Sunday Times

Of fu­ner­als, births and the start of an­other sea­son

- The Lead­ing Edge Telford Vice

● 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.

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