Cricket is definitely one of my favourite sports and there aren’t many better ways to spend a day than watching a test match with a beer in hand in gorgeous sunshine. As fate would have it, Biff (our captain Graeme Smith) and the boys (or formally The Proteas) were touring England over the summer and so some three months back whilst still in Vietnam, Dyl and I bought our tickets for the first test at the Oval. I remember debating when we buying whether we should watch day 3 or 4, finances only allowed for 1 day unfortunately, and as it turns out, what a decision buying for day 4 turned out to be. It was without doubt one of the best days of Test cricket I’ve seen.
Not only did we completely destroy the English that day, with King Amla scoring SA’s first ever triple century in a test match (not to mention Biff’s superb 131 and Kallis’s unbeaten 182) but the weather came to the party like you would not believe. Gorgeous sunshine, virtually not a cloud in the sky and a perfect cricket watching temperature of around 28 degrees! Added to this was the fantastic bunch of people we spent the day with, both Saffa’s and Poms. Everyone got involved in the day’s chanting and the banter back and forth was brilliant. Pretty much from ball 1 we were on the lash and having a laugh and by day’s end the singing was no doubt louder and far worse! (I’m referring to other peoples’ singing getting worse, mine couldn’t get any worse to be fair).
The England Cricket Board’s policy is to only make tickets available for the 5th day at close of play on the 4th and so Dyl, Rob Flude and I danced and chanted our way to the ticket office to buy our tickets and, for 15 pounds, hopefully see Biff and the boys go 1-0 up in the series. England started the day at 102/4 and at lunch it looked like they well may survive being 170-5. Dale Steyn had other ideas however and with the new ball he demonstrated very clearly why he is the world’s #1 bowler taking 3 wickets in 5 overs and ending the innings with figures of 5-56. England were eventually all out for 240 and South Africa recorded one of most comprehensive victories over the English, winning by an innings and 12 runs! The boys and I headed for the closest pub where the lashing and laughing continued long into the night as we celebrated a fantastic win. What an unbelievable 2 days of Test cricket it had been.
The 2nd test was played up at Headingley in Leeds and with the Olympics on, I just wasn’t able to get there. Alviro Pietersen had a storming match, scoring a fantastic 182 in our 1st innings, and the match played to a draw.
While series’ are normally kicked off at Lord’s, due to the Olympics (and Lord’s being the archery host), this time the home of cricket would host the 3rd and final test. Initially I thought I wouldn’t be able to get to Lord’s as tickets were sold out months in advance but a good mate of mine suggested I phone the ticket office to see if any “restricted view” tickets were still available. Storrar, you biscuit! It turns out there were and so for just £25, Dyl, Yeppy and I headed to the home of cricket for day 4.(Turns out the “restriction” was not being able to see only 2m of the boundary … for a saving of £50 I’ll take it!)
I wasn’t taking any chances with the queues and so I arrived at Lord’s some 2.5 hrs before play was scheduled to start. This allowed me to walk around the ground, check out the fantastic museum (free on cricket days) and just generally soak up the atmosphere. It’s hard to describe but there is definitely a different feel to Lord’s. Maybe it’s the members you see in jackets and ties or just knowing that this is the home of cricket. Walking through the gate, a member in jacket and tie pipes up that standards at Lord’s have definitely dropped if they’re letting me in with my shorts!
It was an enthralling day’s test cricket that ebbed and flowed for the full 90 overs. South Africa were looking very steady at lunch on 216/4 , with King Amla scoring another hundred, before Steven Finn produced a brilliant spell after lunch claiming 3 wickets and reducing South Africa to 282/7, a lead of 276.
South Africa’s tail wagged once more, though, with Vernon Philander scoring a priceless 35 to go with his top test score of 61 in the 1st innings. South Africa were eventually all out for 351 leaving England needing 346 for victory. Vernon wasn’t finished for the day, though, reducing England to 16/2 at stumps and putting the Proteas very much in the driving seat.
And so it was all set up … England needing an unlikely 330 for victory, Biff and the boys needing either a draw or a win to take the series and go to # 1 in the world. This time tickets were 20 pounds but as it was unrestricted seating, we were able to get seats right behind the bowler’s arm. I’ve read a few reports describing this as one of the best days of test cricket for some time and I couldn’t agree more. At drinks on the 5th and final morning, England had laboured to 45/4 after 26 overs and a draw looked the most likely result. Trott and Jonny Bairstow had other ideas though, upping the tempo to send England into lunch at 120/4, still needing a further, and unlikey to be fair, 210 for victory. With nothing to lose, England came out guns blazing after lunch and by tea they’d added just over a 100 to take the total 221/7. Victory for England still seemed unlikely, though, needing 99 to win with only 3 wickets in hand.
Clearly that message was never received by Prior and Swann as they added 50 runs the 8th wicket partnership in only 49 balls. Dyl, Rob Flude and I were suddenly rather quiet, being a little nervous to sing! With just 2 overs till the new ball, which we were praying would break the partnership and settle the nerves, Imram Tahir brilliantly ran out Swann for 41 and England had finally lost their 8th wicket. Tension ratcheted up a notch or 2 when Prior was 1st caught off a no ball and then given not out in a super tight stumping call before V-E-R-N-O-N, P-H-I-L-A-N-D-E-R, V-E-R-N-O-N, P-H-I-L-A-N-D-E-R, V-E-R-N-O-N came up with the goods once more having Prior well caught by Smith, low down to his left, with his 4th ball of his 1st over with the new ball and then Finn caught by the rock solid Kallis low to his right at 2nd slip.
And that was that!! A 2-0 series win and # 1 in the world … Unbelievable!! The croaky sounds of Shozholoza and Nkosi Sikilela Iafrika were being chanted at the top of our lungs and would continue to be “sung” long into the night!