One foot in, one foot out

The WACA ground in Perth is controlled by an administrative gestapo which refuses to discuss any rule or regulation infringement with the unwelcome irritants who insist on buying tickets and invading their territory. The poor readers who endured the entries in this diary for 10 days in mid-December last year may remember some of the more intransigent and unreasonable moments…

The stadium is not just a ‘smoke-free’ venue, it is a ‘proudly smoke-free’ venue. In other words, “We’re better than you.” Never mind. The funny thing is, the streets of Perth are liquor-free. No, sorry – I believe they are ‘proudly liquor-free.’ So, in other words, you can drink in the WACA but not smoke, and you can smoke outside the WACA but not drink.

Outside the main gate there is a constant group of around 100 smokers puffing away and dropping their butts on the proudly liquor-free streets. And at the end of a day-nighter involving South Africa, there are 100,000 plastic beer cups making quite a mess of the proudly smoke-free stadium.
After the match, of course, the gates are opened up to allow spectators to weave their way home. All that separates these two proud, toxin-free regions at that point is a line of yellow paint on the tarmac.

All cold beers (in my opinion) are good, but none is better than the first one after a day’s commentary, especially when the right team has won to close out a 4:1 series win and I’m approximately 36 hours away from seeing my family for the first time in seven weeks. And, whilst I smoke very little, I do allow my self a couple of puffs in the evening – especially if they’re with a cold beer.

It was over an hour after the game had finished and the crowd was long, long gone. The interviews with a joyous Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell had left me feeling elated and even the fact that we had to wait 15 minutes for a taxi failed to dampen my spirits. And I had a bitterly cold beer in my hand from the press box fridge, albeit low alcohol. Of course.

But with the pairing of bad habits banned, some tactical thinking was required. Not that I was too concerned about being apprehended – there was nobody in sight. The place was deserted. Nonetheless, seven weeks of crossing the street on a zebra crossing and not farting in public had taken its toll, so I wasn’t going to take any chances.

Carefully straddling the yellow line, I opened the beer in my left hand, in the airspace belonging to the WACA, and lit a smoke in my right, in the city’s airspace. And there I stood, happy and content for a good…ten seconds.

“HEY! You can’t do that!!” yelled an overweight security man in a yellow bib, waddling angrily towards me from at least fifty metres away. When he arrived he was red in the face, but was about to become much redder.

“Which one can’t I do?” I asked.

“Don’t try and get clever with me!” he snapped.

“Just tell me which one I can’t do, and why, then I’ll stop doing it,” I said, proud of my calmness. He looked as though his head was going to blow up. It had taken seven weeks, and it was my penultimate day, but at last (maybe) someone had finally realised that at least some of the rules and regulations which govern everyday lives in Australia are silly, but not nearly as silly as the people who try so hard to enforce them.

But what I really wanted to say in this column was how pleasing it was to see Ashwell Prince’s angry reaction to his non-selection for the first Test. Naturally he could have handled it with a quiet dignity and composure and demurred to the outrageous start by J-P Duminy to his Test career. Instead, he sounded really pissed off and, dare I say, just a little petulant. It was great news for South African cricket.

Two or three years ago Prince may well have taken the news lying down. When all was not well within the dynamic of the national squad, he wasn’t the only one to feel just as happy outside the change room as inside it.

Now, however, it’s like being expelled from your own family. Like everyone else, Prince wants to play for the family so badly it hurts. Deep down he knows that Duminy made himself undroppable in Australia and he knows that opening in place of Neil McKenzie would have suited nobody. He knows the right decision was made. And as unpleasant as it may to be say so, it’s good that it hurts so much.

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