Just a few more hours left at home before I head to Dubai and onwards to Abu Dhabi.
I should make it just in time for the official launch of the Test series and the press conferences from captains Smith and Misbah.
The Proteas’ warm-up game against Pakistan ‘A’ was always likely to be worth missing, from a spectating point of view, for two reasons. The first is the pitch, which was always going to be flat and featureless. The second is that there isn’t any point in watching people ‘warming up’ in 35-degree weather. It’s far more interesting watching them trying to cool down.
The real reason I missed the first fixture was to honour an obligation to one of cricket’s major sponsors, KFC. The ‘Kids vs Proteas’ eight-match series is taking place nationwide. The Proteas may be contractually committed but the evidence I’ve seen so far suggests the 8 to10-year-olds have genuinely touched a soft spot among the national players.
The usual rules apply. Eight-a-side, only five modes of dismissal (no lbw!) and each player faces six balls and bowls one over. The fielding positions rotate after each over, too.
The series was launched at Monte Casino in Joburg last month but we couldn’t have moved further from the glitz of that on Wednesday when the show moved to the little town of Thaba Nchu, 60 kilometres outside Bloemfontein. The venue was the humble Mmabana Sports Centre and the Proteas’ opposition for the day was the Mokitlane Primary School.
Authenticity is an important ingredient in making the occasion memorable for the children, although we may have to reconsider the televised pre-match toss and interviews, given the unfortunate meltdown of eight-year-old captain Karabo Lekalake just minutes before the toss with opposite number, David Miller.
The Dolphins man covered the little boy in a reassuring hug and didn’t let him go until he stopped crying and could give him a smile. Unathi Khumalo, also eight, stepped in at the last minute. Trust a woman to stay calm when the camera is rolling!
“We’ll bat!” shrieked Unathi into my microphone. Perhaps David and I should have told her that the plan was for the Proteas to bat first.
Just like Mokitlane Primary, the Proteas were a mixed team for the day featuring national ladies captain Mignon du Preez, all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, fast bowler Marcia Letsoalo and leg spinner Dane van Niekerk.
They went far above and beyond the call of duty, not only interacting with the kids from Mokitlane but also the 400 children from other junior schools who had come along to watch and support. Ryan McLaren, the only local Protea, was in his element and a joy for the kids to be with. Fortunately, he only had 60 kilometres to drive from home.
Everybody else, apart from me and Quinton de Kock, flew from OR Tambo at 8am. Unfortunately, flights between Cape Town and Bloem are not plentiful so my day began at 4:20am for a 6am flight and didn’t end until 10:30pm when I arrived home. It was worth it.
Poor old ‘Quinny’. The 20-year-old has a reputation as a bit of a larrikin, a bit playful, always having a laugh. Normally I wouldn’t write or broadcast anything in public but I am doing so this time for three reasons.
The first is because I watched the media (including me) turn away from writing the truth about people like Herschelle Gibbs and what good did it do him? None. The second is that it was the biggest day of those kids’ lives and Quinton should be in no doubt that missing his plane was as serious a breach of discipline as he has ever committed.
The most important reason I am writing about it is this: Quinton de Kock drove to Bloem, and onwards to Thaba Nchu, without stopping once and, no doubt, incurring thousands of rands in fines on an N1 highway crawling with traffic cops like fleas on a stray dog.
Unbelievably, he almost made the match, too, arriving soon after 12:30. He was brilliant when he did arrive and sat for a couple of hours in the hot Free State sun signing autographs. He did all he could to make up for his mistake.
So, well done, Quinton! Good on you. Just don’t miss the plane next time.
Or I’ll write about it again!
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.