Champions Trophy 2017 June 17, 2017

The haunting of Hyde Park

Our correspondent finds her favourite place in London, enjoys the company of the South African contingent - and has a brush with tragedy

Give him a cracker somebody © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

June 1
It's 25 degrees in London, there are a few powder-puff clouds in the bright blue sky and this is not a dream. The great British summer actually exists and I will experience almost three months of it. South Africa and I are on one of the longest tours we've been on, including a Champions Trophy, a Women's World Cup and four Tests. This is going to be fun.

South Africa will be training at the London School of Economics. I set off for Russell Square in Holborn and pop into the London Review Bookshop before discovering that the city campus of the LSE does not have a cricket training ground. Instead, they own a facility in New Malden, 20km (and at least 50 minutes on two different trains) away. Luckily, I've left enough time and get there before the team, in time to see the end of Surrey's training and Hashim Amla and Vikram Solanki exchange warm greetings. I chat to a rather reserved JP Duminy, who insists his IPL absence will do him good. Given his recent form, we can only hope.

June 2
AB de Villiers holds the Champions Trophy aloft and smiles for the cameras. The actual Champions Trophy, not a replica. I checked. "It feels good in my hands," he says. It might be the only time he gets to touch it. He dismisses Lasith Malinga's comeback as nothing special, which seems a bit off. Maybe he is just overwhelmed by getting to touch the trophy.

In the heart of multicultural Brixton in South London © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

June 3
Sri Lanka don't seem to have changed much since they were in South Africa earlier in the year. Their bowling effort is enterprising but even with Allan Donald as a consultant, it lacks bite. Angelo Mathews is out injured. Their batting threatens a few bursts but fizzles out. South Africa win easily.

Something (how would I know what?) prevents me from sending my post-match video and I am only able to leave the ground after 9pm. A few other journalists are also still working and we decide to go to a nearby pub to watch the second half of the Champions League final. It's 1-1 at half-time so it looks like we're in for a good evening. Cristiano Ronaldo soon spoils the fun and Real Madrid emerge comfortable winners. The pub empties significantly, as do pubs all around London. Three kilometres away from us, patrons are leaving Borough Market.

An hour later, we're still in our pub and the television screens have been switched to news. We watch reports of a van driving into people on London Bridge and of stabbings. The bar staff tell us it is best if we go home. We walk in different directions and promise to let each other know that we've reached our destinations safely. My walk takes me past Vauxhall Station. On reaching the hotel, I see there was another incident at the station, which turns out to be unrelated. I cannot believe that I've come from one of the most crime-ridden countries on earth only to be so close to something much more chilling here. Sleep does not come easily.

Foyles: miles of aisles of books © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

June 4
I leave London for Birmingham and overhear a sobering conversation at Marylebone Station. A woman is talking on the phone to a friend and recalls leaving Borough Market about 15 minutes before the attack. Some of her party remained behind, and at first, she could not get hold of them. She had since learnt they were locked in the restaurant for protection and had come very close to danger. The reality of what has happened hits home. It seems unlikely the tournament will be cancelled but I wonder about the rest of the summer. How many more times might this happen?

June 5
Normal service resumes: it's raining and cold. South Africa train indoors at Edgbaston. Selection convener Linda Zondi is in town and we chat about the squad's hopes for the tour. Wayne Parnell talks to us about how he has tried to find a more consistent spot in the XI. South Africa seem fairly settled.

June 6
De Villiers' strange remarks continue - this time he brushes off Pakistan's spinners, calling "two of them part-time".

This is the first time in ages we have more than a handful of South African journalists. Eight of us are in town and we have a team dinner at a Caribbean chain called Turtle Bay to celebrate. Someone had to bring a West Indian flavour to the event.

Brick Lane: a corner of London that is forever Asia © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

June 7
De Villiers is dismissed for the first golden duck of his ODI career. The first one in 212 innings, 221 matches. Something definitely seems off. He does not come to the post-match press conference to explain why South Africa's batting continued to employ ultra-conservative tactics upfront or why he took off wicket-taker Morne Morkel and replaced him with Parnell, who had been expensive, with rain imminent. Pakistan's well deserved victory has pushed South Africa to the brink of elimination. De Villiers has to switch on.

June 8
Back in London, Group B is cracked open as Sri Lanka, the same Sri Lanka who could barely push past 200 in South Africa, chase 322 to beat India. Two upsets in two days means the next two games in this group are virtual quarter-finals. At least it's not boring.

I visit Brixton in the evening. I take a picture of the iconic sign at Electric Avenue and explore Brixton Village. It's a covered market with rows of restaurants and cute shops. We eat Venetian tapas and later head to a French stall - Champagne and Fromage - for some indulgences.

June 9
Shaun Pollock's sponsors Nissan invite some of us to a lunch at the Pilgrim Pub in Kennington. The bonus is being able to chat cricket with Polly. I'm more interested in talking about the upcoming Tests but we also discuss Kolpak. "It's just about cricketers making business decisions," he says.

June 10
Tensions are expected to be high ahead of a crunch match but both captains appear fairly calm. De Villiers is asked if his leadership position is on the line in tomorrow's game. He denies that suggestion strongly, but still, something seems off.

The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

June 11
Here we are again. The memories of 2013 come flooding back as South Africa stutter through the worst batting performance of the tournament. Everything about it is wrong. They squander a solid, albeit slow start, there are two mid-innings run-outs, both involving Far du Plessis, Duminy's break does not seem to have done him any good, and no one would have blamed the bowlers for going on strike. De Villiers still says he believes he is the captain to take South Africa forward even though he admits he does not know how to explain what went wrong. No one does. Not Russell Domingo, whose lack of interest in clarifying whether he will continue as coach suggests he won't. Not du Plessis, although he is the only one who apologises for the performance.

June 12
What now? With so many colleagues covering the tournament and my team out, I won't be needed for the semi-finals, and I find myself at a loose end. I decide to stay in London and enjoy the attractions. My favourite is Hyde Park. I love the open space, the walkers, the joggers, the dogs, and it now becomes the place where I turn into a yoga teacher for the first time.

Before this trip, I attended a yoga-teacher training programme, so I am now a qualified instructor, but I have not had the chance to give any lessons yet. Fellow scribe Tristan Holme is interested and it is in Hyde Park that we find a spot to practise. I put him through some sun salutes and hip openers.

June 13
I see David Warner and his wife Candice jogging in Hyde Park. I have nowhere to be, so I pace myself leisurely, buy a coffee afterwards and then make my way to Charing Cross Road to spend the afternoon in Foyles, my favourite bookstore in all the world. I leave with so much, I will definitely need to buy excess baggage.

A remnant from the Palestine war © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

June 14
I spot the South African physiotherapist Brandon Jackson, fitness trainer Greg King and Roz Kelly-Morkel in Hyde Park. Again, I have nowhere to be, so I head to Whitechapel and, ultimately, Brick Lane, to take in a bit of East London.

June 15
No notables in Hyde Park today and still nowhere to be. Head to the Imperial War Museum where I could spend the rest of the trip if I wanted to. The five floors are filled with artefacts, and I only end up seeing a smidgen of them. My interest is piqued by the diaries of soldiers from World War I, whose handwriting you can still read, and a Reuters van that came under attack in Palestine in 2006.

Later, I wander into one of the thousands of pubs in London and see Corrie van Zyl, CSA's general manager. The world is truly small. He is in town to meet with Domingo - and maybe decide on his future - and to attend the launch of the CSA Global T20 tournament in a few days. Originally the announcement was due to take place at Lord's but it has now been moved to the Bulgari Hotel. Rumour has it Shah Rukh Khan will be there. The Knysna Knight Riders may be in our future.

June 16
What do you call a South African in the Champions Trophy final? Marais Erasmus. And this time… Mickey Arthur. As the India-Pakistan game draws closer, a major trophy has never seemed further for South Africa. And this is only the beginning. South Africa have already lost the one-day series and are resting several senior players for the T20Is, while England have a promising squad. It could become a very long summer but as long as the sun shines in London, I can't complain too much.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Iman on June 18, 2017, 6:36 GMT

    Lovely read. Thoroughly enjoyed it

  • S on June 18, 2017, 3:00 GMT

    This travelogue was a very pleasant read virtually took me there. And sure seems nice to have the SA selection convener's job that requires them to spend time in London.

  • Salman Ahmed on June 17, 2017, 19:15 GMT

    It is time for devilliers to resign from captaincy from odi too .he doesnot have the germs of being a captain .let du Plessis lead South Africa to World Cup .only then South Africa has a chance

  • David on June 17, 2017, 14:44 GMT

    You are right, something seemed off with AB during the tournament. He was openly dissing other players, which was out of character for him. I always found him to be a gracious and humble guy. It speaks volume whenever you don't show up for a press conference. The pressure of winning an ICC tournament is finally a toll on him?

  • kathyi4276214 on June 17, 2017, 14:05 GMT

    Nice - I envy you! When London decides to switch on the sun, it can be truly beautiful. Especially on the river, if you've never been up to Greenwich that way.

  • parvez on June 17, 2017, 10:20 GMT

    Enjoy the beautiful summer out there this year

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