One of my favourite ways to spend a day is watching Test cricket. There simply is no other sport like it; played for five days, with ebbs and flows of momentum across each day’s three sessions, a test of supreme skill and courage and a team sport built very much on individual battles.
The very best of these days is when I’m watching the Proteas and having lived abroad for the past 10 years, I don’t see them as often I would love to. I last watched them live in 2014, back home at St Georges Park in Port Elizabeth, where I spent most of my childhood, as we beat our arch enemy – Australia
Every five years they tour the UK and so when fixtures were released just on a year ago, plans were quickly made. We closely followed the ticket release dates, ensuring we were online as they became available, and secured tickets to a day at all four Tests (and two days at Lord’s).
1st Test – Lord’s
Traditionally, the Test series kicks off at Lords, where we have a very proud record having won 4 Tests from 5 since readmission in 1992 (our last Test loss at Lord’s was in 1960). Five years ago was a little different, however, due to the Olympics and Dyl, Rob and I were on hand to watch us win the series, and go to #1 in the world.
It’s incredibly special watching cricket at Lord’s, affectionately known as the Home of Cricket, and you can really feel its history and tradition with the Member’s Stand one of the most iconic sights in cricket. I love the information boards that hang from the underside of the stands reminding us all of stand-out past performances while the museum, free on match days, is home to an incredible array of memorabilia.
The Proteas had their backs against the wall as we took our seats on a gorgeous Saturday morning in West London – we had ended the second day on 214 for 5, a deficit of 244 on England’s huge 1st innings total of 458.
(Things could have been so very different though – having won the toss and electing to bat, the hosts were three down within the first hour and four down by lunch. New captain Joe Root dragged England out of trouble, recording a superb 190, but dropped catches, ill-disciplined bowling (wickets off no balls) and a real lack of urgency and energy in the day’s final session hurt us badly and saw England end the first day five down for 357. We fought back briefly early on the second morning before a tenth wicket stand of 54 saw England close on 458).
A number of batsmen got decent starts with four scoring half centuries (opener Dean Elgar, number five Temba Bavuma, keeper Quinton de Kock and all-rounder Vernon Philander ) but no-one kicked on unfortunately and while we did well to post 361, the lead was a substantial 97. England kept up their momentum and by the end of a hot day, that lead had stretched to over 200 with a full nine wickets in hand.
We headed back to Lord’s on the fourth morning hoping for a miracle and the Proteas duly delivered with a wonderful session – what a special two hours it was! The Proteas bowled beautifully on a deteriorating wicket, claiming 7/43 and reducing England to 182/8, a lead of 279.
That chase would already be incredibly tricky on a turning and variable bounce wicket but once more basic mistakes cost us, Vernon Philander dropping a Johnny Bairstow sitter, as England’s last 2 stands yielded 51. When England were finally all out midway through the afternoon session, we needed a mammoth 330 to win.
Only four times before had a side successfully chased over 200 at Lord’s and while over 300 was always going to be a huge ask, we were incredibly poor and capitulated in under 40 overs – one of our shortest fourth innings in our history. We should have at least taken it to a final fifth day but we were well and truly trounced, losing by a huge 211 runs.
While the result hurt, it was been a phenomenal weekend enjoying top-quality Test cricket with some of my best friends. Watching sport with these guys is the best fun and so very special.
The series was far from over, though, with three Tests to play, and the following weekend we would be heading to Trent Bridge in Nottingham to hopefully see a vastly improved Proteas performance.
2nd Test – Trent Bridge (Nottingham)
I was incredibly excited to be heading to Nottingham for the first time for day two of the 2nd Test. The Proteas had lost both of previous two Tests at Trent Bridge since readmission – in 1998 and 2003 – with England not losing a Test here in just over a decade.
The ground is no more than a 15 minute walk from the train station and the ‘World Renowned’ Trent Bridge Inn on the stadium’s doorstop is a great place for a spot of breakfast and a pint before play gets under way.
The stadium itself feels a little disjointed with a ‘hodgepodge’ of stands, none particularly big, that have appear to have been built at different times. It doesn’t feel as polished as say Lord’s but it’s a picturesque and quaint ground and I enjoyed watching cricket here.
Unlike Lord’s, the Proteas were in a strong position as we took our seats on an overcast morning. Captain Faf du Plessis was back after the birth of his 1st child and it had been a brave decision to bat first on an overcast day. The batsmen repaid the faith shown by the skipper and we did well to score 309/6 at the end of the first day; all-rounders Vernon Philander and Chris Morris were the not-out overnight batsmen having put on an unbeaten 74 for the 8th wicket after Hashim Amla and de Kock were in the runs.
Disappointingly we didn’t add much to our overnight total, losing four for 26 in 30 minutes, with Jimmy Anderson bowling beautifully in seamer-friendly conditions. Nevertheless, 335 was still an excellent total with the average score batting first being 284.
We had England in early trouble at 3/2 before captain Root counter-punched, scoring the joint-fastest test fifty by an England captain (at better than run-a-ball), and England remained only two down at lunch. The Proteas really started to dominate in the afternoon session as we bowled beautifully to take four wickets with Morne Morkel, in particular, bowling a wonderful spell. Spinner Keshav Maharaj also bowled really well and the remaining wickets were quickly mopped up after tea as England lost their last four wickets for six runs. The lead was a huge 130 and there were still some 25 overs left in the day.
Despite losing Heino Kuhn early, Amla and Elgar kept up our momentum and we ended the day on 75/1, a lead of just over 200. (We would go on to win inside four days after setting England a nominal 474 and dismissing them for 133 – the winning margin of 340 runs being one of our largest in Test cricket).
It was an absolutely incredible and enthralling day’s cricket – tough and tight to start and a wonderfully spirited and high-class performance from the Proteas. We have an unbelievable away record in Tests, losing just one series in a decade, and we showed all that resilience that we’re renowned for.
Again, it was so special watching the Proteas play Test cricket with some of my best mates and I really treasure these memories, which will stay with us all forever.
With a few hours before our train, we headed to supposedly England’s oldest inn, Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, to toast the day’s play. Granted every city seems to have ‘England’s oldest pub/inn’ but 1189 is a pretty impressive effort and it’s an awesome pub built into a cave. After a delicious beer enjoyed while recapping the phenomenal day, we jumped on our train where the sounds of Shosholoza could be heard all the way back to London!
We now have a week off before the third Test starts at the Oval here in London on the 27th. We’re heading to day 3 and will be hoping for more of the same from our Proteas – come on boys! #ProteaFire