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Tour Diary

Benoni charms despite starkness

If not for Charlize Theron or Charlene Wittstock, Benoni would be as nondescript as Pietermartizburg, Welkom or Colesburg

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
The scoreboard at Benoni

ESPNcricinfo Ltd

If not for Charlize Theron or Charlene Wittstock, Benoni would be as nondescript as Pietermartizburg, Welkom or Colesburg. It would be just another simple and ordinary South African town with few frills or fuss. But, the two Cs have ensured that Benoni will forever be known as the place that has produced both an Oscar winner and a princess, despite being worlds apart from Hollywood or any kind of royalty.
Willowmoore Park is a 20-minute drive from the centre of Johannesburg and almost 40 minutes away from Johannesburg's main cricket hub, the Wanderers, on the edge of Sandton. It lies at the top of Tom Jones Road, the pulmonary vein of the East Rand town, dotted with motorcar spare shops, casual grocers, gas stations and dodgy looking beauty parlours. As far as stadiums go, Willowmoore Park is no great beauty.
Concrete is the defining feature, an acceptable material for any building, but when used in hulking masses, as it has been for this stadium, it emphasises its own garishness. The grandstand is painted green and topped with a tin roof - it could easily be mistaken for a shed. The rest of the ground is humble, with covered seats in the main pavilion and new concrete stands eating up the once ample grass embankment.
The scoreboard is not the same as any other in the country. Instead of the usual black with yellow writing, it is an electronic version of a notepad, with a crammed up, small font that makes it difficult to read. The floodlight pylons are the oldest in the country and it shows. The concrete towers look like something out of the movie Shutter Island and the bank of light bulbs is significantly smaller than anywhere else in the country. Few can remember the last time a day-night match was played here.
Given the modest facilities, it's little wonder that Benoni seldom receives international fixtures, with the last one being an ODI against Zimbabwe. The Titans play half of their home matches here but it is not a venue they seem to enjoy. Jacques Rudolph, now in the South African Test squad, notably labelled it a "varkpan," (an Afrikaans word that refers to the trough that pigs eat from) during their last first-class match, in which they lost by an innings to the Cobras.
Still, there is an odd charm to Willowmoore Park, largely driven by the fact that the headquarters of the Africa Cricket Association are housed within its walls. When South Africa stage African events, they are played in Benoni. Cricketers from countries like Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria treat it as their own field of dreams. On this ground, Rwanda, Mozambique and Uganda have had some of their toughest battles, their most crushing defeats and their best victories. And they have had people to play it in front of.
Given the shortage of live sport in the town and number of things to do in Benoni, even the tour match between a South African Invitation XI and the Sri Lankans pulled in a crowd. Under pregnant clouds, with a chilly wind whipping through the ground, some people set up gazebos, brought in their picnic baskets and puppies and settled in for the two days of play.
The other main recreational activities in Benoni are to visit the mall or the lake over which the mall has been built. It also rumoured that Benoni has more horse stables than anywhere else in Southern Hemisphere. A survey of journalists covering the tour match revealed that no-one had seen any horses in the streets around the stadium. It would hardly be surprising if they've discovered some greener pastures to graze on.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent