Leading Edge: Politics and pounds in the pink patch

Sunday Times


DO not adjust the picture on your television. That steadily pinkening patch you see on the screen beyond the extra cover or fine leg boundary at Kingsmead is as it should be.

The patch is at Castle Corner, where the 450-odd members of the Barmy Army who are in attendance at the first test have been corralled – nice and close to a steady supply of the brown, bubbly stuff produced by the SA team’s sponsors. Perhaps the place should be rebranded the wet spot.

As we all know, if you put a pile of pale Poms under the African sun they start out looking like one half of a packet of marshmallows and end up looking like the other half.

But they will be good fun in other ways as well, no doubt singing a particular song that starts with, “We’ve got one rand to the pound …”, and that counts all the way up to, “We’ve got 22 rand to the pound …” before ending with, “We’re so rich it’s unbelievable!”

Whereupon you, as a comparatively impoverished Saffer also assigned to the wet spot, should try not to punch them, however much you feel the urge and however much of the brown, bubbly stuff you have yourself consumed. Instead, think pink: these people are fiscally significant.

If you need to feel better about all this, consider that things will be very different at Newlands next week, where around half the seats have been sold to spectators travelling from England – perhaps a consequence of all the available tickets being made available online internationally without holding some back for the exclusive purchase of South Africans.

An additional 2000 seats have been erected in temporary stands, which does take away from Newlands’ prettiness. But the Barmy Army have “22 rand to the pound”, remember. By next week, it could be 25.

And there is some solace in the fact that they have bought tickets in pockets around the ground and so will not be able to thicken their collective voice too volubly for comfort.

No such socio-political challenges will have to be overcome on the field. There, it’s all about runs, wickets and sledging. No-one will sit in someone else’s seat, or slop beer over a teammate or even an opponent, or try to chat up thy neighbour’s partner, or have to stand in a long queue for boerewors rolls, beer, or the toilet. And let’s not get on to the small war of attrition in the parking lot, before and after play.

Truly, playing international cricket is, in several ways, a damn sight less difficult than paying good money to watch it being played, bloody Barmy Army and all.

Of course, none of this matters when the team you support win. Then, you can put up with all the pinkening Poms you could throw a warm beer at. Besides, when England’s opponents win their supporters tend to act like marshmallows as much as they resemble them.

But does the converse apply? Can a crowd influence a team as readily as teams influence crowds?

As much as cricketers say they don’t hear the noise or feel the vibe coming from the stands, they also say they are far happier playing in front of their home spectators.

Fans who remind players that we all live in the same world by, say, launching plastic water bottles from their  seats towards the field in protest at a shoddy performance by said players – as happened during the T20 series between India and SA in October – will be treated like criminals, nevermind that the bottles landed nowhere near the precious players nor that the protestors had a point.

So, eat, drink, think or be pink, and don’t adjust your television: cricket, how to watch.

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