On a lovely, bone dry Centurion morning, a tune played. “Boom! Here comes the Boom! Ready or not, here comes the boys from the South!”
They are the sort of lyrics, when backed up with punchy nu-metal angst, that should open a heavyweight contest. And it was the first music of the Test. There was no anthem, no parochial song, just Dale Steyn’s personal anthem and the world’s best and third-best Test sides starting a series.
But it was a Wednesday, in February. Much like the band P.O.D., it was not quite as “Boom!” as it looked.
The security was so lax that you could walk straight into the ground, president suite and then press box without any pass or ticket. The sun was hot but not oppressive. There was no hint of rain. No real build-up, the players were just out on the field. Occasionally there was even the Spanish horn that plays in the IPL to awaken people.
There seemed to be more sponsored umbrellas around the ground than people. And every part of the ground was zoned off for something fun. The chill zone, the family area, the Castle Lager Terrace. Even a “maidens bowled over” section where women could watch cricket, meet someone from the South Africa squad and have massages and pedicures. You can’t fault Cricket South Africa for trying. They threw it all out there.
But it was a Wednesday, in February. So the crowd wasn’t really there. It wasn’t horrible for a Test at Centurion, but it wasn’t a cauldron, or massive-event-like feeling. It felt like a big Test series, started on a Wednesday, with Christian heavy rock in the back ground.
There were schoolkids on the bank, sitting in front of a few smart locals who had brought their own shade. The real fans were in the grandstand, a battered warhorse that probably looked ok when brand new, and has looked solid and ugly since. Apparently there was a group of people that some sponsors called “sizzlers”, but I never saw anyone who justified a name that stupid. There was even a Mexican wave, but only when the schoolkids spread out around the long-off boundary did it work.
The cricket didn’t need extra areas or corporate tricks to excite people. Steyn started off against David Warner on a pitch that was supposed to be lots of fun. That doesn’t need a rock soundtrack or marketing tricks. People should just want to see it. Those there saw the South Africa team spend a confusing and frustrating day in the field, and Australia find one partnership that worked and keep it going. It wasn’t pretty.
It was the sort of tough uncompromising day of cricket that metaphors and clichés were made for. The proper cricket fans would have appreciated Shaun Marsh’s doggedness, Steven Smith’s strokeplay and complaining about South Africa in the field.
There were a few proper cricket fans there to enjoy it, not many. Not nearly enough.
But it was a Wednesday, in February.