The Leading Edge

It hasn't been all good but SA might just clinch it at the Oval

There are also no better opponents for SA to begin their World Cup against than a home side so obviously uncomfortable with being the favourites

26 May 2019 - 00:03 By Telford Vice


Many plastic pint glasses, the beer still in them unhappy and apologetic at not having found its way down a throat. Champagne flutes, also plastic but fewer and carrying less discarded drink.
Strawberries sagging in their punnets. Half-eaten canapés, stiff with rejection. Naked, vulnerable chicken bones.
Umbrellas, furled, forgotten and fed up. Newspapers, rumpled, their pages drowning, not waving, in the evening breeze.
A book: A Horse Walks into a Bar, David Grossman's black comedy about a caustic stand-up performer.
The Oval is among the many cricket grounds where the press box and the dressing rooms are opposite each other. Rare is it for players to come to us after a day's play. More usually, reporters cross the ground or go around the boundary for the press conference.
HOPES AND DREAMS
All of the above, and much more, have been seen by this reporter and others at the Oval on our walk from the press box at the Vauxhall End to the indoor nets at the Pavilion End, where the pressers are.
That's not to cast aspersions on the efficiency of the ground's cleaners - we make that trip with the day's drama still shimmering in the shadows - although why so many don't clean up after themselves is, sadly, a relevant question.
Something less tangible but more important shares space, unfairly and unfortunately, with the detritus: the hopes and dreams of the teams who have come there that day and been sent away with nothing.
SA know what that feels like. It took them 91 years in which they played 11 Tests at the Oval before they won a game there - a one-day international in May 1998, when England were undone by three runouts and Jacques Kallis somnambulated elegantly for 91 balls to score 62.
CHOKERS AND WINNERS
The Oval is also where, in June 2012, Hashim Amla fashioned the defining innings in SA's history, a monument big and important enough to relegate Graeme Smith's slickly branded 100th Test, in which he became only the seventh player to mark the milestone with a century, to just another smudge of marketing.
Make 311 not out, batting on three consecutive days during Ramadan, for a team who have never had a triple centurion, and that will happen.
Of course, it isn't all good. After a disastrous 2017 Champions League semi-final against India, in which SA batted like a team of tailenders and bowled like a rabble of part-timers, Gary Kirsten came to those indoor nets at the Pavilion End and called his team chokers in his parting shot as their coach.
And it's at the Oval where SA will, on Thursday, step once more unto the breach. There is no better place in England for them to begin their World Cup campaign.
Lord's reeks with ritual pomposity, Headingley is proud of its harsh ugliness, Trent Bridge has been cannibalised by a spaceship masquerading as a soullessly modern stand - see the giant teeth cut into its rear wall - Old Trafford isn't bad, just ordinary, and Edgbaston . no way in hell.
There are also no better opponents for SA to begin their World Cup against than a home side so obviously uncomfortable with being the favourites.
India, the next most-fancied team, have the confidence to blow anyone away, never to be seen again.
Australia and New Zealand would have brought too many bad memories with them.
England at the Oval. The words ring with promise and potential.
Amid these redbrick walls and sweeping stands, with the gasholders looking on, silent and skeletal, the pavilion an ancient uncle's favourite fishing hat, hopes are hoped and dreams dreamt.
And not all of them end up in a half-empty plastic cup.

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