OPINION | A dormant St George’s Park is just not cricket

Cricket stands have remained empty for more than 18 months as the country scrambles to counter new waves and variants of Covid-19
BETTER DAYS: Cricket stands have remained empty for more than 18 months as the country scrambles to counter new waves and variants of Covid-19
Image: John Harvey

The neat signboard above the Frielinghaus Gate still displays the fixture: SA v Australia, 23 February 2020.

The crowd who attended that day would have left in fine spirits, even more so for those sampling the nectars of Castle Corner.   

A typically maverick 70 off 47 balls by Quinton de Kock and Lungi Ngidi’s three-wicket haul were enough for SA to put one over the old enemy, whose line-up for the T20 International included David Warner and Steven Smith — their first time back at the ground since Sandpapergate shocked the world.  

Few — if any — at St George’s Park that day would have believed what would unfold a little more than a month later, and that this cricket match would be the last they would see live for the best part of two years.

The 21-day lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa grew into months and then a year, and while domestic cricket has been scheduled, the stands remain empty as the country scrambles to counter new waves and variants.

Experiencing the stadium as it is now, devoid of the life it draws from the flowering green lung that surrounds it, the St George’s Park Band and the cheeky wags who playfully heckle visiting players, brings on something more than nostalgia. It as though something integral has been ripped from your soul.

Ghosts call out to you as you walk past the ground. Not the ghosts of conspiracy theory or religious fanaticism, but the ghosts of memory.

For thousands who came of age in this city, St George’s Park is where it all started.

It’s where your parents, aunts and uncles first took you to experience the thrills of professional sport, where you learnt that boerewors rolls taste different when prepared on a skottel on a grass embankment, where you realised that cricket was a good place to whisper sweet things to the opposite sex.

At lunch and tea breaks, a hundred mini-Test matches launched simultaneously on the outfield, with the stubborn kids invariably refusing to give up the bat, even when clean bowled. Howls of anguish and cries of “unfair, unfair” followed, but it was nothing an ice-cream couldn’t fix five minutes later.     

When you were old enough, you no longer had to watch your guardian drain his draught and return with another plastic cup of the amber liquid — you could get your own.

In the queue you would find someone you half-recognised from first-year psychology, and by the end of the day’s play you were brothers-in-arms, making hasty arrangements for a night on the town.  

Mornings were the best.      

As the Indian Ocean mists burnt off, so the noise of the heavy roller crushing the pitch and the thwock! of leather on willow during the pregame warm-up built to a crescendo, confirming your suspicions that there was nowhere better to be on  earth.

Season after season, decade after decade, it has been this way at St George’s Park.

Seeing the stadium lying dormant, unable to fold people in its embrace as it has done for more than a century, is a travesty, an insult to our beloved turf.

This pandemic, this gatecrasher in our lives, needs to be shown the exit, accosted and ejected from the ground.  

Summer’s just around the corner.



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