Boxing Day Test, 2008

On my last visit to Australia I was given a most unwelcome greeting by the low-life hounds that are Sydney Airport customs officials. It was my first visit down under and after a twelve-hour flight across nine hours of time zones the last thing I was in the mood for was going twelve rounds with three handle-bar moustached nasty pieces of work from immigration.

Unluckily my plane was the only one to have arrived at that time of the day and my suitcase had somehow been sent to Singapore. So by the time I got to customs there was a gang of power tripping border guards waiting especially for me. My grandfather has always taught me to travel smartly dressed so as to be on the front foot in such situations. But I am afraid that in the land of thongs (that is what they call flip flops here!) and vests a well-dressed South African carrying only a battered old elephant skin briefcase is automatically assumed to be working for the mafia.

I was quizzed about every text message on my phone and about the background of the people in every person in my photographs. Did they think I was well dodgy or is it a game they play? Anyone who has watched a reality television program called Border Patrol will know about the barrage of unfriendly questions I had to answer before I was finally allowed free to the delights of snaggers (sausages) on the barbie, biased Channel 9 commentators and the bronzed Sheila’s surfing on Bondi beach.

It took me a long time to get over the rudeness of those airport border guards. I felt like I was in the most trouble I had ever been in and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. It took a while to get over and was an unfriendly and inaccurate introduction to what is actually a jolly friendly country.

On this occasion I flew in a tee-shirt and jeans, my bag arrived and I landed the day before the Boxing Day Test. Immigration wished me a cheerful “Happy Christmas” and waved me through the green zone. People everywhere have gone out of their way to be friendly. Unlike in England, one can make a new best mate on any train or plane here.

And people love to talk about cricket. Happy families ride past on bicycle tracks and cheerfully wave you hello from underneath their safety helmets. Streets are spotless. Cricket grounds (although the Melbourne Cricket Ground isn’t really one of these – it’s an Aussie Rules football stadium) employ efficient and polite people in suits to walk you to your seat. There is no litter or pollution and everything works. Trains run on time and although everything is expensive you get what you pay for. They are ahead of the game down here on the other side of the world.

Indeed Australia sounds like some kind of utopia – it is no wonder everyone wants to move here. But I must say that they are a bit keen on rules, especially if you were brought up in Africa. I don’t want to bore on with the countless examples but at the MCG Mexican waves are banned. Friends of mine who flew from South Africa to watch the Test series had their flagpole (a flimsy plastic stick that was allowed on an aeroplane) confiscated for fear of it being used as a weapon!

Today was probably my best ever as a South African cricket fan. As if there have not been enough advertisements for Test cricket over the past few weeks, today showed how a Test match can be turned on its head against all odds.

At the end of day two South Africa trailed by 196 runs and had only three wickets in hand in the first innings. Although I am of course a neutral journalist I am desperate to see the visiting side topple the Aussies in this huge series and with the Proteas staring down the barrel I last night turned to the bottle with a fellow South African correspondent.

Soon before the close of play on day three the tourists were all out for 459 runs, giving them a not inconsiderable 65-run lead on a very good pitch. JP Duminy’s maiden Test century was an enormous delight to watch – in only his second Test match he top-scored with 166 runs. Dale Steyn, previously considered a batting bunny, made a personal best of 79 runs.

I have never seen a tail wag like that and it could not have happened at a more crucial time. An Australian television presenter said to me as the shadows got longer, “I think this is the worst day in Australian cricket for a decade.”

When the crowd started chanting, “Boring…boring”, the same guy said, “I haven’t heard that chant for many, many years.”

I must say I wasn’t the slightest bit bored!

This article appeared on Cricket365 during the 2008 Boxing Day Test between Australia and South Africa.

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