South Africa in England, 2017 July 19, 2017

Nottingham's the charm

South Africa pull one back finally, and our correspondent is there to watch - while practising a bit of yoga on the side

When in Nottingham... go to a pub named after Jerusalem, of course © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

July 2
What should be a straightforward short commute from London to Leicester turns into a three-hour trip via Bedford because they are working on the train lines and there is a replacement bus to take us most of the journey. It means I arrive late in Leicester. So late that I miss seeing South Africa bowl West Indies out for 48 and arrive in time to watch them knock off the runs inside seven overs. It's not really a day to talk to a batsman but I take the chance to interview Laura Wolvaardt, the young opener in her final year of school, who is deciding between a career in cricket and a medical degree. That she even has that choice is a victory for the women's game.

July 3
Back to the men in London, where Russell Domingo has returned to the team camp and confirms he has reapplied for the coach job. The team are in good spirits and many of them have their families with them. Faf du Plessis is at home with his and news comes through that mother and baby are doing well. After interviews, I walk through (you guessed it) Hyde Park, where Morne Morkel, his wife Roz and son Ari are enjoying an evening picnic. Ari has a bat and ball with him and is keen to face some fast bowling, but because his dad is managing his workload, I take the ball. After a loosener, I find my length and with my second delivery, I beat the bat to dismiss an international cricketer's son. He has not yet turned two, but I'm claiming it.

July 4
The trip just keeps getting better for me because today I get a raise. In the form of a plastic step. After almost a decade working in cricket, I will finally be tall enough to see eye to eye with my interviewees, and taller than some of my colleagues.

I take a walking tour of London in the evening, exploring the history of European immigration in Soho. The French were particularly prevalent in the area and Charles de Gaulle formed the Free French Front at a pub on Dean Street. They were also waves of Dutch, Hungarian and German residents - including Karl Marx.

Is that fair play in a height contest? © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

July 5
Dean Elgar becomes the 12th South African since readmission to deliver a captain's pre-match press conference and he is awfully nervous about the whole thing. Far from the bullish opener we have come to know over the last five or so years, Elgar is softer-spoken today. His father, one of his high-school teachers, and his best friend will all be in attendance at the match: all of them had promised him they would make a special effort to get to Lord's if he ever played a Test there, so this is as big an occasion for them as it is for him. He doesn't reveal too much else, except that he probably won't bowl himself.

July 6
And at first it seems he may not need to. South Africa enjoy a good morning session even though they drop two catches. Elgar seems to have things under control - until Joe Root takes it away from him. I have the chance to chat to Vince van der Bijl about a charity project he has involved the MCC in, in Masiphumelele, a township outside Cape Town. Van der Bijl is passionate about doing good and contributing to making a meaningful change to South Africa, especially as a member of the privileged class.

July 7
England get far ahead of South Africa. Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn are given a chance to bowl, neither with any success. And then the new opening pair also fail. South Africa knew it would be tough, but this tough… perhaps not.

July 8
The final Test in the series between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions, who are locked at one-all, is being played this morning. I saw pubs packed early in the morning for the previous two, and I decide to try and get to one for the third match. The one I try, closest to my guesthouse and the tube station, is so full, I can't even squeeze in, so I go to Lord's instead. I join a throng of people huddled around a small screen in one of the shops. We see a Lions penalty that makes it 15-all and that's the way it stays. "What happens now?" one bewildered fan asks. "Does it just stay a draw?" I tell him it does. "What an anti-climax." I agree. See, it's not just cricket where things happen for days only for there not to be a winner.

Soho: a magnet for European immigration over the decades © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

July 9
At Lord's, there will definitely be a winner. England make a mess of South Africa as returning captain du Plessis looks on. He joins Elgar for the post-match press conference and Elgar jokingly returns an imaginary armband to him.

In more sombre news, Domingo has had to leave the tour again. His mother, who had recovered from a car accident she was in two weeks ago, enough to be discharged from hospital before the first Test, has suffered a setback, been put on life support, and passes away later that night. Suddenly the South African camp really is about life and death. Just a week ago, du Plessis welcomed a daughter into the world; now Domingo will bury his mother.

July 10
What should have been the fifth day is now a day spent analysing the defeat. I decide to do my work at the Monocle Café in Chiltern Street, a creative hub I really enjoy. Back home, I am an avid listener to Monocle Radio and in this café, they even play it in the toilet. In the evening, there's time for a stroll through Marylebone, which is a good way to say goodbye to London for now.

July 11
Nottingham is a new stop for me and I am excited to head there. Robin Hood was the first play I performed in when I was at school. I was in second grade and I don't remember my character, but I'm fairly sure it wasn't Maid Marian. I've been told this is a city of students but also a good way to experience some old England, and my first look around does not disappoint. Cobbled streets and gorgeous churches greet me. So does the rain.

Soaking in some of old England in Nottingham © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

July 12
Gunn & Moore have invited Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Duanne Olivier, Aiden Markram and some media to their factory to see how bats are made. It's a fascinating and intricate process that involves pressing the blade and shaping it to individual preferences. Some of the staff at the factory have worked there for decades - one, Kevin Stimpson, for 43 years - and are well versed in what several international players want. Olivier meanders along somewhat aimlessly and admits he doesn't have all that much use for bats, while Markram muses about when he might go home. I suspect it will be fairly soon, but it will also not be long before he plays Test cricket.

July 13
"I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the world but I was in the top one," Brain Clough, the former Nottingham Forest coach once said. His was a story of triumph over adversity, much like South Africa's will have to be if they are to square the series. A statue of Clough looms over the city's main square, about a mile from the Trent River.

July 14
On a cloudy morning, at a venue where England bowled Australia out for 60 in a Test, du Plessis chooses to bat first. At best, it seems brave. South Africa were skittled for 119 the last time they faced this attack, remember? But moving de Kock to No. 4 works a charm and South Africa are much more convincing. I sense the makings of an epic comeback.

July 15
Qamar Ahmed, who will turn 80 later this year and is covering his 427th Test, has invited a bunch of us to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which claims to be the oldest inn in England. It opened its doors in 1178. Qamar assures us he was not there on opening night, but regales us with tales of India in the 1940s, London in the 1970s, and everything in between. I've seen a lot of Qamar on the road and I always enjoy spending time with him. He promises to take me to Curry Mile in Manchester and I'm going to hold him to it.

Brian Clough - an inspiration for the touring South Africans? © Firdose Moonda/ESPNcricinfo

July 16
I have picked up a second yoga student. The Telegraph's Jonathan Liew joins my morning class before play, which has now evolved into a full 45-minute session. I put the boys through sun salutations, lunges, and some basic back bends. I try to keep it slow and gentle, much like South Africa's batting. Hashim Amla and Elgar tick over and South Africa build a big lead, big enough to stick England in just before the close.

July 17
A third yogi joins the group. This time, it's Nick Hoult. Like me, he is a runner, so we have a lot of the same aches and pains - but not as many as England. Far from putting up the fight South Africa are expecting, England collapse. South Africa dedicate the win to Domingo, who should be back in a week's time, ahead of the third Test. The squad will have a few days off but I will go to Bristol, where the South African women's team are playing England in the semi-final. By the time I see the men again, du Plessis hopes he can pick up a few tips on how to win knockout matches from Dane van Niekerk, and there will be a decision on the coaching position. There are some big things happening for South African cricket in the next three weeks.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart6084850 on July 19, 2017, 18:36 GMT

    I too was at South Africa v West Indies in Leicester, the West Indian innings was woeful and over well within the average delay of a weekend train! Fortunately I didn't blink so saw most of it!

  • Yogesh on July 19, 2017, 16:15 GMT

    Fabulous read. I love reading (and watching, if videos) these background stories of life on the road whilst covering a cricket tour. Firdose and Melinda Farrell are among my favorite correspondents, and I enjoy their reporting very much.

  • James on July 19, 2017, 11:38 GMT

    Great read and personally I am pleased for your mentions of my hero Brian Clough and the ultimate UK initiation: a rail replacement bus service!

  • James C Birbeck Dar on July 19, 2017, 8:50 GMT

    Ian, you're right in thinking that Clough was a cricket fan, but he was more a batsman who bowled medium pace. Competitive too. Please see link below. http://www.espncricinfo.com/blogs/content/story/625781.html

  • ian on July 19, 2017, 5:22 GMT

    I do enjoy reading these 'down time' pieces, Firdose! Keep them coming, please! I believe I'm right in saying that Brian Clough was a handy off-spinner and of course, a cricket lover too. What a legend!

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