batsman," we tell him. He laughs and wishes us well for our time off. We're headed separate ways, Mel back to Birmingham and me, to explore a bit of Europe before the home season.