• Cricket is a beautiful distraction

    A healthy crowd had already assembled outside the gates of Newlands an hour before Vernon Philander opened a Test match for the last time as an international cricketer, writes DANIEL GALLAN.

    It was a picture-perfect day in the Mother City. Table Mountain gleamed from up high as it prepared itself for a busy day on Instagram. Two flawed but captivating teams warmed up for an entertaining contest.

    It would be difficult to find anything to complain about in such pristine settings but one English supporter found a way.

    ‘Thousands of fans forced to stand outside until an arbitrary 09:30 before the gates are open,’ the irate Pom vented on Twitter to his three thousand followers. ‘Typical how fans are treated. Join to have fans represented so that this sort of stupidity stops soon.’

    Once the doors were flung open, a packed Newlands was treated to a delicious day of see-sawing cricket.

    Philander was at his miserly best in the morning, removing opener Zak Crawley with a trademark seamer that found the outside edge. Dom Sibley (34), Joe Denly (38) and Joe Root (35) all got starts but couldn’t kick on. Anrich Nortje bowled with pace and Ben Stokes counter-punched with a belligerent 47. Jos Buttler (29) played some pretty strokes, Keshav Maharaj twirled for 27 overs, picking up one scalp, and 21-year-old Ollie Pope showed great courage for his unbeaten 56.

    By the time the crowd filtered out in the lengthening shadows, and the players braced themselves for their ice baths, England had reached 262-9.

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    It was a day that encapsulated all that is wonderful about this meandering game where a lot of nothing is punctuated by momentary pulses of excitement. There was just enough quality from both sides to keep all supporters interested as they soaked up the sunshine and endless cups of beer.

    It would be difficult to find anything to complain about in such pristine settings but one former English cricketer found a way.

    ‘Totally unacceptable there is one lift for clients and service staff as both service lifts are broken in the Presidents Stands at Newlands,’ bemoaned Allan Lamb, who was born in Langebaan but went on to represent his adopted England in 79 Tests.

    At the risk of resorting to whatabout-ism or diminishing the struggles of the two grumpy tourists, these really are first-world problems. Australia is on fire, Indonesia is under water, the United States president ordered a personal hit on an Iranian general and the climate change doomsday clock is ticking. Having to wait for a lift or a gate to open to watch a game of cricket is hardly a crisis.

    To be fair, neither Lamb nor the English fan compared their predicaments to a global catastrophe or the imminent threat of World War 3. No right-minded person would equate a slight delay to the quaffing of booze in the sun to the refugee crisis emanating from Yemen, but perhaps these two vignettes of vitriol can serve as a conversation starter for a fresh way of engaging with sport as we tiptoe into this new decade.

    Sport and politics mix. In fact, sport is politics, especially when a group of athletes ply their trade while wearing a country’s flag. This column is not a call to eradicate narratives around nationalism, economic disparity or the weight of history when speaking about the fate of a ball.

    Racial transformation is an important issue in South African sport and black cricket fans are rightly upset over the Temba Bavuma’s omission from this side, even if it makes cricket sense.

    Instead, what we should all strive for in 2020 is to be better fans and foster an environment where curmudgeons who enjoy the finer things in life are called out for their pomposity and indulgence when they begin to grumble.

    If your friend or colleague complains about the lack of filter coffee in the Newlands media box – as one grizzled hack did this morning – do not engage unless it is to remind him of the outrageous privilege he enjoys by being nourished throughout the day from the best seat at the ground.

    The world is becoming a scary place to live in. We’re on the brink of civilisational collapse as tyrannical man-babies play games that could kill us all.

    Cricket is meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes a lift doesn’t work or gates don’t open on time. These are minor irritations at best. Let’s begin this new chapter in our history with perspective and patience. Maybe that way, we might let the little things slide and enjoy this sport for what it is – a beautiful distraction to the chaos around us.

    Photo: Gallo Images

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