Of funerals, births and the start of another season
● It’s strange and alienating to be at a funeral when, far away across the latitudes, the birth of a new member of the family is awaited with keen anticipation.
So it was that this reporter found himself looking down this week on the Oval, where a match in the last round of county championship fixtures for this English summer spooled through what will be the final days of sunshine before winter takes its grim, grey grip on every aspect of life here.
Essex, who bowled Surrey out for 67 in the first innings and ended up chasing 132 to win, lost their ninth wicket with eight runs still required. They got there in the end.
Surrey had won the title the week before, not least thanks to a rejuvenated, reinvented Morné Morkel, who took 59 wickets at 14.32 in 10 games.
“So happy,” Morkel said as he stood on one of cricket’s most storied outfields, even as raucous celebrations erupted around him. “It’s a fantastic bunch of guys. We worked so hard this season to lift this trophy, and what a special day today. It was a very close game, but, ja, so happy.
“We are the champions and we needed to show that. We could easily have gone through the motions and let the game drift. But we wanted to put up a fight and we wanted to show why we’re the No. 1 team in the country.”
It was the way a season should end: with drama and whooping and champagne, and with one of the finest men cricket is privileged to count among its own on hand to seal it all with his personal happiness.
If only all funerals could be like this — no-one dies and we get to do it all again in a few months’ time.
Over the seas, past the equator and
It was the way a season should end: with drama and whooping and champagne
southward still to the sharp tip of Africa, another cricket season is stirring to life.
It’s not the best one South Africans could have had, but it is the only one. Besides, you can’t expect to see India and Australia up close and, sometimes, way too personal every summer. And whether we would survive another round of Virat Kohli’s movie-star bumptiousness and the Australians’ proudly professional uncouthness with our sanity intact is not at all certain.
So perhaps we should be quietly grateful that it is Zimbabwe, the last team anyone besides other Zimbabweans would pay good money to see in action, who get South Africa’s home season going in Kimberley today in the first of three one-day internationals.
Watching Zimbabwe is a little like seeing a once great player fallen on hard times and reduced to telling stories of their glory days well enough — or with enough embellishment — to coax a pitying audience to buy them another beer.
The difference is that Zimbabwe are all out of stories, and that they have never really had any glory days to embellish.
Even if they win the series three-zip, and all three T20s that are to follow, they will be forgotten by South Africans before they pack their kit and go home. Ag shame and thanks for coming.
It’s a cruel truth of sport that, however much lip service stronger teams pay to the notion that all their opponents are created equal and must be respected in those terms, they don’t believe anything of the sort for the damn straight reason that it isn’t true.
South Africa know this. Zimbabwe know this. But, for the next two weeks, the myth will be repeated rote fashion at every opportunity.
All of which means the new family member is awaited with something less than the joy that greeted the funeral up north.
Strange and alienating days indeed: for the first time in more than 10 years there will be no Morkel in a South Africa shirt this summer and no AB de Villiers, and today in Kimberley — as well as in Bloemfontein on Wednesday and in Paarl on Saturday — there will be no Faf du Plessis and no Hashim Amla.
But we’ll be there. Always.