Wanderers v Newlands

Sunday Times


NO insult is intended in saying that Newlands’ lift does not go to the top floor. In fact, at times during the New Year test the lift at the Kelvin Grove end of the ground did not go to any floor. And even when it did, a sign sticky-taped to its doorframe warning that no more than four people should use it simultaneously prompted most people to take the stairs.

Good for them and their cardiovascular systems. Besides, better safe than stuck in a lift, as Ray Jennings was at Newlands for an hour or two a few years ago. The locals are still talking about the profane blueness of the air by the time Jet was finally cleared for take-off.

But could a malfunctioning lift take the shine off the five-day festival that happens to have a cricket match going on in the middle of it that we call the New Year test at Newlands?

Short answer, no. Long answer, hell no.

A Newlands test is the feeling that comes over someone a pause or so after they have taken a sip of their second glass of sparkling wine for the evening. Happy and glorious, travelling England supporters might call it.

On the first day of the match, 20 195 supporters of all flavours poured through the gates. In all, 85 280 bums were on seats or grass banks over the five days. That’s a record, beating the 83 820 who turned up in 2005 – also for a test involving England.

Almost 1 400 kilometres to the north, eyes narrowed with competitive focus at all that.

“We want to break that record, we really want to,” a Gauteng Cricket Board official said this week with unsettling determination. “But they had 12 000 Poms a day. Twelve thousand! We’ve got maybe 2 000.”

The Wanderers is not Newlands, in any sense. There are no oaks under which the okes can bond. There is no mountain. It is a stadium, not a ground. It is not set in a tourist mecca. It is not hosting its test during the festive season.

There is no cold, fizzy feeling of a sip of sparkling wine in the mouth. Instead, there is the decadence of a mouthful of beer gulped from a plastic glass steadily warming under the Highveld sun.

That and atmosphere. Loads of it. More than you could shake a boerewors roll at.

Not that Newlands can’t sell beer – 50 000 litres of the stuff was flogged during this season’s test.

But if each of those litres was a single spectator crammed into Newlands, they still wouldn’t make their team feel as supported – and the opposition feel as unwelcome – as a Wanderers crowd several times smaller.

It could be the concentric circles of seats set in steeply banked stands like rows of sharks’ teeth, or the height of those stands, or the simple and accepted truth that Joburgers won’t stand for half as much nonsense from anyone compared to touchy-feely Capetonians.

Whatever, the Wanderers is a far more intense place to play cricket than Newlands. Conversely, Newlands is a far more civilised place to play cricket than the Wanderers.

That reality took the edge off the fact that just 8 664 fans clicked through the turnstiles on an unseasonally grey and chilly Thursday this week. They made enough noise for at least twice that many.

On Friday, when the sun came out, the crowd grew to 10 022. Saturday’s play was sold out by Friday evening.

Some of those tickets will be for the new “Sun Zone” near the bottom of the Kent Park Taverners stand along the south-eastern boundary. Think deck chairs, fake grass and misting systems used to cool outdoor restaurants. Don’t knock it: that’s Sandton in a nutshell.

But perhaps Newlands and the Wanderers are not that different: on Friday, people were getting stuck in the lift at the Corlett Drive End …


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