Opinion: A priviledge to walk on Newlands’ turf

Blog Opinion

At Lord's, that renowned bastion of freedom and frivolity, you are occasionally 'invited by the MCC to perambulate across the outfield during the Luncheon interval'. At cricket grounds in the rest of England and elsewhere in the real world, you can often 'come on the pitch at the break'.

So it was in Cape Town as – with the stars of the show safely tucked away in the pavilion with their isotonic sandwiches and nutrigrain bars – the masses filed out for a lunchtime wander in the sun.

Nervous at first, like coaxing a pet cat out of their box into a new home, people eventually cottoned on to the surety that they wouldn't be carted off and banned for two years from all stadia for 'encroaching on the playing surface'.

It is the most egalitarian of pursuits. Whether it's those taking a day away from work strolling off their first beers of the day, old fogies staving off deep vein thrombosis, or kids unleashing cross-batted thwacks of varying severity through the throng of unofficial fielders from both the aforementioned demographics. Any passing Englishmen would be appalled by the lack of parental guidance in creating a high top elbow in these young'uns, by the way.

You walk in the footsteps of your heroes. How could a nipper not be captivated by being Dale Steyn at the top of his run up, or Hashim Amla poised to snaffle another at second slip? These things stay with you for life – but that's not all.

The opportunity to ramble also opens up a sneaky shortcut for those billeted at the Wynberg End and in the Railway Stand to beat the rush behind the North Stand for Newlands' famous sausage and coffee ladies.

Only the square remains roped off, like the altar at Canterbury Cathedral and nearly as sacred for some. Prying eyes must peer past security guards and stewards (do they even know what they're guarding?) for a glimpse of the hallowed 22-yard stretch.

Thoughts can flow with the regularity of a Graeme Smith shovel to deep backward square leg out here: 'I wish I could play on a track like this… those boundaries are further away than they look from the side… why are those blokes from the telly pretending to know how much it will turn in three days' time?'

Kagiso Rabada certainly seemed to enjoy sharing in a few 'selfies' with punters and security alike by the edge of that precious zone on the first day. Mind you, he probably relished any company going amid the days of lonely bowling drills, drinks carrying and general go-fering as a non-playing squad member.

To do this in many grounds merely gives the paying public a chance to view the stands from a new and not-that-exciting angle, concrete walls and plastic bucket seats seen with fresh eyes remain just that. But this wondrous place gives you a little bit more.

Newlands has nature well and truly on its side. The oak trees dapple the sunlight to one side, with sympathetically developed stands and executive boxes suddenly towering around to either side from out in the middle.

Then the brewery squats behind the now invisible railway line with the chimneys puttering away, probably making a start on the terrifying amount of lager required for next year's English invasion.

The rugby ground lurks just behind and, admittedly, isn't much of a looker. Standing eerie and silent during the off-season like a decommissioned Eastern European nuclear power plant, it still somehow feels appropriate as a part of the scene. You've got to have a bit of rough with the smooth.

What, then, about the mountain? Wow. Whether huge and noble on a clear day, or dark and mysterious with cloud spilling over the top; one of world cricket's great backdrops takes on a whole new splendour from the grass.

So if you ever fancy an aimless wander, do it at any ground you can but, if you're ever lucky enough to have the chance, do it at Newlands.

Max Benson

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