Cape Town – We need the pounds. We need the tourism. Western Province Cricket is broke.
Yes, all these things may be true, but this week something extraordinary happened in the history of South African cricket. Newlands became the home ground for Joe Root and his men as they beat the Proteas after five days of dogged Test cricket.
The English cricket team’s lap of honour around Newlands to rapturous applause on Tuesday – after the Proteas had just lost a Test on home soil – pushed my blood pressure over the edge. I was as red as an England fan who had spent the past five days in Castle Corner.
What on earth did we just witness? Who was responsible for this and how can we ensure that it will never happen again?
I was there on Monday to take my 5-year old son to his first ever live cricket match. We wore our Proteas shirts and were ready to support Faf, KG, Quinton and the boys with the rest of our compatriots.
I also knew my son would see the Barmy Army in action for the first time and I was happy about that. I saw them for the first time at Newlands in the 1990s and was entertained by these die-hard fans who travel the globe with their team.
I have much respect for the England faithful and don’t blame them for this predicament.
What I didn’t expect on Monday was to find an all-white-and-red Newlands. We were literally surrounded by an army of England fans and I do not believe it is an exaggeration to estimate that between 70% and 80% of tickets were sold to English fans.
When Pieter Malan scored his maiden Test 50, the cheers were muted. I counted about 10 South African flags in the entire stadium, while the rest of Newlands was draped with English county flags. When Joe Denly claimed Dean Elgar’s scalp, Newlands exploded.
I told my father this was the closest I have felt to watching a cricket match at Lord’s or The Oval.
The most ridiculous moment of the day was when two British comedians entertained the crowd during the lunch break. No Cape minstrels, Marc Lottering or Early B. They even brought their own entertainment.
All that was missing was a statue of Cecil John Rhodes.
After I tweeted about my experience, I was overwhelmed by messages from Capetonians who couldn’t attend the New Year’s Test for the first time in years because the tickets were “sold out”.
We are still investigating, but it is clear that ticket sales opened much earlier in the UK than here. Blocks of tickets were allocated for English fans, leaving a handful for Proteas supporters. When tickets finally went on the market here in October 2019, they were sold out in hours.
I witnessed rows and rows of empty seats on Monday and was given an explanation by an English fan that these blocks were bought-up by tour operators who speculated on selling their packages. Because of the rand/pound exchange rate, it bothered them little if they couldn’t sell all their seats.
I’d rather not guess the profit margins.
Why does this all matter?
As some on Twitter reminded me, we got the pounds and need the tourism. Fair enough. But are our sports administrators so desperate that they are literally willing to sell our home ground advantage to the highest bidder?
This was a gruelling Test and Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis has admitted that England had “home ground advantage” when they needed it most on Tuesday afternoon. Who knows what could have happened if we had thousands of Proteas supporters in the stands, edging on our batsmen to take us to a brave draw?
My gripe is not with the English fans, but with incompetent administrators who turn their backs on local fans because they could not balance the books. South African fans deserve answers.
I trust that Graeme Smith and the “new” management of Cricket South Africa will prevent a similar aberration from happening again.
A thread: I went to @NewlandsCricket today to support the @OfficialProteas vs England. For the first time ever in my life, I felt like a visitor in my own country. At least 70% (probably closer to 80/90%) of the stadium was packed with English supporters, singing English songs.
— Adriaan Basson (@AdriaanBasson) January 6, 2020
– Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief of News24